The Veena is a form of lute and as such, is classified as a chordophone. The Saraswathi veena is associated with Saraswati, the goddess of learning and the arts. Often it is simply called Vina, or Veena, with the "Saraswati" part being implied. It is one of the most important stringed instruments of India, primarily associated with the Carnatic Sangeet. Veenas are highly decorated with carvings and inlays. There are two forms; one that is played like the sitar (Veena Deluxe and Rudra Veena) and the other that is played flat with a slide (Vichitra Veena).
The Rudra Veena, also known as the bin (been), may be one of the oldest forms of Veena. This instrument may have evolved from a bamboo stick attached to two gourds. Such instruments are depicted on the walls of ancient temples. Only one of the toombas acts as a resonator. The latent second toomba near the top of the neck is used to assist the positioning during play. The 24 metal frets are held in place by wax formed along the sides of the neck. There are only 4 playing strings and 3 drone (thalam) strings. These Veenas do not have sympathetic strings.
The Vichitra Veena is similar in form, however the method of playing the Vichitra Veena differs from playing the other forms of Veena. The Vichitra Veena has no frets and is played with a slide, like a Hawaiian guitar. This Veena has 4 playing strings, 2 thalam (drone) strings and 11 sympathetic strings.
The Veena is carved of wood. It resembles the shape of the double toomba sitar, with two large wooden, or gourd, toombas. The more rare, and most expensive, are carved from a single block of wood. Most Veenas are constructed in three sections, the resonator, neck and head.
When playing the Veena, the slightly smaller toomba rests on the player’s left knee or thigh, and helps to support the instrument. The neck rests high on the upper arm. The resonator should rest on the floor. The fingers of the left hand pluck this instrument. The baby finger of the right hand strikes the drone strings while the other fingers work the main strings. Unlike playing guitar, the strings of the Veena are pressed between the frets and then pulled toward the lower edge of the neck. The degree to which the strings are pulled alters their tone. When describing the music of the Veena, Geetha Ramanathan Bennett said, "the essence and the greatness of Carnatic music lies in its delicate quarter-tones, graces, and sliding and slurring subtleties, which are not to be found in the music of any other part of the world."(www.geethabennett.com). Carnatic music, like the Hindustani music of north India, is based on ragas and talas (melodies and rhythms).
Stand the veena upright on the large toomba. As you face the neck there are 7 tuning pegs, 5 to the left and 2 to the right.
Strings on left side top to bottom:
|Main Strings||Drone Strings (thalam)|
Main Playing Strings on right side, top to bottom: