For centuries over, dating back to vedic times, veena is considered as a divine
instrument and playing veena is considered to be a yoga . "All emotions, feelings
and rasas (nine emotions) are evolved from this instrument" says mythology.
Yagjavalkya Maharishi observed that:
Veena vadana tatvagjah Srutijaati Visarathah |
Talagjascha$prayatnena mokshamargam sa gachchati ||
(In short, it means, salvation or liberation can be attained effortlessly
by playing veena). Maharishi has chosen the word “aprayatnena” (effortlessly)
since the usual yogas prescribed by the vedas for liberation require lot of
mental and physical efforts.
Veena, the traditional instrument of India is also known as Saraswati Veena
which is a musical instrument of South India. Veena is a classical instrument
basically plucked stringed instrument that is used to accompany Carnatic
music. Veena is essentially a member of the lute family. The traditional Veena
has been modified and refined over centuries and has been used since ancient
times. During 17th century, the Saraswati Veena was created in the south
Veena instruments developed more like a tree which is branching out into
instruments as diverse as the exotic harp-like Akasa (a veena that was tied up
in the top of trees for the strings to vibrate from the currents of wind) and the Audumbari veena (played as an accompaniment by the wives of Vedic priests
as they chanted during ceremonial Yajnas). Veenas ranged from one string to
one hundred, and were composed of many different materials like eagle bone,
bamboo, and wood and coconut shells.
The Saraswati Veena is nearly about four feet in length and consists of a big
round resonator that is carved out of hollow log and Jack fruit wood. It has
a hollow neck (fret board) that is lined with 24 brass frets, set in black wax on
wooden tracks. At the tapering end of the neck is a tuning box that concludes in a
downward curve and a beautifully carved dragon's head. There are four main
playing strings that are attached to the end of the resonator and three secondary
strings cross the curving side bridge (They are drone strings to maintain
the rhythm of a song like the lower strings of a modern day guitar).
"The current form of the Saraswati veena with 24 fixed frets evolved in
Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, during the reign of Raghunath Nayak and it is for
this reason sometimes called the Tanjore veena, or the Raghunatha veena.
Prior to his time, the number of frets on the veena were less and also movable.
The Saraswati veena developed from Kinnari Veena. Made in several regions
in South India, those made by makers from Thanjavur in the South Indian state
of Tamil Nadu are to date considered the most sophisticated.
Sangeeta Ratnakara calls it Ekatantri Veena.
Each physical portion of the veena is said to be the seat in which subtle aspects
of various gods and goddesses reside in Hinduism. It is believed that
instrument’s neck is Shiva; the strings constitute his consort, Parvati.
The bridge is Lakshmi, the secondary gourd is Brahma, the dragon head is
Vishnu. Upon the resonating body is Saraswati. Thus, the veena is the abode of
divinity and the source of all happiness according to Musicologists.
The Veena is an instrument which is shown being played by Goddess
Saraswati. That is how the traditional Indian Instrument derives the name
"Saraswati Veena". The Veena is a traditional stringed Indian musical Instrument
having number of variants. Popular variations of the Veena in India are
Rudra Veena, Mahanataka Veena, Vichitra Veena and Gottuvadhyam Veena.
The Veena has been a very popular instrument with most singers and there are
many famous Veena players who have played some great compositions.
The Veena has a double base unlike sitar and it produces sound similar in
character to the sitar but is favoured by many because of its ease of playing style
and its impressive designing.
How to play a Veena
The Veena is held tilted slightly away from the performer. One has to sit cross
legged and place the Veena on the lap. A small gourd is placed on the left
thigh of the player and the resonator is rested on the ground while it is played.
The left arm of the Veena player comes curving from below the fret board and
rests on the frets. The right hand is placed on the edge of the top plank in order
to pluck the strings. The frets are played with the fingers of the left hand while
the right is for plucking the strings. The lower strings are played using
the little finger. The Veena produces a beautiful and enigmatic sound that is
often used to relax the mind and help in meditation.
The origin of nadam or musical resonance
According to astronomy, in Libra constellation there is a
star called Swathi, also
known as Alpha Cygnus. This constellation represents a
picture of Lyre or
Many decades ago, scientists and philosophers detected a
hissing noise coming
out of this constellation. This is nothing but nadha or
musical resonance that
pervades the universe. This not only pervades the
universe but also the human body
to be discovered by one within oneself.
Therefore veena is a very spiritual
instrument meant for nada yoga. This is
meant for musical meditation.
Our human body is comparable to veena instrument.
