Tag Archives: Traditions

Personalities: Apastamba

The Next installment in our series on Dharmic Personalities from Andhra is the all-India figure known as Apastamba.

Background

Apastamba muni was a great Sutrakaara who compiled the Apastamba Kalpasutra. He was born in the lineage of Maharishi Bhrgu, and belonged to the Taittiriya Sakha of the Krishna Yajur Veda. His wife was the pativrata Aksasutraa and his son was Karki. [1]

He is said to have lived somewhere in the Godavari valley of Andhra. There is an interesting story behind the word ‘Apastamba’. Although the origin might be in reference to another Pauranic Apastamba, it is also attributed to the sutrakaara as well.

Tradition holds that Apastamba, along with Baudhayana muni, was one of the two early Dharmashastra writers from Andhra. This has been adumbrated by both traditional and foreign academic sources. Interestingly enough, per Apastamba himself, the tradition asserts that Rishis are not born in the Kali Age, though individuals may often display some of their characteristics. It demonstrates the importance of referring back to the Purvacharyas, as Apastamba does by example. It further cements his connection to the present age. The current academic paradigm dates him to 300 BCE, though he is likely much older.

Dharmasutras originated from Grihyasutras, which are the second class of text (the other being Srautasutras) that stem from a category known as Kalpasutras (meaning thread on rituals, whether daily (nithya) or special (naimittika)). While Srauta deals with sacrificial rites, and Grihyasutras deal with domestic rites. Dharmasutras are more general and societal in nature.

Much has been written about the Dharmashastra and its auteurs by the Western Academe. Nevertheless, the best starting point to understanding a civilization is through the internal logic respected by its native scholars. In the case of the four main Dharmasutras (Vasishta, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Apastamba), such considerations matter particularly for chronology as it has become fashionable to say Apastamba preceded Maharishi Vasishta (the Saptarishi who featured in the Ramayana)—a notion that would send even traditional Dharmic schoolchildren into peals of laughter. In fact the order is reversed, with Sage Vasishta being the eldest and Apastamba the most recent and most preferred for the Kali Yuga (the present Age). This aligns with the finding that Baudhayana muni was the son of Maharishi Kanva (from the fourth paada of the Dvapara Yuga). This makes the correct Dharmasutra order: Vasishta, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Apastamba.

Thus, Apastamba’s Dharmasutra is in turn a portion of the expansive and eponymous Kalpasutra, which is additionally divided into the Srautasutra, Grihyasutra, and Sulbasutra.

The Sulbasutras are treatises on geometry as required for Vedic rites and requirements (such as the construction of fire-altars, etc.).  Apastamba himself belonged to the Krishna (Black) Yajurveda), and expounded upon the intricacies of these altars. The result is even though the focus was on Dharma and Yagna, quite a bit of Mathematics was compiled as well. But to understand the place of these, one must examine the Kalpasutra corpus as a whole.

Achievements

  • The Apastamba Kalpa sutra consists of 30 prasnas. The first 24 prasnas (books) focus on Srauta (Vedic Yagna)
  • The 25th is Apastambeeya-mantra-paata, which deals with definitions & ritual prayers (hautraka). It also has a key section that has important ramifications: Paribhashas (general rules of interpretation for the Kalpasutras)
  • The Apastamba Grihya-sutras are contained in the 26th and 27th books.
  • The 28th and 29th together make up the Apastamba Dharmasutra (which is sub-divided into 8 patalas and 23 parts. The 30th prasna is focused on Sulba Sutra.
  • He is also credited with the Apastamba-brahmana, Apastambopanisad, Apastamba-prayoga, Apastambaapara-sutra, and Apastamba-smriti
  • The Apastamba-smriti consists of 207 slokas

Apastamba is seen as one of the authorities who emphasised the notion of Yuga Dharma vs Sanatana Dharma.The theological explanation is that the people of those days had extraordinary [spiritual] power lacking in modern men….the dharma appropriate for ancient ages may be inappropriate for the current depraved age” [2].

What is notable about his Dharmasutra is the specification of the importance of accepted custom (samay-acarika). Rather than a one-size fits all implementation of Vedic Dharma, he wrote that the native customs of a community or region apply, so long as they don’t conflict with explicit Vedic injunctions.

This explains Apastamba’s divergence from Vasishta, Gautama, and Baudhayana on matters specifically on sexual morality, ranging from polygamy to niyoga. He explicitly favors monogamy, “forbidding the taking of a second wife if the first is able to participate in ritual activities and bear children” and prohibits niyoga (levirate) in the Kali Age.

He also asserted the role of women as upholders of dharma. He therefore specifies the importance of children learning much lore and custom from Women. Apastamba also protected the rights of women by forbidding their abandonment by husbands. He also specified that a wife may use the family wealth on her own while her husband was away (unremarkable for our time perhaps, but certainly far ahead of what is thought of as the traditional view).

He is also considered the originator of the principle distinguishing between “explicit vedic texts” (pratyaksa sruti) and “inferred vedic texts” (anumita sruti). This provided the epistemological basis for custom among righteous people stemming from the Vedas as well. There were also commentaries written on his work, by the scholar Haradatta, and of course, Kumarila Bhatta and Adi Sankaracharya.

In tandem with his work on Dharma are his ancillary achievements in Mathematics and Engineering.

