The Saraswati Veena

         The Veena is one of the most ancient string instruments of India.  Its origin can be traced back to the ancient Yazh, a stringed instrument, similar to the Grecian harp. Bharata, in his Natya Shastra, explains the theory of the 22 shruti-s is in an octave with the help of 2 experimental Veena-s.

         The Veena then went through several innovations and modifications. In its current form, the instrument can be attributed to Ragunath Nayak (circa 17th century) of Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu.

         The Veena is 1.5 mts long and is made from jack wood. It has large, round body with a thick, wide neck, the end of which is carved into the head of a dragon. A small resonator is attached to the underside of the neck. The Veena has 24 metal frets embedded in hardened bees-wax, mixed with charcoal powder.

         Melody is produced on four metal strings that run above the frets. These are stretched over a wide bridge that sits on the body of the Veena. Three other strings run alongside the neck of the instrument. These are used for maintaining time and for playing the drone. The performer, who sits cross-legged on the stage, rests the small resonator on the left lap. The fingers of the left hand are used to press, pull and glide on the frets, while the fingers of the right hand are used to pluck and twang the strings.

         The Veena is a complete instrument and provides the basic components: sruti, laya and sahitya. Its main attraction is the mellow tonal quality, which is capable of evoking a meditative atmosphere.

         Unlike north Indian instruments like the Sitar, the Saraswati Veena has no sympathetic strings. It has only 4 playing strings and 3 drone strings (thalam). The main bridge is a flat bar made of brass. This bar has a very light curve. It is this light curve, which gives the Veena its characteristic sound. A major center for the manufacture of the Saraswati Veena is in Tanjore.

         Sarangadeva has beautifully elaborated the divinity of Veena as:

Darshana sparshane chasya bhoga svargapavargade ।

Punito viprahatyadi patakaih patitam janam ।।

Danda sambhuruma tantri kakubhah kamalapatih ।

Indra patrika brahma tumbam nabhih sarasvati ।।

Dorako vasukirjiva shudhamshuh sarika ravih ।

Sarvadevamayi tasmad veeneyam sarvamangala ।।

         (That is, by seeing and touching the Veena, one attains the sacred religion and liberation. It purifies the sinner, who is been guilty of killing a Brahmin. The danda, made of wood or bamboo, is Siva, the string is Devi Uma, the shoulder is Vishnu, the bridge is Lakshmi, the gourd is Brahma, The navel is Saraswati, The connecting wires are Vasuki, the jiva is the moon and the pegs are the sun. The Veena thus represents nearly all the Gods and Goddesses, and is, therefore, capable of bestowing all kinds of divine blessings, benediction and auspiciousness).

- Shared by D. Sharataram

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