Ghatam: Wikis


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The ghatam(Tamil:கடம்) is a percussion instrument, used in the Carnatic music of South India. It's analogs in Rajasthan knows as madga and pani mataqa (water jug).

It is an earthenware pot; the artist uses the fingers, thumbs, palms, and heels of the hands to strike the outer surface of the ghatam. An airy low-pitch bass sound, called gumki, is created by hitting the mouth of the pot with an open hand. The artist sometimes presses the mouth of the pot against their bare belly, which deepens the tone of the bass stroke, and is another way to produce the "gumki" sound. Different tones can be produced by hitting different areas of the pot with different parts of the hands. The ghatam usually accompanies a mridangam.

Although the ghatam is the same shape as an ordinary Indian domestic clay pot, it is made specifically to be played as an instrument. The tone of the pot must be good and the walls should be of even thickness all around to produce an even tone. In fact, there are two types of ghatams: Madras and Manamadurai. The Madras ghatam is a light pot which requires less force to play, thus is suited for extended fast patterns. The Manamadurai ghatam is a heavy, thick pot with tiny shards of brass mixed into the clay. This type of ghatam is harder to play but produces a sharp metallic ringing sound which is favored by some players.



Ghatam in Sanskrit means pot, because of its exact resemblance to pot made of red clay. It is interesting to note that the making of the ghatam utilizes all of the five elements, quite detailed in the INdian culture: earth, water, fire, air and space. The clay of the ghatam is made from earth; water is used to moisten the clay; fire is used to harden the clay; air is used to dry the clay; finally, space is present in the hollow spherical clay, giving the clay unique properties; all of these factors constitute the ghatam.

Erstwhile exponents of Ghatam

The information about exponents of GHATAM is available to us from the collected anecdotes of historians and research scholars in music. Chronologically in the erstwhile Mysore Princely state, around two centuries back, there were Rangarao and Samarao, respected court musicians playing ghatam. Guruswamy Iyer and Polagam chidambara Iyer come next in reference. Umayalpuram Sundaram Iyer and Narayana Iyer brothers have been nurturing the art of ghatam significantly in the next generation. Then there was Coimbatore Ananthachar who was a ghatam artiste of high caliber. One Palani Krishna Iyer, originally a good vocalist supporting his teacher in Harikatha musical discourses, developed interest in ghatam after listening to Coimbatore Ananthachar. He not only learned thoroughly, but developed new techniques, exclusive phrases and varieties in presentation. He is considered a pioneer in the Evolution of ghatam playing. Then there were Palani Ranga Iyer, sikkil Narayana Pillai and Madurai ghatam Mani iyer! The other prominent school of ghatam plying originated from Umayalpuram in Kumbakonam town in Tanjore District. Umayalpuram Narayana iyer's (mentioned earlier) son Kothandarama Iyer, originally a mridangam player, to overcome the lack of opportunity for mridangam tried his hands on ghatam. To everybody's surprise, very shortly he could master the instrument and could even dominate the percussion bouts with his arresting techniques, sound combinations and nuances. His style came to be known as Umayalpuram Kothandarama Iyer style. Those who play ghatam after the advent of Palani Krishna Iyer school and Umayalpuram Kothandarama iyer school, either follow one of them or do a combination of both. Thiruvilvamali Vilvadri iyer, Alangudi Ramachandran, Umayalpuram Viswanatha Iyer, K M Vaidyanathan, Umayalpuram Narayanaswamy Iyer, R S Krishnamurthy Rao, Palghat V A Sundaram Bangalore Manjunath, Bangalore K. Venkatram, were great ghatam exponents of the recent past. Bangalore K. Venkataram one of the most respected ghatam players [in South India],of his times, also founded the Percussive Arts Centre in Bangalore.

Present Day Players

One of the modern virtuosos of the ghatam is T. H. Vinayakram affectionately known as Vikku. His younger brother T. H. Subhashchandran and son V. Umashankar have followed him in playing the instrument. The earliest of ghatam players to perform in international areanas with leading tabla and western percussion experts R.R. Prathap / R.R. Praksh T H Vinayakaram is an icon of the current generation. E M Subramaniam, T V Vaasan, N Govindarajan, T H Subashchandran Sukanya Rajagopal (first female ghatam player?) come next. Vaidyanathan Suresh a premier disciple of Vikku Vinayakaram, Giridhar Udupa and Dr.S.Karthik are widely popular Ghatam artists today. H Prasanna, Somnath Roy, N H P Rajarajan and other well known performing artists. A list of other contemporary players may be found here

Similar instruments

The madga is a north Indian version of the south Indian ghatam and is made from a very special clay. The maker sometimes adds some kind of metal or graphit dust to th clay which is responsible for the blue/gray looking and for the special sound.

The madga can be played similarly to the ghatam or like an African udu. The extreme bass volume can be produced if one hits with the flat hand the opening at the top of the instrument. The madga can be played also with mallets (sticks) and there is a lot of differentiated sounds which can be produced with this instrument. It is thinner than a ghatam but one should not be afraid, it is very stable and not so fragile as one should think.

This clay pot in Gujarat is known as matka, features an almost perfectly round shape (tuned to C#), and is made in many villages in and around Jaipur (Rajasthan) and Gujarat. The matka is used to store water and sometimes yogurt (curd), and can also be used as a cooking vessel. When used as a musical instrument in folk music, it is known as ghara and is played in a similar manner as the South Indian ghatam but the technique and rhythmic style is not as refined as that of Carnatic ghatam. Another difference is that the ghara is often traditionally played with metal rings on the thumbs, index, middle, and ring fingers of both hands (but players vary on how many rings and fingers are used). There are a few versions of this instrument. Some are made from a black clay that typically comes from a single area in Rajasthan while many others in Rajasthan and Gujarat are made from a reddish clay. A third version of the ghara is made from reddish clay but features a much flatter, squat shape. Both of the red clay types can also be found highly decorated with colorfully painted designs (pictured below) while the black ones are usually plain and unfinished. The black gharas (or matkas) are extremely light but very dense and have a huge sound. The shell tones ring in a bell-like fashion with much more of a sustain than the various South Indian ghatams (although the Mysore ghatam comes close). The bass tones of this instrument are also very prominent. Since these instruments are fired at a much higher temperature for a longer time than South Indian ghatams, there is more consistency between instruments in terms of Western pitch. In other words, there is much less variation in the tuning when compared with ghatams from South India, which can range from a low B up to a high A chromatically. Gharas/Matkas are usually found with a range from approximately C or C# to D (or slightly higher) although there does not seem to be any indication that these instruments are constructed with tuning considerations. Other spellings for matka include mutkay and madga.

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