Mathematics

  • Construction of the Square
  • The Theorem of the Square on the Diagonal (restatement of Baudhayana Theorem)
  • A precise value of the Square Root of 2.

Apastamba’s contribution to Maths is well known. Correspondingly, although the motivating drive for his Sulba Sutra was to provide guidance for construction of fire altars, there were a number of Mathematical, Astronomical, and even Engineering externalities as well.

His key accomplishments have been quickly summarised above, though are best discussed in a Series of articles on Sulba.

Legacy

[4,255]

Akrodho-aharsho-arosho-alobho-amoho-adambho-adrohah satyavachanam-anatyaasho-apaishunam-anasooyaa samvibhaagas-tyaaga aarjavam maardavam shamo dhamah sarva-bhoothair-avirodho yoga aaryam-aanrshamsam thushtir ithi sarva-ashramaanam samaya-padhaani thaany anuthishtan-vidhinaa sarvagaami bhavathi || 1.23.6

Refraining from anger, excitement, rage, greed, perplexity, hypocrisy, and malice; speaking the truth; refraining from overeating, calumny, and envy; sharing, liberality, rectitude, gentleness, tranquillity, self-control, amity with all creatures, Yoga, Aarya-like conduct, benevolence, and contentment—there is agreement that these apply to all orders of life. By practicing them according to the rules, a man attains the Supreme Being.” [2, 61]

From religion and rite to mathematics and astronomy to most important of all, Dharma itself, Apastamba’s all-India legacy is undeniable.

Ill-informed or ill-intentioned critics have often scoffed that the Dharmasutras (including Apastamba’s) are “boring texts for Brahmins and their rituals“. But this is unfair. While it is true that a voluminous portion of them is dedicated to the difficult rituals and injunctions that characterised a Vaidika Brahmana’s life, the are many passages directed towards the benefit of not only the other three varnas (Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudra) but also society in general as well. This denotes the importance of people not only avoiding tunnel-vision about their own lifestyle and seeking to impose it or hold it above others, but to recognise the need for balance and respect for the individual work of all members of society.

Dharma is undoubtedly the most central and ubiquitous concept in the whole of Indian civilization.” [2]

Some colonial (and neo-colonial) scholars have either downplayed the existence of formal law in Ancient India or have said that Dharma replaced law. But neither is correct. Ancient India stressed the importance of both formal Law (Vyavahara) & Dharma (Righteousness), the problem is such “scholars” have understood the purpose of neither, as well as the necessary connection between the two. There is a famous Chinese proverb that “Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater one.” Thus, law exists as a baseline for society that holds baser men, women, and criminals (of all classes) accountable; where as Dharma inspires and holds the upright man (of all castes) accountable.

Law is the common minimum or floor for society while Dharma (in its highest form) is the ceiling we must aspire toward.

It’s dharma that provides the guidelines for proper and productive living and for social organization and interaction. It includes social institutions such as marriage, adoption, inheritance, social contracts, judicial procedure, and punishment of crimes, as well as private activities, such as toilet, bathing, brushing the teeth, food and eating, sexual conduct, and etiquette“. [2]

“It is difficult to gain mastery of dharma by means of scriptures alone, but by acting according to the markers one can master it“. (A.2.29.13-14) [2]

Apastamba is also notable for writing that after learning Vedic knowledge, those initiated in the Vedas can then understand final knowledge possessed by women and Sudras. The meaning here is that once Vedic knowledge is mastered, the value and divinity of everyday knowledge possessed by uninitiates is then understood as well. Although the rights to Vedic ritual and ritual recitation belong to Brahmanas, the dvija (initiate classes) include Kshatriyas and Vaisyas as well. What those murkhapanditas seeking to impute “beef in vedas” meanings into Dharmasutra as well forget, is that manuscripts are manipulated. In fact, while one phrase is read as prohibiting initiation to sudras, the same sloka prohibits initiation to criminals of any caste. Further, some have argued that the correct interpretation of the sloka (due to a contested word change) actually means that meritorious Sudras with good guna may be initiated as well. While this is not to assert what is Apastamba’s position one way or another, it does demonstrate the distinguishment (viveka) between right and wrong required to even interpret these texts.

Finally, for those concerned about casteism, here is what Apastamba wrote, and incidentally, it would be something echoed by Annamacharya thousands of years later:

Atmanan-pasyan-sarva-bhootaani na mohyacchinthayankavih |

Aatmaanam chaiva sarvatra yah pashyetsa vai brahmaa naakaprushte viraajathi || 1.23.1

Seeing all beings in himself, a wise man thinks about it and is not perplexed.

A Brahmin who sees himself in all beings, likewise, shines forth in the vault of heaven. [2, 61]

References:

  1. Garg, Ganga Ram. Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World. Vol 2. New Delhi: Concept Publ. 1992. p.552
  2. Olivelle, Patrick. Dharmasutras: The Law Codes of Apastambha, Gautama, Baudayana, and Vasistha. Motilal Banarsidass. 2000
  3. Buhler, Georg. The Sacred Laws.  Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1897
  4. Sen, S.N. & A.K. Bag. The Sulba Sutras. New Delhi. Indian National Science Academy. 1983. p.234
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/br/2005/03/22/stories/2005032200241700.htm

Crafts: Kondapalli Toys

Continuing our Series on Arts & Crafts  is the native ancient style of wooden toys known to all Telugus. Appreciated by Andhraite and non-Andhraite , young and old alike is that iconic handicraft we all grew up with: Kondapalli Bommalu.

