The Indian Percussion Instrument - Ghatam

Information About The Indian Percussion Instrument - Ghatam

The ghatam is India’s one of the most unique musical instruments which exemplifies human ingenuity. Ghatam is nothing more than a simple earthenware pot. It is one of the leading and crucial percussion instrument of Carnatic music followed by mridangam. IT is a fact that those bent towards music and having a natural inclination towards music are capable of drawing and embroidering rhythmic patterns out of everyday objects, on the other hand it is also true that the ghatam that is used as an instrument is not the same clay pot that the Indians use to store their drinking water and carry water from well or public tabs. There is a marked difference in the making of ghatam and these earthenware clay pots used in rural and urban India.

The difference is in the walls of the ghatam which are crafted evenly in their thickness. Some ghatams also have brass flakes mixed into the clay. The result of this combination is a ghatam that is heavier because of brass flakes and brass also helps to emit a metallic sound when played.

Ghatam is played with the help of ten fingers, palms and wrists or heels of the hands. There is a typical way of holding the ghatam.  The ghatam is held against the body of the player. The player is sitting in cross-legged position, and the mouth portion of the ghatam is facing upwards. To create various tonal variations the player strikes the sides of the ghatam and its open mouth.

If you are keen to learn to play ghatam, the basic requirement is continuous practice. Since this Carnatic music accompaniment- ghatam, requires the player to produce complicated rhythmic patterns, sometimes individually and sometimes in a complementary, retorting manner, in such a situation the ghatam player has to have the ability to manipulate the hands and fingers at very high pace all across the body of the ghatam. His fingers should move swiftly, uninterrupted. 

It's important to note that in a traditional Carnatic music concert, this Indian percussion instrument- ghatam is not used as the main percussion instrument. The place of Ghatam is only next to the mridangam. Ghatam is a secondary instrument while Mridangam is a primary Indian percussion instrument used in Carnatic style of music belonging to South India. 

In spite of the ghatam being a secondary instrument, it has still managed to come into its own and stand its own ground. The finest example of this can be found in the talent and percussion skill displayed by the most recognizable name associated with the ghatam, of  the accomplished player T.H. ‘Vikku’ Vinayakram. Besides being an accompanist of repute, he was undoubtedly the first ghatam player who played a major role in percussion ensembles. His Ghatam was the only drum from South India, along with the tabla representing the leather-topped Indian drum with no mridangam at all.

In this jet set age of here today -gone tomorrow musicians, the ghatam is facing some uncommon and unique problems. The one being about its fragile body and the fact that unlike the Table and some other similar Indian percussion instruments it cannot be tuned to various different pitches. Which means that for each different scale or pitch, a different ghatam is required. The pitch can be slightly altered, with a slight manipulation. Meaning, by applying a coating to the inside of the pot, the pitch can be  altered to a small extent.

Like all Indian musical instruments, the ghatam also has its spiritual associations. Among these as most of us know, are the five elements that make up the universe - earth, air, fire, water and space. All these elements are present in the instrument. Ghatam is made of mud. In other words the earth is mixed with water, the ghatam is dried and baked in fire and air respectively, and its hollow shape contains space. The Indian Percussion instrument Ghatam could be made of  made from mud alone or mud and  brass flakes. Ghatam is secondary instrument, after mridangam.

In a nutshell, the ghatam is an ancient indian percussion instrument that originated in South India. Ghatam is a mud pot with quite a narrow mouth. From this narrow mouth , the ghatam shapes itself outwards to form tit's ridge. Ghatam is primarily and basically made from clay and is fired with brass or copper filings along with some amount of iron filings. The size of ghatam varies according to the pitch it is expected to produce and generate.  By applying plasticine, a mixture of clay or water the pitch can be altered to a certain extent. To play the ghatam, the player places it on his/her lap with it's mouth facing the belly of the artist. The artiste uses his fingers and including thumbs, and even palms and the fingernails, but occasionally to produce a wide range of sounds. At times the ghatam is also turned around in such a way that it's mouth faces the audience, and thus the performer is able to play Ghatam more readily on the neck of the instrument.

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