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Chapter 3


' Vanyate iti Veena' - that which creates a sound is called the Veena. This is

the etymological interpretation of the Sanskrit word Veena. Panini, the great

Sanskrit grammarian has explained the word VANA as meaning Sound.

Significantly, Vedic literature often finds the word VANA being used in the

meaning of Veena. An investigation of the 'musical instrument scenario'

right into the remote past clearly reveals that the term Veena did not refer

only to the instrument - Veena - as we know of it today. On the other hand,

it seems to have been a generic term encompassing within itself a whole

range of stringed instruments and sometimes, also instruments from other

genres like aerophones.

The yazh is an ancient Dravidian instrument, somewhat like a harp. It was

named for the fact that the tip of stem of this instrument was carved into the

head of the animal yaali (vyala in Sanskrit). The yazh was an open-stringed

polyphonous instrument, with a wooden boat-shaped skin-covered resonator

and an ebony stem. It was tuned by either pegs or rings of gut moved up and

down the string. It is not used today but pictures of it are found in

Thirumayam in Tamil Nadu, probably of the 8th century A.D. There are

many references to it in Tamil literature. This instrument was displaced by

the Veena later. The following are some varieties of Yazh.

Adi Yazh

Makara Yazh - 17 strings.

Maruththuva Yazh

Matchya Yazh

Peri Yazh - literally, big yazh. It had 21 strings.

Sagoda Yazh - 16 strings.

Seeri Yazh

Sengottu Yazh - 7 strings.

Vil Yazh - it means bowstring. It was essentially a bow with strings of

different lengths.

The one Indian instrument with the largest number of varieties is the Veena.

The Veena in ancient times simply meant 'A stringed instrument'. It

comprised the plucked, bowed and struck varieties. Later on, the word

Veena came to be used to denote the fretted instruments. The 'Satatantri

Veena' was played on open strings. This Veena, survives as the Santoor in

Kashmir. This Satatantri Veena is more than two thousand years old. It

became the 'SANTIR' in Persia, 'PSALTERY' in the Bible and it eventually

paved the way for the development of the Piano. The 'Satatantri Veena' was

used at every Vedic ritual. In some of the Vedas and Samhitas, the Satatantri

is called 'Vana'.

In addition to this struck variety, there were the bowed varieties, represented

by the Ravana Hastam and the plucked varieties represented by the Kinnari.

The art of making musical instruments is as old as the Vedas. Jyakara was

the maker of the 'JYA' or the ancient harp.

When the fretted Veena developed much later, it threw into the background, the

Yazh. The fretted Veena had the facilities for producing subtle quartertones and

graces by the deflection of the strings, a facility that the Yazh lacked. The yazh

could produce only straight notes and occasionally glides were performed on it

with the help of a small stick. But the Veena had the drone and Tala strings. In

the ancient yazh, a new scale was performed either by the shift of the tonic note

or by retuning the concerned strings to conform to the new scale. In the Veena,

the player performed new scales by just touching the concerned frets. These

facilities coupled with the introduction of metallic strings made the Veena

superior to the Yazh.

The size, structure, shape, tuning and number of frets have all changed from

time to time and the Veena at each stage has had a different name and has

sounded different.

Narada in his 'Sangita Makaranda' mentions the following nineteen kinds of





















Haripala in his 'Sangita Sudhakara' names the following Veenas -

1. Brahma Veena or Ekatantri

2. Alapini (Alavani)

3. Kinnari

4. Kailasa Veena

5. Pinaki

6. Aakasa Veena

Haripala's Kinnari had four main strings and three Secondary strings. There

were the three kinds of Kinnari - 'Brihat', 'Madhyama' and 'Laghu'. They had

movable frets. The number of frets ranged from fourteen to eighteen. Palkurki

Somanatha in his 'Panditaradhy Charitra' (12* Century) in the 'Parvata

Praharana', 'Bharata Sastra lakshana' mentions the following Veenas -

Brahma Veena

Kailasa Veena

Kurma Veena (which resembled the vioHn to some extent)

Saranga Veena

Aakasa Veena (This was something like the Aeolian harp)

Pinaka Veena





Bhujanga (This is the Naaga Veena, wherein the head was carved into

that of a serpent head with the hood spread out. This is seen in Belur in

the Chenna kesava Perumal Temple, built by Vishnuvardhan in 1117



Kinnara, Kinnari or Traperi




Swaramandala (This was like the Satatantri but the number of strings was

less. The instrument was plucked and played on open strings.)