History

Kondapalli an important town near Vijayawada, in Krishna District. Meaning ‘village of hills’, it is also a village of toys. 16 kilometres from Bezawada, it is celebrated in story and song for its famous fort, immortalised during the reign of the Reddi Rajulu.

Around 500 years old, if not older, this art is credited to and preserved by a community known as nakarshalu (though by some they also called ‘Arya Kshatriyalu’).

There is reference to this group in the “Brahmanda Purana”. This community claims its origin to Muktharishi, who was endowed with skills in arts and crafts by Lord Shiva. These chitrakaras claim that it was their ancestors who sculpted the numerous sculptures like the garuda, nandi, simha and the vahanas in the many temples in Andhra Pradesh.[2]

 It is claimed that this art was brought by migrants from Rajasthan, though these claims still need to be verified by history. One account lends credence to the theory.

 In the 16th century, Anavema Reddy invited around 10-12 families, all wooden handicrafts specialists from Rajasthan, to his court, says Nageshwar Rao, 37, a toy-maker. “All these families from the Nakarshalu community migrated to Kondapalli.” The Reddy kings, impressed by their skill, patronised the artisans and asked them to stay there forever. [7]

Characteristics

Made primarily from a soft wood known as Tella Poniki, which is found in large numbers around Kondapalli itself, these toys have not only become characteristic of Andhra, but have a number of standout characteristics.

Distinct from their Telugu cousins, Etikoppaka Toys, these Kondapalli carvings carry with them a special significance during Sankranthi and Dasara.  They are displayed in bommalakolavu or kollu. Both vahanas and veritable vigrahas of pauranic figures are depicted and showcased during these festivals. They are used to enshrine and enact the various stories contained in our epics.

Prices of these toys range from Rs. 15 to Rs. 800 and the Corporation is offering 10 per cent discount on the purchase during the expo. [5]

At the high end, many toys even reach 5,000 rupees. Themes from Dasavatara and Hitopadesa are common. Nevertheless, the ambari elephant and the kuchipudi dancers remain the most iconic favourites. And the appeal is universal. These craftsmen have a unique place in the hearts and minds of Telugus, young and old alike.

Equipped with ‘bavudari’, ‘palapa chekka’ and ‘aakurai’, generations of these toymakers have managed to bring a smile on the faces of little kids across the world with their pieces of art. [3]

Process

Unlike most modern toys, Kondapalli bommalu use almost all natural ingredients in the process. Tools come in various shapes and sizes and are developed by the craftsmen.

The wood is treated to a slow heating process to dry its moisture content. The limbs of the toys are carved separately and later joined to the body. The essential carving tools are axe, chisel, hammer and drill. [5]

Glue consisting of tamarind paste, lapum, and sawdust is used to assemble them.

This tamarind paste is called makh. Batana (cooked tamarind seed paste) is then rubbed on it along with resin from the tumma tree.Gold and silver foil used to be added for ornamentation. Although water colours, vegetable dyes, and oil paints are now used, traditional rangulu relied on stones, herbs, various gums and other bases. Even the paint brush comes from goat hairs, demonstrating the stress on organic materials.

Ladies are also an integral part of the process, much of the artistry of these dolls being attributed to their skill with a brush. Finished products are often given a coating of enamel paint to enhance their sheen.

Future

Kondapalli Bomma retains an international reputation and is frequently purchased by tourists during their travels in our region. It received a Government sanctioned Geographical Indication in 2007-2008, thereby crediting this handicraft to Andhra. Despite this accreditation, the future of this iconic tradition remains in question.

Over the centuries, the skill moved beyond the Nakarshalu community, and it is no longer a caste-specific occupation. Members of various communities and castes, including Padmashali, Kamsali, Vishwabrahmin, now work in the Kondapalli toy industry. Records of the Mutually Aided Cooperative Society (MACS), established in 2002 by the artisans, show that in February 2017, of the 229 toy-makers in the village, 107 are men and 122 women. Of these, 53 are Dalits, 128 are from Other Backward Classes, 26 are Muslim, and 22 are from other, landed castes.”  [7]

As with many traditional Arts and Crafts of United Andhra, Kondapalli Toys are also on the brink. The community that preserves this ancient art is finding itself in difficult financial straits. 50 families live in Bommala Colony in Kondapalli, fulfilling large orders on the infrequent occasions they materialise. Dependent upon Lepakshi outlets and various art exhibitions, they require reliable and equitable distribution channels to maintain their livelihood and craft.

At the annual Lepakshi Expo, the turnover is around 3 Lakh rupees. While there are cooperatives supported by Lanco group and various efforts ( such as this and this and this and this) to market these products, society-at-large must come together to help these traditional workers compete with the global market of competitors with products sourced from China and elsewhere.

Though there have been some redesign drives to both update the toys and their relevance to the contemporary market, much more work needs to be done in this regard.

The nouveau riche of Andhra again have an opportunity to step and support these workers and protect our common heritage.

In the olden days, Kondapalli artists received patronage from the local rulers. But today these artisans are neglected due to the advent of mechanised toys. Many artisans have given up their profession and are seeking other lucrative jobs. Though the government is trying to rehabilitate this art form, it is up to us to encourage it. It is our duty to do so. [2]

Click here to Buy Kondapalli Toys Today!!!


