Carefully crafted from pansa/phanas or jack wood, the Saraswati veena - is better known as the Bobbili veena. Made with painstaking precision, this veena is famed for its distinctive notes. An integral part of the music culture of India, the Bobbili veena, was invented in the 17th century and now has taken the spotlight once more with the granting of the Geographical Indication (GI) tag.
The home of the Bobbili, or Saraswati veena, is the town of Bobbili, 55 km from Vizianagaram city, Andhra Pradesh. Veenas - are usually known by the places they are crafted in, such as the Thanjavur veena and the Mysore veena, etc. Although there are many types of veenas known today, such as the rudra veena, or been, the vichitra veena, the chitraveena, or gottuvadyam, the Bobbili veena has retained its exclusivity and devotion.
Pedda Rayudu, the progenitor of the 17th-century Bobbili empire, patronised the veena, as it was an integral part of the social activities in those times. Even now, veena players are often referred to as beenkars or vainikas. During the Bobbili reign, the Bobbili veenas were played especially by women and crafted by the Sarwasiddi community from Gollapalli village. The master craftsman was Sarwasiddi Acchanna, who was appointed to the king's court. Since then, over the ages, the art of making the veena has been continued by the Sarwasiddi people.
A bastion of Carnatic music, the distinctive manner of playing the Bobbili veena was curated over 300 years. This community is called the Bobbili veena sampradayam, and the artists have found international fame.
A labour of one-month results in a single unique veena. The lightweight pansa wood's grain is ideal for the distinctive sound of the Bobbili veena also there is minimum swelling in the wood due to moisture. Plus, the wood's strength and thickness add to the veena's tone. Pansa wood is taken from local deposits created by the Indian Government Forest officials. The Bobbili and Nuzvidu veena is made from a single piece of wood and, therefore, called ekandi veena.
First, the pansa log is cut to the required size, around four to five feet in length. At the base of the central limb, the thumba is fixed. It is spherical and is made from hollowed-out pumpkin or aluminium sheet. It acts as the resonator, which increases the duration of a note. It also performs the simple task of balancing the veena when it is not being held. To be used as a thumba, the pumpkin is hollowed and sun-dried for three days. Then a metal cylinder is fixed to it, to attach it to the main limb, or dandi. And this is how sound is transferred to the thumba. In recent years, the decorative inlay work has been replaced by plastic/polypropylene due to a ban on ivory. Yet, the intricate designs on each piece make it exclusive and much sought-after.
Nowadays, more than the actual veena, miniature veenas are being made to scale. There is an increasing demand for these souvenirs, as learning the Bobbili veena requires deep dedication, time, space, and strength to store and cart the instrument. The artisans from the few families in Gollapalli craft the miniatures using the same material as the actual one, thus striving to keep the business and the focus on the art, skill, and artisans of the Bobbli veena.