Rhythm is omnipresent. There is rhythm in the movement of heavenly bodies just as in the life cycles of micro organisms. It is only natural that man is endowed with it. Whenever we listen to music, we look for the rhythmic movements in it and then find ourselves tapping our feet or clapping our hands or even dancing to it. But what exactly do we mean by rhythm?
Rhythm can be defined as a process in which the nuclei of attention are separated by individual parts of time. Whenever we listen to music, we cannot but perceive rhythm. Rhythm gives stability and form to music. It can be described as the tangible gait of any musical movement. In Carnatic music, this is referred to as Laya. The common fallacy is that rhythm or laya is confined to percussion instruments and the rhythmic patterns produced therein. But laya is not limited to just that. It is present not only in melodic compositions, which usually have a rhythmic metre in an apparent manner but also in the creative aspects, sometimes conspicuously (like in Neraval or Kalpanaswara) and subtly at others (Raga alapana and Tanam).