String instrument
Other namesVina[1]
Classification String instruments
DevelopedVeena has applied to stringed instruments in Indian written records since at least 1000 B.C.E. Instruments using the name have included forms of arched harp and musical bow, lutes, medieval stick zithers and tube zithers, bowed chordophones, fretless lutes, the Hindustani bīn and Sarasvati veena.[2]
Related instruments
Chitra veena, Mohan veena, Rudra veena, Saraswati veena, Vichitra veena, Sarod, Sitar, Surbahar, Sursingar, Tambouras, Tambura,

The veena, also spelled vina (IAST: vīṇā), comprises a family of chordophone instruments from the Indian subcontinent.[3][4] Ancient musical instruments evolved into many variations, such as lutes, zithers and arched harps.[1] The many regional designs have different names such as the Rudra veena, the Saraswati veena, the Vichitra veena and others.[5][6]

The North Indian design, used in Hindustani classical music, is a stick zither.[1] About 3.5 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2 meters) long to fit the measurements of the musician, it has a hollow body and two large resonating gourds under each end.[6] It has four main strings which are melodic, and three auxiliary drone strings.[1] To play, the musician plucks the melody strings downward with a plectrum worn on the first and second fingers, while the drone strings are strummed with the little finger of the playing hand. The musician stops the resonating strings, when so desired, with the fingers of the free hand. In modern times the veena has been generally replaced with the sitar in North Indian performances.[4][1]

The South Indian veena design, used in Carnatic classical music, is a lute. It is a long-necked, pear-shaped lute, but instead of the lower gourd of the North Indian design, it has a pear-shaped wooden piece. However it, too, has 24 frets, four melody strings, and three drone strings, and is played similarly. It remains an important and popular string instrument in classical Carnatic music.[1][7]

As a fretted, plucked lute, the veena can produce pitches in a full three-octave range.[4] The long, hollow neck design of these Indian instruments allow portamento effects and legato ornaments found in Indian ragas.[7] It has been a popular instrument in Indian classical music, and one revered in the Indian culture by its inclusion in the iconography of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of arts and learning.[3]

A veena improvisation (2004)
A veena kushree

Etymology and history

See: Ancient veena
Plaque with a dancer and a veena (harp) player 1st century B.C.
Lute in relief at Amaravati Stupa, 2nd century CE. The artwork was celebrating the Buddha and his mother.
India, ca. 450-490 C.E. Kinnara with kacchapī veena (Sanskrit for "tortise veena"), Ajanta Caves.
Embekka Devalaya temple, Sri Lanka. A Kinnari holds a likely ālāpīni vīnī, a type of Stick-zither with a half gourd used for the resonator.

The Sanskrit word veena (वीणा) in ancient and medieval Indian literature is a generic term for plucked string musical instruments. It is mentioned in the Rigveda, Samaveda and other Vedic literature such as the Shatapatha Brahmana and Taittiriya Samhita.[8][9] In the ancient texts, Narada is credited with inventing the Tampura, and is described as a seven-string instrument with frets.[8][10] According to Suneera Kasliwal, a professor of music, in the ancient texts such as the Rigveda and Atharvaveda (both pre-1000 BCE), as well as the Upanishads (c. 800–300 BCE), a string instrument is called vana, a term that evolved to become veena. The early Sanskrit texts call any stringed instrument vana; these include bowed, plucked, one string, many strings, fretted, non-fretted, zither, lute or harp lyre-style string instruments.[11][12][13]

The Natya Shastra by Bharata Muni, the oldest surviving ancient Hindu text on classical music and performance arts, discusses the veena.[14] This Sanskrit text, probably complete between 200 BCE and 200 CE,[15] begins its discussion by stating that "the human throat is a sareer veena, or a body's musical string instrument" when it is perfected, and that the source of gandharva music is such a throat, a string instrument and flute.[14] The same metaphor of human voice organ being a form of veena, is also found in more ancient texts of Hinduism, such as in verse 3.2.5 of the Aitareya Aranyaka, verse 8.9 of the Shankhayana Aranyaka and others.[9][13][16] The ancient epic Mahabharata describes the sage Narada as a Vedic sage famed as a "vina player".[17]