Both these veena is to
attain salvation and soul liberation.
Physical and spiritual similarities between veena and
the human body
There are lot of physical and spiritual similarities between veena and
Veena has head like human being which is called Kudam. Veena
the trunk of the veena. It is like the spinal cord for human being. A
trunk of veena
has 24 frets and like 24 vertebrae of a spinal cord. These
vertebrae is divided into
cervical, dorsal and lumber. The cervical consists of
7 vertebrae analogous to
7 frets placed in the neck region of the veena. Dorsal
consist of 12 vertebrae and
it comes in the middle of the trunk of veena.
Lumber consist of 5 vertebrae and
it is at the base of the trunk of veena. These
frets are set and held in bee wax and
not movable. The veena dhandi is extends
to simha mukha or dragon head. This is
a curve which is also there in human
Veena is made of wood from Jackfruit tree. The wood is cut
out of Jackfuit tree and seasoned and only then the wood grain absorb the
musical resonance. When veena
is made out of pure Jackfruit tree wood, the
veena sounds very good and natural.
So, this “Kudam” is full of musical
The first string is tuned to D sharp, the 2nd to
A sharp and 3rd string to D sharp
and 4th to A sharp. (SA
PA SA PA). Thalam strings are called drone or supportive
strings and it used to
keep the rhythmic cycles of different beats.
It is believed and proved that Veena prevailed from the Veda yuga. The above given
sloka of Yaagnanalkya might have given encouragement and enthusiasm to many
scholars for investigation and experimentation. It is believed that Indian music in
general had Veena as the guiding star for its development.
Sarangadeva has beautifully elaborated the divinity of veena as:
Darsana sparsane chasya bhoga svargapavargade |
Punito viprahatyadi patakaih patitam janam ||
Danda sambhuruma tantri kakubhah kamalapatih |
Indra patrika brahma tumbam nabhih sarasvati ||
Dorako vasukirjiva sudhamsuh 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 Sarasvati, 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).
The music of veena has been glorified by the tamil saivite saints in various
places. It is said in Tiruvilaiyadarpuranam that Lord Siva sung with a veena
when he came to help Panapaththirar to beat the musician
Yemanathabhagavatar. Manikkavasagar in Tirupadaiyatchi claims,
“veenai murandrezhu mosaiyil inba mikuththidu makathe” (Veena nadam
bestows paramanandam (ultimate bliss) to man. Such bliss cannot be attained
even in Samadi state). Tirumoolar in his monumental work, Tirumantiram
concludes that (verse 607) but for yogis, no one can understand the glory of
the veena nada. Appar goes one step further when he compares the
bliss of remembering the lotus feet of the Lord with a set of mundane things.
Maasi veenaiyum maalai mathiyamum
Veesu thendralum, veengila venilum
Moosu vandarai poygayum pondrade
Eesan enthai inaiyadi neezhale.
The first of the mundane things to appear in his mind for comparison with the
lotus feet of the Lord is the “maasil veenai”, that is, the blemishless sound of
The music world has always kept the highest regard for the veena
music. Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar was a veena player par excellence; hence
the sangatis and phrases in his songs are coloured with gamakas
characteristic of Indian music. He proudly stamps his signature as
“Vainika Gayaka Guruguha” in the Bhairavi song Balagopala. He
addresses Raja Matangi, a form of Divine Mother depicted as playing veena,
as Veena gana dasagamakakriye in his immortal song
"Meenakshi me mudam". Saint Tyagaraja observes in the song
"Mokshamu Galata" that people know not the secret of Lord Siva deriving
immeasurable pleasure from the music of veena. It may further be noted that
the first part of the charanam of this song describes implicitly the vocal music
and the second part talks of veena music. It perhaps testifies the intimate
association of veena music with vocal music. At this juncture, it may well
be noted that the renowned musicologist, Prof. Sambamoorthy suggested that
singing along with veena improves the quality of the voice.
In conclusion, veena playing is an yoga by itself, which can bestow happiness
both in mundane as well as supramundane lives. Rishis of the yore to
musicians of the day have engrossed themselves in the divine music of
veena and have looked upon the veena practice as means to an end.
- Smt. Kalpakam Swaminathan
- Doraiswamy Iyengar
- Jayanthi Kumaresh
- Pudukotai R.K. Murthy
- Rajeshwari Padmanabhan
- N. Muralikrishnan
- N. Ravikiran
- S. Balachander
- S.V. Venkateshiah
- Veena Dhanammal
- Veena Venkatagiriappa
- Veene Sheshann