Contributed by Mr Balakrishnan  (Vaideeswarankoil M. Balakrishnan.)




Before we attempt an account of Gamakas, it is better to place Indian music as an essentially Manodharma Sangeeta (or, "individual-imagination (intuition) -driven-music" – in its perspective.


Indian, and in particular, Carnatic, classical music is most often performed by single individuals (with accompanists, as in the case of a typical concert). This contrasts with Western music in which mostly,  groups of people sing, or an orchestra with segments of instrumentalists, performs in harmony according to given detailed notations for the music,   melodic ornamentations as such not usually having  a dominant role which is taken over by the concept of harmony which has  historically been the subject of development by great classical composers of the West.  Indian classical music has been developed more in accordance with the cultural discipline which emphasizes the identification of one's individual self with the cosmic supreme.  However, the practice of singing in choirs with traces of harmony has been in vogue since time immemorial - in the South, for example, even as early as during the Cilappadhikaram days.  Sadly, this tradition has largely fallen into disuse, confined nowadays as it is mostly to Devaaram singing in some temple processions by trained Odhuvars of Tamizh Naadu and  group Bhajan  singing.


In Manodharma Sangeeta, the hallmark of Indian classical music, the  items  are rendered by the individual with an effort to give expression to his or her own creative ideas, 'ex tempore', that is, distinctly and spontaneously for the occasion and time of presenting the item. The individual singer (or the instrumentalist when playing solo) is expected to display his (or her) creative ideas according to well-established rules. This he should do while reverently adhering to the composer (vaag-geya-kaara)'s original intentions in prescribing  melodic patterns to suit the Bhaavas  (emotion, feeling) he seeks to express through words and Raaga-music. (More on Bhaavas below.)





Gamakas are one of the primary/essential aspects of Manodharma Sangeeta which has 22 microtones or "shrutis". (Microtones are of course used in Western classical music, although relatively sparingly, due to the difficulties of incorporating them along with harmonic chords but they are used much more frequently in non-classical music especially in electronic music).  The shakes and quavers used in Western music do not have the rigorous rules of the Indian classical system which is based on the Raaga (or colour/ emotional quality) concept.  This is a unique aspect of Indian classical music, especially, Carnatic music.


Every Raaga has to be necessarily rendered with the appropriate Gamakas for the Svaras, since Svara is not a discrete note, but a scale degree and all its associated melodic movement, or Gamaka. There are different types of Gamaka which are available for use and each Svara  of Raaga may  be employed   by a musician according to well-defined rules and with flexibility and elaboration limited only  by the musician's creative imagination.


The other primary features of Manodharman Sangeeta may not be  discussed in detail in this brief article on Gamakas.  Suffice it to say they are, primarily :  Bhaava and

Raaga, and, for compositions like Varna, Keertana/Kriti ,Tillaanaa or other type of item, additionally, Taala. The other elements of a composition (not discussed here)  are

Sangatis and  Kaala, and other specialized techniques of sophistication.


The Bhaava aspect, as noted earlier,  is applicable sentiments contained in the  words (saahitya) of  a lyric. There are also specially suitable Bhaavas for which particular  Raaga can be used with effect for a song, with or without time measure - pathos by use of  Raaga Sahana, rejoice using Vasanta, poignancy usingr Kaanada, anger/heroism using Athaana, for instance.  Bhaavas are expressions of  love/devotion (and suppliance) to the deity if a deity is focussed, humility, compassion, and other feelings/emotions.  Most often the Bhaavas in lyrics are broadly formatted by the composer himself who indicates appropriate choices of  raaga sanchaaras (or musical phrases) for the lyrics in desired contexts in order to emphasize  them (the Bhaavas) and the performer may build up on the format  using his innovative imagination even as he conforms to the tradition imbibed from his Guru/s.


All the aspects are duly taken care of by an adequately knowledgeable and creative performer (and further, for a vocal singer, gifted with a melodious voice) who is well-trained and skilled.  The music thus becomes a memorable spirit-impacting experience which is   mutually rewarding to both the audience and the performer, in terms of the enduring peace, tranquillity, strength and joy which are obtained.  A performer cannot hope to entertain and please the audience unless in the first place, he himself enjoys as he performs. It is very evident that although Bhaava, Raaga and Gamaka concepts are discussed in separate terms for analytical understanding of Indian classical music, they are truly interwoven such that each cannot be separated from the others, given the idiom of the Manodharma-sangeeta.