References:

  1. Gajrani, S. History, Religion, and Culture of India. Vol 2.Delhi: Isha Books. 2004
  2. https://web.archive.org/web/20160127053030/http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/yw/2003/06/21/stories/2003062100470300.htm
  3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Toying-with-heritage-No-heir-to-Kondapallis-amazing-art/articleshow/47336094.cms
  4. http://www.ipindia.nic.in/writereaddata/Portal/News/ 283_1_REGISTRATION_DETAILS_OF_GI_TILL_DATE_March_2012_Till_Date.pdf
  5. https://web.archive.org/web/20140626104254/http://www.hindu.com/2011/01/12/stories/2011011261670200.htm
  6. http://www.deccanherald.com/content/379894/tales-kondapalli-toys-narrate.html
  7. https://ruralindiaonline.org/articles/no-longer-a-toy-story/
  8. http://www.lepakshihandicrafts.gov.in/blog/kondapalli-toys.html
  9. http://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/know-all-about-the-kondapalli-toys/article7611347.ece

Happy Ugadi (2017)

Happy-Ugadi-2017

From all of us at ACP, in this Hevilambi Nama Samvatsara we wish you a happy and prosperous (Telugu) New Year.  Ugadi Subhakaankshalu!

Ugadi comes from the Sanskrit term Yuga Adi, or new era.

Typical greetings include: Nutana Samvatsara Subhakaankshalu or Ugadi Subhakaankshalu.

Today we celebrate the arrival of the year 5119 (Kali Yuga reckoning), which is named  Hevilambi (last year was Durmukhi), in this 28th Chaturyuga of the 7th Manvantara (Vaivasvata) in Sveta Varaha Kalpa.

Here is our Post from 2014 explaining the Festival and its Traditions in detail.

Ugadi-2017-Pictures

Normally, Ugadi naturally coincides with the Pan-India Yugadi, and notably Gudi Padwa—united Andhra Pradesh’s neighbour to the west, Maharashtra. This year, there was a mild controversy over calendrical dates and the was a 1 day divergence. Here is the explanation.

So whether you celebrated yesterday (along with the rest) or you are enjoying the Utsav today, we wish a happy Hevilambi Samvatsara.

Per tradition, here is the 2017-2017 Hevilambi Samvatsara Panchanga Sravanam.

Thanks to all our loyal and regular readers for your interest, comments, and support. We look forward to another great year of Preserving and Passing on our wonderful common Culture and Tradition.దుర్ముఖి నామ సంవత్సర శుభాకాంకషాలు! Happy Ugadi!

Kalakada & Andhra’s Great Past

The following Post was composed by Spandana garu. You can follow her on Twitter.


Kalakada Temple

Andhra Pradesh is now making its move towards becoming a technology giant, industrial giant, and what not —all these are positive signs to the growth of our newly re-born State. But at the same time, here we should never forget, we are nothing without our identity…and our identity is our culture, our past, our roots. Just a small introspection is needed for us. How well are we treating our monuments, our old temples, old forts (signs of our past)? Penukonda being the second capital of Great Vijayanagara Emperors, how is its present condition…how many actually visit?

Its not about Penukonda alone; it’s similar condition with all our monuments. Hope we realise monuments are not just old walls and buildings, but they are remnants of our ancestors.

#History of #Kalakada (Chittoor District) has an interesting back ground.

Kalakada

1. #Siddavattam was a kingdom in Kadapa District. According to the oral histories of the region, around the 15th century C.E,  there was a king by the name Chandra Sekhar Varma, of the Vydhaba dynasty. He was an honest but strict king. He had a beautiful daughter, Princess Sathyavathi.

2.It so happened on God’s wish that Sathyavathi became pregnant, despite being unmarried. The Raja became harsh and questioned Sathyavathi about her pregnancy, demanding to know who was responsible for her condition. Sathyavathi replied that she was innocent and unaware of the cause. He couldn’t believe  her.  ‘Sathyavathi’ was a great devotee of Lord Siva. She prayed to him to prove her innocence.

3.Being ashamed of his daughter, Chandra Sekhara Varma wanted to get rid of her. As per his strict view, she had committed an unpardonable crime. The King ordered his daughter to cross Seven outskirts of villages by carrying a pot full of toddy on her head (Kallu), under which there was a Cobra.The pot was made  of wet clay. The punishment imposed on his daughter was unfair and humanly impossible, and at any moment, his daughter would die due to Cobra bite. Sathyavathi agreed to her father’s command and started her journey.

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4. The King sent his trusted soldiers along with her. Praying to Lord Siva devoutly, Sathyavathi crossed 7outskirts of villages successfully, and she put down the pot after journeying to an appropriate place. To her astonishment, there was no Toddy (Kallu) in the pot, and instead there was ‘Siva linga’ and a Cobra with its hood on it. The pot disappeared. The Siva Linga is named as “#Kallu #Ghateswar” as it appeared from a pot of toddy (Kallu). It is told that due to her virtue, Sathyavathi turned into a river. Today, there’s a Sangamam (confluence of rivers)with  #Bahuda and #Sathyavathi, where the Siva Linga was installed by Sathyavathi.