Palkurki Somanatha in his 'Basava Purana', again mentions the following kinds

of Veenas.


Brahma Veena

Lavanya Veena

Aakasa Veena

Pinaka Veena

Saaranga Veena

Kinnara Veena

Swayambhu Veena and

Gauri Veena.

Nanya deva describes the Rudra Veena and Kachchapi. The 'Swapna

Vasavadatta' refers to the Veena. Stringed instruments are depicted in the

Ajanta Cave paintings. In the 'Chitra' and 'Vipanchi' a small wooden piece was

used to glide over the playing strings and produce notes of different pitch. This

is the Gottuvadyam. In North India, this type of Veena is even now called

Vichitra Veena or Vichitra Been.

Matanga in his 'Brahaddesi' explains the experiments with the 'Dhruva

Veena' ind the 'Chala Veena' to fix the Shadja and madhyania gramas nd

Sruthis Values. Brahaddesi to a great extent followed Bharatha. Sarangadeva

and Mathanga explained in greater detail than Bharatha, the experiment with

the Dhruva and Chala Veenas to clarify the Grama concept and the Sruthi

Values. It was still the age of the Sruthi Veena and Swara Veena. A great part

of the Music was in the harp stage. The Dhruva Veena was so named because it

was kept constant. The other was used for experiment. Its strings were loosened

and tightened according to the need for change in Pitch. So, it was called the

Chala Veena. Both were tuned to the same pitch, note for note. The ancient

method of tuning was different from the present one. Every one of the 22

sruthis in an octave had a string.

Sarangadeva in his 'SangeethaRathnakara' mentioned eleven types of Veenas

and added *Nissanka Veena' of his own to the list of Swara Veenas.


Ramamatya's treatment of the Veena is clear and definite. He calls it 'Rudra

Veena', a favorite of Lord Shiva. The seven-stringed Veena, with four playing

strings and three strings for the drone and tala emerges into prominence with

Ramamatya. In his work, 'Svaramelakalanidhi' (1550), he mentions three kinds

of Veenas based on the systems of tuning adopted for the strings. Each Veena

again admitted of the two varieties: 'Eka Raga Mela Veena' and 'Sarva Raga

Mela Veena'.

Name of the Veena System of tuning adopted for the strings

1 .Suddha Mela Veena s P s m

2.Madhya Mela Veena (This is the mode P S P s

system of tuning)

3.Achyuta Rajendra Mela Veena s P s P

The drone/Tala strings were tuned to s p s in all the six Veenas. Somanatha, in

his 'Raga Vibodha* (1609) refers to the Suddha Mela Veena and Madhya Mela

Veena wherein the systems of tuning of the four playing strings were the same

as mentioned by Ramamatya. The Tala strings were however tuned as S P S.

His "AKILA RAGA MELA VEENA' is another name for the 'sarva raga mela

Veena' of Ramamatya.

Four decades after Somanatha, Ahobala published his ^Sangeeta Parijatha'. He

had no doubt that ancient experts of the Veena had instinctively glimpsed the

fractions of the speaking length of the string for scale notes. For the first time,

he fixed the frets one by one and calculated the ratios of their speaking length to

the total length of the string between the Meru on the left and the

?atnka{bridge) on the right. The Sama Gana Saptaka and the five Vikruta notes

were there.

Govinda Dikshitar in his 'Sangeetha Sudha' says, "For the benefit of Vainikas,

to facilitate the proper method of Veena play, let me describe the correct

position of the frets and their notes." The twelve Swarasthanas pertained to

Rishabha, Gandhara, Sadharana Gandhara, Chyuta Madhyama Gandhara,

SudhaMadhyama, Chyutha Panchama Madhyama, Panchama, Dhaivatha,

Kaisiki Nishada, Sudha Nishadha, Kakali Nishada and Tara Shadja. The third

Variety of Veena was the Achyuta Raghunatha Bhoopala Veena. Govinda

Dikshitar designed it.

