Sunday, 12 July 2015

India's National Musical Instrument - The Veena

The veena is India's national musical instrument. The musical notes emanating from this instrument are rich and very pleasing. And the musical concerts by veena vidwans (expert players) draw huge crowds. But all this has not resulted in any benefit to the skilled makers of this musical  instrument. This fact was the central theme of an article in today's issue of The Hindu, one of India's national newspapers.

I was very distressed to read this article. Unfortunately we seem to be losing a lot of crafts and skills that have been honed and perfected over generations. If this is the plight of something as glorious as veena music I can only wonder what would happen to very many other less popular but equally precious links to our heritage.
There was one more reason for this particular article catching my attention and moving me. My wife is particularly fond of veena music. She initially learnt to play this instrument when she was a teenager and continued to learn and train well into her late 50s from her aunt Vidya Shankar, a reknowned musicologist and veena vidwan. 

My taste in music is very different and for most of my life I have given carnatic music performances a miss. But about a year and a half ago my sketching friends in Chennai Weekend Artists and I were asked by the editor of a local newspaper if we could attend the December music concerts all over Chennai, that this city is famous for, and make some on the spot sketches. I therefore attended a few concerts at different venues and a very remarkable thing happened.


On earlier visits (that I had been compelled to make despite my protests) to these concerts, my focus had been on the music and an attempt to appreciate it, which I found very difficult to do. But now, with my entire focus on the sketching, the music was only something in the background and I found it very pleasing and soothing. By the time the month long musical concert season was over I was a convert and now I am more than happy to sit through some performances, with or without a sketchbook in hand.

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