Three thillanas

The thillana is a type of rhythmically complex composition in Carnatic music, generally performed at the end of a concert. Thillanas are very commonly used in Indian classical dances like Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, since they allow the dancers to showcase their rhythmic mastery.

“Thillana” is a corrupted form of the Hindustani word tarana, which is a type of composition in Hindustani music invented by the great Sufi saint and “father of Qawwali”, Amir Khusrow (1253–1325 CE). In the tarana, certain words and syllables (e.g. “odani”, “todani”, “tadeem” and “yalali”) based on Persian and Arabic phonemes are rendered at a medium or fast tempo, and the Carnatic thillana follows a similar structure. The first two parts of the thillana (the pallavi and anupallavi) are often made up of syllables like tha, dheem, na, ti, which represent different types of beats, and the final part (the charanam) will contain full lyrics. Thillanas are often composed in upbeat ragas and are performed with great enthusiasm; in this post I’ll list some of my favorites.

Anandabhairavi thillana

The singer here is Sanjay Subrahmanyan, one of the rising stars of Carnatic music who was awarded the Sangeeta Kalanidhi (“treasure of the art of music”) award last year; one of the most prestigious titles for a Carnatic musician. This thillana is set in the raga Anandabhairavi and was composed by Swati Tirunal (1813-1846), the Maharaja of Travancore (in Kerala), who was a great composer of both Carnatic and Hindustani music. I think the charanam is in either Sanskrit or Telugu.

Desh thillana

This thillana is set in the raga Desh and was composed by one of the greatest Carnatic violinists: Lalgudi Jayaraman (1930-2013). The first video is a recording of his performance of his own thillana, and the second video is the thillana being sung by his disciple (an accomplished vocalist in her own right), Bombay Jayashri.

Dhanasri thillana


This extremely popular thillana, in Dhanasri ragam, was also composed by Maharaja Swati Tirunal. It’s unique in that although it’s a Carnatic composition, it has Hindi lyrics. The first video is actually a recording of my teacher performing the thillana during a concert (he’s on the right), and the second video is a “fusion” rendition of the same thillana.


3 thoughts on “Three thillanas”

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