5. The local people worshipped Lord Siva and Sathyavathi wholeheartedly. The king came to know the story and repented much for  his foolishness in punishing his innocent daughter. He did namaskaara before ‘Lord Siva’ and asked for forgiveness for this sin. This name of Lord  Siva (‘Kallu-Ghata’) in due  course of time became Kalakada today. Because he fulfilled the wishes of the people, Sadashiva is called “Siddheswara”, which means fulfillment of wishes to those who prayed to Him.

This local legend is considered a real historical story that took place . To this day, people from the 7 outskirt villages come to Kalakada, through the same path by which Sathyavathi travelled, every year and offer their prayers.

P_20161125_141323_wm

There’s a Pallava period monument in the Town (which is under the Archaeology department). At the same time, the pathetic condition of monuments isn’t hidden as well. Kalakada is not the only place. This wonderful state is blessed abundantly with historical monuments, beautiful architecture, and many old Temples.

Another completely neglected monument, probably a #pallava structure and later improved by #Vijayanagara, is this one. It is a temple with great history. Once a grand structure, it is  now prey for our negligence. Our monuments are in utmost need of care and protection.

Heritage sites in Andhra Pradesh are in really bad state and many monuments are ignored and neglected without a record.

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Loot by thieves in search of treasure in ancient monuments is not new, here is an epic example of it.It is heart wrenching for any heritage lover to see such old monuments in this vulnerable state. Please share this post to the maximum,and let government act and preserve our roots and heritage.

#Heritageisourpride #Heritagemustbepreserved

Location: Location of the Mandal:- #Kalakada Mandal is located on N.H-18,towards North of #Chittoor, which is 90 K.Ms from District head quarters.

Chittoordistrict.svg

References:

  1. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/13th-century-temple-a-picture-of-neglect/article6795604.ece
  2. http://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/110117/hyderabad-thieves-looting-antiques-without-any-fear-of-law.html
  3. http://www.chikalakabp.appr.gov.in/home/-/asset_publisher/QOkpuc6kj83c/content/about-kalakada/pop_up?_101_INSTANCE_QOkpuc6kj83c_viewMode=print
  4. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/200-year-old-temple-cries-for-attention/article16546761.ece

Spandana also runs the GloriousIndianPast and NeglectedMonuments Blogs.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Andhra Cultural Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Carnatic Classical Instruments: Veena

veena

Introduction

From very early times Andhras had a special aptitude for music. They did much in times of yore to develop that art (gaanakalaa) and contributed a special raga called Andhree after their own name to the series of musical notes. This fact is known from a treatise on Music named Brhaddesi written by Matanga muni. The author states in his work that in the opinion of Saardula Maatava-pancama has six raagainis of which Andhri was one. [4, 418]

To date, Andhra Cultural Portal has focused primarily on the many brilliant Andhra Composers and singers. Specific names include Annamaya, Thyagaraja, Narayana Theertha, and of course, the recently deceased Dr. Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna (who will be sorely missed).

Nevertheless, another critical aspect of the Carnatic tradition is its instruments. Indeed, instrumentals are, today, more important than ever in reaching out to “modern/post-modern” youth who are alienated from their roots. Carnatic music may seem regimented and orthodox, but as Balamurali garu proved, it can certainly keep up with the times. Indeed, the greatness of it is that while not all who are trained in other traditions can do what Carnatic virtuosos can, even the average Carnatic performer can do what other traditions can. As such, understanding the role instrumentation plays is key.

Seven chapters (28-34) of the Natya Sastra deal with music. Bharata muni discusses both aatoodya (instrumental) and gaana (vocal) music. [2, 106] While the voice is the most personal of musical instruments, Classical Indic music hosts a panoply of percussion, strings, and woodwinds alike.

The Musical instrument (Aattodya or Vaadya) [2,110] in Carnatic music is of four kinds: Thatha vaadyam, Sushira vaadyam, Avanatta vaadyam, and Ghana vaadyam. “They are respectively called stringed instruments, thulai (hole) instruments, leather instruments and metal instruments.”[1, 97]

Thatha (stringed) instruments are generally made out of wooden pieces or chips and joined together with strings made of copper and similar materials. They are played by nail or other such devices. Instruments such as the Veena fall into this category. The Veena in particular can be played with three different techniques: tattva, anugatha, and oogha. “In tattva, the instrument is played mainly to denote the rhythm, the time-measure etc. of a particular song. In anugata, the instrument is played to follow the tempo of the song. In oogha, the instrument is played to embellish the song with no particular significance attached to it.” [2, ]

rudravina
Rudraveena.org

Sushira (thulai)instruments wind instruments and typically are made either out of wood or bamboo planks. They have holes, are blown from the mouth, and manipulated with the fingers. Instruments such as the flute (murali or vamsee) fall into this category. “Depending on the number of quartertones, the notes of this instrument are of three varieties—dvika or two, trike or three and catushka or four. The same are respectively known as ardhamukta or half open, kampamaana or pulsating, and vyakta mukta or fully open.”[2,110-111]

Avanatta (leather) instruments refers to percussion. “These are made out of wood and tied with leather. They can be played by the hand or small sticks.” [1, 97] These drums are usually hollow instruments with leather coverings on one or both sides.Silt and wheat/barley flour are used to fill in order to ensure consonance with the main note.

Ghana (metal) instruments are generally made out of bronze. These are commonly called cymbals and referred to as thaala (within the tradition). This is because they are used to measure time in a musical session.

