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Varieties of Veena

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The Sangeeta Ratnakara of Sarngadeva (13th century) is one of the most important musicological texts from India, which both Hindustani music and Carnatic music regard as a definitive text. These texts gives many details about Veena (Tata Vadya) Mridangam- (Anavaddha) Flute (Sushira) Drums(Ghana).  He mentioned about Ekatanatri, Nakulee, Tritantri,Chitra, Vipanchi, Mattakokila, Aalaapini, Kinnari, Pinaaki and Nissanka veenas. Palakurki Somanatha has also reffered these and other varieties of  Veenas in his Telugu Poem panditaradhya charitramu.   Very few details are available in the Sangeeta Ratnakara on some of these Veenas (Somanatha and Sarangadeva belonged to the same age).

1Veenottamamu16Kinnara Veena31Kumbhka
2Bhrahma Veena17Trinari Veena32Vipanchika
3Kailasa Veena18Saraswathi Veena33Sara Veena
4Saranga Veena19Molli Veena34Parivaadi
5Koorma Veena20Manoradha Veena 35Mallari
6Aakasha Veena21Gananadha Veena36Kolaashti
7Pinnka Veena22Kaumara Veena37Swaramandalam
8Raavana Veena23Anivani38Ghoshavati
9Gauri Veena24Raavana Hastham39Audumbaram
10Gandharva Veena25Tiipiri40Tantri Saagaram
11Bana Veena26Sakaneya41Ambhuja Veena 
12Kasyapa Veena27Valli
13Swayambhoo Veena28Vichitraka
14Bhujanga Veena29Nata
15Bhoja Veena30Sagarika 
Ekatantri Veena: The dandam of this Veena is made out of KHADIRA tree. The wood should be fully ripe without any thorns and circles. The circumference of the wood should be of a strehed palm. The length of the Veena is less than 1 yard. The present days yali was known as Dorika and this was made out of any wood available. The width of the dandam 1½ inches less at the yali compared to the width near the kukubham(pot). On the lid of the Kukubham a hole is made in front of the bridge. The top of the kukubham has a slight curve and is not flat.In the place of gourd, thumba made of wood is used. Naagapaasam is fixed to the kakubham to tie the strings. Patrika (in the present days called as Bridge) used to be placed on the kakubham. The strings were tied from the Naagapaasam crossing the patrika to the Dorika and tied to the biradaalu. Sarngadeva has described the Ekatantri Veena in 81 slokas.(On Veena playing techniques, there is a separate chapter in this book)
Alaapini Veena:The length of the Veena is 36 inches. The dandam is made out of red sandal wood or khadira wood (red sandal). The circumference is 2 inches. That means the dandam is very thin. Clean wood without thorns is used. Coconut tile is used as TUMBA.At this juncture the writer has prescribed singing also while playing Veena. Because of the tenderness in the sound of this type of Veena a talented musician, Sarngadeva says, should fisrt expand the raga (Ragalapana) and only then play the fixed text on Veena. (GAYED GEETHAM NIBADHDHAM CHA PRAVEENO VEENAYO ANAYAA).The speciality 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 strings.“ATRA MESHANTRA TANTREE SYAAT SAMADRUDHA”.
Kinnari Veena: The length of this Veena is 3 1/2 stretched palms (Vithasthi). Its KAKUBHAM is made out of shaka wood. The height of the DANDAM is 2 ½ “ and width 5“. Copper or iron small plate is placed on the PATRIKA (bridge).(madhye koormonnata tahi Patrika Kakubha sthita)(258 sloka)14 brass frets are used for this Veena ie, 14 swarasthanas. (Chaturadasa Swara Sthaney Dandey Prushtey Niveshayet – 260) Sarngadeva mentioned that these frets were fixed in black colored honey wax. (Slishta vastramashi mishramadanena chaturdasha 260) According to Sarngadeva these 14 swarasthaanaas are 2 saptakas. The strings are tied to the other strings present on the other side of the PATRIKA (bridge). He called them as GAJAKESOPAMAM. (It means the strings are as strong as the elephants hair). These strong strings are again tied to the Naagapaasam which is at the back of the Kakubham.The strings on the Kakubham are plucked and played with the 3 fingers of the right hand.(saree katubhayor madhyay tarjanyadyanguli trayaat-272) The left hand fingers are used to play on the frets.Vamasya Tisrubhistabhi rangulee bhistu Tantrikaam(273)tattat saree pradeshastham swara Vyaktyai Nipeedayet (294)Added to this, Sarngadeva has mentioned 3 differences in the Kinnari Veena.1) Bruhati kinnara2) Madhyama kinnara 3) Laghvee KinnaraThese are formed due to the variations in the measurements.The length of the Bruhati Kinnari Veena’s dandam is 50″ – breadth 6 ½” Madhyama kinnara veena’s dandam is 43″ long and the breadth is in proportion. The Laghvi kinnari is 35″ in length and 5″ in breadth.As melody decreases no Veena should be less than 35″ length.Aadatavyam Kinnareenam rakti Madhurya VarjanaathE Tayo rantaraaletu yatheshtam maanakalpana – (324)From the above description of the kinnari veena by Sarngadeva we can see at least some origins and many similarities in todays Saraswati Veena.- It is not a Sruti 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 ie, 14 frets,today it is 24 frets.- The measurement of the dandam in both the Veenas is the same to a certain extent. The manufacturing process, Kakubha, Naagapaasa dandam, frets are all similar. The only difference is, today’s Veena is made out of Jack fruit wood where as the kinnari veena was made out of shaka daru.
Pinaakee Veena  is unique in its Geometry. The dandam is shaped like a dhanush(bow like). It is 41“ long with the central portion being 2.5″ wide and the rest being 1.75“ wide. The Pinakee Veena is not a pluck type instrument. It is bowed using a fiddle that is 21″ long, using streched clusters of fine hair. Gum available from the tree sap was applied on the clusters of hair of some animal. So as to improve the density. The fiddle (Kamaan) was used with the right hand to play the instrument. Just like other Veenaas, Pinaakini Veena was also held vertically. According to Dr. Manchala Jaggannadha Rao (in his book “Andhrula Sangeeta Kala”) the Pinakini Veena could have been the predecessor of the present day Dilruba.
Nishshanka Veena: The name itself suggests that this Veena might have been created by Sarnga deva. The distance between the Meruvu and Patrika ie the bridge is 4 karamulu (i.e., VITASTHEES). The strings are tied to 2 wooden pieces fixed on both the ends of the Veena. It is played with a fiddle (Kamaan) which is tied with nerves. It is from Sarngadevas Ratnakara we could get atleast this much of information about Veenaas. Sri Manchala Jagannadha Rao has written about many varieties of veenaas in “ANDHRULA SANGEETA KALA “ with very brief descriptions. Still the actual shape and forms of those Veenas are not clear.All these varieties are not seen today. But by studying the details of some veena varieties it can be understood that the Dilruba, Sarod, today’s Sarangi, Violin, the Saraswati veena have evolved from them..
 The rudra veena (also spelled rudra vina, and also called been or bin; Hindi: रुद्रवीणा) is a large plucked string instrument used in Hindustani classical music. It is an ancient instrument rarely played today. The rudra veena declined in popularity in part due to the introduction of the surbahar in the early 19th century which allowed sitarists to more easily present the alap sections of slow dhrupad-style ragas.


