Bobbili Vena - tradiional Indian wind instrument - a brief note

BobbiliVeena, Andhra state, Lepakshi Handicrafts

For more than 2000 years, music has been part of Indian culture and in the case of recitation of traditional devotional songs or hymns, instrumental music plays a vital role. Among the Indian musical instruments, the most revered one is veena because of the divinity associated with it. Saraswati veena is widely used in many classical music programs in the south. In the north, besides Saraswati veena, Rudra veena is also used in Hindustani classical programs.  

The veena (Sanskrit:  vīṇā), also spelled as vina is a multi-stringed instrument  of the Indian subcontinent, widely used in the Hindustani and Carnatic classical music.  Many regional designs have different names such as the Rudra veena, the Saraswati veena, the Mohan veena and others. This  ancient musical instrument, over a period of time, later  evolved into many variations, such as lutes, zithers and arched harps.

Veena mentioned  in ancient and medieval Indian literature is a generic term for plucked string musical instruments. In the Upanishads (c. 800–300 BCE), Rigveda, Atharvaveda (both pre-1000 BCE), Samaveda and other Vedic literature such as the Shatapatha Brahmana and Taittiriya Samhita, we have found references to Veena. The oldest surviving ancient Hindu text in Sanskrit  on classical music and performance arts (200 BCE and 200 CE), the Natya Shastra by Bharata Muni discusses Veena.

According to  the Hindu mythology Narada is believed to have  invented the veena with seven strings. The Hindu goddess of knowledge and wisdom Saraswati holds a harp-styled veena. Many 6th century sculptures depict goddess Saraswati, holding veena. In Tamil Nadu, the name veena or veenai is widly used in the recitations of Thrumurai (devotional hymns dedicated to lord Shiva) dated 6th to 11th century. The pure Tamil word for veena is Yaal or Yaazh and the person who plays veena is often called a vainika.

In the south, veenas are known by their place of production. In Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur is a popular place for  veena where Saraswati veena, ekantha veenas  are made. In Karnataka, Mysore is known to have veena makers and In Andhra, Bobbili veenas are quite famous. 

The Bobbili town in Andhra is well-known for making Veena.
It is a large plucked string instrument widely used in Carnatic classical music. Obviously,  the Veena is named after Bobbili where it was invented and it has got a Geographical Indication tag from the Indian government in 2011. Actually, Bobbili  veenas are made in  Gollapalli village near the town where nearly 300 households have been traditionally engaged in the past 100 years  in the preparation of Veenas. Their main source of income is from making veenas and  their livelihood is centered around anything associated with this old classical Indian instrument. 

Parts of veena. Indianbijou worpress. com 

The woods used for this kind of veena  are Panasa (Jackfruit tree) and Sampang and the craftsmen prefer  a single  log of wood  from which various parts are made. The wood from jack fruit is known for its light wight, durability,  ability to sustain moisture, good wood grains and, above all

Bobbili Veena making, Andhra.
it produces good reverberation that matters much in the case of veena. Yet another quality about the wood is it can be cut to  the required size of four to five feet in length. Bobblili veena made from single wood is called Ekanndi veena (in Tamil Ekantha veena) here one can expect good sound and reverberation. It takes 20 days to one month to make a quality veena.

It was in the in the 17th century, the making of veena began here during the reign of Pedda Rayudu. During the heyday of Bobbili rulers, playing veena was a common cultural event and actually, Bobbili veena has been around us for about 300 years. The rulers took keen interest in classical music and some, it is mentioned, were skilled veena players.

 Centuries ago the Sarwasiddi community craftsmen from Gollapudi used to make veena instrument for the kingdom and others and they are  known as "Bobbili Veena sampradayam" (Bobbili Veena community).   Veena making has continued over generations in this community, however, today only 40 craftsmen are involved in the making of these instruments. One reason is the number of veena players is slowly declining due to lack of well-trained veena teachers. The other factor is, in the last one decade, the cost of one veena is way high. Veena making can not be mastered overnight and it can be gained through years of training.