Govinda Dikshitar leaned heavily on Sarangadeva, but for a few reference to

Matanga, Parsvadeva and Vidyaranya. The construction of the Raghunatha

Mela Veena was undoubtedly the product of his mastermind. Till his time, frets

had been tied to the Veena Danda with guts. It was he who fixed the frets on

wax. Placed in correct position, they would be shifted with ease when

necessary. By its very nature, wax did not absorb sound. In fact, it was a

conveyer. Many people attribute the invention of Modem Saraswathi Veena to

Govinda Dikshitar as the new instrument had twenty-four fi-ets and covered

three and a half octaves.

Venkatamakhi in his 'Chathurdandi Prakasikha' comes back to the Suddha and

Madhya Mela Veena again, Ramamatya's Suddha Mela Veena had 9 frets with

notes ranging from Anumandra Shadja to Sudha Gandhara of the Madhya

Sthayi. Madhya Shadja had become the common fimdamental by that time. So,

the need for forays in the higher reaches was urgent. In the circumstances,

Anumandra register in the Veena was practically of no use. Neither the Sudha

Mela Veena nor the Madhya Mela Veena was adequate for the new set up. The

Sudha Mela Veena of Chathurdandi specified brass for the first and second

strings and steel for the third and fourth. It dropped Anumandra notes

altogether. The four wires were tuned Mandra Shadja, Mandra Panchama,

Madhya Shadja and Madhya Madhyama. The three side strings sounded

Madhya Shadja, Madhya Panchama and Tara Shadja. The first side string bore

the name of 'Jhallika' and the last 'Teep'. This tuning was more in step with the

prevailing trends. Yet, the Madhya madhyama of the fourth string was a drag.

Its six frets uttered 'Varali Madhyama, Panchamam, Suddha Dhaivata, Suddha

Nishada, Kaisiki and Kakali Nishadas. There was no provision for using the

higher Octave. Yet rules for Raga Alapana, Prabanda Tana etc., laid stress on

the three octaves. In order to augment the range, three more frets were fixed

prbviding for Shadja, Rishabha and Gandhara of the higher octave. Lastly, five

short frets followed with M P D N S buttressed at the center of the sound

channel so that the three other strings might not be disturbed. In this manner,

the Suddha Mela Veena covered three registers - Mandra, Madhyama and Tara.

Among these three octaves, the 15*, 19* and IT^ notes were Taara Shadja and

Taara Panchama and Adi Taara Shadja. These three being constant notes, their

frets were fixed. The other five frets for RGMDN could be shifted to produce

Vikruthi notes. This kind of Suddha Mela Veena was an Eka Raga Veena.

Instead, five long frets and eight short, buttressed frets - nineteen in all for the

fourth string - converted it into a Sarva Raga Mela Veena.

Now, for the Madhya Mela Veena. The four strings were tuned, Anu Mandra

Panchama, Mandra Shadja, Mandra Panchama and Madhya Shadja. The three

side strings were tuned like the Suddha Mela Veena. The six frets of the

Madhya Shadja string sounded Suddha Rishabha, Suddha Gandhara, Sadharana

Gandhara, Antara Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama and Varali Madhyama. Four

more frets were added for PDNS. With a fiirther addition of seven short-

buttressed frets there was an Eka Raga Madhya Mela Veena. It became a Sarva

Raga Madhya Mela Veena when the fourth string laid stretched on twelve long

frets and twelve short buttressed ones.

Govinda Dikshitar had constructed the Veena with twenty-four frets before

Venkatamakhi wrote The Chaturdandi Prakashika. Why did the book fail to

specify this? Why did it dilate on the Eka Raga and the Sarva Raga Veena with

long and short frets and leave out the most important development in the history

of Veena?


1. Gana Veena and Pradarshana Veena

'Gana Veena' is the Veena on which one can play classical music and

'Pradarshana Veena' is the instrument used for explaining certain musical laws,

facts and phenomenon.

2. Gatra Veena and Daru Veena

'Gatra Veena' is the unseen musical instrument - the human voice and it is used

as per the will of man. Some people have also mentioned the human body as the

Gatra Veena.

The 'Daru Veena' is the instrument (Veena) made out of wood.

3. Dhruva Veena and Chala Veena

These are the experimental Veenas devised by Bharatha for proving the

frequencies of the twenty two Sruthis and other facts relating to the tone

system of Indian music.

4. Sthira Veena and Chara Veena

Sthira Veena was tuned and kept stationed at a particular place. It was

automatically set in vibration when currents of wind blew against the strings.

Since the strings vibrated as open strings, it is clear that they were tuned to

harmonics or Swayambhu Swaras. When the same type of Veena was tied on to

the top of trees and made to sound, it was called the 'Aakasa' Veena.

