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Goddess Sarasvati with a vina . Painting by Raja Ravi Varma 1896

Vina ( Hindi : वीणा, Vina , English spelling veena ) refers to a group of ancient Indian time originating plucked string instruments , of which two main species in today Indian music are played: the bar zither Rudra vina in the north and the long neck loud Sarasvati vina in South.


Today the vinas are predominantly lute instruments of classical Indian music . The Sarasvati vina is considered to be the finest Indian instrument. It has frets and is the most played of all vinas . Its name comes from the Hindu goddess Sarasvati . She is the goddess of learning, music and the arts in general. It is represented with its attribute, a vina . Other types of vina played in South India include the fretless gottuvadyam vina, which is also called chitra vina , and in the north the fretless vichitra vina, which is played even more rarely than the rudra vina. The Mohana vina has nothing to do with a vina . It is an acoustic guitar modified by Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and equipped with sympathetic strings , the sound of which is reminiscent of a sitar .

With the exception of the gottuvadyam , a vina , unlike the sitar, has no sympathetic strings. The sitar has metal brackets as frets, which are spaced above the fingerboard to provide space for the sympathetic strings in the space between them. Vinas are either fretless or have directly glued on frets. The frets of the sitar can be moved, those of the vinas are fixed. Vinas have a fuller and longer-lasting tone than the somewhat clinking sitar , but their playing is considerably more difficult to learn. A successful attempt to achieve the long tone of the vina on a kind of sitar probably led to the development of the surbahar , a deeper and larger sitar, around 1825 . In contrast, the combination of the somewhat rough sounding dhrupad rabāb (which differs from the Kabuli rubāb ) and the rudra vina , which led to the delicate lute sursingar with metal strings, which was developed in the 19th century, has practically disappeared around the middle of the 20th century and today Rare.


Possibly Narada , the mythical inventor of the vina in the 1st millennium BC. Miniature from the beginning of the 19th century

The first stringed instruments were musical bows and staff zither . Vina was the general term for stringed instruments in the ancient Indian Vedas written in Sanskrit ; it appears as early as the middle of the 1st millennium BC. Chr. On. Names mentioned earlier in Rigveda and Atharvaveda , such as gargara and karkari, could also have referred to stringed instruments. Possibly picchoravina referred to the simplest form of a musical bow, the string of which is reinforced with the mouth ( mouth bow ), while kandavina was perhaps a multi-stringed raft zither composed of several parallel bamboo tubes. In the Brahmanas (around 800–500 BC) bow harps are described several times . At one point in Jaiminya Brahmana the vina has seven strings ( tantri ), a body ( suna ) covered with animal skin with a neck ( danda ) and a shoulder strap ( upavana ). According to the description, a bow harp is meant. In ancient Tamil literature , yazh generally means “music” and “harp” at the same time. For tone scales (later ragas ) with different names, there was a corresponding harp with which they were played.

Vinas formed the essential component of the ancient Indian ritual music gandharva , the theoretical bases of which are summarized as gandharva-veda . In the main work of this further developed form of music theory, which is still valid today, the Natyashastra by Bharata Muni, which was written around the turn of the century, string instruments are treated in more detail. Bharata distinguishes four types of vinas that are made of wood. The nine-string vipanci-vina bow harp was plucked with a plectrum and the seven-string citra (-vina) with the fingers. The kacchapi and the ghoshaka seem to have had only a subordinate meaning - perhaps as drone instruments .

