Positions for playing the Saraswati Veena

               These days, south indian classical music is almost always played seated on the floor, in a cross-legged position

            An instrument as large as the veena can be held in three positions. The slanting position which is used in North India for the sitar or the rudra veena (bin) is never used for the South Indian veena. However this position is widely shown in illustrations representing goddess Saraswati and also in the sculptures in ancient temples.

La déesse SarasvatiA modern picture of Goddess Saraswati
Venkataramana DasVenkataramana Das Pantulu, from Vizianagaram
            The vertical position known as « Urdhva », with the resonator balanced between crossed legs and the neck upright was still the norm in Andhra Pradesh at the turn of the century. It was also widely practiced in Mysore at the end of the 19th century and in all likelihood it was widespread in the other states as well in the middle of the last century. Karaikudi Subbarama Iyer, the elder of the Karaikudi brothers, was one of the last renowned musicians to play the veena in this position. However it is still practiced in some specific religious contexts and during the procession in honour of the deity Ranganatha at the Srirangam temple near Tiruchirappalli (Tamil Nadu). SrirangamMusicians in the Srirangam Temple in Trichy
             The horizontal position of the instrument, known as « Sayana” is the only one that is actually practiced these days. The kudam rests on the floor, to the right of the musician, and the neck is held in an almost horizontal position thanks to the gourd attached to it, which is placed on the left knee. The index and middle fingers of the left hand press the strings on the frets, while the right hand resting lightly on the edge of the soundboard, plucks the melodic strings with the index and the middle fingers, and the drone (tala) strings with the little finger. In general, the soundboard is at an angle of 45° with the floor and is therefore turned as much (if not more) towards the musician as towards the audience. In the beginning of the century, a variant of this position was practiced in Kerala, in the court of Travancore, where the soundboard was almost perpendicular to the floor. This position must certainly have facilitated the transmission of the sound to the public. K.P. SivanandamK.P. Sivanandam, from the Tanjore Bani

KeralaA painting by Raja Ravi Varma of Travancore
(Page translated by Sandhya Krishnakumar)