Some Historical Snippets – Part 21– Tillana

Continuing the series on historical snippets, this post is about the penultimate/final piece in a dance performance, i.e., Tillana.

For previous parts on the historical snippets, click on Part 1Part 2Part 3,Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 13aPart 14Part 15, Part 16, Part 17Part 18, Part 19, and Part 20.

I have used a few sources for this post. First is the article by Shri. T. N. C. Venkata Narayanacharyulu from Guntur, titled “தில்லானா-Tillana” published in the Journal of Music Academy of Madras in 1959 (87-91).  The second one is “The Tillana and some of its well known composers” by Smt. Sulochana Pattabhiraman, published in 1985 (149-155). Also,  the book called “Tillana” by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswamy and Dr. M. Hariharan. Finally, as a treat a Kamba-Ramayana Thillana is listed below. Set to Todi ragam and Adi Talam,  Shri. MS Ramasvami Ayyar contributed to the Journal’s 1942 issue (80-83). Kundrakudi Krshnayyar is the composer who was a contemporary of Patnam Subramania Iyer.

Disclaimer: I have attached the link to the pdf of the article as part of this post. I am not really quite sure of the copyright, although the website had no mention of it anywhere. So, I will remove the document if anyone points to any copyright infringement.

Both, the book and the article by TNC Venkata Narayanacharyulu are in Tamizh. For the non-Tamizh reading readers, you will have to rely on my translation/interpretation. So, bear with me. 🙂 The one by Smt. Sulochana Pattabhiraman is in English.


Just like Daru, Prabandam, Geetam, Swarajati, Tillana is also a type of musical composition. No doubt about it. However, the origin of Tillana  in the Carnatic music system has been a favorite discussion topic for many years now. Some say that it’s origin is from Tarana of the Hindustani music system [1]. Some go the extent of  Tillana being a morphed-up word of “Dil laha lana (दिल लहलना )”, literally meaning to sway the heart.  That it is made of rhythmic syllables Ti, La, and Na could be another etymological origin.

Listen to an interesting conversation of Smt. Sudharani Raghupathy with scholar Shri. VAK Ranga Rao about Tillana.

Dr. Gowri Kuppuswamy and Dr. Hariharan argue in their book [2] that instead of the Tarana orgin, Tillana has orgins to Karana Prabandam mixed with swaras. They explain that after Gopala Nayakar was captured by Islamist rulers, he uses his musical prowess and became friends with his captors. And, there are evidences that he taught Amir Khusroo the musical compositions of Karana (or Kaivara) Prabandham. Thus, they conclude that Tillana is a mix of north and south systems with the foundation of the prabandam.

Googling I found the notes by V. Sriram of the lecture-demonstration by Smt. Vedavalli in 2008 on Tillana [3], an interesting read. So, is Natalie Savelyeva”s notes. [4]

Where are Tillana’s performed?

All the sources identify three scenarios where Tillana’s are performed: Music concerts, Dance concerts, and Kathakalakshepam. [3] While, the first two are well-known, in Kathakalakshepam, Tillanas are sung to either “attract the attention of the audience” after the poorvapetika is over or to indicate fast movements like “the running of a chariot”.[5] Then, there are also some Tillanas used only for learning or demonstration purposes, not for performances. [4]

There are Tilanas composed in obsolete Talams like Simhanandanam, Laksmisam, Ragavardhini, etc. which comprise many angas or structural elements such as different types of laghu, drutam, etc. For instance, Simhanandanam talam comprises 128 beats in total, thus one Tilana set to this Talam would comprise only two avartanas! Such Tilanas are intended exclusively for demonstration purposes or learning (Abhyasa gana) and thus may be called Laksana Prabandhas.

When was Tillana incorporated as part of the dance?

The “educated guess” answer is during the period of Tanjore quartet, when they framed the Margam format. Since before them, it was highly likely existed as a musical form only, and there is no evidence of Tillana being danced. However, they chose only the medium tempo for dance, as opposed to some Tillanas sung in slower pace in music concerts.

T. Balasaraswati on Tillana

In any case,  whatever may be the origin of Tillana, it is a fact that it is one of the most eagerly watched performance of a dancer. Is it not? I love the way Tillana brings the joy of the dancer. In Smt. Balasaraswati’s words [6]

Then, the Tillana breaks into movement like the final burning of camphor accompanied by a measure of din and bustle.

Tillana composers

  1. Shri. Venkata Narayaanacharyulu  mentions an earliest composer of Tillana, namely Narahari Tirtha (1324-1333 CE).

    Shri. Narahari Tirtharu’s Brindavana in Hampi

    He composed Tarangams, which are very close in style to Tillanas.


