Sunday, January 17, 2010
Rare Ekanda Mysore Veena in-the-making
The heritage city of Mysore is known for its rich culture and royal patronage for arts and culture. Among other things, Mysore Mallige, Mysore Turban, Mysore Butti Chiguru (chiguru ele or betel leaf), Mysore Pak, Srigandha (Mysore Sandal), Mysore Silk, Mysore Palace, Dasara and so on have contributed individually and collectively in good measure to the grandeur of Mysore.
Mysore is also famous for Karnatak classical music which had enjoyed royal patronage. Many stalwarts had emerged as court musicians. They have evolved what is now known as Mysore Bani (style), especially in veena. When veena playing became a part of the culture, naturally manufacturing of veena also flourished, making Mysore one of the prominent centers in the art. Mysore evolved its own design for manufacturing veena, which came to be called Mysore Veena.
The Mysore Veene has a sober look and rich tonal quality. It competed in quality with the other types of Veena like Tanjore Veene from Tamil Nadu and Bobbili Veene from Andhra Pradesh.
The main components of Veene are the Resonator (Kumbha) the cross bar (Dandi) and the dragon face (Vyala). There is one more part, a small Gourd like attachment (Kayi) which adds to the tonal quality of Veena, by augmenting a bit to the resonance.
Usually Veenas are chiseled out of a seasoned jack wood, because of its easy workability. The main parts Kumbha (or Tumbha), Dandi, Vyala and the gourds are manufactured separately and joined together. This way of ma-nufacturing Veene is pretty easy. Such Veenas are called ‘Khanda’ Veena (assembled with several parts). Some times, the Kumbha and the Dandi are made by carving out of single piece of wood as a single unit, vyala is joined later. Such Veene is called ‘Akha-nda Veena’, rarely manufactured, only with specific requirement of an affluent client.
This Veena gives a better resonance to plucking of the strings. But the cubic content of wood required for manufacturing such Veena is more and even carving out this entire unit require more skill. In some Khanda Veenas, the Danda and Vyali might have been made out of rich quality wood, such as Rosewood. However, the Kumbha is normally carved out of Jack wood only.
There are only about a dozen Akhanda Veenas known to be in existence. Only a couple of them are being used in concerts. The rest are either being used for practicing in the house, with or without knowing the value of it or in display in museums. One such Akhanda Veena, the Kanaka Rajatha Saraswathi Veene of Veene Subbanna has been passed on to Vid. R.K. Padmanabha, who is using it in concerts. The tonal quality of this Veene is superb. This Veena is decorated by a silver formation of golden parrots, all along the top edge of the Kumbha and the Dandi. The seven cork handles for tightening the strings are made out of pure silver. There is a Golden Saraswati statue installed at the top. Inside the hollow of Dandi, there is a silver engraving of the name ‘Veene Subbanna'. Outside the Vyali, there are two silver engravings of Saraswati and Chamundi on either side.
The joint of Dandi and Vyali is covered with original ivory. The seating of the gourd (Hanasu), which sits on the thigh is made out of silver plate. A pure gold design can be seen at the end of Dandi. There is also a plaque of baby Krishna on all his fours (Ambegaalu Krishna). Vyali's head is beautifully carved to look also like a hood of a serpent and the eyes are decorated with two ruby stones. The teeth of Vyala are of pure ivory. With such de-coration and antiquity, it becomes an invaluable heritage piece.
One more Akhanda Veena belongs to Veene Seshanna, which has been donated to the museum managed by Dharmasthala Dharmadhikari Veerendra Heggade by Mysore V. Subramanya, grandson of Veene Seshanna. Another Akhanda Veene used by V. Doreswamy Iyengar is in the possession of one of the disciples of his brother, flautist V. Deshikachar. Another Akhanda Veene, which is used in concerts by Dr. Vijaya Raghavan, was got made by his father Prof. S.V. Srinivasa Iyengar. So we can count these Akhanda Veenas on finger tips and trace the origin and their present status. Such is the rarity of Akhanda Veena.
Therefore, Veenas with all the three parts, the Kumbha, Dandi and Vyali carved entirely out of a single piece of wood to make it as a single unit, is a real rarity. This type is called 'Ekanda Veena'. This gives the best possible resonance, as there are no joints in the entire body of the Veena.
However, the Kai or the Gourd is manufactured separately and attached in all the above types of Veenas. So also the wooden plate to cover the entire unit.
