Gamakas – Ornamentation of Carnatic Music

Gamakas are one of the primary/essential aspects of Manodharma Sangita which has 22 microtones or srutis. Every Raga has to be necessarily rendered with the appropriate Gamakas for the swaras, since swara is not a discrete note, but a scale degree and all its associated melodic movement, or Gamaka. Specific types of Gamakas depend on the manner of quivering or shaking, inter-swara transitory phrases and swara overtones.

Gamaka is much more than an ornament to Carnatic Music. It is a fundamental element of a raga. Gamaka provides motion and life to a swara and animates it.

“The moment a gamaka clothes the Swarasthana [note position in the octave], the latter is quickened into life. For the gamaka builds up a relationship with neighbouring members of the family [of swaras] to the right and to the left”.

(Ayyangar 1972:148)

The classic treatise on Indian music, “Sangita Ratnakara” defines fifteen variants of Gamakas

Panchadasa Gamakas – 15 Gamakas mentioned by Sārangadeva in Sangita Ratnakara

स्वरस्य कम्पो गमकः श्रोतृचित्तसुखावहः |
तस्य भेदास्तु तिरिपः स्फ़ुरितः कम्पितस्तथः ||
लीन आन्दोलित वलि त्रिभिन्न कुरुलाहताः |
उल्लासितः प्लावितस्च गुम्फ़ितो मुद्रितस्तथा ||
नामितो मिश्रितः पञ्चदशेति परिकीर्तिताः |

A short description of the 15 gamakas:

Tiripa Playing one of the notes of a phrase with some stress
Sphurita A janta swara phrase wherein the lower note in between each janta swara group is faintly heard. The second note of each janta is stressed
Kampita A shake. When one oscillates between two swaras while holding a particular swara, a kampita is achieved
Līna Merging of a note softly into another note
Andolita A free swinging. Holding on a note for some time and then pulling the string or gliding on it so as to reveal a higher note
Vaļi Producing the chhāyā of two or three notes from the same swarasthāna by deflecting the string in a circling manner (only in fretted instruments)
Tribhinna Produced by placing the left-hand fingers on a swarasthāna so that the fingers are in contact with three strings, and then by plucking the three strings with the right hand fingers either simultaneously or successively (only in fretted instruments)
Kurula This is the production from a swarasthāna, of the note of another sthāna with force
Ᾱhata Sounding a note and then producing another note without a separate stroke (only in vina)
Ullasita Jāru or glide

  • Etra jāru (ascending)
  • Irakka jāru (descending)

Starting on a note and reaching a different (higher or lower) note by gliding over the intermediate notes

Plāvita This is a variety of Kampita
Gumpita Belongs to vocal music. The tone is slender at the start and goes on increasing in both volume and pitch
Mudrita Belongs to vocal music. Produced by closing the mouth and singing
Nāmita Belongs to vocal music. Singing in a slender tone
Misrita Mixture of two or three of the other varieties
References
  • Violin Techniques in Western and South Indian Carnatic Music - Dr. M. Lalitha
  • Gamaka or graces of Music - Sri Parameswara Bhagavatar
  • Ornamentation in South Indian Classical Music - GordonSwift
  • Gamaka and Vadanabedha - Ranganayaki Veeraswami
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