The division for instruments are as follows:

Sruthi instruments: Tambura (Thatha)-Otthu (Sushira), Sruti box (Sushira)

Sangeetha Instruments: Veena (Thatha), Gottu (Thatha), Flute (Sushira), Nadaswaram (Sushira), Jalatarangam (“Water is poured in porcelain cups and then played by stick”). [1, 97]

Laya Instruments: Mridangam (Avanatta), Thavul (Avanatta), Keethu (Thatha), Moorsing (Ghana), Kanjira (Avanatta), Ghatam (Mud pot), Jalar (Gana-Bronze)” [1,97]

There are of course other instruments in use today, such as the violin and the harmonium. While their inclusion shows the versatility of Carnatic,  these are not traditional, and thus, are not considered for the purposes of this collection of articles.

We begin this Series with an instrument that has long been denied its due. Indeed, Classical Indic Taste has been pushed aside for parvenus. No more. It is time to restore the traditional place of one of Indian Music’s most magnificent contributions: The Veena.

History

veena-statue
Meenakshi Madurai Temple

The Veena is verily the classical of all classical Indian instruments.  It is one of three main vaadyaas first mentioned in Vedic literature, notably the Rig and Sama Vedas. The origin of all musical instruments is told by Bharata muni himself:

Sage svaati went to a lake to fetch water on a holiday when it rained heavily. The torrents of rain fast as wind, falling on the lotus leaves in the waters of the lake, excited the birds which produced inexplicable sweet sounds. Svaati was astonished at the rich melodious sounds made by the falling water drops and the low, the medium and the high notes produced by the birds. He went back to his hermitage and pondered over the possibility of producing musical instruments incorporating these sounds. He sough the assistance of viSvakarma, the celestial architect, and constructed various drums including mridanga, paNava and dardura.”[2, 111]

Maharishi Svaati then created the various instruments and crafted them with strings, wood, and iron. Percussion instruments in particular are mentioned. The famed divine drum dundubhi, along with others such as the tripushkara (mridanga, paNava and dardura) which are major instruments,  as well as the jhallari and paTahi (minor instruments) are mentioned.[2, 112]

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One who plays the veena is known as a vainika/vainikaa. There have been many a talented Vainika in Purana and Charitra. The Veena, of course is most identified with two deities in the Hindu pantheon. The first and foremost, is the Goddess of Knowledge, Sarasvati Devi. Invoked throughout auspicious educational occasions, she is in many ways, the patron deity of music itself. It is not for nothing the most famous Veena is her namesake. After all, she is called Veena Pustaka Dharini.

Next of course is Mahadev himself. Lord Shiva is famed as a dancer and a destroyer and a wielder of the damaroo. Nevertheless, he is credited with the creation and mastery of another instrument, which fittingly bears his majestic name.

Narada muni-He is always seen with his veena, known as Mahathi, praising Lord Vishnu with his keerthanas.

Maharishi Agasthya-The great Saptarishi was an exponent of the veena and famously had a competition with Ravana (whose flag featured the veena). [9]

These of course, are sacred figures from our Puranas. But human history proper itself lists many talented veena players. Sculptures throughout India mark the centrality of the Veena, whose traditional role, ostensibly, has been usurped by the violin.

Siddhartha Gautama-“The Buddha reinforced his teachings with music from his Veena known as Parivadhini. It had twenty-one strings made of gold (Swarna Sutra).” [8]

Perhaps most celebrated of all, is the famed Emperor Samudra Gupta. He whose shadows cast their sway from Valhika to Varanasi and Kashmir to Kanyakumari was undoubtedly a most masculine of royals. And yet, he conquered Bharatavarsha with vaana (bow) in one hand and veena (lute) in the other.

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Maharajadiraja Samudra Gupta with veena & vaana

Moving on into the medieval period, we find many accomplished performers and even rulers.

Purandara Dasa-The Pitamaha of Carnatic music was also a vainika in his own right. His successors in turn would follow in his footsteps as vainika-gayakas.

Raghavendra Swami-The patron Saint of Mantralayam was divinely inspired by Veena music, and used it in his own compositions.

Thyagaraja-Saint Tyagaraja brings out with all lyrical beauty and brilliance about the importance of this divine instrument in his song Mokshamu Galada!

vINA vAdana loludau Sivamano
 
vidha merugaru, thyAgarAja vinutha
 (Meaning)
 Is salvation obtainable to those who are not able to perceive the mind of Shiva who derives indescribable pleasure from listening to the divine music of Vina!” [3, 2]

Syama Sastri

 http://www.andhraportal.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/1985-shyama_sastri.jpg

Muthuswamy Deeksithaar

Veena Kupayya-A student of Thyagaraja. He composed many krithis featuring the veena.

Culture and Competence (in manhood or otherwise) go hand-in-hand and are not antipodal. The days of the popinjay oversophisticates and the rustic barbarian must be set aside.

It is possible to be both strategically serious and sophisticated in song and the other arts. The great King Bhoja was a sishya of Sarada and Skanda alike. We need not be alienated from our roots and artistic endeavours in order to tackle the modern world.

Indeed, there is a veena for every occasion. Here are some of its many types.