In the words of Ravi Shankar, the world-famous sitar player who contributed greatly to popularising Indian classical music in India and abroad, writing in his "My Music - My Life", "the gamakas , or grace notes--the many different ways of sounding, embellishing, and resolving notes--are the subtle shadings of a tone, delicate nuances and inflections around a note that please and inspire the listener. . . . The ornaments are not arbitrarily attached to a melody; rather, they seem to grow out of it."


Gamakas greatly help to bring out the Bhaava(s) of a Raaga. Each Raaga in its comprehensive definition, or 'Lakshana' in Sanskrit,  is associated with rules for the use of Gamakas for its notes, and not all of the notes in a Raaga may be sung with Gamakas.  (An example illustrates this point:  The Bahudaari raaga has the ascending notes - Aarohana – sgmpdns ,  and Descent - Avarohana : snpmgs.  The svaras ga and dha

are not  rendered with gamakas, although ga may find a subtle place in a gamaka for 'ma' as ma  = gpg, and dha in only in Arohana,  as in  ni  = dsd .  Also these gamakas are not appropriate for the descent, and this differential gamaka availability produces a beauty that can only be experienced by actual listening!)




With the above borne in mind, it is useful to note briefly about the types of Gamakas. The specific types of Gamakas depend on the manner of quivering or shaking, inter-svara transitory phrases and svara overtones. They come in various forms and are incorporated into Raagas, giving each note a unique characteristic and a delicate beauty when performed.


Incidentally, a keyboard type of instrument cannot produce these life-giving Gamakas for the svaras and musical phrases and hence for Raaga-music - except to a small degree of approximation, that too only at the hands of  a very dexterous performer.  Hence, it is that a harmonium or piano is not a good, let alone ideal, instrument for playing Indian classical/ Carnatic music. The harmonium, which is still widely used in India, even for classical music (playing skills are easily acquired)   is a relic of the past.  Christian missionaries introduced the harmonium in their church music as they were unable to comprehend the Gamakas which endows Indian classical music with its unique beauty.


In the srgm notation of compositions, Gamakas may be indicated by use of marks for the type of Gamaka, at the appropriate places but listening to them and innovating wherever admissible is considered more advisable than the composer or Guru writing down all Gamakas, only the very essential ones being shown in the notation, and the others being left to the creative ability of the performer, rather like the Kalpanasvaras that are to be left to his or her imagination, ex tempore. Attempts to accurately represent the Gamakas in Carnatic music compositions have not yielded satisfactory results, because of the elusive and extremely subtle character that would only be properly left to practice under the guidance of the master musicians.


The Carnatic oral tradition has established ten Gamaka types through a process of acceptance and evolution by thoughtful  Gurus of musical  theory and practice .  On the other hand, the classic treatise on Indian music, "Sangeeta Ratnaakara" defines  some more, in all,   fifteen variants of Gamakas (including one mixed, or Mishrita,  type

imaginatively combining two or more of the others).


The Carnatic gamakas in vogue, which differ basically in the manner of their quiver/shake, to produce musical effects each with a distinct, subtle beauty are named below, with their classes in which they are grouped.  The classification is as per the renowned flautist, T. Viswanathan – late professor of music at the Wesleyan University (U.S.) and an inheritor of the music traditions of both the great Veena Dhanammal and the legendary Bharatanatyam T. Balasaraswati, his sister - who distilled this  classification based on traditions and his own knowledge:


Gamaka class                                       Type


A.  ULLASITA/JAARU (Slides)          Irakka-jaaru     Descending slide.

                                                            Etra-jaaru         Aascending slide


B.  GAMAKA* (Deflections)               Nokku             Stress from above on successive, non-repeated tones

                                                            Odukkal           Stress from below on successive (non-repeated) tones

                                                            Kampita           Oscillation

                                                            Orikai               Momentary flick, at the end of the main to a higher tone


C. JANTA (Stresses)                           Ravai                Turn from


                                                            Sphurita            Stress from below on repeated tones

                                                            Pratyaahata      Stress from above on repeated tones

                                                            Khandippu       Sharp dynamic accent


*Not to be confused with the use of the generic Gamakas which we are discussing.





Raaga NATAKURINJI and Raaga MUKHARI with reference to stanzas in Swati Tirunaal's Raagamaalikaa Kriti "Bhaavayaami" Pallavi in Saaveri.


1.  The Raaga Natakurinji is a derivative (Janya) of a basic Melakarta, ARIKAMBHOJI.  It has for its:


AAROHANA(ascent):  srgmndnpdns       and

AVAROHANA(descent): sndmgs/  sndmgmpgrs.


