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The Veena (Sanskrit: वीणा, Kannada: ವೀಣೆ, Bengali: বীণা, Tamil: வீணை, Malayalam: വീണ, Telugu: వీణ) is a plucked stringed instrument originating in ancient India, used mainly in Indian 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 also to other types of plucked string instruments (Mohan veena, Ancient veena etc).
The earliest veenaa 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.
Etymology and history
The Sanskrit word veenaa (वीणा) (often written veena and sometimes vina) which is attested already in the Rigveda (ऋग्वेद:) has designated in the course of Indian history a variety of instruments of various types, as it is a generic term for all kinds of string instruments, just as the Tamil word yaaḻ (யாழ்) (often written yaazh or yaal). In the last centuries and today the instruments designated under the designation veenaa 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 veenaas could be plucked string instruments of any type.
The early Gupta veenaa: depiction and playing technique
One of early veenaas used in India from early times, until the Gupta period and later (this is probably the instrument referred to as veenaa in a chapter of the Nāṭyaśāstra (नाट्यशास्त्र:) dealing with instrumental music) was an instrument of the type of the harp 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 is not 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 veenaa (7-string veenaa) seem to coincide generally with the type of instrument represented on the coin.
Veena can be broadly classified into several different types
- Rudra veena, plucked string instrument used in Hindustani music
- Saraswati veena, plucked string instrument used in Carnatic music
- Vichitra veena, plucked string instrument used in Hindustani music
- Chitra veena or gottuvadhyam, plucked string instrument used in Carnatic music
- Mohan veena, slide guitar
- Veenai - Ancient music instruments mentioned in thirumurai - வீணை - திருமுறை காட்டும் இசைக்கருவிகள்
- காவிரிப்பூம்பட்டினத்துப்பல்லவனீச்சரம் - முதல் திருமுறை - தேவாரப் பதிகங்கள் - Panniru Thirumurai - பன்னிரு திருமுறை - Shaiva Literature's - சைவ இலக்கியங்கள்
- Catalog and description of the gold coins minted during Samudragupta's reign on the Coin India site (Web page)
- The right hand plucks the strings on the side of the instrument which is closer to the body while the left hand plucks the strings on the other side of the instrument. This is precisely the reverse of the way the saung is held. It is also possible the king was playing left handed or that it is the representation on the coin which presents an inverted (mirror-like) view
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