Types

Govinda Dikshitar of the Tanjavur court first constructed a veena with 24 fixed frets, 12 for each octave. This was a key factor in the development of the system of 72 melakarta ragas.” [6] He is considered the originator of the Sarasvathi Veena in its current form. Nevertheless, the Veena obviously has a far greater antiquity (and variety). There were at one point as many as 25 different kinds of veenas. Kanakaveena or brahma veena may very well be the origin of them all.  In fact, Palkurki Somanatha, famed Telugu Poet of the Kakatiya era,  in his poem Panditharaadhya Charitramu gives us 41 [6]:

1. VEENOTTAMAMU 2. BRAHMA VEENA 3. KAILASA VEENA 4. SARANGA VEENA 

5. KOORMA VEENA 6. AAKASHA VEENA 7. PINAAKA VEENA 8. RAAVANA VEENA 

9. GAURI VEENA 10. GANDHARVA VEENA 11. BANA VEENA 12. KASYAPA VEENA 

13. SWAYAMBHOO VEENA 14. BHUJANGA VEENA 15. BHOJA VEENA 

16. KINNARA VEENA 17. TRINARI VEENA 18. SARASWATI VEENA 19. MOLLI VEENA 

20. MANORADHA VEENA 21. GANANADHA VEENA 22. KAUMARA VEENA 23. ANIVANI 

24. RAVANA HASTAM 25. TIPIRI 26. SAKANEY 27. VALI 28. VICHITRAKA 29. NATA 

30. SAGARIKA 31. KUMBHAKA 32. VIPANCHIKA 33. SARA VEENA 34. PARIVAADI 

35. MALLARI 36. KOLAASHTI 37. SWARAMANDALAM 38. GHOSHAVATI 

39. AUDUMBARAM 40. TANTRI SAAGARAM 41. AMBUJA VEENA. 

Here is a listing of the ones that are prevalent in the present time.

rudra-veena

Rudra veena-Undoubtedly the most august and masculine of all the Indian lutes, the Rudra Veena commands respect even today.  Legend has it that Lord Shiva was inspired to construct it when he caught glimpse of Parvathi Devi taking rest. Struck by her beauty, the Rudra Veena was the result of the saundharya of this most Divine of muses.

 

sarasvati-veena

Sarasvathi veena-The Sarasvathi veena is the most iconic of all the varieties. The very mention of the word Veena brings to mind this image. While the current form is traced to The Thanjavur Nayak court, it is in fact more ancient. Its measurements and structure are considered the standard.

Brahma Veena-The Veena of Lord Brahma, which helps facilitate his creation of the universe.

vichitra-vina

Vichitra Veena-Commonly used in the Hindustani style of music. A veena of seven strings (played with the fingernails). Does not have any frets.

Ghoshavathee Veena-Thought to be the predecessor to the comparatively recent Vichitra Veena.

Vipanchee-A  Veena of nine strings. Has 6 karanas (roopa, pratikrita, pratibheed, roopa sesha, oogha and pratisushka). It is played with a plectrum.

Tritantri Veena-It is often said that the Sitar is merely a renamed and re-tuned Tritantri. It is called so for the 3 strings that it has.

Saradiya Veena-This instrument is now called a Sarod, and has carved its own name in the Hindustani music world.

a_mohan_veena_string_musical_instruments_of_india

Mohana Veena-Considered to alternately be a modification of the Sarod and guitar. As such has two variations.

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Yaal (Yazh)-Commonly used in Tamizh Nadu and considered an ancestor of the Veena.

Mahathi Veena-the Veena of choice of Narada Muni.

bobbiliveenaBobbili Veena-Today seen more as a toy than an august instrument of music, the Bobbili veena has nonetheless carved out its own name in the world of crafts. In fact, it historically had a golden age under the Rajas of Bobbili, and the instrument was a serious one for musical performances in the small kingdom. It was frequently given as a gift, and as most of the pre-modern varieties, was often gilded.

Characteristics

Although there are numerous variations of the veena, the structure is generally the same. Number of strings aside, the Veena typically has a head (called a kuppam), 24 frets, with 4 strings (representing Chaturveda and also Purushartha), and 3 on the side (called thaala strings). The latter are said to represent Iccha Shakti, Jnana Shakti, and Kriya Shakti. [3,4]

The 24 frets represent 12 swarasthanas in two octaves (24). Just like the 24 frets of the Veena, human back bone has 24 divisions. According to the human anatomy, the back bone has 7 cervicles (7 strings), 12 thorasic (representing the 12 swara sthanas) and 5 lumbar vertebrae (representing the 5 notes R, G, M, D,N –S and P are not included as they are prakrithi swaras or natural notes). The 24 frets get their importance by the nada produced from them. [3,4]
manushiveena
“Veena is of two kinds – Deiveeka Veena and Maanushi Veena (Man made Veena).
The human body created by God is the ‘deiveeka veena’.
 
The veena made out of wood by human beings is called as the ‘maanushi veena’.
 
Both these Veena are made and intended to produce the divine Nada or Music.”[3. 3]
Plucking of the strings is called meetu. There are  16 varieties of this.
Due to this divine nature, the Veena is said to facilitate vocal training as well. Singing along with veena is a form of Naada yoga (Yoga of Sound). If that is the case, manufacture of the veena is another type of yoga as well.

The best veenas are made from a single block of wood, typically jackwood. These are the instruments that stand the test of time and become veritable heirlooms in eminent families, as in the Royal Family of Mysuru. They may very depending on region and taste.

