GHATAM is one of the oldest percussion instruments of South India. The mouth of the GHATAM is open and is played with two hands, wrists, ten fingers and nails. GHATAM is a specially designed clay pot, usually made of a mixture of clay baked with brass or copper fillings and a small amount of iron fillings. The pitch of the GHATAM varies according to its size. Each GHATAM has an inherent pitch of its own, but can be altered marginally by the application of plasticine clay and water to the insides of the pot.

Ghatam is unique in the whole array of musical instruments, as all the five elements of nature - earth (prithvi), water (jalam), air (vayu), fire (agni) and space (akasha) are found in it. The basic material for Ghatam is mud that represents the holy earth. Mud is mixed with water, another element of nature. It is then baked in fire adding the third element. The air inside the belly of the Ghatam encompasses space or akasha that reverbates creating the musical sound. Ghatam, thus, represents all the five elements of nature!


Udupa with Guru Vidhushi Sukanya Ramgopal and
Ghatam Maestro Vikku Vinayakaram.


Here is a research paper presented by Ghatam Maestro Vikku Vinayakaram on ghatam (Courtesy: Percussive Arts Center, Bangalore)  


GHATAM means pot in Sanskrit. It is a percussive instrument and ancient like other musical instruments mridangam, veena etc. Sage Valmiki in his Ramayana describes about the sound emanating from GHATAM (Sundara Kandam, Chapter 10, Sloka 46). Besides, in a work called ‘ Krishna Ganam ’, there is an important reference about ‘GHATAM’. In this, there is a description of a cowherd playing on a pot as an accompaniment to Lord Krishna’s Flute. GHATAM has found its place in ancient books on musical instruments. From all these, we conclude that GHATAM is a very ancient instrument.


GHATAM is different from ordinary mud pots, with its mouth being narrow. Its size differs according to the pitch or shruthi. The ones of lower pitch will be of bigger size. It has three portions namely mouth, a slanting portion from the mouth and the round shaped bottom portion.

A special type of baked clay is used for the preparation of this instrument. With that, copper, iron, or brasses fillings are mixed. The mix which also includes some other powders is known to the traditional makers only.

This instrument is made in number of place in south India, but the ones made in Mana Madhurai are famous for their quality and strength. So this is preferred by most of the vidwans.


Known as Noot in Kashmir and Mudki in Rajasthan, it was mainly a folk instrument in olden days. In south India, it has become highly sophisticated instrument raised to concerts status. Apart from traditional concert platforms, GHATAM is also gaining prominent status in Rock music, Jazz, Jugal bandhis, Fusion, Ensembles and unique programmes.


In North India, the instrument is placed on a small round block with the mouth facing upwards and played on the sides by right hand on the mouth by left hand. Rings and bangles are also used to create sound. But in South India, it is placed on the lap, its mouth facing the stomach, played with gush of air with the help of belly. It is played with fingers, wrists and even nails. Its position is changed while playing. It is the only instrument whose position is changed while playing. Sometimes to delight the audience, the instrument is thrown up and caught suitable in rhythm, mainly during laya vinyasas.


Basically it has three modes of sound production using middle portion, upper portion and the bottom portion of the instrument. Seven words are given to indicate these three sounds to enable easy fingering. The seven words are namely THA, THI, THOM, NAM (DHIM), TI, KUN, NA. The combinations are chosen so that it will be pleasing to ears. For different talas fitting combinations are played.


Unlike other instruments this is the only instrument which is homogenous in structure. This is the only instrument which is moved into various positions during playing. Like flute, the pitch or shruthi of the instrument cannot be changed.


It is understood that the famous Kanjira player Pudukkotai Dakshina Murthy Pillai was well versed in ghatam also. Later Palani Krishna Iyer, Sundaram Iyer, Vilvadri Iyer, Alangudi Ramachandran, Kothandarama Iyer were all notable ghatam vidwans.


Though a concert can be held without a second line percussion instrument, there is certainly a difference when a ghatam, Kanjira or Morching joins with the Mridangam in a concert. Normally a dhothi is good enough. When we put on a shirt we feel a completeness. When a “ Angavastra ” is put on it adds to our get up. Added to this if we wear perfumes also we feel satisfied. In the same way the second line percussion instruments add a beauty and completeness to the concert. During “ Swaras ” when Mridangam is played for main artiste, the second line percussion instruments are played for violin. During “ Thani Avarthanams ” or Laya Vinyas, the new sound of the second instrument combines with the sound of mridangam and gives a beauty to the “ Thani ”.

Comparing GHATAM with Mridangam which is the basic laya instrument in Karnatak music, we note the following aspects.

  • Both are played using both hands

  • Sound places of Mridangam is almost available in ghatam also.

  • “ Ghum ” sound can be produced more or less in ghatam also.

  • Syllables and Korvai’s of Mridangam can be produced in ghatam also with matching “ Nadam ” and getup.

Certain disciplines are to be observed for the “ ghatam ” to add beauty to the concerts. In the beginning of the concert itself the ghatam artiste should ascertain the level and mentalities of the main artiste, Violinist and the Mridangist. This has to be learnt by experience. During Keerthanas and pallavis mainly Mridangam is played but ghatam can join if required. During Pallavi, “ghatam ” can join in top level and low level syllables and join fully during “ Swaram ”. During Laya vinyas it should be played matching with the     “ korvais ” of Mridangist but without exceeding the same. While reducing in Thani it should be played in close association with Mridangam. Even if it not possible to play the same reduction in Misram, Kandam etc, atleast the qualities of these should be reflected in “ ghatam ”. Overall it should be played without affecting the beauty of the whole concert.


GHATAM has got some unavoidable disadvantages. As already told, we cannot alter the shruthi of this instrument. Though the shruthi matches with the main artiste in the beginning, it may change during the concert due to climatic and other conditions. This cannot be corrected like other instruments. If the pitch is slightly on the higher side, we can some how manage. But nothing can be done if pitch is low. On such situation the thumb should not be used much because the Nadam mainly emanates from that only.

So the success and satisfaction of playing GHATAM in a concert depends upon the cooperation of main artist, other factors like good instrument and more than all, the blessings of Lord.