Shertallay Column

Significance of gamakās - 1

Carnatic music system has been prevailing in the southern states of India i.e. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala for ages. Indian classical music, especially ‘Carnatic music’, has a characteristic feature that it is a system, strictly adhering to certain authentic and systematic principles.

‘Gamaka’ stands as the first and foremost feature of Carnatic system. It is a widely accepted fact that music embellished with appropriate gamakās evokes a soothing effect on the listeners. It has already been proved that good music has the power of effective medicine for the mind. Our melodic system of music, enriched with appropriate gamakās, has such a powerful effect. The gamakās give beauty to the swaras and mould a rāga with an apt and melodic effect.

“Swarasya kambo gamakaha srothruchitha sukhavaha”

This sloka means, gamakās are the suitable graces, (asaivukal in Tamil), applied on swaras which give a soothing effect to the listeners.

The gamakās are an indispensable part of the south Indian classical music. In both systems of Indian music i.e. Carnatic music and Hindustani, the prayogas of swaras enriched with gamakās are more relevant than plain notes. Even in the learning stage of ‘Saralis’ (basic lessons) in the Rāga Māāamālavagoula we come across the application of slight gamakās in the swaras sudha rishabha and sudha dhaivata. In the later stages of learning, usage of complex gamakās is introduced. Hence, gamakās can be said to be the life of Carnatic music.

Renowned lakshanakarās like Bharatha have revealed the importance of gamaka in their works. Bharata says that music without gamaka is like a moonless night, a river without water, a lady without ornaments and a plant without flowers.

There is a lot of information on gamakās in theoretical as well as practical aspects. We have information of pancha dasa gamakās (15 types) and dasavidha gamakās (10 types).

As per historical information, the dasavidha gamakās came into existence first and later, panchadasa gamakās. Now, these are the relevant sources for the study of the gamakās in detail.

Many lakshanagrandhās also deal with the subject in different angles. ‘Narada Sikha’ deals with dasavidha gamakās that existed in sacred and secular music. Matanga is the earliest lakshanakara who describes the term gamaka in this Brihaddessi. The Adwaitha founder, Adi Sankara referred this topic gamaka in his Soundarya Lahari also. Nanyadeva, Parswadeva, Haripala referred to seven types of gamakās in their works Sangithasamayasara, Sangitha Sudhakara and Natyasastra commentary.

Narada in his Sangitha Makaranda refers to 19 types, Sarangadeva in his Sangitha Ratnākara mentions 15 types, Govinda Dikshithar, Venkatamakhi and others mention 15 types of Gamakās. Somanātha, in his work ‘Rāgavibōdha’ mentions several types of gamakās with their proper notation.

Great musicologists like Prof P Sambamurthy who have analysed such works, explain that, in those days as the word gamaka was not relevant, the word ‘alankāra’ was used in this sense.

“Sasinā Rahithēva Nisā Vijalēva Nadī Lathā Vipushpāva

Avibhūshithēva Kānthā Gīthiralankārāhīna Syāth”

This sloka of Bharatha might be in the sense of’ ‘grace’ i.e. gamaka. Gamakās is the main factor which gives the melodic character of music.

Panchadasa gamakās are taken for a study in the angle of the possibilities of applications in practical music in various compositions. According to the Lakshana Grandha reference the pancha dasa gamakās are:

1.  Tiripa - The stress of a certain swara.

2        Sphurithā - The janta prayogas.

3        Kampithā - General nature of embellishment. There are two types

     Deergha kampitha and hrasva kampitha

4.  Līna - Merging of one into another swara.

  1. Andōlitha - Free swinging.
  2. Vali - Standing on one note and create the embellishment of the other notes (veena gamakās)
    1. Tribhinnā -This gamaka is also suitable for fretted instruments like veena.

8. Kurula - Forceful production of another note from a lower note.

9. Āhata - Also a veena gamaka.

10. Ullāsitha - This gamaka is of two types: They are upward glide and downward glide.

  1. Plāvitha - This is a type of the kampitha gamaka.
  2. Gumbhitha - Belongs to vocal music. Increasing the volume as well as pitch like a siren.

13. Mudritha - The gamaka is created by closing the mouth and then singing.

14 Nāmitha - Singing in a slender tone.

15. Misritha - A mixture of two or three above varieties at a time.

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



(To be contd)

Aug 17, 2010
More Shertallay Column

Post Your Comments
Security Code*
More Shertallay Column
Photo Gallery

Trailer of Neethane En Ponvasantham

Trailer of 'Nanban'