Process

The veena is most often constructed in 3 parts. Though made from a single piece of jackfruit wood (called panasa), it consists of a head, a neck, and a resonator. A stabiliser (thumba) is made from hollow pumpkin. The wood itself is lacquered after carving and construction.

The fret board is hollow, and generally includes 24 brass frets. These are set on black honey wax and wooden tracks. A soft black coal powder is used to give it colour.

making-veena

The strings themselves are usually brass.

The Thanjavur variety is typically 4 feet in length. Due to lack of patronage, there are less than 100 artisans in that craft today. In Bobbili it is around 30 families. These artisans, and the pandits preserving the traditional knowedge, require patronage, once given by feudal nayaks. The established business families of this era have a responsibility to fill this void.

Legacy

rudras-veena

Veena is the Divine Instrument. Verily, it represents the concept of Moksha through music.

From Lord Shiva and the Rudra Veena to APJ Abdul Kalam and the Sarasvathi Veena, this instrument has captured the imagination of ancient and modern India alike.

Veena is our national instrument. It is a treasure. [5]

Famous Players

A viiNaa player must be untiring and must be an expert in handling the citraa tupe of viiNaa. A flute player must be physically strong, steady and must have long breath” [2,115] And yet, despite these demands, Veena players (and vamsee players for that matter) have run the gamut. Some are of course established expert performers in Carnatic Classical or Hindustani. And others are perhaps better known in other areas (such as our own Yamini Purnatilaka garu), and yet, are accomplished artistes in this most divine of instruments, nonetheless.

Venkataramanadas

Emani Sankara Sastry

Chitti Babu

Yamini Krishnamurti

Sundaram Balachander

R.Venkataraghavan

Asad Ali Khan

Doraiswamy Iyengar

Brahm Sarup Singh

TN Seshagopalan

Jayanti Kumaresh

Punya Srinivas

Future

The future of the veena is at a crossroads. Rootlessness among metro youth and adults alike have reduced interest in traditional heritage as it is. The violin’s usurpation of the veena’s traditional place as primary vocal accompaniment has exacerbated matters.

While there are veena virtuosos even today, it will require collaborative efforts with an eye on modern dynamics to restore this cultural treasure to its rightful place. It will require some effort from current connoisseurs and some adjustment from traditionalists. Not only should instrumentals be promoted but even fusion efforts given due credit.

Fusion

To be fair, there have been general attempts outside of fusion to promote the veena. But these have been isolated. To restore Rudra’s vaadya to its proper place will require not only comprehensive and cooperative efforts across a state or many states, but also some tough decisions about current musical accompaniment.

rudraveena-movie
More movies like this Chiranjeevi garu

The violin is a beautiful instrument, and credit to the European classical tradition for evolving it. Yet, it is possible to appreciate the foreign while preserving our own. Perhaps the best service stalwarts of Carnatic can do today is to encourage the reintroduction of the veena as the mainstay in katcheris, and even in less formal performances. The Rudra veena and the Sarasvathi veena (in its most popular measurement) may indeed be difficult to transport (as part of a troupe) for our peregrinatious performers of the post-modern period. Nevertheless, a suitable veena should be decided upon and encouraged to take the place of violin.

Violin invariably will continue in the forseeable future, and one does not wish to discourage those talented Carnatic performers who have devoted their lives to this delightful instrument. They should continue to perform with patronage & certainly  demand for “fusion” only continues to expand. But tradition is tradition. While the artistic spirit of musical experimentation should be encouraged, the integral core must be preserved.

Incipient steps must be taken to restore our National Instrument to its rightful place. Sarasvathi herself would expect nothing less for her namesake.

Saa Me Vasatu Jivhagre Veena Pusthaka Dharini
 -May Goddess Saraswathi, holding the Veena and the Vedas, always reside in my tongue. [3,8]

References:

  1. Iyer, A.S. Panchapakesa.Karnataka Sangeeta Sastra: Theory of Carnatic Music.
  2. Appa Rao, P.S.R & P. Sri Rama Sastry. A Monography on Bharata’s Natya Sastra. Hyderabad: Natyakala Press. 1967.P.110-112
  3. Mahesh, Anuradha. Shanmukhapriya School of Music. 2016 https://www.scribd.com/document/305207642/Veena-the-Divine-Instrument
  4. Somasekhara
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/chennai-margazhi-season/nirmala-rajasekars-mission-is-to-keep-the-veena-flag-flying-across-the-globe/article6735447.ece?widget-art=four-rel
  6. http://www.theveena.com/veena/
  7. http://www.forbesindia.com/article/recliner/the-last-notes-of-the-thanjavur-veena/32670/1
  8. http://www.jayanthikumaresh.com/about-the-veena/
  9. http://www.gklokam.com/2015/10/important-instrument-player-exams.html
  10. Divekar, Hindraj. Rudra Veena: An Ancient String Musical Instrument. New Delhi: DPH. 2001
  11. Dutta, Madhurima.Let’s Know Music and Musical Instruments of India. New Delhi: IBS books. 2008
  12. http://www.firstpost.com/living/thanjavur-veena-to-be-first-indian-instrument-to-get-made-in-thanjavur-tag-545793.html
  13. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/visakhapatnam/Melody-of-Bobbili-Veena-dying-out/articleshow/47451422.cms
  14. http://gaatha.com/bobbili-veena/