5. Dhanur Veena

This was played with a bow, whereas in the other types of Veenas, the strings

were set in vibration by plucking or striking.

6. Sari and Nissari Veena

The Veena with frets was called the' Sari Veena'. Veena without frets was

called 'Nissari Veena'. The Sarod-like Veena depicted in the Udayagiri caves is

an example of a 'Nissari Veena'. The gottuvadhyam is a 'Nissan Veena'.



a. Ekatantri

b. Tritantri

c. Saptatantri

d. Sata tantri (hundred strings) etc.

'EKATANTRI' was a single stringed Veena with a resonator of coconut shell;

the Danda of this Veena is made out of Khadira wood. The wood should be

fully ripe without any thorns and circles. The circumference of the wood should

be to the size of a stretched palm. The length of the Veena is less than one yard.

The present day's Yali was known as Dorika and this was made out of any

wood available. The width of the Danda is 1 V2 inches less at the Yali compared

to the width near the Kakubham (Main resonator). On the top covering of the

Kakubham, a hole was made in front of the bridge. The top of the kakubham

has a slight curve and is not flat. In the place of a gourd, thumba made of wood

was used.

Naagapaasam was fixed to the Kakubham to tie the strings. Patrika (in the

present days called as Bridge) was placed on the Kakubham. The strings were

tied from the Naagapaasam across the patrika to the Dorika and tied to the

Biradai. Sarangadeva has described the Ekatantri Veena in 81 slokas. It is the

Ekatantri that has become the Ektar or Ekanadam. It was used as a drone.

'NAKULA' was a Veena with two strings. This is seen in the sculptures and it

was used to play the music of the Vedic chants.

'TRITANTRIKA' was a Veena with three strings. Kinnari is an example of

this. The Kinnari is one of the oldest of stringed instruments and is named after

Kirmara, a celestial musician. It is mentioned extensively in the Sanskrit

literature. It is represented in many old Indian Sculptures and paintings. The

length of this Veena is 3 Vi stretched palms (Vithasthi). Its Kakubham is made

out of Shaka wood. The height of the Danda is 2 V^ inches and width is 5

inches. The fingerboard of Kinnara consists of a round stick of Blackwood or

bamboo and upon this 12 or 14 frets of metal or bone pieces of eagles are fixed

with black coloured honey wax.

Shishta Vastramashi mishramadanena chaturdasha - 260 Sarangadeva.

Sarangadeva mentions 14 Swarasthanas

Chaturdasa Swara sihaney Dandey Prushtey Niveshayet - 260. Sarangadeva.

These fourteen Swarasthanas are two Saptakas. The strings are tied to the other

strings present on the other side of Patrika (bridge). Sarangadeva called them as

GAJAKESOPAMAM (it means the strings are as strong as the elephant's hair).

These strong strings are again tied to the Naagapaasam, which is at the back of

the Kakubham. Copper or iron small plate is placed on the Patrika.

Madhye Koormonnata tahi Patrika Kakubha Sthita - 258 Sarangadeva.

The tailpiece of the instrument looks like a kite. There are three gourd

resonators below the Dandi, the middle one being larger than the other two.

There are three strings, two for playing music and one for being used as the

drone. The strings on the Kakubham are plucked and played with the three

fingers of the right hand.

*'Saree katubhayor madhyay tarjanyadyanguli trayaaV* -272 Sarangadeva,

The left hand fingers are used to play on the frets.

"Vamasya tisrubhistabhi rangulee bhisiu tantrikaam" - 273 Sarangadeva.

There are three types of Desi Kinnari, the names of which have been mentioned

earlier in this chapter - Brihat, Madhyama and Laghu. These are differentiated

with the variations in their measurements.

The length Veena's Dandam is 50" and the breadth 6 Vz" in the Brihat Kinnari.

The Madhyama Kinnara Veena's Dandam is 43" long and the breadth is in

proportion. The Laghu Kinnari is 35" in length and 5" inches in breadth. No

Veena should be less than 35" length as melody decreases accordingly.

Aadatavyam kinnareenam rakthi madhurya varjanaath

E Tayo rantaraaletu yatheshtam maanakalpana - 324.. Sarangadeva.

From the above description of the Kinnari Veena by Sarangadeva we can trace

back at least some history of the origins and evolutions leading to today's

Saraswathi Veena.

