g k kaushik
There are three principal musical instruments mentioned in the vedic
literature, Veena, Venu and Mridanga. While veena is a stringed instrument,
venu the flute is a wind instrument and mridanga is beat instrument. All
these instruments have found mention in the Hindu puranas and considered as
divine. Out of these veena is considered most sacrate. Often Hindu Gods and
Goddesses are depicted as playing Veena. Sri Saraswati Goddesses of Knowledge
is seen as sitting on a white lotus and playing veena. Veena is known from
time immemorial and Puranas, Vedic literatures in fact describe various forms
of veena. Veenas with various numbers of strings, starting with the
ekatantri (single string) veena to one with one hundred strings are found
mention in vedic texts.
Ramayana and Veena Vadhan
There are mentions of veena vadhan in great time grandhas like
Ramayana and Mahabharata. In Ramayana we find mention of the veena at many
places. In Sundra canto while Anjaneya was in search of Sri Sita Devi, at
Lanka, He comes across women in intoxicated state clenching to the veena and
sleeping at the palace of Ravana. There is mention of Vipanchi veena (which
has nine strings) also in the same sarga. It is also mentioned that
Valmiki after composing the Ramayana declared that the Ramayana is best
suited to be sung with veena. For that matter when the Ramayana was first
sung (not recited) by Lava and Kusa in the court of non other than Lord Rama
Himself was accompanied by an Ekatantri veena. Ravana the Lankeswara
is a veena exponent himself, is said to have played veena with great skill
that he could please any Divine power with this accomplishment and get the
boon he wished.
Veena Vidhwans (Exponents)
From the ancient time, veena is considered as a divine instrument and playing
veena is considered to be yoga. Yagjavalkya Maharishi observed that one could
attain salvation effortlessly by playing veena. Effortlessly since it is
simple prescription compare to the ways prescribed in Vedanta. If veena is
played with devotion and void of ego one can get liberation. Playing veena is
like yoga (for that matter practice of any music is yoga) that
it could please divine powers and can bring happiness to both the Divine and
the human. Many sages had practiced keerthan with veena and engrossed
themselves in the divine music through which they obtained liberation and
realised the end. When thinking of such accomplished sages, Sri Narata’s name
comes first along with Ekatantri veena. Sri Tumburu is another. Both these
sages are exponents in playing string instrument Veena with fret. There is
another Divine who was a veena player par excellence. He is nobody other than
Lord Anjaneya. Sri Anjaneya is one up with his playing fretless veena.
Anjaneya the sangeetha exponent
In carnatic sangeetha tradition there are two classes of sakas
(branches), one is known as Narada tradition and the other is known as
Hanumath tradition. The three tycoons of carnatic music known as Sangeetha
Trimurthi are Saint Tyagaraja, Sri Muthuswamy Dhikshathar and Sri Shyama
Shastrigal. Legend has it that Saint Tyagaraja the follower of Narada
tradition was gifted with the “swararnavam” palm leafs by Saint Narada.
Sri Muthuswamy Dhikshathar is follower of Hanumath tradition.
The two namavallis in Hanumath Sahasranamam is worth mentioning here. One is
“Aum Naradaya Namah” meaning one who is a triloka sanchari and
profound keerthana priya. The second is “Aum Tumburuve Namah”
meaning one who is an exponent of Veena vadhan.
The legendry Competition
The celestrial sages, Sri Narada and Sri Tumburu, were great players of the
fretted veenas. But there was clash of ego between them leading to bitter
rivalry. Both of them would participate in function and compete in all the
competition. At the end of the duel nobody would be able to say who is
superior. Their ego was seeking a final decision as to who is best. The
matter was brought before Lord Narayana (Sri Vishnu), who with a mischievous
smile hugging His face suggested seeking the remedy for this from Lord
Anjaneya who is an exponent in Sangeetha Keerthanas. Both agreeing
that there could be no better judge then Lord Anajaneya they approached him.
A date was fixed for the contest at the convenience of Lord Anjaneya. The
encounter was expected to be hot and decisive, since Lord Anjaneya is known
for his judicious decisions and judgements.
On the day fixed there was a big assembly of Devatas and the competition was
a big draw. Both Sri Narada and Sri Tumburu were seated on either side of the
dais with their fretted veena ready to play and Lord Anjaneya was seated in
the center. Lord Anjaneya announced Sri Tumburu would play first followed by
Sri Narada. The congregations of Devatas were eager to listen to the sound of
the most divine instrument Veena from the sages who had mastered the playing
on the instrument.
