Tillana and its special features

Dr. M.B.Vedavalli gave a lec dem on “Tillana and its special features” at Shri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha on 29th Dec 2008. She was assisted by her student Sri Thyagarajan who sang the tillAnAs. He was accompanied by Sri Karthikeyan on the mrudangam. I forgot the name of the violin artist.

Here are some excerpts from the lec dem based on the notes I took. I have taken the liberty to organize these under my own headings. 


There are many musical forms in Carnatic music like gItam, varnam, kriti, tillAnA, rAgamAlikA, padam, jAvaLi etc. These forms are about 50 in number with each one having its own distinctive features. Among these, the tillAnA is very popular due to the presence of many features peculiar to this form. It finds its place even in dance concerts and kathakalakshepam due to the same reason.

Compared to the other musical forms, the tillAnA is a short and crisp one. Its name is comprised of euphonious rhythmic syllables – ti, lA and nA. The word tillAnA itself thus occurs in (the lyric of) many tillAnAs. The most important feature of this form is the presence of jatIs for the most part and few sAhitya syllables which occur in the first half of the caraNam. Compared to sAhitya, the rhythmic syllables can be enjoyed more in this form. The presence of jatIs is probably the reason for the popularity of this form. jatIs are always attractive and the brisk passages of jatIs along with swara and sAhitya syllables has a quick appeal to the mind of the listener. In addition to this, the music which accompanies the sAhitya also has a direct appeal if it is appropriate. 



The kaivAra prabandha is a variety of the prabhandha that existed in the medieval period. In this, the jatIs (or solkaTTu) figured in the mAtu or the concluding session. The prabandha begins and ends with the pAtha. This aspect of the prabandhas led the composers of the later period to evolve a new form called the tillAnA. Tillana thus came to be composed by classical composers who lived in the 18th century. The kaivAra prabandha is thus the forerunner of the present day tillAnA.



In a music concert, it figures after an elaborate RTP, towards the end of the concert.

In a dance concert, it figures after the performance of abhinaya for a padam sung in a very slow tempo. tillAnA that follows the padam is a brisk composition and is attractive.

In kathakalakshepam too, the tillAnA is sung mostly at a fast pace to attract the attention of the audience. 

Thus the tillAnA comes as a welcome variety in concerts

There are tillAnAs that have been composed in obsolete tALams. These are solely for demonstration purposes. Even putting the angAs of these tALams in a concert is practically difficult. 



Tillanas usually have 3 sections – pallavi, anupallavi and caraNam. Pallavi and anupallavi consist of jatIs. caraNam has sAhityam for the first half and is concluded by jatI


In most tillAnAs, the pallavi is in the first kAlam. We also rarely find solkaTTus in madhyama kAlam in pallavi (ex. Veena Seshanna’s tillAnA in bhairavi and Pallavi Seshayyar’s tillAnA in kAnaDA)


Usually we find phrases in the first kAlam in the anupallavi. There are some tillAnAs that have solkaTTus in madhyama kAlam. Ex. Sivanandam’s tODi tillAnA.

Sometimes we also find solkaTTu swarams (solkaTTu and swarams both) in madhyama kAlam (Ex. tillAnA in hamsAnandi by Ponnaiah and tillAnA in kApi by Veena Seshanna). In the tillAnA in suruTTi by Mysore Vasudevachar and in the one in dhanyAsi by Pallavi Seshaiyer, there are solkaTTus in both the first and second kAlams


It typically has sAhitya in the beginning followed by 

  • solkaTTu in madhyama kAlam, or
  • solkaTTu swaram in madhyama kAlam, or 
  • only ciTTaswaram

There are many examples of tillAnAs of Mysore Vasudevachar in which anupallavi is again sung after caraNam leading then to the pallavi. 


Composers have enjoyed a lot of freedom while composing a tillAnA and this is also another reason for its popularity.  The alternate occurrences of jatIs in the first and second kAlams makes it a brisk composition appealing to a wide section of the audience. 

As the dominant feature in tillAnA is the presence of jatIs, some composers have introduced makuTam (symmetrical patterns of swarams) in the anupallavi at the end. An example is “nA dhiranA” – the bilahari rAga tillAnA of Ponniah in rUpaka tALam 

In the tillAnA of Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar in hindOLam rAgam and rUpaka tALam, we find patterns of 12, 9, 6 aksharams etc occurring in the anupallavi. The structure of these patterns is as follows

m; g; s; ndn – 12 aksharams

s; n; ndd – 9 aksharams

n; ndd – 6 aksharams

mgg – 3 aksharams

mgg – 3 aksharams

s,g – 3 aksharams

Another special feature is the use of syllables that were only found in earlier prabandhas. Ex. thakku, dikku, thaka thadingu, didingu etc These are found in some tillAnAs of Veena Seshanna and Pallavi Seshaiyer. 

The sAhitya of the tillAnA will usually be in praise of a deity or the patron of the composer. 



Melattur Veerabhadrayyah (1739-1763) is said to be the earliest composer of tillAnAs and is hence called the “Tillana Margadarshi”. He was the guru of Ramaswami Dikshitar. His first tillAnA is not available now but its reference is found in the book “Tanjore as a seat of music” by Dr. Seeta. Many other composers have also composed tillAnAs. Some of the famous names are Swati Tirunal, Tanjore Quartette (Ponniah, Chinnaiah, Sivanandam & Vadivelu), Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Oothukkadu Venkatasubbaier, Ammachatram Kannuswami Pillai, Patnam Subramanya Iyer, Pallavi Seshaiyer, Mysore Sadashiva Rao, Veena Seshanna, Ramanathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar, Muthiah Bhagavathar, Papanasam Sivan, Mysore Vasudevachar,  Lalgudi G. Jayaraman & M. Balamuralikrishna. 



