Shertallay Column

Significance of gamakas - 2

Carnatic music is an art that requires high intellect and it has its own techniques which cannot be seen in any other musical system. The sangathis or graces seen in musical pieces and which cannot be defined strictly but occur occasionally are called ‘gāna alankārās’ (rhetorical beauties) in music. Such gāna alankārās are gamakās, sangathis, chittaswaras, swarasahityam, cholkattu swaram, madhyamakalam, swaraksharas, vaggeyakara mudras, etc. Among these varieties, gamakās can be considered the most important ones.

The basic lesson, alankārās, taught in different rāgas with proper gamakās give a format of understanding of gamakās to students of music. Alankārās are basically very effective and appropriate lesson patterns for the learned and the learnt. It gives fluency in the rāga sanchara prayōgās as well as giving enough grip on tālās.

It is noteworthy that two rāgas take the same ārōhana and avarōhana (ascent and decent), the rasa bhāva of both differ by the application of gamakās applied in them. This is the significance of the gamaka. Ārabhi and Dēvagāndhāri are one such example. There are a number of rāgās of such nature, those having identical arōhana avarōhana with individual rasa bhāva (feeling or emotions.) due to their individual gamaka style.

Hence, Gamakās are not only simple shaking of swarās but also manipulation of swaras so as to create a better melodic effect. Gamakās are an effective means for the listener to identify the rāga also. For example, the gamakās applied in Sādhārana gāndhāra and Kaisiki nishada in the arohana sanchāra and the plain method of Chatsruthi rishabha and Chatusruti dhaivata of Rāga Kharaharapriya is one of the best ways of identifying this rāga.

Gamakās can be studied in detail with the help of veena as well as vocal music. Veena has an important status in Carnatic music since ancient times, and a lot of experiments have been conducted with veena to invent many factors related to practical aspects. Some of the older works have given enough information about ‘gamaka’ related with veena. Twentytwo sruthis are the micro basics of the formation of ‘gamaka’. An interesting as well as informative experiment with two veenas named ‘Dhruva veena’ and ‘Chala veena’ conducted by the great scholar Bharatha paved theway for the invention of the 22 sruthis.

Analytical study of descriptive ‘notation padhathi’ is also a communicative means of gamaka. A rāga exhibits its rāgaswaroopa through the nuances of gamakās and such gamakās are formed with the ‘anuswaras’, i.e. the root of gamaka shown in the notation form establishing its path. Such notation ‘padhathi’ (tradition) is called descriptive notation. In prescriptive notation, i.e. the normal notation way, we cannot exhibit the path of gamaka. Such a study on notation also conveys the facts of gamakās.

Varnas are the model examples of the real application of gamakās. Through various Varnas, we are able to understand the ‘traditional prayōga padhathīs’ of gamakās. It is very important that unless the Varnas are learnt from guru mukha, the proper way of gamaka prayogas in the descriptive form cannot be adopted in the right way.

The celebrated Ata tala Varna ‘Viriboni’ of Pachimiriyam Adiappa Iyer in Bhairavi rāga exposes all the varieties of gamakās of Bhairavi. ‘Kamakshi Swarajathi’ of Syama Sastri and the Varna ‘Viriboni’ show all the pancha dasa gamakas of raga Bhairavi.

Treatment of gamakās sometimes varies from school to school. Even though ‘prayoga’ (usage) of gamakās in our rāgas have certain common principles, slight variations may occur according the individuality of ‘bhāni’ retained by various traditions. Many musicians of the past era, who have established their own style, have adopted their own peculiar style of gamaka prayōgās also. For instance, Dikshitar compositions and ‘Padās’ of Kshetrjnar were effectively propagated by Brinda-Muktha school, a great tradition following every sanctity and purity of gamakās of Carnatic music.

A comparative study on different types of musical forms also helps us understand the different facets of gamakās. Different types of musical forms are also slightly varying from one to another in adopting individuality in gamaka style.

Approach of gamaka style in instrumental music is also worth mentioning. An analytical and comparative study on the different styles adopted in vocal music and instrumental music shows that the gamakās which are not allowed in vocal style are sometimes possible in instrumental music to a certain extent. Most of the gamakās in pancha dasa and dasavidha varieties are more suitable for instrumental music than vocal. The gamaka approach in veena, violin, and flute are vary slightly from each other.

The awareness of the important role of gamaka in Carnatic music is very essential for a performer, student, and a good listener of music. Rāga, the most magnificent personification of our music, attains its real soul through exploiting the nuances of gamakās.


Dr Shertallay K.N. Renganatha Sharma,
Associate Professor in Music,
SSSV College of Music,
Madurai Kamaraj University,


Sep 02, 2010
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