There are some other slightly different variations of representing the ascent and descent of this Raaga, but  the underlying method of all representations  is to indicate in the srgm notation and  bring out the possible permutations and combinations for producing sancharas of this Raaga whose main emotions are Shringaara (love) or other elegant emotions.


Before trying to master Gamakas in any Raaga, whether in an Aalaapanaa or a composition, it is essential for a classical music practitioner / student to  a have a thorough grasp of the sanchaaras of a Raaga and the characteristics of the Raaga as regards the Jeeva svaras and sanchaaras, Kampita svaras ( that is, only those svaras  that admit of the possibility application of 'shaking' as distinct from those that should always be sung flat without bending or shaking ), Nyaasa svaras (that is, those at which a phrase or line in a composition can  pause for additional beauty to the presentation).  This grasp CANNOT BE REALLY OBTAINED THROUGH  ANY AMOUNT OF STUDY OF SPECIAL LESSONS AND BOOKS, BUT will come normally through listening to music -vocal and instrumental -  rendered by  : ......


( a)  MASTERS OF OLDEN DAYS  - examples, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Ayyangar, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyer, MS Subbulakshmi,  GN Balasubrahmanyan, Dwaram Venkataswami  Garu, Mysore Chowdiah , Musiri Subramania Iyer, Balamurali Krishna, ML Vasanthakumari, Veenai Sambasiva Iyer,  DK Jayaraman, DK Pattammal - some of them in our midst  today – whose recordings including full length recitals are available in the market and from music collectors/connoisseurs;   and


TOPRANKING MUSICIANS OF PRESENT DAY –for example, Sanjay Suahbrahmanyan, Sudha Raghunathan, TV Gopalakrishnan, Nithyasree, TM Krishna, Mandolin Srinivas, Vijay Shiva, Sowmya, Ganesh-Kumaresh. (Their full list is

long and growing).


Now, back from the above IMPORTANT aside, we turn to Naata-kurinji, the theme we were discussing:


The sanchaaras with Kampita Gamakas (marked by  )   may be illustrated thus:


On the lower octave: SSdN*S;;;   sr*sddnsR*R*gM;;; sdn*sR*GM;;;;

Middle octave:  srgM*     gmgsr*gM*    GpmgS mgmgS gmNddNPDN*S;;;;;; S(l)S(u)ndN*S;;;

Higher octave: S;;; SR*S;;  n*sr*gmgS;;;; SmgsS;; n*sr*gmpmgS;;    etc.


Descent : SR*S;  dn*srsnd mgmndnS,,,, mgmgS;   rgM*gs sR*sndndm,,,  N,d S, SR*;;;;S


(S(l) = S-lower,  S(u) = S-upper


The reader  would do well to listen, in this context, to the Kriti "Bhaavayaami Raghuraamam"  sung by MS Subbulakshmi (you may go to musicindiaonline for listening online) -  in its stanza beginning with "Dinakara-(a)nvaya-tilakam" (that is I Charanam). This stanza desccribes the valorous acts of Sri Rama in killing Subahu and subjugating Parasurama, besides the chivalrous act of liberating Ahalyaa from her cursed existence as a stone.  The Naatakurinji raaga is apt in this context, what with its brilliiantly executed musical phrases with graceful  gamakas (some of them found above) being used with the svaras and lyrics to express an admiring astonishment at Sri Rama's  warrior qualities of chivalry and valour. The kampita used for Ma, Irakka Jaaru for R, and Odukkai for N, are particularly impressive.  The gamakas of the various types are  woven with simple Mdhyama to second and third durita Kaala pramaanas (fast tempo rhythms) - at once in keepng with the Laya (here, Roopaka  Taala measures) and the Raaga requirements, without violating the lyrical import - that is, with low or high frequency svaras to go along with subdued or deepened sentiments, respectively.  'Effortless and inspired intuition'  (or anaayaasa kalpanaa), will be at work to realize such a lyric-Raaga-Bhaava-Gamaka-laya coalition.


