Veena : Manifestation of Intangibility

By Rajiv Trivedi



Veena best exemplifies the cultural continuity of Indian civilization. Linking the Veda-s, where it first finds mention as Van in Riga Veda and then as Veena in Yajur Veda, with modern times where from east to west, north to south it is still played without any change in its innate essence as an instrument to transcend this world. Modern Veena practitioners, across the continent believe in the power of this instrument to lead one on pathway to absolution. Whether they are trained in the Gharana system or a modern educational institution, they learn it with impassioned subjectivity. The ancient sage of Indian music, dance and theatre, Bharat had ordained the fundamental laws of music after establishing the notes on a Veena. In over two millenniums or more since, the instrument has evolved in various ways, practice of music has become refined and selective, still the laws (cycle of the fifth, law of consonances) remain true and direct the music even today.

The practitioners of Veena retain the sense of connectivity to their ancient past and despite all external changes still treat music as means to comprehend the intangible. Of the two streams that evolved after the middle ages – Court music and Temple tradition – modern practitioners may come out of either, crossover or independent of either. So strong is the ethos of Indian music, that all musicians follow the same discipline with minor individual differences. The unique Gharana system, where musical tradition is passed from teacher to disciple in one-to-one learning is a good example of transference of intangible culture and art; it also exemplifies cross-cultural blending of different races and religions. Through direct and indirect lineage of such Gharana or schools, practitioners of this art are still there. Thus a talented individual may take up the demanding art of Veena, learning with a Guru or at an institution.

Veena-playing, as other forms of music, is an important, yet intangible force which has helped evolve a sense of common identity and shared heritage in a nation as diverse as India. Throughout the continent, a Vainika receives same respect and affection he gets at home. Traditional belief is that music offers means to sublimate one’s self into the over-soul. Veena artistes today, can not lose all consciousness of their ‘self’ while they perform for public, but in privacy of their homes and sometimes even on stage, they succeed in surrendering their ‘ego’ to music. The audience waits for such moments of transcendence and cherishes the memory for years.

In ancient past used as generic term for string instruments, Veena today signifies four evolved forms – Rudra Veena, Vichitra Veena, Tanjouri Veena and Gottu-Vadyam. The first two are practiced in the north and central part of India while the latter two belong to south. All of them are vehicles of the oral tradition that through unchanging notes experiment with various patterns providing pleasure to the initiated and uninitiated alike. Rudra Veena, borne across the chest, has twelve frets in an octave and 22 in all. Vichitra Veena, modern evolution of ancient Brahmi Veena or Ektantri, does not carry frets and is placed on ground. It is played with a glass sphere these days. Tanjauri Veena differs from Rudra Veena superficially, but is played in a similar fashion. Gottu-Vadyam resembles Vichitra Veena, as it too is placed on ground and played with a sphere.

Ekandam Veena by maker Krishnamoorthy, Thanjavur. 2009.The continuum of the Veena is both in its performance and in the art of crafting the instrument. Ancient music treatises of India contained detailed methodologies of instrument making. Yet, the craftsmen crafted instruments out of their hereditary knowledge.  Hand-made even today, the maker has to be conversant with music, cultivation, carpentry and allied skills. Indian music having evolved from religious rituals, helps in creating a sense of piety. The craft of Veena-making is punctuated with as many rituals. These are packets of experience and knowledge which help in selection of raw material and crafting a perfect-sounding instrument. The bond between artiste and the instrument involves regular interaction between the artiste and the craftsman making the instrument. Naturally, this also creates a strong bond between the artiste and the craftsman, some of whom begin their career as performers.

Artistes, committed either by birth or practice, deem it a token repayment of their gift of music to preserve the tradition. They consider this gift unblessed so long as they do not get a worthy disciple. The current repertoire of Raga-s in the two systems – Hindustani and Carnatic – stands over 350 in each. Any given Gharana or school can master only a part of these. Thus, it becomes the collective burden of practitioners to keep all of them in currency. In a Veena, every note required in the melody can be charted and preserved with accuracy. The flexible Indian notes can be demonstrated through this while they are difficult to catch in a vocal composition. An area of life-long learning, Veena-playing faces challenges in a world of increasing pace. A learner can no longer afford ten to fifteen years vital for developing an insight into the tradition. Unless a complete programme of providing education, followed by a life of creativity within a living community is designed, the practice of Veena-playing may lose its vital traditional element or intangibility, existing only as a machine for creating certain sounds.

Details of Shruti Veena

Bhāratīya Shāstrīya Sangīt: Shāstra, Shikshan Va Prayōg. Collection of Essays in Indian music.

Eternal Truths

Sonorous Sounds the Veena

Measure for Measure?

Vichitra Veena: Innovations and Practices

Shruti Veena: Manifestation of Bharat’s Gram and ChatuhSarana -- Dr. Lalmani Misra

Contemporary Problems for Indian Music -- Dr. Lalmani Misra

Clutching the Intangible: Conserving Veena

Rishi Tradition in Music education -- Dr. Bageshri Joshi

Ideal Objectives And Music Syllabi

Musical Tracks

Excerpts from Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya:Other Veena-s

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