  1. Shri. Veerabhadraiah of Merattur (first half of 18th century)
  2. Maharaja Swati Tirunal (1813-1846) – The famous Tillana of his is Dhanshri Tillana
    Listen to MLV’s rendition of the Dhanasri Tillana

    He has composed Tillana in other ragams such as, ??? and ???
  3. Shri. Mysore Sadasiva Rao (1815-1885 or 1790-??)

    Mysore Sadashiva Rao Image Courtesy: Radioweb Carnatic

    Listen to Radioweb podcast on Mysore Sadasiva Rao [7, 8]. He has composed 17 Tillanas [9] in ragam such as Poorvikalyani set to Triputa.

  4. Shri. Pallavi Seshayyar/Sesha Iyer (1842-1905) – He has composed Tillana in Vasanta, Kanada, Kapi, Dhanyasi, Mallikavasanta and Suddha. In his Kanada Tillana the sollukattis are in medium tempo (not in slow speed) in Pallavi, which is an exception to the norm of Tillana’s structure. [3]
  5. Shri. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer/ Sivan (1844-1893)

    Shri. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer /Sivan Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

    The Tillana’s composed by him are in ragam Vasanta in praise of Nellaippar and Kanthimathi Amman, in Kalyani [10], in Kanada set to Simhananda Tala [11, 12]

  6. Shri. Patnam Subramania Iyer (1845-1902)

    Image Courtesy:

    He has composed many Tillanas, in Khamas [13], Jhenjuti [14], Paras, Madari, Shankarabharanam, Sindhubhairavi.

    Listen to the Paras Thillana:
    And to the famous Khamas Tillana sung by Smt. D. K. Pattammal

  7. Shri. Ramnad (Poochi) Srinivasa Iyengar (1867-1919)

    He composed Tillana in Kaanada, Hindolam, Kapi, Natakurunji, Paras, Poornachandrika, Todi, and Yadukula Khamboji. [15]
    Listen to the Kaanada Tillana sung by Shri. Sanjay Subrahmanyan:
  8. Shri. Mysore Veena Seshanna (1852-1926)

    Image Courtesy: The Hindu

    Here the famous Tillana in Jenjutti sung by Shri. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Smt. M S Subbulakshmi:

  9. Shri. Mysore Vasudevachar (1865-1961)

    He has composed Tillana in Charukesi, Kalyani, Shuddha Salavi, Hindolam, Khamas, Kaanada, Sri, and Surati. [16]
  10. Shri. Iluppur Ponnuswami Pillai (late 1800’s – early 1900’s)
    He has composed Tillana in Behag Ragam. [17] There seems to be much information lacking about him and his compositions.
  11. Shri. Moolai Veettu Rangaswami Pillai (??-??)
    He has composed a Tillana in Shankarabharanam.
  12. Shri. Mysore Venkatagiriappa (??-??)
  13. Shri. Veena Krishnamachariar (??-??)
  14. Shri. Mysore Chenna Kesaviah (??-??)
  15. Shri. Dr. Balamurali Krishna (1930-)
  16. Shri. Lalgudi Jayaraman (1930-2013)

    Image Courtesy:

    Of course, any list of Tillanas is incomplete without mentioning Shri. Lalgudi Jayaraman’s Tillanas. Wiki lists 31 Tillanas to his credit. Some his Tillanas with notations are listed by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswamy and Dr. M. Hariharan. Another resource that lists Shri. Lalgudi Jayaraman’s Thillanas is Lalgudis’  Creations that lists compositions of Shri. V. R. Gopala Iyer and Shri. Lalgudi Jayaraman.
    Some of his Tillanas are in Jenjhuti (Cencurutti), Kadana kuthuhalam, Kuntalavarali, Bindumalini, Kalyanavasantam, Durga, Nalinakanti, etc.  The Revati Tillana is probably this author’s favorite one.

Tillana with no Sahityam


An unusual thillana

Kamba-Ramayana Thillana (Todi, Adi)

This is an example of a Tillana that is famous for showing the musical prowess of the composer. Click on the images to see in full view.


List of known Tillanas courtesy of Shri Lakshman, which is a huge list!


  1. “தில்லானா-Tillana”, Shri. T. N. C. Venkata Narayanacharyulu, Journal of Music Academy of Madras 1959:87-91.
  2. Tillana: A collection of tillanas of various composers. Dr. Gowri Kuppuswamy and Dr. M. Hariharan. CBH Publications, 4th Ed. 2004.
  5. The Tillana and some of its well known composers, Smt. Sulochana Pattabhiraman, Journal of Music Academy of Madras 1985: 149-155.
  6. “Bharatanatyam” by Balasaraswati T., NCPA Quarterly Journal 5(4), 1-8, 1976

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