2. The Raaga Mukhari is a derivative of the 22nd Melakartaa Raaga, Kharaharapriyaa and has:


ASCENT:   srmpdnds

DESCENT:  sndpmgrs


{Note:In  the phrases nds, pds, pdnds,  Chjatus-shruti Dhaivata shoul be used and   in mpdp, dpdp, mndp, sndp shuddha Dha must be used.  Although, as a Kharaharapriya

janya, Naatakurinji has a prominent Chatus-shruti dhaivata, which occurs freqsuently in its sanchaaras (see below), the shuddha-dhaivata (shown in the Descent svaras above – which is the same as for Natabhairavi) occurs not as a prominent note, with its usage relatively restricted to sanchaaras involving pdp and ndp (see below). It is pertinent to note here that the Raaga Bhairavi - a Janya of Natabhairavi - has both the Dhaivatas  as well as the other notes as Mukhari, but Bhairavi gives much more prominence to the

Shuddha Dhaivata than its other Dha.  Upon reflection, this fact helps to understand the predominant emotional  quality of Bhairavi is devotion and suppliance, whereas that of

Mukhaari is pathos or else compassion.}


Sanchaaras of Mukhari (Brief Illustration) :



;mN*dP;; Pm*pdP,mgR;  rgrgrgS  rmPP pD,p mpdpmgR;    rmN*N*D DrsndP;; rmpdndS;;


UPPER OCTAVE:   S;;;;   ndsR;; R;;;;;  SRSRmgR; ( R ;Rmmgrsrgrgrs srNDSS;;  dsRR;;)  rMgr; R;;rPmgR;; srmgrsS;sR ,sND DESCENT TO MADHYAMA : dsrsndP;;  (rmpRsnDP;) rmPPPndP;;  mp mpdp mgR;; rpmpmgR;; rgsrgrMgrS R;,pmpmgR;;

RRgS  rGssnDM,pdndDDS;;;


{Note: In the above applications (Prayogas), ndp goes with shuddha dhaivata as in the Aaroha, nds s has chatus-shruti dhaivata, as in Avarohana. ndp   or pndp  or pnds  can be

used with a quaver in n  as sn}.


Listening to the stanza commencing with

"Kanaka-mruga-roopa-dhaaraka-" of the illustrative Kriti, we find a profuse use of Gamakas, almost all the Gamaka types being deployed in order to   bring out the Raaga in its full colour with  shades, to produce the  effects of poignancy

coupld with wonder at the  chivalrous Raama alleviating it. The Gamakas  are carefully chosen without  impairing the basic emotion of pathos  and at the same time carefully

adhering to e Taala measure   and packing a single Svara with its Gamaka tones  - s(U)p instead of P,  Rpmgr instead ogf Rmgr , for example, - in order to avoid monotony of repetition while at the same time  bringing out the nuancves of the Raaga .


These  and the other stanzas   forming the whole of the composition of Svati Tirunaal  are, it is easy to see, are greatly embellished in rendering, by the wel-spun Gamakas both in the imaginatively repeated lines and in the Chittasvara, in such a manner as to fully bring out the emotions (Bhaavas) pregnant in thenumerous Raaga-lyric combinations.  The overall effect of the individual-intuition based music has an inexplicable, enduring quality in terms of the tranquillising effect on both the appreciative audience and the committed performer him(her)self.


It is extremely important for one, right from younger years if possible,  to make a regular habit of  attending wholesome entertainment, such as in Music Festivals,  Temple  and "Sabha" recitals especially in India,  and abroad : the US, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada,  wherever the listener is located. Augmented by help through discussions with musicians and musicologists, talented friends,  and attending music  lecdems (lecture- demonstrations), and help from the WWW and guidebooks/notation books,  healthy habits of spare time use in  "Cutcheries" and  events like contests, an aspiring student can learn music rich with Gamaka-laden , pleasing classical music.  If music is NOT a main line of pursuit, it will be highly rewarding to be a knowledgeable and appreciative listener and patron of our musicians who are among the TRUE representatives of our cultural heritage.


The main occupations will only become more productive for such listeners, since they will develop high levels of concentration and mental endurance and concentration which, as the practically wise know,  can be  used in the main occupations for their self-advancement!  Indeed, there is no better and more cost-effective ways than music, to develop these potential abilities of a person than CLASSICAL music. A couple of years of regular learning from a well-trained music teacher  and habit of  attending (full) concerts as well as spare-time listening to good music with hi-fi systems as  a hobby of one hour in a 24-hour day is well recommended for such aspirants. (Light and film music especially of the present genre is rarely good for the spirit or the intellect, as it is churned out in the belief that such music with vulgar lyrics are unavoidable  in order to pull large masses to the box office, and in the absence of the above wholesome habits and  hobbies, the resultant vacuum will be swiftly filled by harmful ones.)