The Glory of Veena

Music is the superior of all fine arts. Music holds sway on all animated entities like the animals, birds and our just born as well. Everyone would immerse themselves in the unfathomable ocean of music. Amongst all types of world’s music forms, Indian classical music is the most lustrous music genre since the Vedic period. During the post Vedic period, music has been praised in various Puranas and thus became the most approachable devotional way for attaining the salvation.

Music has its origins from the Sama Veda and was first rendered by the Lord Brahma. Subsequently, for the benefit of the mortals, this divine music has been revealed in the world through the sages like Bharata and later by the poet-saints and saintly singers. Since then the Indian music has been lauded as the indivisible part of the Almighty and many generations have performed the music in various modes like vocal, instrumental, dance etc.

Veena is the most ancient musical instrument.

The following verse from Yagnavalkya’s Sikshanu Grantha tells us about the grandeur of Veena.

वीणा वादन तत्त्वज्ञ शृति जाति विशारदः

ताळज्ञश्च प्रयासीण मॊक्ष मार्गं च गच्छति

Meaning: Those who possess the right knowledge of tala and can modulate the finest shruti would attain the salvation effortlessly.

या कुंदॆंदु तुषारहार धवळा या शुभ्र वस्त्रानिव्ता

या वीणा वरदंडमंडितकरा या श्वॆत पद्मासना

Meaning: It is so said that the Veena that has been used for practice by Goddess Saraswathi (the presiding deity of knowledge) has taken its birth in the Swarga Loka (the Heaven). Likewise the celestial musicians like Narada, Tumbura, Vishwavasu etc. have practiced their skills in playing Veena and thereby become accomplished in the heavens. They have also been praised as the greatest singers.

mahatI nAgadasvaiva sarasvatyAstu kachChapI

vishvAvasOstu bRhatI tuMburOstu kalAvatI

The above shloka has been taken from the Mallinatha Pandita’s commentary on Magha’s Sishupala Vadha.

This shloka gives out the names of various Veenas like Mahathi used by Goddess Saraswathi by which she is successfully play the mesmerising tunes. Sage Narada uses a Veena called ‘Mahathi’ which is fitted with 100 strings and with this instrument he went to all the Lokas and praised many a God and Goddess. Vishwavasu’s Veena is called as ‘Bruhathi” and that of Tumbura is named as ‘Kalaavathi.” Like this, the musicians of divine origins have coined various names for their music instrument (i.e. Veena) and have propagated the grandeur of music by exhibiting their extraordinary skills of music.

It was Sage Narada who brought the Veena concept to earth from heaven. He dexterously played for the delight of sages and great souls and made them cherish the nectar of divine music. He became the Guru for many aspiring musicians.

Thus the musical instrument called Veena has been considered as an integral part of ancient Hindu culture. Interestingly, the structure of Veena closely resembles the human body. It appears that this instrument has been designed by keeping the human body in view. There are 6 Chakras (spiritual regions) in a human body i.e. Muladhara, Svadhishthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha and Ajanaaya. These regions are placed between the Kundali and Shirassu (the head).

Another wonderful aspect of Veena is that the sound that it generates resembles the human voice. In other words, how many sound variations that could be derived from a human voice those many could be derived from Veena. This concept has been proved by many.

vipanchI, vallakI, chitrA, hastikA, parivAdinI, shatataMtrI, jayA jyEShThA, AlApinI, trasarA tathAsakulOShThI, ghOshavatI, kinnarI, mattakOkilA, nishshaMavINA, sAraMgI, kUrmA, auduMbarI, pinAkI, cha tatO rAvaNa hastakaH (from ‘Srungara Dhara’ written by Hammira).

“vAdyaM tatEti vINAsyAdaShTathA sA nirUpyatE | rudravINA, brahma vINA, tauMburaM, svaramaMDalaM, pinAkI, kinnarI, daMDI, rAvaNasya karOparaH (from ‘Sangita Paarijaata’ written by Ahobala Pandita)

During Treta Yuga (2nd Yuga as per Hindu scriptures) Ravana Brahma who was a great devotee of Lord Parama Shiva displayed an extraordinary feet of holding his 10 heads in his hands and using his nerves like the strings of a Veena. It is said that he rendered hundred Vedas according to their Varnas (sounds) and Kramas (orders). In this amazing fashion, the performance of Ravana was filled with melody of seven Svaras, savoury of nine Rasas and packed with deep meditation.

For the ages unknown the instrument Veena and its melody have been made known to the world in many ways. Several Puranas, treatises about music and the literary works about poetic aesthetics have dwelled deep into the analysis of this instrument. The hymns and praises about Sarasvathis, Parvathi, Lalith who are the manifestations of the Supreme Energy have got exclusive descriptions about the greatness and grandeur of Veena. For e.g.

  1. The voice of Sri Lalithamba, the eternal mother of the universe, has been described as the sound resonated from Kachchapi, the Veena played by Goddess Saraswathi. (Ref. “nija sallApa mAdhurya vinirbhita kachChapI” from Sri Lalitha Sahasra Nama).
  2. The legendary Sanskrit poet and playwright Kalidasa wrote “mANikya vINAM muphalAlayaMtIM madAlasAM maMjula vAgvilAsAM….”
  3. In Srinivasa Gadya (harmonic prose), the Lord of Sevenhills has been praised as “bharata nATyAlaMkAra kinnara, kiMpurusha, rudravINA, mukhavINA, vAyuvINA, tuMburuvINA, gAMdharvavINA, nAradavINA, svaramaMDala, rAvaNahasta vINAsta kriyAlaMkRutAnEka vidha vAdya…”
  4. The following shloka from Valmiki Ramayana’s Sundarakanda (Sarga 10, Shloka 7) “kAchidvINAM parishvajya pasustA saMprakAShatE| mahAnadI prakIrNEna naLinI pOtamAShritA”
  5. Sri Rajarajeshwari Ashtakam (Octuplet of Goddess Rajarajeshwari) written by Sri Adi Sankaracharya says “vINA vENu mRudaMgalOlini”.

Likewise many hymns, poetical works, texts etc. have depicted the peculiarity and pomp of Veena.

Among the 72 Mela Kartas of Indian classical music the 16th Mela Karta Chakravaka has its derivation raga called “Veenaadhari” (Arohan: sa, ri, ga, ma, dha, nisa & Avarohan: sa, ni, dha, pa, ma, ga, ri, sa). Similarly, the 28th Mela Karta i.e. Hari Kambhoji has a parental raga called “Veenaa Vaadini” (Arohan: sa, ri, ga, pa, ni, sa : Avarohan: sa, ni, pa, ga, ri, sa). It can be observed here that both these ragas are having the word “Veena” as part of their nomenclature.

Apart from the above scriptural and musical references, it would be worthwhile to note that there are many great musicians, scholars and learned persons who have the word “Veena” as part of their family/sir names.

Today, due to the onslaught of western culture, our ancient traditions are facing the fear of extinction. Hence it must become a sacred duty for people like us to come forward and uphold the ancient arts like Veena playing. We must encourage our children to learn and practice Veena playing.

“eMdarO mahAnubhAvulu aMdarikI vaMdanAlu”

Salutations to the multitude of great souls

Author: Srivani Yalla,
Head of the Department,
Sri Venkateswara Music & Dance College,
Tirupati.