The oldest depictions of stringed instruments also show bow harps, which first appeared in the Buddhist environment from the 2nd century BC. Appear in stone reliefs at Indian places of worship until the 7th century AD. Harpists within orchestras were found in reliefs depicting early Buddhist dance scenes on the stone fences of the stupas of Bharhut (2nd century BC), Sanchi (1st century AD) and Amaravati (2nd century AD) .). In Ashvaghosha's biography of Buddha , Buddhacarita , from the beginning of the 2nd century, in addition to a seven-string bow harp called vina , a bamboo flute venu and a drum called pushkara are mentioned. A gold coin from the 4th century shows King Samudragupta playing the harp. The famous heavenly musician Pancasikha, one of the Gandharvas , is always depicted with a bow harp. The music text collection Sangita Ratnakara by Sarangadeva from the 13th century mentions a large harp with 21 strings as the main instrument. Angular harps like the Arab-Persian tshang did not occur in India. Of all the bow harps in India and Asia as a whole, only the saung gauk survived as the national instrument of Myanmar and in retreat areas the waji in eastern Afghanistan and the bin-baja played by the Parhan in Madhya Pradesh .

The reliefs of Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda also show lute-shaped vinas with three to five strings, a long neck and a pear-shaped body. A second type of lute in the historical cultural region of Gandhara , the center of which was in today's Pakistan, had two to three strings and belonged to the short-necked lute of the barbat type . In another lute shape, shown in Gandhara, the body is laterally curved inwards. Today their descendants include sarangi , sarinda and dilruba .

From the 6th century onwards, simple stick zithers with a string and a bamboo stick as a string carrier and the first lutes with a resonance body, the top of which runs parallel to the strings, are shown. The tuila , known in rural regions of Odisha, provides information about the playing style of the stick zithers held diagonally in front of the chest with a calabash half-shell as a resonator. It is one of the few surviving of the simplest stringed instruments that have otherwise disappeared in India today. Simple bamboo tube zithers (without separate resonance bodies), which were probably at the beginning of the development, are the gintang and chigring , which are still played in folk music of northeast India today .

The oldest lute vina was called kinnara vina according to a Sanskrit text from the 11th century (Narada: Sangita Makaranda ) . In the middle of the 12th century, another name for the same instrument in Gujarat was saranga vina . Kinnari are female mixed birds and belong to the lower Indian deities. The name comes from the ancient Greek kinyra, Altarabisch kinnare. The compound term means "string instrument of the Centaurs ". Kinnari is the oldest, presumably plucked string instrument mentioned by name. The later group of bowed string instruments sarangi is derived from the second name saranga .

Hazrat Inayat Khan with a Sarasvati vina . Photo taken around 1910

The development of stick zithers, long-necked and short-necked sounds took place in parallel. On a column relief in Kanchipuram from the 7th century, the goddess Sarasvati plays a reclining vina , a relief on the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram shows a standing woman with a long-necked lute. In the Sangitaratnakara, a music theory by Sarngadeva from the 13th century, three types of stick zithers are distinguished:

  • the fretless ectantri vina,
  • the kinnari vina with frets and two calabashes
  • and the alapini vina with a resonator on one side. This resonator consisted of half a calabash and was pressed against the chest so that the opening was completely or partially closed to create sound differences. (In addition to the tuila , the endangered single-string stab zither kse diev in Cambodia and the multi-string stab zither phin phia in northern Thailand are played with this technique.) By gently touching the string with one finger and simultaneously plucking with another finger of the right hand Flageolet tones could be generated.

The earliest vinas only had a sound box. The music scholar Abu'l Fazl described a kinnara with three calabashes in the 16th century .

In the Mughal period , the term rudra vina or am was common for a whole group of stringed instruments. The musicians were therefore called Binkars or Binakaras . Of the instruments imported from Persia at this time, the long-necked lute tar was of particular importance for the development of Indian stringed instruments. The position of their frets and the mood were compared to that of the Rudra vina. According to the Arab scholar al-Farabi (around 870–950), the tar had some leagues. In the 13th century a system of 17 tones in Pythagorean tuning was developed for the tar , which influenced the tuning of the Rudra vina .

