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Long-Necked Lute (Saraswati Veena), Southern India, Early 20th Century

NMM 2406.  Long-necked lute (Saraswati veena), Southern India, early 20th century

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NMM 2406. Long-necked lute (Saraswati veena), southern India, early 20th century. Stringed instrument used in Carnatic music. In Hindu mythology, Saraswati, goddess of learning and music, is shown playing the veena. Consequently, this instrument traditionally features a depiction of Saraswati on the belly. Body carved from a single piece of jackwood, making it a highly valued ekavada veena. Seven strings (four for melody and three for rhythm) with twenty-four frets. Traditionally, camel bone is used for the inlay. The veena is played either as a solo instrument; in an ensemble with mridangam, tambura, and violin; or, as an accompaniment to the voice. Length: 112 cm. Board of Trustees, 1978.

Top, Side, and Bottom Views

Top view

Side view 2

Side view 1

Bottom view

The body (kayi, kudam) is hemispherical and hollowed from a single piece of jackwood. The heavy, hollow neck (dandi) features straight sides rounded at the back and tapering slightly towards the top. A second resonator (burra)—a calabash gourd—is screwed into a small metal cup attached to the back of the neck below the nut. The pegbox, open at the front, has bilateral pegs (two on the right, two on the left) and terminates in a dragon-head (yali) finial. Originally there was a cover for an accessories compartment; however, cover is missing (only the latch and part of a hinge remain). Resonator covered by a thin, round, flat wooden sound board.

Dragon Head Finial and Pegbox

Dragon head, view 1 Dragon head, view 2 Pegbox

Fretboard, Pegs, and Gourd

Fretboard detail


Neck covered by a thin board (dandipalaka). A raised ledge (maruvapalaka) along each side is covered with a cement made of wax and lamp-black to hold the 24 frets (metlu), which are straight, cylindrical, brass bars (about 5 mm thick).

Belly and Lower End

Belly Lower end

Bone Inlays with Images of Saraswati and a Lotus Blossom

Inlay with image of Saraswati
Floral inlay

Views of Bridge

Bridge 1
Bridge 2

The bridge (gurram or kudirai: "horse"), in the center of the belly, features a wooden, bench-shaped trestle (about 6.5 cm wide and 3 cm deep) covered with a metal plate. A buttress-like metal arc extends from the side of the bridge down to the belly. The four main strings pass over the top of the bridge, while the three tala, or side strings, pass over the side arc.



Literature:  Thomas E. Cross, Instruments of Burma, India, Nepal, Thailand and Tibet, The Shrine to Music Museum Catalog of the Collections, Vol. II, André P. Larson, editor (Vermillion: The Shrine to Music Museum, 1982), p. 16.

Thomas E. Cross, Instruments of Burma, India, Nepal, Thailand and Tibet, M.M. Thesis, University of South Dakota, May 1983, pp. 34-36, plate XIII.

André P. Larson, The National Music Museum:  A Pictorial Souvenir (Vermillion: National Music Museum, 1988), p. 29.

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Most recent update:   December 6, 2013

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