Here's an interesting, but little known
legend illustratiing the magic of music: The sages in the forest were once troubled by a fire-spitting dragon that impeded
their yagnas and caused them untold
misery. So, they sought Brahma's help. He wondered if his consort, Saraswati, could tame the dragon with her music. Saraswati
hid herself in the forest and played on the veena.
The dragon, attracted by the wondrous music,
stopped its destruction and went in search of the source of the elusive and haunting melody. Soon it relinquished its havoc
and developed such a yearning for the mellifluous music that it became restless without it. Finally it begged to know who
was producing the music.
Saraswati then appeared before the dragon
and played the veena. The enchanted dragon pleaded for salvation and a permanant place near it. Accordingly Saraswati replaced
the peacock (which became her vahana)
with the dragon's head, so that it could always be a part of the music it loved.
No wonder then that the sage Yajnyavalkya says, in the sloka, 'veena vadhana thathvagnaha sruti sasthra visarahaha, thalagnascha prayaasena
moksha marga gachchathi' (one who is versed in playing the veena, one who is adept in the varieties of the sruti
and one who is adept in tala; all of them attain salvation wothout effort).
Records show that the veena, which has an
interesting history and many legends associated with it had existed even in the vedic era, when sages palyed on it during
rituals. But the instrument gained popularity only in the 13th centur. By then all stringed instruments were broadly known
Interestingly, the satatantri veena
is a forerunner of the santoor of Kashmir and Persia
that uses two rods to produce the melody. The 22- strings sruti veena existed since the days of Saranga deva and the
curved dhanur veena which has vertical strings and a bow like the violin, is to be found in some Muslim countries too.
The rudra veena with its reduced number of strings and gourd resonator ushered in the plucking technique, and the kinnari
veena with three gourd resonators is prevalent in parts of north India.
The present form of the veena is a polyphonous
instrument, designed and developed by Govinda Diksihtar during the reign of Raghunath Naik of Tanjore. Hence it is also known
as the Tanjore veena, or Raghunatha veena.
Tanjore is today the most popular and widely
acclaimed centre producing this instrument. The other popular centres are Trivandrum,
Bobbily, Vijaynagar, Rampur and Lucknow.
The instrument has a fretted finger-board
with four strings for playing the notes and three drone-cum-tala strings. The pradarshana veena is a samishti vadya
used for performances and also to demonstrate musical laws and phenomena. Nada (its melody) is infused into the instrument
from inception. But the dvani (the sound produced) depends on the playing technique.
The veena is a versatile instrument on which
one can play various styles like classical or light music and bhajans or Western music with equal ease.
Earlier, wood from the jackfruit trees growing
in temple courtyards was used to make this instrument. It was believed that such wood absorbed the resonance of the temple
bells. Now, of course, other types of woods are used and some have also experimented with fibre glass, though this is not
The frets of the veena are bordered by a
waxy ledge. The renowned vainika, ‘Shatkala Chakravarti’ Venkatrama Das of Vijayanagar, one of the few
who held this instrument vertical while playing, reportedly replaced the waxy ledge with a wooden one. The instrument has
three main parts- the kudam, dandi, (to which is attached the gourd resonator) and the yali mukham joined together.
Strips of stag-horn are used at the joints. The 23 ribs (22- sruti and one tarasadjam) along the side of the
kudam are to be found only in the venas made in Tanjore and Trivandrum.
A great deal of religious significance is
attached to the Veena. Saraswati the goddess of learning, is always depicted with this stringed instrument in her hands.
Deities are believed to abide in the various
parts of the instrument and the 24 frets are compared to the Gayatri mantra, while the four strings used for playing
are set to symbolize the four Vedas- Rig veda (sadjam),Yajur (panchamam), Sama (mandram) and Atharva (anumandram).
There is an interesting aspect to the veena:
this is one instrument which can be played softly even in the dead of the night without disturbing the person sleeping in
the same room. And so, its aptly called an ekanta vadya whose vibrations create a rarefied environment. Eminent scientist
Sir C.V. Raman, reportedly chose it for his studies on sound.
Unfortunately, the aesthetic value of this
versatile instrument is not being appreciated enough today. It has gone the way of the other fine arts in becoming commercialized.