By the 18th century at the latest, two different styles of classical North Indian music and thus two groups of musicians had emerged: One was the strict, male tradition of the dhrupad , that was singers and vina players (binakars) who were accompanied by the drum pakhawaj . On the other hand, there was the female khyal style, which was introduced into court music in Delhi in the mid-18th century , in which the singers - mostly female singers - were accompanied by sarangi and tabla . The vina stood for the highly respected music culture, the sarangi for entertainment and dance music. The two groups had converged in their social position by 1900.

Design and style of play

Rudra vina

Asad Ali Khan , member of the Jaipur Gharana, in February 2009. He is accompanied by a Pakhawaj

The North Indian Rudra vina or bin traditionally consists of a bamboo tube, which itself serves as a resonance body and to which two spherical pumpkin calabashes are attached to amplify the sound. On the tube, 22 or 24 frets, immovable in a thick wax bed, form the fingerboard. Instead of the bamboo cane, teak is usually used, two hollowed-out halves are glued together. The wax mixture is replaced by synthetic resin. The current shape dates from the 19th century. The honorable nickname for the 1.40 to 1.55 meter long instrument is mahati vina.

Seven metal strings run across the fingerboard via raised bridges at both ends. Four of them are melody strings that are tuned d - A - g - c sharp (two steel and two copper strings each). One outer and two outer strings made of steel give drone tones (chikaris) . They are tuned to A and the two octaves . Except for the four vertebrae at one end of the tube, the Rudra Vina is symmetrical. The strings are plucked with three steel picks on the index, middle and ring fingers of the right hand. The instrument rests with a sound box on the right lower leg, the other lies over the left shoulder.

The rudra vina is practically no longer built and only rarely played. It is reserved for the old classical dhrupad style and apart from the even rarer sursingar it is the only stringed instrument suitable for the dhrupad. Their deep mood is particularly suitable for the slow development of the Alap . Only male family members of the gharanas (families of musicians) were allowed to learn the rudra vina game. Their game is still passed on within the Dagar family. The Dagar Gharana from Delhi is considered to be the oldest Dhrupad school. The most important Rudra-vina player in the 20th century was Zia Mohiuddin Dagar (1929–1990). Asad Ali Khan (1937–2011) is one of the few musicians who regularly give concerts on the Rudra Vina and who largely keeps the tradition alive .

Sarasvati vina

Prince Rama Varna plays the Sarasvati vina

The South Indian Sarasvati vina is traditionally more of a woman's instrument, its game was cultivated by women of the educated middle class. Today it is the most widespread vina that is played in three different regional musical styles ( bani ): The Mysore Bani goes back mainly to Veene Sheshanna (1852-1926), who developed a light melodic style without glissandi . In Tanjore Bani , the style of play is particularly close to the expressive possibilities of the human voice, while in Andhra Bani, fast and powerfully plucked passages are preferred. There are also subdivisions into further banis .

The instrument has the same number of strings as the rudra vina , 24 frets and, like the sitar, corresponds to a long-necked lute, but is made of wood from a type of breadfruit tree ( Artocarpus hirsuta or A. integrifolia ). The body, neck ( dandi ) and pegbox are hollowed out separately on the simpler instruments and then glued. The wooden ceiling is also glued on. The bulbous body ( kudarn, koda ) has an only slightly curved top . If the whole instrument is made from one piece of wood, it is called an ekanda vina . This has a better sound and is more expensive. A second, small resonator ( soraikkai ) made of pumpkin, paper mache, metal or plastic is located under the pegbox. The edges are covered with engraved strips made from the horn of the sambar deer or from light-colored plastic. This vina lies across in front of the musician when playing. The body rests on the floor, the neck is held horizontally by the two knees of the player. The neck ends above the peg box as a Yali mukha with the head of a mythical creature. The entire length is 130 to 140 centimeters.

The plectrum ( nagam ) sits on the index and middle finger, sometimes with long fingernails. The right little finger grips the drone strings. The playing range is two octaves with 24 frets at semitones per string. With the drone strings of the Sarasvati vina and the Rudra vina (as well as the sitar ), the rhythmic structure ( tala ) can be reproduced simultaneously with the tones ( svaras ) of the raga . The ability to represent the overall concept of Indian music is what makes these instruments valued.

