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Veena is traditional plucked string instrument. The instrument has been depicted in 4th and 5th century sculptures and has been described as part of Goddess Saraswati's paraphernalia. This instrument is famous in the Carnatic and Hindustani music. At first look, the veena and the sitar look very similar, but there are differences.
Construction of a common veena
Veena has 24 frets made of metal, usually brass and is 1.5m (4 feet) long. There are 4 strings varying in their thickness with the thinnest one nearest to the player (treble tones) and the thickest away from the player (bass tones). These four strings are often associated with the 4 vedas. The four strings are attached to the frets using hardened bees wax and charcoal powder.
The strings are tuned exactly like a guitar or mandolin or sitar using the tuning knobs are the end of the stem.
The veena's body is made up of hard yet flexible wood like the jack wood tree and just like the sitar, it has pumpkin in the other end, which is called as kudam (bigger resonator) and sorakkai (smaller extra resonator) or kaddu (bigger resonator) and tumba ( extra resonator as referred in Hindustani classical music).
It is played using both the hands, where the left balances the stem and plays the frets, while the right hand plucks the strings using long finger like attachment. The player has to sit cross-legged on the floor and support the kaddu base of the veena using the right thigh. The smaller resonator below the fret stem rests on the left thigh.
There are many varieties of veena. They are described below.
Rudra veena is popularly used in Hindustani music in north India. It has a long tubular hollow body with two large resonators of same size fixed at both the ends. It is made up of bamboo and is 52-60 inches in length with brass frets along which the strings pass. Consists of 24 frets and 4 strings.
This is the prototype of the modern day veena. It has the same parts as the rudra veena, with minor modifications. The parts are self-explanatory in the following figure.
Other types of veena
Vichitra veena and Gottuvadhyam or chitra veena are some lesser known types of veena.
Classes for veena/veenai in India
Veena is played mostly as a solo instrument, accompanied by mridamgam, ghatam, tambura and violin. Famous veena players of south India are E. Gayathri and Rajhesh Vaidhya. While the former is fully into Carnatic performances, the latter is famous for his fusion routines.
Learning veena can take a long time. Mastering it can require as long as 6 to 7 years. Veena is offered in many music colleges and universities under B.Mus and BA music categories in south India.
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