Tillanas can be classified as follows:

1. Those suitable for dance concerts: 

jatIs emphasizing the rhythmic aspects of music are introduced. As a major part of such compositions are made up of pAthAs and jatIs, it facilitates the introduction of rhythmic variations and provision of variegated aDavus by the dancers.

Tillanas originated as a dance form. Melattur Veerabhadrayya and Tanjore Quartet composed tillAnAs for dance. The Tanjore Quartet, who systematized the modern bharatanatyam concert, has composed many musical forms that are employed in dance concerts today. 

The following tillAnAs were sung in the lec dem in this category:

1) ta ta dhIm ta dhIm – shankarAbharaNam – Adi (tisra gati) – ponnaiAh

Pallavi and anupallavi have solkaTTu. caraNam has sAhityam followed by solkaTTu swarams in madhyama kAlam. “thadhIngiNa thom thAm” is used thrice in the end. 


2) dhIm nAdrudhIm – kApi – Adi – cinnaiAh

solkaTTus are present for pallavi and anupallavi followed by a solkaTTu in madhyama kAlam. There is sAhityam for the caraNam followed by the same solkaTTu passage that was sung after the anupallavi.  Chinnaiah was in the Mysore court and has sung this tillAnA in the honor of Sri Chamaraja Wodeyar


3) jam jam tarita jam – vasantA – Adi – pallavi sEshaiyer


pallavi and anupallavi have solkaTTus. caraNam has sAhitya. solkaTTu is interspersed with swarams. It concludes with solkaTTus in madhyama kAlam. In anupallavi, solkaTTus occur alternatively in first and second kAlam.  This tillAnA is set to a medium tempo (neither too slow nor too fast). 


4) dhIm ta dhIm ta na na – hamsAnandi – Adi – g. n. bAlasubramaNiam

anupallavi concludes with a makuTam “dhi tillAnA tA ki Ta jam ….




2. Those useful for demonstration purposes

These may be called lakSaNa prabandhas and are used mostly for demonstration purposes only. There are tillAnAs in obsolete tALams like simhAnandanam, lakSmIsam, rAgavardhini etc. These are not concert worthy pieces but are meant for students to know about angAs, kriyAs, akSara kAlams etc. 

The tillAnA gauri nAyaka” in rAgam kAnaDA composed by Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer is set to the longest tALam among the ancient 108 tALams – the simhAnandana tALam. This tillAnA is sung in Adi tALam today. 

simhanandanam is the 37th of the 108 talams. It has 128 beats. The angAs of this tALam are:

  • 2 guru
  • 1 lagu
  • 1 plutam
  • 1 lagu
  • 1 guru
  • 2 dhrutam
  • 2 guru
  • 1 lagu
  • 1 plutam
  • 1 lagu
  • 1 plutam
  • 1 guru
  • 2 lagu
  • 1 kAkapAdam


This particular tillAnA is set to just 2 Avartanams of this tALam. The first Avartanam has the sAhitya while the second is comprised only of jatIs

Ramanathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar has composed a tillAnA in lakSmIsa tALam (106th tALam – 25 beats). The angAs of this tALam are:

  • 1 dhrutam
  • 1 anudhrutam
  • 1 dhrutam
  • 3 lagu
  • 1 guru


There is a tillAnA in kAmavardhini rAgam in rAgavardhini tALam (32nd tAlam) by Ramanathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar. The angAs of this tALam of 19 beats are:

  • 2 dhrutam
  • 1 anudhrutam
  • 1 dhrutam
  • 1 plutam


The following tillAnAs were sung in the lec dem in this category:

1) gauri nAyaka  – kAnaDA – simhAnandanam – mahA vaidyanAtha iyer

2) tArAdhipAnana – kApi – lakSmIsa – rAmanAthapuram srInivAsa iyengAr


3. Those suitable for music concerts

In these tillAnAs , the melodic aspect of the rAgams are emphasized. Sangatis are introduced. There is not much scope for variegated rhythmic patterns. They are thus not very suitable for dance. Mysore Vasudevachar, Muthiah Bhagavathar, M. Balamuralikrishna, Lalgudi Jayaraman and many others have composed tillAnAs for music concerts. 

Muthiah Bhagavathar has composed a tillAnA in hamIrkalyANi that starts at sama graham, uses a lot of phrases used in tarAnAs of Hindustani music. Lot of vakra prayOgams are there. There are phrases of 4 aksharams each (in the pattern ta ka di mi) and there is not much scope for aDavus

M. Balamuralikrishna’s tillAnA in kuntalavarALi is another example. It is also sometimes sung in dance concerts but fits the best with vocal concerts

Tirugokaranam Vaidyanatha Iyer’s tillAnA in pUrvi is another example and its specialty is that it starts with swarams. 


The following tillAnAs were sung in the lec dem in this category:

1) udanata tana tara  – hamIrkalyANi  – Adi – harikEsanallUr muthiAh bhAgavathar


2) tillAnA nAdrudhIm – kuntalavarALi – Adi – m. bAlamuralikrishnA

3) ni ri ni ri ga ma ga ri sa – pUrvi – rUpakam – tirugOkaraNam vaidyanAtha iyer


Unfortunately I had to leave at this point. The lec dem had reached its stipulated end time by then. So I guess I shouldn’t have missed much. Please feel free to add in case you attended and find anything not covered above.

8 thoughts on “Tillana and its special features

  1. Sir……. It’s so useful….Thank u so much….This is really a best composition of thillana…. what I’ve been waiting for so long…..
    😌 So grt sir !

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