The rudra veena has a long tubular body with a length ranging between 54 and 62 inches made of wood or bamboo. Two large-sized, round resonators, made of dried and hollowed gourds, are attached under the tube. Twenty-four brass-fitted raised wooden frets are fixed on the tube with the help of wax. There are 4 main strings and 3 chikari strings.
It is one of other major types of veena played in Indian classical music. The others include vichitra veena, Saraswati veena and chitra veena. Out of these the rudra and vichitra veenas are used in the Hindustani classical music of North India, while Saraswati and chitra veenas are used in the Carnatic music of South India. As Rudra is a name for the Hindu god Shiva, rudra vina literally means “the veena dear to Shiva.”

Some famous Rudra Veena players are as follows:

Abid Hussain
Asad Ali Khan
Asit Kumar Banerjee
Bahauddin Dagar
Bande Ali Khan
Chote Rehmat Khan
Dabir Khan
Hazrat Inayat Khan
Hindraj Divekar
Pt.Bindu Madhav Pathak
Jyothi Hegde
Nasir Aminuddin Khan
Pandrinath Kolhapure
Parvatikar- Foremost amongst the 20th century artists who lived in Himalayas
Ramachandra V. Hegde – also plays the sitar
Sadiq Ali Khan
Shamsuddin Faridi Desai
Amaan quadri
Zahid Khan Faridi
Suvir Misra
Vasuki Shankar
Zia Mohiuddin Dagar
Shree P D Shah
Out of the traditional beenkars,late Ustad Shamsuddin’s family has four sons (Zahid, Nasir, Rehman, and Parvez), all of them play the rudra veena.
Jeff Lewis, United States
Philippe Bruguiere, France
Peter Row, United States
Benjamin Perkins, United States
Keiji Haino, Japan




According to Manchala, the present day Sitar resembles the “Eka Raga Mela” veena of Ramamatya. The present day Sitar has the facility to move or change the frets according to raga. Haripala deva has said that the Kinnera veena resembles the Sitar where 14,16 and 18 frets are fixed and used according to their requirement.The present day veena is perfectly constructed to meet the purpose with perfect scales i.e., each part resembles a particular variety of veena. Hence it is required to analyse and learn about the earlier days Veena which are not existing in these days.The study will reveal how cultural development process has helped in the changes. As all the stringed instruments are called as Tata Vadyas, the present days veena’s real shape, image has to be reviewed in a composite universal perception. Is there any resemblance between the Swara mandali and today’s Saraswati veena? Both are stringed instruments only. That’s all.But one has to accept that the development and changes derived from that only.Knowledge of historical background is very important to know about the present days Veena. Points to know are given below:

  • Usage of only a few strings.
  • Construct a dandam, fix a few frets on it, tie only one string and produce 12 swarasthanaas.
  • To double the 12 swarasthanas, increase it three times, and produce swaraas on one string in 3 places.
  • To tie 3 strings, and produce the required Sthaayis on the dandam, (short in size) just with intelligence and common sense.
  • To tie 4 strings and produce 3 ½ sthayis. If we go through the past history we can get the required, constructive, information about Veena, parts like meruvu, frets, pecks, kakubham, Naagapaasam, the top, bridge, jeevalam etc and evolution of this instrument.

One Response to Varieties of Veena

  1. sudhakar February 19, 2013 at 3:11 am #

    thank you.

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