During the Nayaka dynasties , the Sarasvati vina in Thanjavur had the current number of strings, but only six frets. This is described by Rāmāmātya in his work Svaramelakalānidhi (1550). He distinguishes three instruments according to the size and tuning of the first string (root / high fifth / low fifth) and two variants of each size: the Sarvarāga vina with fixed and the ekarāga vina with movable frets. The Sarasvati vina is said to have been developed into its current form at the beginning of the 17th century by the ruler Raghunata Nayaka (1600–1634) and his minister, the revered scholar Govinda Diksitar. In the 18th century, the vina served as the starting point for developing the melakarta system (also known as melas ) comprising the 72 main ragas, with which the southern Indian ragas are cataloged. In southern India, regional musical traditions developed at individual ruling houses. At the court of Thanjavur, the way the vina was played was closely based on the vocal design of the lyrics. The local style, with which the vina tried to imitate every vibrato of the voice with special techniques of the left hand, was therefore given the name gayaki (otherwise the name for North Indian singing styles). Until the beginning of the 20th century, the instrument was played in a vertical position.


The form and play posture are corresponding with the fretless gottuvadyam (also chitravina, mahanataka vina ). This South Indian vina was developed at the beginning of the 20th century and has a total of 21 strings, 6 of which are melody strings, 3 high-pitched drone strings and 12 (11 to 14) sympathetic strings ( tarab ) underneath . The first two melody strings are tuned octave apart. The gottuvadyam is the only South Indian instrument with sympathetic strings. A large resonance calabash ( svarakai ) is located under the pegbox , so that, together with the lute body ( kudam ), the gottuvadyam can lie horizontally on the floor. It is played with the three picks in the right hand and a hardwood stick ( gottu, also made of ivory) in the left hand, which slides over the strings. The best-known gottuvadyam player is N. Ravikiran (* 1967).

Vichitra vina

The vichitra vina, also batta bin, is the north Indian counterpart to the gottuvadyam . Also fretless and with a wide neck, it has 4 melody strings, 5 drone strings and 13 sympathetic strings. Both ends are decorated with bird heads (peacocks). It used to be an accompaniment instrument for dhrupad singing, but is rarely used anymore. By grasping the pitch of both instruments with a wooden stick - with the vichitra vina also with a glass stick - a sonic effect is created that is similar to a slide guitar .

The vichitra vina was introduced in the 19th century by Abdul Aziz Khan, a musician at the royal court of Indore from the Patiala Gharana. The shape and style of play should go back to the ektantri vina . The musician and musicologist Lalmani Misra (1924–1979) was one of the most famous vichitra-vina players of the 20th century and contributed to saving the instrument from being forgotten.

Rare or no longer in use vinas

The mayuri vina , also tau , is a long-necked lute that was possibly developed towards the end of the Mughal period and which is bowed. Its characteristic, bulbous body has the shape of a peacock . At the end of the 20th century it experienced a certain revival since it was used by Sikhs in Punjab not only for singing but also in classical North Indian instrumental music. The dilruba and esraj are slimmer versions of the same family of instruments .

The kinnari vina with half an ostrich egg shell as a resonance body can only be found in the museum . This lute instrument should not be confused with the old stave zither kinnari (or kinnari vina ). The latter had 12 to 14 frets for one string and three calabashes of different sizes that hung in the middle under the bamboo pole. The oldest Chinese zither is called qin or khin.

An old folk instrument already mentioned in the Vedas is, or rather was, the much larger kacchapi vina in Bengal , with a particularly flat calabash as a resonator. The name kacchapa ( Sanskrit ) means “turtle”, it can also stand for the type of wood Cedrela tuna ( pali : kacchaco ). From India, the fretless short-necked lute was widespread in Southeast Asia under variants of the name kacapi (about hasapi ).