Veenas made out of wood other than Jack wood is not common. Wood with properties like warping, shrinking, susceptibility to attacks by termite and other insects are not useful for making a Veena. Another wood suitable for making Veena is Rose wood. But it is very hard to work with. Therefore it is not used even for making an Akhanda Veena, let alone an Ekanda Veena. Therefore, if somebody is making an Ekanda Veena, the news is sufficient to evoke curiosity and surprise. If it is made out of rose wood, then it will be a real news.
M.K. Narasimhan, a retired Dam Safety Civil Engineer of Mysore, is venturing to make such an Ekanda Veena out of a single log of Rose wood. The Kai or the gourd is also made out of hollow rose wood. Narasimhan, who is 62 years old, has also served in the Irrigation Department at Mysore. At present, he resides at Vidyaranyapuram in city [Mob: 9845591430].
The Veena being manufactured by this engineer is a big one measuring a total of 54 inches from Kumbha to Vyali head and the diameter of the Kumbha at its width is 14 inches. The height of the Veena from the ground to its highest peak point is also 14 inches. The rest of the construction is the same as any other common Veena, with a bridge to carry the four main strings and threetala strings. The main strings rests on 24 frets. The frets are made out of Silver rods. The gourd is going to be decorated with 999 touch silver inlay work.
The Veena will be decorated with 72 silver flowers to represent 72 Mela Karta ragas. The neck of the gourd will be decorated with seven petals engraved to represent seven Swaras, on which animals whose call represent each Swara, are engraved. For example, the call of the peacock denotes the Shadja, the call of a bull represents Rishabha, the call of a goat represents Gandhara, the call of the mythical bird Krouncha represents Madhyama, the call of the cuckoo represents the Panchama, the call of the horse represents the Daivata and lastly the call of Ele-phant represents Nishadha.
The structure of Veena is likened to human anatomy. As an example, the 24 frets are likened to 24 bones of the vertebral column, made with silver bars.
Narasimhan claims that thou-gh he could not learn playing Veena, the instrument lured him to make one by himself. He had to make an in-depth study of the structural and behavioural properties of wood, especially of Rose wood. After a thorough search of several years, he could lay his hands on a log of rose wood, which was more than a century old, in Thithimati forest area of Kodagu, with beautiful grains resembling the hood of a serpant. When the top plank was cut, the portion covering Kumbha had grains resembling the face of a Balamuri Ganapathi (Ganapathi with trunk twisted towards right side). There is a small white patch resembling a Kalasha in center of twisted trunk, which looks as though the trunk of the elephant head is holding the Amrutha Kalasha. The grains can be seen showing prominently the eyes and the ears of Ganapati and Oordhva Pundra.
The strings of the Veena after passing on the frets, rides on a bridge located on the resonator. The vibrations from strings gets amplified in the resonator. The bridge acts as the pivotal point in transmitting the vibrations from string to the resonator. Therefore, bridge is one of the most important parts of the Veena. This bridge is designed to sit on the resonator on two flat legs, bound by a top piece. Normally this entire unit is made from a single piece of wood, which resembles an inverted and elongated 'U' or letter 'Ga' in Kannada. The tala strings are also passed on the side of this contraption with small hook-like projections. The bridge of Ekanda Veena looks like the Beejakshara of Ganapathi, 'Gam' (UÀA) written in Kannada alphabet.
Narasimhan claims that he has applied every technique to make this Veena very tough to sustain the ravages of time. He has utilised all his engineering skills like behavioural studies of material like wood, metal and adhesive. The geometrical designs, aesthetics, inlay work are all being carefully crafted as per the scriptures, he says.
The rose being very tough to work with, making a Veena by hand demands much care and skill. Narasimhan works on his project every day for nearly 6 to 8 hours, since about fourteen months. He may require another year-and-a-half to complete the Veena. It will be a unique one, possibly the only Ekanda Veena in the entire world.
There is a need for the Government to recognise such artisans and encourage them. At present there are only a couple of Veena makers in the city and others are only assemblers. Even the Music University coming up in the city may play a vital role in promoting the art of making Veena, which is slowly disappearing from Mysore.
The Music University may take up documentation of such rare Veena in particular and all musical instruments in general. The makers of musical instruments can also be catalogued and classified under different standards for promoting the art of making the instruments, as the clan is a dwindling lot.
[Saturday 26th September 2009]