The Natya Shastra describes a seven-string instrument and other string instruments in 35 verses,[18] and then explains how the instrument should be played.[10][19] The technique of performance suggests that the veena in Bharata Muni's time was quite different than the zither or the lute that became popular after the Natya Shastra was complete. The ancient veena, according to Allyn Miner and other scholars, was closer to an arched harp. The earliest lute and zither style veena playing musicians are evidenced in Hindu and Buddhist cave temple reliefs in the early centuries of the common era. Similarly, Indian sculptures from the mid-1st millennium CE depict musicians playing string instruments.[10] By about the 6th century CE, the goddess Saraswati sculptures are predominantly with veena of the zither-style, similar to modern styles.[20]

The Tamil word for veena is yaaḻ (யாழ்) (often written yaazh or yaal). It is in the list of musical instruments used by Tamil people in Tirumurai, dated from the 6th to the 11th century. A person who plays a veena is called a vainika.[citation needed]

The early Gupta veena: depiction and playing technique

Coin ca. 335-380 CE. (Front side) Samudragupta seated left on a low couch or throne, playing veena set on his knees. (Reverse side)  Lakshmi seated left on wicker stool, holding diadem and cornucopia.
Coin ca. 335-380 CE. (Front side) Samudragupta seated left on a low couch or throne, playing veena set on his knees. (Reverse side) Lakshmi seated left on wicker stool, holding diadem and cornucopia.

One of the early veenas used in India from early times until the Gupta period was an instrument of the harp type, and more precisely of the arched harp. It was played with the strings kept parallel to the body of the player, with both hands plucking the strings, as shown on Samudragupta's gold coins.[21] The Veena Cave at Udayagiri has one of the earliest visual depictions of a veena player, considered to be Samudragupta.


Saraswati and the vina
1896. Saraswati with a southern style "Saraswati veena" instrument.
Ca. 1700. Saraswati riding a white bird and holding a northern style bīn (rudra vīnā).
Bangladesh, 10th-12th century C.E. Saraswati with an ālāpiṇī vīṇā.
Saraswati, 3rd century C.E. with harp-style veena.
The Hindu Goddess Saraswati has been pictured holding different veenas over the centuries. The oldest known Saraswati-like relief carvings are from Buddhist archaeological sites dated to 200 BCE, where she holds a harp-style veena.[20]

At a first glance, the difference between the North and South Indian design is the presence of two resonant gourds in the North, while in the South, instead of the lower gourd there is a pear-shaped wooden body attached. However, there are other differences, and many similarities.[1] Modern designs use fiberglass or other materials instead of hollowed jackwood and gourds.[22] The construction is personalized to the musician's body proportions so that she can hold and play it comfortably. It ranges from about 3.5 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2 meters). The body is made of special wood and is hollow. Both designs have four melody strings, three drone strings and twenty-four frets.[4][1][6] The instrument's end is generally tastefully shaped such as a swan and the external surfaces colorfully decorated with traditional Indian designs.[22]

The melody strings are tuned in c' g c G (the tonic, the fifth, the octave and the fourth[23]), from which sarani (chanterelle) is frequently used.[7] The drone strings are tuned in c" g' c' (the double octave, the tonic and the octave[23]). The drones are typically used to create rhythmic tanams of Indian classical music and to express harmony with clapped tala of the piece.[7]

The main string is called Nāyakī Tār (नायकी तार), and in the Sarasvati veena it is on the onlooked's left side.[24] The instrument is played with three fingers of the right (dominant) hand, struck inwards or outwards with a plectrum. The bola alphabets struck in the North Indian veena are da, ga, ra on the main strings, and many others by a combination of fingers and other strings.[25][26] The veena settings and tuning may be fixed or adjusted by loosening the pegs, to perform Dhruva from fixed and Cala with loosened pegs such that the second string and first string coincide.[27]

One of the earliest description of the terminology currently used for veena construction, modification and operation appears in Sangita Cudamani by Govinda.[28]


Saraswati holding an Eka-tantri vina, ca. 1000 C.E.
A rudra veena, now at Musée de la Musique (Paris).
Kinnari vina, 19th century C.E., from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Madras, 1876. Kinnari vina labeled "tingadee." The spike is a bridge, directing string energy to resonator.
The eka-tantri developed from the alpini veena. It was longer and had a larger gourd. Over time gourds were added and the instrument may have developed into the rudra veena and the kinnari veena.
India, early 19th century. Pinaka veena. Stick used on string as a slide, to choose notes.
Early 19th century. A bīn or rudra veena without frets. Stick being used as slide on string to choose notes.
Vichitra veena, uses a slide to choose notes instead of frets.
Saraswati veena
A Mohan veena.

