The veena is one of the most ancient string instruments of India. Its origin can be traced back to the ancient yazh, a stringed instrument, similar to the Grecian harp. Bharata, in his Natya Shastra, explains the theory of the 22 sruti-s in an octave with the help of two experimental veena-s.
The veena then went through several innovations and modifications. In its current form, the instrument can be attributed to Raghunath Nayak ( circa 17th century ) of Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu.
The veena is 1.5m long and is made from jackwood. It has a large, round body with a thick, wide neck, the end of which is carved into the head of a dragon. A small resonator is attached to the underside of the neck. The veena has 24 metal frets embedded in hardened bees-wax, mixed with charcoal powder.
Melody is produced on four metal strings that run above the frets. These are stretched over a wide bridge that sits on the body of the veena. Three other strings run alongside the neck of the instrument. These are used for maintaining time and for playing the drone. The performer, who sits cross-legged on the stage, rests the small resonator on the left lap. The fingers of the left hand are used to press, pull and glide on the frets, while the fingers of the right hand are used to pluck and twang the strings.
The veena is a complete instrument and provides the basic components: sruti, laya and sahitya. Its main attraction is the mellow tonal quality which is capable of evoking a meditative atmosphere..
Saraswati Veena: The Saraswati veena has an interesting construction. It has a body made of wood, generally, this is jackwood. The highest quality veenas have the entire body carved from a single block of wood, while the ordinary veenas have a body which is carved in three sections (resonator, neck and head). There are 24 frets made of brass bars set into wax. There is 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 the instrument when it is played. Because it is no longer functioning 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. Unlike north Indian instruments like the sitar, the Saraswati veena has no sympathetic strings. It has only four playing strings and three drone strings (thalam). The main bridge is a flat bar made of brass. This bar has a very slight curve. It is this light curve which gives the veena its characteristic sound. A major centre for the manufacture of the Saraswati veeni is in Tanjore.
Rudra Veena: The Rudra Veena has it's musical roots in ancient times. Rudra veena (also called the been) is associated quite strongly with Dhrupad. The performance exhibits the same wealth of melodic nuance and sophisticated development. Dhrupad is often presented as the oldest Indian music, with an explicit continuity to ancient times. In this respect, it is perhaps the most direct development of Vedic chanting, and the literal respect for text in dhrupad is representative of those scriptural ideas. However many of the codifications of dhrupad are dated more specifically to the same period as the origin of khayal, and the two might be viewed more accurately as parallel developments, although dhrupad is certainly more austere in its formalism. The been or veena has always been the instrument of Indian classical music and was traditionally studied by all dhrupad students until the 19th century. This stringed instrument does not look like any other, veena or otherwise. It has been developed to follow the precision of Indian classical music, and the quality of the long and slow moving (vocal type) glissandos that are so typical of dhrupad. The duration of these veena's notes is incredibly long. The been is made of a body, a hollow tube made of teak wood, on which the strings are fixed at both ends. The bridge is a flat bridge, multiplying the depth of the note's spectrum. Metallic frets are disposed on that tube on a slightly angled axis. They are always movable (fixed by wax or strings) and so can be adapted for every raga (the notes of the raga are not fixed by equal temperament). Two resonators made out of pumpkins are placed on each side of the veena, not far from the two ends of the body. Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar introduced important changes to this veena, transforming it into a Bass instrument : the Rudra Veena.
Vichitra Veena: The Vichitra Veena is an Indian classical plucked string musical instrument. It is a modern instrument, a 19th century evolution of the been, a traditional instrument of classical hindustani music. From it's ancestor, the been, Vichitra Veena has kept the flat bridge (jawari), the two pumpkin resonators (tumbas) and a body which is a hollow tube made of teak wood on which the strings are fixed at both ends. The Vichitra Veena of the North and a rare instrument, was introduced by Ustad Abdul Ajij Khan, a court musician at Indore. It is of comparatively recent origin. It has a broad stem and six main strings are fastened to wooden pegs fixed to the other end. It is played by means of a plectrum on the right hand finger. The Vichitra Veena's strings are sometimes stopped by a glass egg, a technique originating most probably from the playing of the tampura. Generally these days it is is played with a glass or metal bar, rather like the Hawaiian guitar. Consequently it has no frets. One can play perfect meends (glissandos) on a octave and a half, something difficult to perform on a been, and so get closer to the abilities of the human voice.
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