Gamaka or graces of music
Sri Parameswara Bhagavatar,
Thiruvananthapuram (extracted from the notes prepared for a lecture demonstration)
...... 'Variety is the spice of life'. And what is that, which saves the monotony, which adds to the grace, sweetness and melody of our music? Of course, there are several factors. But Gamaka or mode or grace as it is called, is the life of our Carnatic music. A clever musician can take his audience to the land of dreams, can lull them to sleep, can take them to the wonderland, can thrill them with surprise, can rouse them to action, can make them cry or smile, can even lift them to the Heavens, can do all these, by a discreet use of the gamakas. Gamaka is a very common term, so common that many lose sight of its meaning. Very often, lovers of music, and even laymen, pass remarks on it. They speak of Vina Seshanna's gamakas, talk of Maha Vaidhyanatha Aiyer's brigas and ravas and pass comments on Ariyakudi's raga moorchanas and so on. But, some may not even know that rava, briga and moorchana are all gamakas. A gamaka is defined as, "swarasya kambo gamaka: srotra chitta sukhavaha:". That graceful movement of the swara, that fine pull of the string, which brings happiness to the hearer is a gamaka. Different gamakas arouse different emotions. Singing or playing the same kind of gamaka throughout, makes it dull and monotonous. A happy combination and intertwining of the various gamakas is what is wanted. These gamakas are not at all independent, but, I would emphatically say that they are interdependent. Knowingly, and very often unknowingly, musicians in general, make use of the several gamakas. But a master of music knows exactly when to use a particular gamaka and how to use it to advantage. I have seen and heard that famous Thirukodikaval Krishna Aiyer, the veteran violinist, keeping his audience in a perfect trance, by his various kampitha and orikkai gamakas, and again rousing them by his sudden flashes of ravas, pratyahatas and brigas. It is said that Vina Kalyanakrishna, the great, who is spoken of as an avatar of Saraswati, owed his greatness as much to his mastery of the gamakas as he owed it to his supreme layagnana. We have all heard of dasavida gamakas. Some are of opinion that there are 15 varieties, and some say that there are even more. Gamakas on the vina are formed in three ways; and they can be grouped under three main headings according to their modes of production.
• A set of gamakas is formed by pulling the string downward with the left hand fingers, keeping them on a particular swara. This can be called 'the kampitha type'. • Those gamakas that are formed mainly by beating with the left hand middle finger on a particular swara belong to the 'sphurita' family. • The third is the 'moorchana' family, formed mainly by sliding the left hand fingers along the string. Kampitha family Even the stress we lay on a particular swara in a particular raga is a gamaka. This stress brings out the raga bhava clearly. We all know that the stress is on the rishabha and dhaivata in Sankarabharana and in madhyama and nishada in bhairavi. But if we misplace the stress there is a jarring effect and the raga loses its expression. Kampitha is the main gamaka in this group. It shines best when played in the madhayamakala. It is a place of rest for the musician to enjoy. It is a calm after a shower of brigas and ravas. Most of us have never failed to enjoy the soothing effect of the dhaivata in Saveri, the gandhara and madhyama in varali and the rishabha in gowla. Such examples are only too numerous. Kurulam with meetu (plucking) and without meetu is an essential gamaka, very often resorted to in raga alapana. To produce this gamaka, we fix the two left hand fingers on a particular swara and then by pulling the string downward produce one, two, three or even four swarams, according to the suitability of the raga and then coming back to the original swara. Orikai is another essential gamaka that comes under this class. This is a variety of kurulam in the descending order. This gamaka evokes sringara rasa. The Sphurita family These gamakas are produced by beating with the left hand middle finger on particular swaras. Sphuritam and prathyahata are the two essential gamakas in this section. Sphuritam is singing or playing janta swarams in the arohana. Prathyahata is singing janta swarams in the avarohana. But the mode of fingering (when playing on veena) is different. When we play these gamakas, there is a slight touch of the lower swara (for example, when sa sa is played, it sounds as sa nisa, the ni sounding for a very short duration). But this touch should not be too clearly shown. These gamakas find an important place in playing tanams. The rava gamaka also comes under this class. It is most effective when played fast. It can be played singly as saa ri sa saa etc as well as in groups, such as saa ri sa saa ri sa saa and so on. These gamakas especially when they come after the soothing kampithas arouses feelings of wonder and surprise. They give life to the music and save monotony. Usually a rava is followed by a prathyahata like ri ga maa pa ma ma ga gaa.
Moorchana family Now we shall proceed to the moorchana family, formed mainly by sliding along the string. The chief gamakas in this group are: 1. Arohana: This is singing the arohana of a raga in hakara. 2. Avarohana is in the descending order. This also must be sung in hakara. 3. Briga is a combination of arohana and avarohana in full speed. 4. Moorchanas are swara sancharas in both arohana and avarohana so as to bring in the true colour and bhava of a raga. 5. Jaru is a sweep from one swara to a distant swara in the same octave or to a note in a higher or lower octave. This is a very difficult but very effective gamaka. It requires much practice. Now, I shall speak of a few peculiar gamakas, which are of special value. Gumpitha It is formed by pulling and sliding simultaneously. (e.g., rii ga rii ga ,gaa ma gaa ma ... etc). Andholam We all know that it is one of the dasa vidha gamakas. It is formed by swinging from one swara to another. (e.g., pa da pa rii ri, pa da pa saa sa...) These two gamakas evoke veera rasa. Mudritam is a gamaka, peculiar to vocal music. This gamaka is sung with closed lips.