Being a generic name for any string instrument, there are numerous types of veena.[29] Some significant ones are:

See also

Pinaki veena


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Vina: Musical Instrument, Encyclopædia Britannica (2010)
  2. ^ a b c Alastair Dick; Gordon Geekie; Richard Widdess (1984). "Vina, section 4 Medieval stick zithers". In Sadie, Stanley (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. pp. 729–730. Volume 3.
  3. ^ a b Lochtefeld 2002, pp. 753–754.
  4. ^ a b c d Dorothea E. Hast; James R. Cowdery; Stanley Arnold Scott (1999). Exploring the World of Music: An Introduction to Music from a World Music Perspective. Kendall & Hunt. pp. 151–152. ISBN 978-0-7872-7154-1.
  5. ^ Tutut Herawan; Rozaida Ghazali; Mustafa Mat Deris (2014). Recent Advances on Soft Computing and Data Mining. Springer. p. 512. ISBN 978-3-319-07692-8.
  6. ^ a b c Ritwik Sanyal; Richard Widdess (2004). Dhrupad: Tradition and Performance in Indian Music. Ashgate. pp. 23–25. ISBN 978-0-7546-0379-5.
  7. ^ a b c d Randel 2003, pp. 819–820.
  8. ^ a b Monier Monier-Williams, वीणा, Sanskrit-English Dictionary with Etymology, Oxford University Press, page 1005
  9. ^ a b Rowell 2015, pp. 33, 86–87, 115–116.
  10. ^ a b c Allyn Miner (2004). Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-81-208-1493-6.
  11. ^ Suneera Kasliwal (2004). Classical musical instruments. Rupa. pp. 70–72, 102–114. ISBN 978-81-291-0425-0.
  12. ^ Te Nijenhuis 1974, pp. 17–22.
  13. ^ a b Beck 1993, pp. 108–112.
  14. ^ a b A Madhavan (2016). Siyuan Liu (ed.). Routledge Handbook of Asian Theatre. Routledge. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-1-317-27886-3.
  15. ^ Lidova 2014.
  16. ^ Bettina Bäumer; Kapila Vatsyayan (1988). Kalatattvakosa: A Lexicon of Fundamental Concepts of the Indian Arts. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 135–136. ISBN 978-81-208-1402-8.
  17. ^ Dalal 2014, pp. 272–273.
  18. ^ Rowell 2015, pp. 114–116.
  19. ^ Rowell 2015, pp. 98–104.
  20. ^ a b Catherine Ludvík (2007). Sarasvatī, Riverine Goddess of Knowledge: From the Manuscript-carrying Vīṇā-player to the Weapon-wielding Defender of the Dharma. BRILL Academic. pp. 227–229. ISBN 90-04-15814-6.
  21. ^ ""The Coin Galleries: Gupta: Samudragupta"".
  22. ^ a b Nettl et al. 1998, pp. 352–355.
  23. ^ a b c d Rudra Veena, Alain Danielou, Smithsonian Folkways and UNESCO (1987)
  24. ^ Caudhurī 2000, p. 79.
  25. ^ Caudhurī 2000, pp. 26–27.
  26. ^ Rowell 2015, pp. 153–164.
  27. ^ Caudhurī 2000, pp. 111–113.
  28. ^ Gautam 1993, p. 9.
  29. ^ Martinez 2001, pp. 127–128.
  30. ^ a b c Sorrell & Narayan 1980, pp. 48–49.
  31. ^ a b Suneera Kasliwal (2004). Classical musical instruments. Rupa. pp. 116–124. ISBN 978-81-291-0425-0.
  32. ^ Suneera Kasliwal (2004). Classical musical instruments. Rupa. pp. 117–118, 123. ISBN 978-81-291-0425-0.
  33. ^ a b Caudhurī 2000, p. 179.
  34. ^ Caudhurī 2000, p. 65.
  35. ^ Caudhurī 2000, p. 66.
  36. ^ Caudhurī 2000, p. 177.
  37. ^ Sadie, Stanley, ed. (1984). "Mattakokilā". The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. p. 623. Volume 2.
  38. ^ Sadie, Stanley, ed. (1984). "Surmandal". The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. p. 477. Volume 3. in...Sangītaratnākara, a chordophone with 21 mentioned...does not make it clear whether this was a board zither or even whether the author had actually seen one...may have been a...harp-vīnā...
  39. ^ Caudhurī 2000, p. 176.


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