Music is an integral part of India. There are some places in India which are famous for making of musical instruments. No doubt, creating a musical instrument out of a log of wood does need expertise, experience, passion, patience and dexterity!
Also known as 'Saraswati veena' , Bobbili Veena is a string instrument made by craftsmen living in Bobbili, Gollapalli (20 kms. from Bobbili) and Wadada in Vizianagaram district and Nuzividu in Krishna district.
The bobbili veena is patented and has earned the GI (geographical Indication) mark.
History of Bobbili Veena
The bobbili veena came into existence in the 19th century. It was the result of Vizianagaram-Bobbili rivalry! A craftsman named Musanna Chinayya from Vizianagaram urged and challenged artisans of Bobbili to make veena showing their best craftsmanship. The zamindar of Bobbili Raja Ravu Vankata Kumar krishna Ranga Rao, who was also a musician, accepted the challenge. He asked Sarvasiddhi Acchanna (of Viswa Brahmin community) to make an exceptional veena and he did so in a span of two months.
The potti veena which preceded the bobbili veena was comparatively smaller (about 42 inches long). The bobbili veena is 54 inches long, with diameter 14.5 inches and are very durable. Frets in other veenas are made of brass and not bell metal as in the case of bobbili veena.
Why is Bobbili Veena so Special
The ruler of Bobbili played the veena and even provided training for other musicians. He set up veena making workshops for training the craftsmen in this art. The Bobbili veena has superior quality of sound with a fullness in tone. The veena comes in immaculate designs and was used by music maestros at one time.
It is made from single piece of wood from jackfruit tree unlike other veena which are made by joining two pieces of wood. This is why it is also referred to as 'ekanda veena'. The central part has a lion's head carved at the tapering end. The veena is decorated using inlay technique. However, today, plastic is used in place of ivory and stag horn. The frets of this veena are made of bell metal.
Tools used for making Bobbili veena include axe, hand drill callipers, saw, chisels, pliers, compass, hand lathe etc. You can differentiate a bobbili veena from the one made in Thanjavur, Mysore etc.
State of Bobbili Veena Today
There are many reasons for bobbili veena not being in great demand in the market today -
- Lack of raw material - Good quality jackfruit wood is scarcely available today. Jackfruit wood is procured from local farmers or timber depots. Strings and colours for veena are brought from Mumbai.
- Lack of patronage - Due to increased use of electronic musical instrument, Bobbili Veena is no longer in demand. For instance, the synthesizer can replicate the sound of nearly all musical instruments.
- Less Supply - The modern generation is well educated and does not want to get into this trade as it is not very lucrative.
- No Patronage - Earlier zamindars would pay craftsmen a monthly salary for making these veenas. No feudal patronage today.
- No Quality Teachers - Less takers for the instrument due to dwindling interest to learn this difficult instrument and lack of interest to learn classical music in general.
Know More About Makers of Bobbili Veena
There are about 40 families which belong to the Sarvasidhi family in Gollapalli village near Bobbili. A few other families have set shops across the country. Since there are not many takers for bobbili veena, craftsmen have started making miniature veena which takes less time and can be gifted as mementos/memorabilia.
It takes around 20 days for making a professional veena while in the same duration, a craftsman can make 10-15 miniature veenas. That is why professional veenas are made only on order today. The cost of bobbili veena is around INR 16,000.
Steps Taken to Save the Traditional Art
In 1959, the Sarvasidhi veena makers formed a co-operative society known as 'Sharada Veena Society'. The State Government made the Craft Development Centre (CDC) in Gollapalli village. The marketing of the product is done by Andhra Pradesh Handicrafts Development Corporation . The Madras Telugu Academy has helped by presenting miniature veenas as mementos during various cultural events.
Fascinating Facts About Bobbili Veena
- Sarvasiddhi acchanna from Viswa Brahmin Community crafted the first bobbili veena in late 19th century.
- In the year 200, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu gifted a Bobbili Veena to former U.S. President Bill Clinton when he visited Hyderabad.
- Musicians who gave the veena international recognition include Emani Sankara Sastry and Chitti Babu.
- Other families who make bobbili veena include members of Tirumala clan, Pedapaati clan, Alajangi clan and Bonumaddi clan. All these craftsmen belong to the Metal Smith Community.
Bobbili Veena: Emanating Everlasting Music
Today, most of these artisans have started 'repair work' of damaged and old veenas which adorned the homes of the rich and also professional musicians. Even for repairing the veena, one must know the instrument in detail, its intricacies etc. Problems which need to be rectified may include disintegration of reeds (melam) and breaking of 'kadava' (head of the veena as a result of mishandling).
The passionate artisans of Andhra Pradesh have done enough to carry on the tradition and art form for generations. With the help of the State Government and advent of booming e-commerce, their superior quality products will surely reach out to a larger audience all around the globe.