Gamakas are a vital part of Indian music and they serve to determine the melodic character of a raga. They are the back-bone of ragas. Two ragas with identical arohana and avarohana and derived from the same janaka mela might yet differ from each other on account of the characteristic gamakas being present in one raga and absent in the other.
Examples: Arabhi and Sama; Manji and Bhairavi
Gamaka is a comprehensive term meaning and including not only the shakes but also the manipulation of a note in any manner resulting in a musical effect. Gamaka is the life of a raga. There is no raga without gamaka. A raga becomes mere scale without gamaka.
Gamaka was first introduced by Matanga muni. Parsvadeva, in his ‘Sangeetha Samaya Sara’ defines gamaka in the following terms :- “When a note produces the colour of srutis other than those which are its own, it is known as gamaka.”
Narada in his Sangeetha Makaranda refers to 19 gamakas. Sarngadeva, in his Sangeetha Ratnakara enumerates 15 gamakas and gives definitions for them. Govinda Dikshitar, Venkatamakhi and many subsequent writers mention these 15 gamakas, which are known as Panchadasa Gamakas.
Swarasya kampo gamakaha – srotru chitta sukhaavahaha
Tasya bhedastutiripaha – sphuritaha kampitastathaha
Leena andolita valehi – tribhinna kurulahataha
Ullasitaha plavitascha – gumphito mudritastatha
Namito misritaha pancha daseti parikeertitaha
— Sangeeta Ratnakara
Gamakas are 15 according to the above sloka:
- Tiripa: Playing one of the notes of a phrase with some stress; as r in n s r s. (Eg., Swaminatha paripala – yasumam – Nata raga)
- Sphurita: Giving stress to the second note in a Janta Swaram SS. A janta svara phrase where in the lower note in between each janta svara group is faintly heard.
- Kampita: It is a shake.
- The manipulation of the note is such that there is not even the remotest suggestion of the adjacent notes.
- In the shake of the ga in Atana, Anandabhairavi and Dhanyasi ragas, we come across a dirgha kampita or larger shake.
- The shake of ga in Sriraga is a hrasva kampita or a small shake
- Lina: Merging the lower note into the higher note or vice versa.
- 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.
- Vali: Producing the chhaya of 2 or 3 notes from the same svarasthana by deflecting the string in a circling manner. This gamaka belongs to fretted instruments like the Veena. (This grace occurs in Kanada raga).
- Tribhinna: On veena, putting 3 fingers on 3 wires and sounding 3 different notes simultaneously, harmony results.
- Kurula: This is the production from a svarasthana, of the note of another sthana with force. While singing or playing N D P M, if they are sounded N,S; D,N; P,D; M, it is Kurula.
- Aahata: Sounding a note and then producing another note without a separate stroke. This is a veena gamaka. It is of 2 kinds:
- RAVA: It is an avarohana gamaka having one Janta with an extra higher note. (Example: GRR; MGG; PMM) It is a very important gamaka in Indian music.
- KHANDIMPU: It is also an avarohana gamaka wherein te 2nd note of avarohana phrase is given an intonation (Example: ‘Maa, Gari Sa’ in Arabhi)
- Ullasita: It is Glide. It is of 2 kinds. It is both glide of Ascent and glide of Descent.
- Plavita: It is a variety of Kampita. It is a kind of Vali with the difference of slower action.
- Gumpita / Humpita: It is a manner of vocal singing. The tone is slender at the start and goes on increasing in both volume and pitch like the notes of the ekkalam. The progression may also be the other way. Thus this is another variety of jaru. This is a 2-dimensional gamaka. (The note of the Siren is a good example of this).
- Mudrita: Manner of singing. Singing with closed lips, making the sound “Um…..”
- Namita: It is a modulation reducing the sound of vocal music or instrumental music. It is a manner of singing or playing.
- Misrita: Combining 2 or 3 gamakas mentioned above.
Lina, Andolita and Plavita are only varieties of Kampita.
Ullasita and Gumpita are not shaken. Sarangadeva in his Sangeeta Ratnakara made the above descriptions of 15 gamakas.
But later, a system of 10 gamakas was propounded and this has found wide acceptance. They are known as Dasavidha Gamakas. Though the ten gamakas are not exhaustive, yet they include within them the more important of the panchadasa gamakas and a few of the ancient Alankaras. They are: Arohana, Avarohana, Dhalu(sparkling), Sphurita, Kampita, Ahata, Pratyahata, Tripuscha, Andola and Murchana.
In these 10 supposed gamakas, arohana, avarohana and Moorchana are not gamakas. They are ascent, descent and both together.
According to Sangeeta Ratnakara, gamakas are infinite. The statement of 15 gamakas is logical to some extent. The theory of 10 gamakas is partly repetition and partly incorrect.