Strung out: Bobbilli Veena craftsmen struggle for livelihood

Much like Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, the town of Bobbili in the Vizianagaram district is renowned for producing high-quality veenas

Updated - January 06, 2024 08:42 am IST

Published - January 06, 2024 08:06 am IST - VIZIANAGARAM

The musical instrument and its miniature versions being manufactured by a set of craftsmen at Gollapalli village near Bobbili in Vizianagaram district.

The musical instrument and its miniature versions being manufactured by a set of craftsmen at Gollapalli village near Bobbili in Vizianagaram district. | Photo Credit: V. RAJU

Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of learning, is always portrayed with a veena on her lap, symbolising the instrument’s unique significance in the hearts of music enthusiasts throughout the country, particularly in the realm of Carnatic music.

Much like Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, the town of Bobbili in the Vizianagaram district is renowned for producing high-quality veenas. The history of the Bobbili veena is intertwined with the patronage it received from kings of the princely state of Bobbili. Mushinati Chinnayya Chari and Sarwasiddhi Appala Swamy, who were the pioneers of making the Bobbili veena, brought special recognition to Bobbili with their exceptional craftsmanship and musical prowess. The kings of Bobbili, known for their love of music, actively encouraged artisans and musicians in their court. Bobbili veena got worldwide recognition when Veena was displayed at an exhibition held in New Delhi in 1919. 

“My father, Sarwasiddhi Veeranna, received a special award from the then President of India Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy in 1979. Then onwards, Bobbili veena gained more prominence across India,” says Sarwasiddhi Ramakrishna, president of Bobbili Veena Craft Development Center. 

Despite the longstanding fame of the Bobbili veena, spanning 350 years, the livelihood of craftsmen face challenges due to a lack of demand from the public and required patronage from the government. While public representatives acknowledge and appreciate the dedication and creativity of these craftsmen, their well-being remains largely neglected despite numerous petitions to the government. Interestingly, the Bobbili veena, in its miniature form, is routinely presented to various VIPs visiting Andhra Pradesh. For example, Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates received this musical instrument during his visit to Visakhapatnam on November 17, 2017. However, the artisans, despite the instrument’s fame, continue to struggle for a decent livelihood.

Video | Simpadipura: Tracing the roots of the veena

Craftsmen invest a minimum of 45 days for creating a veena out of jackwood, rosewood, bell metal, and natural honey wax. Each artisan spends around ₹15,000 for procuring the necessary materials, and the finished veenas are typically sold for anywhere between ₹26,000 to ₹32,000. However, the profit margin is insufficient for the craftsmen to sustain a decent quality of life. This meagre income has to be managed carefully to support their livelihood until new orders pour in.

Handicrafts departments of both Andhra Pradesh and the Central government provide marketing facilities for these veenas across the country. The government authorities buy those instruments directly from the artisans and display them at exhibitions and Lepakshi centres across India.

Due to the low demand for authentic veenas, authorities are encouraging craftsmen to make replicas of the instrument. The miniature-sized veenas, specifically crafted for presentation, are priced between ₹1,500 and ₹4,000. Mr.Ramakrishna and senior artisan Sarwasiddi Suryaprakasha Rao say that nearly 40 artisans are currently making veenas at their centre in Gollapalli in Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh. “The government’s wholehearted patronage is needed for the craftsmen. It can provide subsidies and pensions to senior artisans so that they are able to train youngsters in their families,” says Mr.Ramakrishna. 

Mr.Suryaprakasha Rao urges the government to waive bank loans taken by artisans. “Many craftsmen took loans to meet their working capital needs. A majority of them could not repay the money due to the poor income generated through sale of veenas. If the government comes to their financial rescue, they will be hugely relieved,” he added. 

Dasigi Perraju Music Academy founder D. Srikanth says the availability of veenas in Bobbili is a boon for music lovers. The academy is enabling all interested persons, irrespective of their age, to learn the veena, he says, adding that playing the veena provides inner peace to musicians as well as listeners.

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