The Unblemished Tanjore Veena

Veena, said to be the Queen of Indian Instruments, sends vibrations of a heavenly feel when played. This is surely because of the inherent divine sounds that reverberate from within it; seemingly for both the Ragam and Thalam contained within the one instrument. This is considered a rarity among musical instruments. Many of the Indian Gods and Goddesses are adorned with this revered instrument, especially Goddess Saraswati- the Goddess of Learning, who is never portrayed without her Veena.

Tanjavore , the unscathed land of some beautiful monumental temples built during the mighty Chola reign and listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, is also famous for its generations of Veena makers. The Tanjavore Veena or the Saraswati Veena, as it is otherwise called, is supposedly said to be the best of its kind and one of the oldest among the Indian musical instruments.

The Beautiful Yet Divine Tanjavore Veena
The Tanjavore At Different Stages Of Completion

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The four feet Tanjavore Veena with its large carved resonator or the Kudam - made out of a single piece of hollowed wood, is unique for its creative excellence. The other parts of this polyphonic instrument consist of the flat bridge made of brass or the Kudurai fitted on the main resonator, a tapered hollow neck called the Dandi, 24 brass frets fixed on a roll of bee wax mixed in charcoal powder on the Dandi and the seven strings. A curve of wood fitted with a sculpture called the Yalli – mostly that of a dragon figurine, is attached to the Dandi along with a nonfunctioning resonator which majorly serves as a support stand.There are seven strings attached to the Veena. The four main stings are for Ragam and the three additional are for the Thaalam or the beats.

The Artisan Attaching The Strings To The Pegs

According to Kishnamurthy, the owner of Sri Sai Musicals, Tanjavore and who has a proud lineage of nearly three generations of Veena makers in his family, there are two types of Tanjore Veena, the Ekantha Veena and the Sada Veena. “The Ekantha Veena is made out a single block of wood, while the Sada Veena is made by joining three pieces of wood, each shaped into the three different parts of the instrument. The Ekantha is definitely costlier because of the volume of work involved in its making and the quality of sound you get. You can buy a normal SadaVeena without much carved motifs on it for about Rs 5000, while the price of an Ekantha Veena can go as high asRs50, 000 depending on the carving works done on it.” says Krishnamurthy.

Chopping Logs Of Seasoned Jackfruit Tree To Make The Veena...

The Tanjavore Veena, is made from the wood of age-old jackfruit trees. The process of making the instrument takes about nearly a month and is an arduous task because of the amount of precision works involved in getting a fine tuned instrument. “We want to give our customers the best instrument. Most of the time we hardly make huge profits because of the quality we try to maintain and the amount of work we do on the instrument for that”, says Krishnamurthy. According to him the following are the basic steps involved in Veena making:

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The log of jackfruit wood is chiseled to make the basic shape of the Veena. 

The main resonator or the Kudam which is about a foot high is then carved out of the base shape using round chisel or KolovuUli. The Veena-maker carves the resonator and then scraps out chunks out of wood from the inside of it to make it hollow.

The resonator is then covered with a wooden sheet which is cut and shaped to fit it perfectly.

Intricate motifs or designs are carved on the instrument to increase its beauty. This completes the basic structure of the Veena, which is now painted and polished. Any cracks on the wooden structure are filled with wood-dust. 

The dragon figurine or the Yali is now fitted to the other end of the Veena.

After this, the strings made of copper are tied to the end of the resonator using the metal rings.

The 24 brass frets are now fixed on the neck of the Veena or the finger-board using a mixture of bee-wax and charcoal powder. The bee-wax mixture is first applied across the defined length of the finger board.

The strings are now stretched out to the other end of the instrument and tied to pegs and knobs, which are fixed to the Veena using bee-wax. The pegs and knobs are made of rose-wood.

The dragon figurine or the Yali is now fitted to the other end of the Veena.

Lastly beautiful designs are painted around the instrument using lac-colors.

The non-functioning resonator used mostly as a stand is made of paper Mache, cane or other less costly materials.

The Artisan At His Work

The Tanjavore Veena has to be tested for the right sounds before they are sold. At least ten testers, who are musicians, test the instrument for the right quality of sound before the final sale.