From a log of wood to a symbol of melody

December 29, 2011 11:02 pm | Updated 11:04 pm IST - THANJAVUR:

Veenas at various stages of completion. Photo: M. Srinath

Veenas at various stages of completion. Photo: M. Srinath

A few people working amid a pile of logs at the entrance of the Sivaganga Park in Thanjavur could make a visitor mistake the space for an outlet selling firewood. A closer look, however, reveals that they are busy giving shape to the ‘kudam' for the famed Thanjavur veena.

“We make the kudam (just one part) as also the ekanta veena (the whole of the string musical instrument) from a single piece of wood,” explained K. Mariappan, a kudam carver (who is following his family profession for generations).

“I can carve three kudams every day. The other parts of the veena will be joined with these kudams. But carving the ekanta veena takes more time. We have to be extremely careful in handling the wood as any distraction can break it, rendering the kudam useless,” he said.

They use only the lower trunk of the jackfruit tree, which is procured from Panruti, a small town known for its tasty jackfruit.

“Thanjavur veena is unique in the sense that this instrument was developed and subjected to several modifications in the last 300 years in the court of Thanjavur. You cannot get veenas with this kind of craftsmanship in other parts of the country,” explains Kausalya, a veena player and former principal of the Government Music College, Tiruvaiyaru.

Kausalya has a fine collection of veenas and all of them have ottu kudams . The kudams of her veenas have been embellished with ivory or deer antlers. The yazhi at the one end of the instrument is also brilliantly decorated.

Processes involved

The making of the veena includes several stages and the job of artisans like Mariappan is confined to rough carving of the kudams and ekanta veena.

It is followed by chiselling and polishing by a different set of workers.

The birudai or peg for tightening the strings are made of rosewood and the surakudukkai at the other end of the instrument is made of fibre.

“In the olden days, bottle gourd was used for making the surakudukkai . When the fruit appeared on the creeper, the veena makers would place it in an earthen pot and the fruit would assume the shape of the pot. Subsequently, papier mache replaced it. Now, it is made of fibre. But I always love papier mache and the decorations made on it,” said Kausalya.

“In Thanjavur, there are 20 workshops for veena-making and around 130 people are involved in this,” said Srinivasan, who has won a national award for veena-making.

According to G. Lakshmanan, a veena tester of the Thanjavur Musical Instruments Workers Cooperative Cottage Industrial Society, only 60 workers have registered with the society.

“We have veenas ranging from Rs. 9,500 to Rs. 35,000,” said Lakshmanan, displaying a veena with carvings of Ashtalakshmi on the kudam.

Both Srinivasan and Lakshmanan admitted that there was a huge demand for veena in the country and abroad, but not many children in the families involved in the profession were coming forward to take it up.

“We continue making veenas because we don't want to give up our family vocation,” said Mr. Srinivasan.

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