Firstly Sri Tumburu started playing the veena vadhan and the Devatas forgot
to wink their eyes, all their attention drawn by the mystical tones emanating
from the instrument. Slowly they could realise that world was coming to a
standstill position devoid of any activity. Even sea waves stopped, oceans
started freezing, birds stopped flying and those flying stopped mid air. Such
were the effects of the music of Sri Tumburu. He was playing the raga
Amirthavarshini which is normally played for bringing rain when effected by
drought. But the raga can be sung other wise also. In the recent times Sri
Muthuswamy Dhikshathar had sung kriti "Anandamrutha karshini..... " in
Amirthavarshini in order to stop the incessant rain.**
Now Lord Anjaneya signaled Sri Narada to play the instrument. Sri Narada
started playing his fretted veena and the mesmerising tones emerging from the
veena vadhan started moving around like a sweet fragrance enveloping the
atmosphere. So sweet was the tone that it brought realisation in every thing.
Bringing back dynamism, ocean started melting, waves started tiding, birds
started flying with renewed verve. Sri Narada was playing the raga
Punnagavarali. In the recent times Sri Thygaraja Swamigal had sung the kriti
"Ghandamu paiyarul......" in the raga Punnagavarali. This kriti when
sung, will make you feel the fragrance enveloping around you.**
Lord Anjaneya’s judgement
Now that the contesters had finished playing, the attention of the
congregation turned towards the His Lordship the Judge Lord Anjaneya. Since
this time also both had done their best, how Lord Anjaneya is going to judge
as to who is better then who was the wonder of the Devas.
Lord Anjaneya paused for some time and got up from the seat and took
possession of both Sri Narada’s and Sri Tumburu’s veena vadhan. Returned to
his seat and patiently started removing each of the frets in the instruments.
Everybody started wondering as to what Lord Anjaneya is trying to do. Sri
Narada lost his cool and asked Lord not to monkey around the instrument and
to give the judgment. Lord Anjaneya replied that both of them had played
well, but before the judgment could be given asked them to play the Veena in
the present state (ie, veena instrument without fret). Both Sri Narada and
Sri Tumburu said it is impossible to play the veena without fret.
Lord Anjaneya with a smile in his face took a small bamboo piece (bamboo in
wholesome is cylindrical in shape) and slides this bamboo piece over the
melody strings and by using his nails as plectrums plucked the melody
strings. The melody that flowed out was no compare to the one that was played
by the sages. The melodious tone along with the drone with a soothing
continuity had drowned the audience Devas in an immense pleasure and joy as
that of having the nectar. Lord continued playing, making both Sri Narada and
Sri Tumburu realise the power of pure music.
The audiences were so immersed in the music, they had not noticed that Lord
Narayana Himself had come to the scene to witness the music of Lord Anjaneya.
When Lord Anjaneya concluded playing, both the sages accepted that their
music is no match to that of Lord Anjaneya.
Sri Anjaneya saw Lord Narayana and he pastorated before Him and welcomed Him.
Lord Narayana told that He was drawn to the place by the music produced by
the Adi Veena, the one without fret and a forerunner to the present veena
used by both Sri Narada and Sri Tumburu. Lord explained to the sages that
music however good it may be, with ego mixed it becomes lifeless and music
with devotion is life, pure, real, and divine. The music of Sri Anjaneya was
enchanting since it was over brimming with devotion, but that of the sages
were with ego hence devoid of purity. Lord Narayana declared since Lord
Hanuman had reinvented the original form of fretless veena it will henceforth
be called as Hanumath Veena.
In times the Hanumath veena was known by names as Chitra veena, Mahanataka
veena, and in recent past it was popular as Gottuvadyam. But the instrument
was restored to new glory in the modern time with the traditional name Chitra
The Chitraveena has a hollow trunk made of resonant wood, about thirty-two
inches long and four inches wide. It has a flat top and is placed on two
chambers, the main sound chamber is made out of wood and a second chamber
made of gourd is the resonator. It contains six melody strings and three
secondary strings for marinating continuous drone. The remaining strings are
sympathetic and run parallel to and below the melody strings.
A couple of plectrums, worn on the finger of the right hand are used to pluck
the six main melody strings; a cylindrical block, made out of ebony, now with
Teflon to glide over them with the left hand.
Yoga on Music
In conclusion, playing veena is yoga, as it unifies the anandam of the human
to Brimhaanandam. Yoga literally means union. By playing veena many
rishimunis have unified with Brimhaananda. With playing of Hanumathveena (chitraveena)
it is even more relevant.
-As told by Gottuvadyam Sri Kittappa to g.k.kaushik
** Though Sri Kittappaji had named the ragas, I am unable to remember the
names of the ragas. The ragas mentioned here is out of my little knowledge
and I would welcome if any corrections were required.