The Indian Veena has always been considered as an instrument of the Gods and hence the name ‘Divine instrument’ has been attributed to it. From the earliest times, the Veena has been a guiding star for the development of Indian Music in general. But Carnatic music cherished the Veena and the Yazh as gifts of the gods and through centuries of study and experiment, brought out of them a system of music that has no parallel in the whole world.
Veena is the favourite instrument of several important deities including Saraswathi, the goddess of arts and learning. The Veena handled by Goddess Saraswathi is known as ‘Kachchapi’. In the sloka ‘Vipanchya gaayanthi’ in Soundarya lahari, Jagadhguru Adi Shankaracharya portrays a beautiful scene in which Saraswathi plays the ‘Vipanchi’. Saraswathi is the goddess of all muses and is the Veena pustakadhaarini – one who holds the divine source of sound and wisdom. No picture, icon or poem of her or about her is therefore complete without the Veena and the pustaka (book).
Not only goddess Saraswathi, but Parashakthi also has a Veena in her hand. This is described by Kalidasa in the ‘Navarathnamala Sthothra’. He says that the goddess Parashakthi plays the Veena with her fingertips and glows in the musical splendour created by the chaathurya of Saptha swaras. ‘sarigamapadani rathaan thaam veena sankratha kaantha hasthaan thaam’.
Mathangi Devi, the goddess of Music is always depicted as holding a Veena in her hands. ‘Veena sankranta charu hastaa’. Goddess RajaMathangi is the most important deity for Veena. She has to be worshipped fervently to understand the divine nuances of Veena. The ‘Mathangi Shatkam’ is full of references to the Veena and we get phrases like ‘Veena Vadanavela Kampita siva sam’, ‘Veena rasanushangam’ and ‘Vama kucha nihita Veenam’. The sloka ‘Manikya Veenam upalalayantim’ is found as the last sloka of the ‘Mathangi shatkam’ and the first sloka of the ‘Shyamala Dandakam’.
Lord Shiva is also depicted as being fond of Veena music. Thyagarajaru describes him as ‘Veena Vadhana loludu’ in his krithi ‘Mokshamugaladha’ in the Raga Saramathi. ‘Veena Vadhana loludou sivamano vidhamerugaru’. In this context, Shiva is known as ‘Veenadhara Dakshinamoorthy’. He is frequently depicted as holding a fretless Veena with a single gourd resting on his chest and teaching the wise ones like Sanaka. It is no wonder that the Veena is held in the hands of Lord Dakshinamoorthy, the god who confers pure Gnana or knowledge to release the soul from its bond.
According to the Vedas, a Veena player is said to be a master of Sruthis. It is not enough if one knows merely to play the Veena. He/she should know the secrets of the instrument and how it responds to a devoted votary. It can even make him reach Moksha. according to the Yajnavalkya sruthi:
“Veena Vaadhana tathwagjna suthi jaathi visharadhaha thaalagjnanascha aprayaasena Moksha margam sa gachchathi”.
One, who knows the mysteries of playing the Veena and is well versed in Sruthi and jathi and has a sound knowledge of Tala, effortlessly finds himself on the way to Moksha.
The Buddha reinforced his teachings with music from his Veena known as Parivadhini. It had twenty-one strings made of gold (Swarna Sutra). Yedathore Subbaraya Sharma had written and published a book in kannada ‘Sandhyavandaneya Thathvartha Vedaprakaashike’ (Veena Rahasya) in the year 1936. Here are some excerpts from that book.
“Veena has twenty four frets, four strings along the frets and three strings at the side. The above four strings depict the four Vedas, namely Saarini which signifies Rig Veda, Panchama which signifies Yajur Veda, Mandra which signifies Saama Veda and Anumandra which signifies Atharvana Veda. All the four strings are said to have Sudha Sathvaguna.”
This first string Saarini signifies ‘Gnanashakthi’, the second string Panchama signifies ‘Kriyashakthi’, the third string Mandhara signifies ‘Ichchashakthi’ and the fourth string called Anumandhara also signifies ‘Ichchashakthi’.
The twenty-four places (frets) of different pitches of sound (Naada) covering the two octaves depict the ‘Gaayathri mantra’ with twenty-four letters.
“Thath savithur Vareniyam Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayaath”.
Now, the significance for the three Tala strings: Naada has got the three aspects of srishti, sthithi and Laya (creation, protection and destruction) just as the universe has these three aspects. The three Tala strings symbolize these three universal actions.
The Veena has also been compared to the human body. The spinal chord in the human body is held through out the length of the body right from the coccyx point to the top of the head (Brain) called Brahmarandhra. It is divided into 24 vertebrae as the twenty-four frets of the Veena.
According to science the human anatomy has seven cervical, twelve thoracic and five lumbar vertebrae in the spinal chord from top to Bottom.
The distances between the frets commencing from the Vyala side are wider and become narrower towards the Tara Sthayi. In the same way, the vertebrae are thicker at the distal end and become smaller and thinner towards the Brahmarandhra.
Mandra Sthayi Swara emerges at the lower end of the body and as the pitch is increased it reaches the Brahmarandhra which is called the sahasraara kamala, a place where the Jeevala of music is found.
Naada is produced by the clash of wind and fire (Praanagni samyoga). It starts at the lowest pitch at the Mooladhara chakra (that is, near the hipbone of the body) and the pitch goes on increasing as it moves up towards the other six charkas namely swadhistaana chakra, Manipoorachakra, Anaahatha chakra, Vishuddha chakra, Aajna chakra and sahasraara Kamala culminating in Omkaara.
The music gushes forth in the Merusthan (bridge) and consequently, the Prana floating and touching the Mooladhara lingers at a particular distance and only from this point, the music originates in a human body.
The phenomenon of music originating from Prana is described in Silappadikaram. More so, in the famous Krithi, ‘Shobillu sapthaswara’ of the great Seer Thyagarajaru.
The center of the human body is prescribed as the place two inches above the Mooladhara. The Veena resembles the human body both in the sthoola form and in the subtle Naada form. The Prana in human body flows in the upper six and lower six, that is, in twelve sthanas (regions) and creates breath. Similarly, the Naada in Veena flows in the upper six and lower six sthanas and produces raga Moorchanas.
The human body is divided into Moolasthanas, Swargam, Martyam and Patalam. Similarly in the Veena, there are three Sthayis (ranges or octaves)- Mandhara, Madhya and Tara. All these similarities created by god are striking evidences that Veena is a divine instrument to be used by human beings for the liberation of soul and to detach oneself from the unending cycle of births and deaths.
It is said that the Veena Naada kindles the fire in Kundalini that lies curled in the Mooladhara, the lowest of the six nerve centers in the spinal column. The Vibrations that are set in motion by the body heat and the life breath (Anala and Prana) gathers momentum as they travel up the spinal chord.
Eventually, they release extraordinary powers of concentration and meditation leading to cosmic consciousness. Naadopasana(worship through music), in fact, is a less arduous path than the three well-known paths of Salvation, namely, Karma, Bhakthi and Gnana margas.
Source: writings of Jayanthi Kumaresh and from the book ‘Veena Rahasya’ of Yedathore Subraya Sharma
Dr Sindhu Prashanth