The Veena (Sanskrit: वीणा) is a plucked stringed instrument originating in ancient India, used mainly in Carnatic classical music and Hindustani classical music. The name is used for several instruments belonging to different families, mainly the Rudra Veena (a zither) and the Saraswati veena (a necked bowl lute) but additionally to additional types of plucked string instruments (Mohan veena, ancient veena etc.).

The earliest Veena was an instrument of the harp type whose type survives in the Burmese harp, whereas in the last centuries and nowadays, the word has tended to be applied to instruments of the lute type or even, recently, to certain kinds of guitars developed in India. The more popular sitar is believed to have been derived from a type of Veena which was modified by a Mughal court musician to conform with the tastes of his Persian patrons. A person who plays a Veena is called a vainika.

Shri Nilotpala Nayike, in the raga Reethigowlai. A composition by Muthuswamy Dikshitar. The rendition was part of the Smt Kalpakam Swaminathan memorial concert at Naada Inbam, Chennai.
Female performer with a tanpura. Mughal dynasty, eighteenth century. Color and gold on paper.

Etymology and history

The Sanskrit word veena (वीणा) (sometimes transliterated as vina) as a generic term for all kinds of string instruments, just as the Tamil word yaaḻ (யாழ்) (often written yaazh or yaal). Veena is attested already in the Rigveda has designated in the course of Indian history a variety of instruments of various types and additionally finds in the list of Musical instruments used by Tamil people out in Tirumurai dated sixth to eleventh century. In the last centuries and today the instruments designated under the designation veena of which there are several kinds, have tended to be mostly instruments of the lute or cithar type, and recently the word was even applied to modified Western guitars. But the early veenas can be plucked string instruments of any type.

The early Gupta veena: depiction and playing technique

One of the early veenas used in India from early times, until the Gupta period and later—this is probably the instrument referred to as veena in a chapter of the Nāṭyaśāstra (नाट्यशास्त्र:) dealing with instrumental music—was an instrument of the harp type and more precisely of the arched harp. It was played with the strings being kept parallel to the body of the player, with both hands plucking the strings, as shown on Samudragupta's gold coins. It isn't possible to tell exactly the number of strings of the instrument on the coin, but descriptions in early literary sources of an ancient instrument called thesaptatantree veena (7-string veena) seem to coincide generally with the type of instrument represented on the coin.

Classification

Veena can be broadly classified into several different types

With frets

Fretless

  • Vichitra veena, plucked string instrument used in Hindustani music
  • Chitra veena or gottuvadhyam, plucked string instrument used in Carnatic music

Other