The veenai is considered as the queen of Indian musical instruments. The present form of the veena is a polyphonous instrument designed and developed by Govinda Dikshitar during the reign of Raghunath Naik of Tanjore. It is often called the Tanjore veena or the Saraswati Veena. The veena is four feet in length consisting of a large resonator (kudam), a wooden bridge (kudurai), a tapering hollow neck (dandi), a smaller non-functional resonator and seven strings of the Veena.
Jackfruit trees are used for making veenai. Veenai is made from jackfruit tree, which was grown for more than hundred years. The trunk of this tree does not grow big just like other trees.The making of resonator by chipping away the lump of wood to make a round, smooth surface it takes about five days. Making the inside of the foot-high kudam will take another week’s time. It has then covered by a palakai (thin wooden plate) that should be only 10X14 inches.
MAKING A VEENA
The Saraswati Veena is one of the most ancient and revered of South Indian instruments. Its is attractive and the highest quality veenas have the entire body carved out of a single block of wood. The more ordinary ones, said Ganeshan, a veena maker, have a body which is made in three sections – resonator, neck and head. There are 24 frets made of brass bars set into wax. There in another resonator at the top of the neck of the veena. This is no longer a functioning resonator, but is mainly used as a stand to facilitate the positioning of th instrument when it is played. As it does not serve a musical purpose, it is not unusual to find that this upper resonator may be made of acoustically neutral materials such as paper mache, cane or other similar materials.
The thandi (tapering hollow neck) comes next, followed by the valaivu (curve) and then the yalli (ornamental figurine). The body of the Thanjavur Veenai is painted and engraved with delicate wood work, which usually consists of picture of god and goddess, motifs of flowers or birds. It is played by sitting cross-legged with the instrument held tilted slightly away from the player, the application said.
The Sarawasti Veena has four playing strings and three drone strings (thalam). The main bridge is a flat bar made of brass. This bar has a alight curve, and it is this curve that gives the veena its characteristic sound. The string instrument with two ground resonators is connected by a central shaft and held diagonally from lap to shoulder.
“The Thanjavur veena is considered the most sophisticated of all veenas.While shaping a veena out of blocks of wood is an arduous task, testing it for the right quality of music is no small work. “The veenas have to be tested for the right sound and notes and at least ten testers have to do the job before the Tanjori Veenas are shipped to their respective destinations.”
He added that the cost of a Sarawasti Veena varies from one piece to the other – the more th art work, the more the cost. While a non-decorative veena made out of three pieces of wood may cost around Rs 5,000, those which are intricately carved out of a single piece of wood cost upto Rs 50,000.
PLAYING THE VEENA
The veena is played while sitting cross-legged with the instrument held tilted slightly away from the player. The small gourd on the left rests on the player’s left thigh, the left arm passing beneath the neck with the hand curving up and around so that the fingers rest upon the frets. The palm of the right hand rests on the edge of the top plank so that the fingers (usually index and middle) can pluck the strings. The drone strings are played with the little finger. The veena’s large resonator is placed on the floor beyond the right thigh.