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String instrument
Other names gotuvadyam, gottuvadyam, chitra veena, chitraveena, chitra vina
Related instruments
N. Ravikiran (center) playing the navachitravina.

The chitravina (also known as chitra veena, chitraveena, chitra vina, hanumad vina, or mahanataka vina, is a 20 or 21-string fretless lute for Carnatic music. Around the late 1800s and early 1900s, it started to be known by another name, Gotuvadyam (often mis-spelt as gottuvadyam, gottuvadhyam, kottuvadyam etc.), which was bestowed upon it by Sakha Rama Rao from Thanjavur, who was responsible for bringing it back to the concert scene. Today it is played mainly in South India, though its origins can be traced back to Bharata's Natya Shastra, where it is mentioned as a seven string fretless instrument.


The chitravina was popularised in South India by Sakharam Rao of Tiruvidaimarudur. It was later taken up and further popularised by Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar, who was a palace musician of the erstwhilestates of Travancore & Mysore. His son, Chitravina Narasimhan was instrumental in spreading Narayana Iyengar's stringing and tuning methods as well as playing styles.


The Chitravina has undergone numerous developments and is today among the more prominent solo instruments in Carnatic music. It is also often seen in collaborative world music concerts and north-south Indian jugalbandis. The fretless nature of the instrument makes it the closest instrument to vocal standards. There are six main strings used for melody that pass over the top of the instrument, three drone strings, and about twelve sympathetic strings running parallel and below the main strings.

The approach to tuning is similar to the sitar in the context of the 11-12 sympathetic resonance strings, similar to the Saraswati veena in the context of the three drone (tala) strings, but is unique in terms of the top-layer main playing six strings, which are configured as 3 tonic strings (sa), 2 fifth strings (pa) and 1 base tonic string (sa). The 3 and 2 include an octave string which gives the instrument a unique blended tone, akin to the human voice.

The chitravina is generally tuned to G sharp (5 and 1/2) and played with a slide like a Hawaiian steel guitar and the north Indian vichitra veena. The first two fingers on the right hand are usually used with plectra to pluck the metal melody strings while a cylindrical block made out of hardwood (often ebony), buffalo horn, glass, steel, or teflon held by the left hand is used to slide along the strings to vary the pitch. Sakha Rama Rao used to refer to the slide as 'gotu' and hence the name, gotu vadyam.[1]

Contemporary use[edit]

Narayana Iyengar's grandson Chitravina N. Ravikiran (b. 1967) plays the instrument and is the inventor of a variant, the navachitravina (which is typically tuned to B or C).[2]

Other exponents of the instrument include Budaloor Krishnamurthy Shastri, A Narayana Iyer, Mannargudi Savithri Ammal, Allam Koteeshwara Rao, M V Varahaswami, Allam Durgaprasad, Chitravina Ganesh, Vishaal Sapuram and Bhargavi Balasubramanian. Seetha Doraiswamy, known more as a jala tarangam exponent, used to play the Balakokila, a smaller version of the Chitravina.

See also[edit]

Portal icon Indian classical music portal


  1. ^ Memoirs of Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar
  2. ^
  • Natya Shastra, Bharata (2nd century BC-2nd century AD)
  • Sangita Ratnakara, Sarangadeva
  • Chitravina N Ravikiran website
  • Journals of The Music Academy, Madras
  • South Indian Music, Prof Sambamurthy

External links[edit]