Some points that make us feel so about Kinnari are: -

It is not a Sruthi Veena.

Plucking of the strings, plucking place, the place where the strings are

tied are all the same for these two types of Veenas.

Usage of honey wax is similar.

Kinnari Veena had only 2 Saptakas i.e. 14 frets, today it is 24 frets.

The measurement of the Danda in both the Veenas is the same to a

certain extent. The manufacturing process, Kakubha, Naagapaasam

Danda, frets are all similar. The only difference is, today's Veena is

made out of jackfruit wood whereas the Kinnari Veena was made out of

Shaka Dam (wood).


It is a seven stringed Veena. Parivadhini was a seven stringed Veena.

'Chitra' also had seven strings. This instrument is referred to in the


VIPANCHI had nine strings.

MATTAKOKILA had 21 strings. They were tuned to the notes of the three

octaves - Mandra, Madhya and Tara.

SATATANTRI had hundred strings.


The former was the drone and the latter, the Veena for playing creative music

like Aalapanas and compositions. This corresponds to the Swara Naadi and

Sruthi Naadi in flute. The 'Sruthi Veena' described by Sarangadeva is the

experimental Veena with 22 strings. It was designed to explain the frequencies

of the twenty-two Sruthis. The notes of the Shadja grama were given by the 4*,

7*, 9*, 13*, 17*, 20* and 22"'* strings respectively. The 'Swara Veena' of the

Sangeetha Ratnakara was a Gana Veena.


The former had movable frets. The fret positions were so adjusted that a

particular Mela raga and its j any as could be played. When a change of raga

was desired, the positions of the concerned frets were re-adjusted and

played. This practice continues in the Sitar even at the present day. In the

'Sarva Raga Mela Veena', there were 12 frets for each octave and several

ragas were played by placing the fingers on the particular Swarasthanas.

10. Special types of Veenas like the *Savyasachi Veena' and the 'Pradarsana



> Alabu Veena - had a gourd resonator.

> Alapini Veena - The length of the Veena is 36 inches. The Danda is

made of red sandalwood or Kadira wood (red sandal). The circumference

is 2 inches, which means that the Dandam was very thin. Clean wood

without thorns is used. Coconut tile is used as Tumba. Sarangadeva says

that the musician should first expand the raga vocally and only then play

the fixed text on the Veena because of the tenderness in the sound of this

type of Veena.



The specialty of this Veena is that the strings used are not metal. They

take the silk threads, make them hard and tie them to the instrument as



> Kachchapi Veena was a Veena used by Goddess Saraswathi. Since the

Kakubham of the Veena is in the tortoise shape, this Veena is called

'KACHCHAPI'. The Kachchapi survives in the Philippine Islands even

now under the name, Kudjyapi.

> MAHATI was the name of the Veena used by Devarishi, Narada.

> KALAVATHI, was the name of the Veena used by celestial musician


> PINAKI was a bowed instrument. It was bowed using a bow 20 inches

long. The bow (kamaan) was used with the right hand to play the

instrument. Horsehair was used for the bow. 'Rala' was the name of the

resin applied to the hair of the bow. This Veena is unique in its geometry.

The Danda is shaped like a Dhanush (bow-like). It is 41 inches long with

a central portion being 2,5 inches wide and the rest being 1.75 inches

wide. The Pinaki Veena is not a pluck-type instrument. Pinaki Veena

was held vertically.

> UP AVEENA was a secondary Veena and was used to provide


> VALLAKIwasakindofYazh.

> NISHSHANKA VEENA - The name itself suggests that Sarangadeva

might have created this Veena. The distance between the Meru and the

bridge is four stretched palms (vithastees). The strings are tied to two

wooden pieces fixed on both the ends of the Veena. It is played with a

bow (kamaan) that is tied with nerves.

> All these varieties of Veenas are not seen today. But by studying the

details some of these Veena varieties, it can be understood that the

Dilruba, Sarod, today's Saarangi, Violin and the Saraswathi Veena have

evolved from them.

The Saraswathi Veena is considered the queen of musical instruments. It

lends itself to all the different graces that give so much beauty to Indian

Music. More about the evolution, structure, tuning and playing techniques of

the Saraswathi Veena will be dealt with in the following chapters.

References from Prof. P. Sambamurthy's book 'History of Indian music', Page 202