The single-string fiddle pulluvan vina has only the name in common with the vina types. It is played by the Pulluvan in the southern Indian state of Kerala to accompany the singing of a snake cult.


  • Alain Danielou: Introduction to Indian Music. Heinrichshofen's Verlag, Wilhelmshaven 1982, pp. 93-96.
  • Bigamudre Chaitanya Deva: Musical Instruments. National Book Trust, India, New Delhi 1977, pp. 96-100.
  • Hindraj Divekar: Rudra Veena: An Ancient String Musical Instrument. Discovery Publishing House, New Delhi 2001, ISBN 81-7141-581-4 .
  • Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in the past and present . Keyword: Vina. Sachteil 9, 1998, Col. 1530-1544.
  • Walter Kaufmann : Old India. Music history in pictures. Volume II. Ancient Music. Delivery 8. Ed. Werner Bachmann. VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1981.
  • Louise Wrazen: The Early History of the Vīṇā and Bīn in South and Southeast Asia. In: Asian Music, Volume 18, No. 1. Fall-Winter 1986, pp. 35-55
  • Monika Zin : The ancient Indian vīṇās. In: Ellen Hickmann, Ricardo Eichmann (Hrsg.): Studies on music archeology IV. Music archaeological source groups: soil documents, oral tradition, record. Lectures of the 3rd symposium of the International Study Group Music Archeology in the Michaelstein Monastery, 9. – 16. June 2002, pp. 321-362

Individual evidence

  1. ^ TS Parthasarathy: Music and Dance in Tamil Literature. In: Indian Literature, Vol. 21, No. 4, July-August 1978, pp. 137-148, here pp. 138f
  2. Kaufmann, p. 35f.
  3. ^ Emmie Te Nijenhuis: India. II. Music of the Older Times. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present. Material part 4, 1996, col. 660.
  4. Shown in: Emmie Te Nijenhuis: India. II. Music of the Older Times. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present. Part 4, 1996, Col. 666.
  5. ^ Emmie Te Nijenhuis: India. II. Music of the Older Times. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present. Sachteil 4, 1996, p. 663.
  6. ^ Jaap Kunst : The origin of the kemanak. In: Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- and Folklore. 116, No. 2, Leiden 1960, p. 264
  7. ^ R. Satyanarayana: Vina Keyboards - Origin. ( Memento of the original from August 22, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Indian Journal of History of Science, 39.1, 2004, pp. 1-10. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  8. Lalmani Misra: Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya - Ektantri Veena.
  9. ^ Katherine Butler Brown: Evidence of Indo-Persian Musical Synthesis? The tanbur and rudra vina in seventeenth-century Indo-Persian treatises. In: Journal of the Indian Musicological Society, Vol. 36-37, Mumbai 2006, pp. 89-103
  10. ^ Wim van der Meer: Hindustani Music in the 20th Century. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague / Boston / London 1980, p. 57.
  11. Ritwick Sanyal and Richard Widess: Dhrupad: Tradition and Performance in Indian Music. Ashgate, Farnham 2004, p. 24.
  12. Ira Landgarten: Master of the Rudra Vina. About Zia Mohiuddin Dagar
  13. ^ Ustad Asad Ali Khan, Indian Classical Instrumentalist. Indianet zone
  14. SR Krishna Murthy: Veene. ( Memento of October 4, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  15. ^ Josef Kuckertz : The art music of South India in the 19th century. In: Robert Günther (Hrsg.): Musical cultures of Asia, Africa and Oceania in the 19th century. Gustav Bosse, Regensburg 1973, p. 100.
  16. ^ Emmie te Nijenhuis: Styles of Lute Playing in south India. IIAS Newsletter, No. 28, August 2002 (PDF; 174 kB) Regional ways of playing the Sarasvati vina
  17. ^ Curt Sachs : The musical instruments of India and Indonesia. Association of Science Verlag de Gruyter, Berlin and Leipzig 1915, p. 123f.

Web links

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