Veena (also spelled vina and veene) is a plucked stringed instrument used in Carnatic music. There are several variations of the veena, which in its South Indian form is a member of the lute family. One who plays the veena is referred to as a vainika.
The design of the veena has evolved over the years, probably from the form seen in Indian Medieval paintings and temple sculpture: a string instrument with two gourd resonators connected by a central shaft, possibly of bamboo, and held diagonally from lap to shoulder. The North Indian rudra veena and vichitra veena, technically zithers, demonstrate this genealogy. The South Indian or Sarswati veena was developed in the 1600s. About four feet in length, its design consists of a large resonator (kudam) carved and hollowed out of a log (usually of jackwood), a tapering hollow neck (dandi) topped with 24 brass or bell-metal frets set in scalloped black wax on wooden tracks, and a tuning box culminating in a downward curve and an ornamental dragon's head (yali). A small table-like wooden bridge (kudurai)—about 2 x 2½ x 2 inches—is topped by a convex brass plate glued in place with resin. Two rosettes, formerly of ivory, now of plastic or horn, are on the top board (palakai) of the resonator. Four main playing strings tuned to the tonic and the fifth in two octaves (for example, B flat-E flat below bass clef - B flat- E flat in bass clef) stretch from fine tuning connectors attached to the end of the resonator. across the bridge and above the fretboard to four large-headed pegs in the tuning box.Three subsidiary drone strings tuned to tonic, fifth, and upper tonic (E flat - B flat- E flat in the tuning given above) cross a curving side bridge leaning against the main bridge and stretch on the player's side of the neck to three pegs matching those of the main playing strings. All seven strings today are of music wire, with the lower strings often wound like those of the lower strings of a guitar.
The chromatic distribution of frets (12 to the octave) points to a possible adoption of the fretting of the guitar, which had certainly been brought to India by the 17th century by the Portuguese.
The veena is played by sitting cross-legged with the instrument held tilted slightly away from the player. The small gourd on the left rests on the player's left thigh, the left arm passing beneath the neck with the hand curving up and around so that the fingers rest upon the frets. The palm of the right hand rests on the edge of the top plank so that the fingers (usually index and middle) can pluck the strings. The drone strings are played with the little finger. The veena's large resonator is placed on the floor, beyond the the right thigh. The photo of Veena Dhanammal more accurately illustrates how the veena is held than the more fanciful Ravi Varma painting.
Like the sitar, the left hand technique involves playing on the frets, controlled pulling on the strings to achieve higher tones and glissandi through increased tension, and finger flicks, all reflecting the characteristics of various ragas and their ornamentation (gamaka). Modern innovations include a circular sound hole (like that of the guitar), substitution of machine tuners for wooden pegs for easier tuning, and the widespread use of contact microphones in performance. Unfortunately, contact mikes (often combined with poor amplification systems) greatly distort the remarkable acoustics of the veena and its rich mix of overtones.
The patron Hindu goddess of learning and the arts, Saraswati, is often depicted seated upon a swan or peacock playing a veena. According to the Puranic scriptures of Hinduism the demon-king Ravana and the monkey-god Hanuman were great veena players, as is the sage Narada.
Some other variations of the veena are the Rudra veena, Mahanataka veena, Vichitra veena, and Gottuvadhyam veena (also called the Chitra veena). Mohan veena is the name given to a modified form of guitar, invented and pouplarised by Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and often confused with ancient Indian musical instruments.
Tone and acoustics
Nobel Prize-winning physicist C.V. Raman has described the veena as having a unique construction. The string terminations at both ends are curved and not sharp. Also, the frets have much more curvature than any other instrument. This design produces the most number of harmonics than any other instruments.
Some also believe that the beewax beneath the frets acts as noise filter.