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VINA The South Indian vina is also called Sarasvatī vīnā due to its association with the goddess Sarasvatī, who embodies the respect for learning that characterizes South Indian culture. In song lyrics and paintings, the goddess is depicted as a beautiful lady who delights in playing the vina. The modern vina dates from the early seventeenth century and belongs to the category of long-necked lutes. Its main resonator (kudam) and neck (dandi) are carved from jackwood. A removable resonator (made from gourd, wood, fiberglass, plastic, or papier-mâché) mainly serves to support the vina on the left knee of its player. The neck holds twenty-four frets and seven tuning pegs, and it is decorated by a dragon head ( yāli). The characteristic sound of the vina is the result of several factors, including the black wax layer on which the "bell metal" frets are placed, the convex shape of the brass plate covering the wooden bridge, and the optional use of wire plectra.

Of the seven strings, four are fitted on the top of the neck, and three along the side facing the player. The four melody strings are tuned to the tonic (middle and lower sā) and its fifth (lower pā and one octave below); these notes are arranged in the descending order from the player's point of view (sā-pā-sā-pā).

Three auxiliary strings constitute a kind of drone whenever the basic note (sā), its higher octave, and the fifth (pā) between them are sounded. In addition, these strings are used to indicate the cyclic pattern (tāla) that applies to any particular composition or improvisation. All these features and techniques account for the fact that in Sanskrit, this type of vina is referred to as a complete instrument (sarva vādya), one that is self-sufficient, as it expresses the melodic and rhythmic aspects of music even in the absence of an accompanist.

A few traditional vina exponents sing along with their instrument in order to highlight the lyrical aspect of a song. The repertoire of a vina player (vainika) is essentially the same as that of a vocalist, but unlike the human voice, a vina has a range of 3 1/2 octaves. Most performers prefer to tune it to a key note between E and F. Its playing technique involves slides (horizontal pull) and deflection (vertical pull) in order to produce subtle nuances such as microtonal shades (shruti) and a variety of embellishments. A fretless type of vina (chitravīnā) was earlier known as gôttuvādyam, which implies that it is played with a gliding "rod."

The tānam is a speciality of all vina players and involves the elaboration of a rāga in a pulsating manner. This musical expression of bliss (ānantam) during tānam is also achieved by singing the syllables "ā-nan-tam-tā-nam" in various combinations. Embellishments and grace notes (gamaka) serve to intertwine melodic phrases in a pleasing manner. Such continuity is greatly valued by the discerning listener (rasika). Although music of such high density requires much skill, a good vina performance conveys the legacy of composer-poets like Muttusvāmi Dīkshitar: his song (kriti) in praise of Mīnākshi invokes the beautiful goddess who plays music on the vina with ten different types of embellishments (dashavidha gamaka).

Ludwig Pesch

See alsoDīkshitar, Muttusvāmi


Beyer, Norbert: Lautenbau in Südindien: M. Palaniappan Achari und seine Arbeit (with English summary, photographs, and CD). Berlin: Museum für Völkerkunde, 1999.

Simon, Artur, ed., and Pia Srinivasan Buonomo (commentary). Sambho Mahadeva: Musik für Vīnā, Südindien/Music for Vīnā, South India. Double CD with commentary in German and English; performed by Rajeswari Padmanabhan and K. S. Subramanian (vinas), and Tanjore Upendran (mridangam). Berlin: Museum Collection Berlin, 2003.