Quite a few strings in my lute

N. Rajendran presents his veenas with the flourish of a jeweller, rigorously lining up the handcrafted string devices in opposition to the wall of his drawing room in Thanjavur with the ‘kudam’ (resonator) resting on doughnut-shaped cushions on the ground.

It’s been raining closely, and there’s no electrical energy in Rajendran’s locality. A small candle is holding on bravely. The flickering flame picks up Rajendran’s workmanship as he removes the purple canvas masking of the devices. The strings appear to reply robotically to his contact as he takes off the picket slat defending the fingerboard.

“This one took me greater than every week to finish,” he says, pointing to a reddish-brown veena inlaid with etched silver alongside its edges. “And this one, with the Ashta-Lakshmi (eight manifestations of Goddess Lakshmi) on the kudam, additionally wanted extra effort than common,” he provides.

Numerous strings in my lute

Inherited genius

At 62 years, Rajendran is a fourth era maker of the veena in Thanjavur, the heir of a heritage craft that’s practised by round 150 folks right here. He makes bespoke string devices just like the Saraswathi Veena, Ekantha Veena, Rudra Veena and Tanpura in his home-based workshop within the temple city’s Srinivasapuram neighbourhood.

Rajendran was lately within the information for making a duplicate of the ‘Mayuri Yaazh’, an historical open-stringed harp of Tamil music with the resonator base formed like a peacock. “I’m hoping to make one with the face of a lion subsequent,” he says.

Although he grew up watching veenas being made, and acquired educated within the household enterprise himself, Rajendran didn’t actually take it up professionally till his father Natarajan handed away. “I used to be working in a bus firm in Pollachi when my father died. I didn’t need this craft to vanish, so I give up my job and returned residence on the age of 20 to Thanjavur,” he says.

Rather a lot has modified within the 40-odd years that Rajendran has dedicated to the craft. “We used to stay the totally different components of the veena with vajram, a gum created from heated plant resin, and nail them into place with hand-shaven bamboo slivers. These have been changed by industrial epoxy adhesive and iron nails now,” he says.

The GI tag

To maintain the load (inside 5 kilos) bearable for lengthy hours of taking part in, the smaller secondary ‘kudam’ of the veena is now product of bolstered plastic (fibre) reasonably than wooden.

The Thanjavur veena was awarded a Geographical Indications (GI) tag in 2014, however this has probably not modified issues a lot on the bottom, says Rajendran. “Although the minimal value of a veena is Rs. 30,000, artisans can earn solely round Rs. 5,000 per piece after deducting labour and materials prices,” he says.

A extra ornately engraved instrument can fetch as much as Rs. 60,000. The perfectionist in him makes him keep away from supplying music shops with the decrease priced fashions.

“Often, cheaper veenas are product of low-grade wooden and are weak to wreck. I choose to work on private orders, and provides a three-year assure. My son or I ship the instrument personally, and I additionally handle repairs,” he says.

The precise wooden

The wooden is sourced from the jackfruit bushes grown in Panruti (176 km from Thanjavur, in Cuddalore district). “The ‘pazha’ (jackfruit) is one of the best wooden for musical devices as a result of it provides a very good vibration. We want seasoned wooden, which ought to be at the least 50 years previous, to make devices just like the veena, thavil and mridangam,” says Rajendran.

A small truckload (sufficient for 10 veenas), prices him roughly Rs. 75,000. “The wooden is reduce into two-inch thick items. We then deliver it residence and additional aircraft it all the way down to 12 mm thickness. All of it’s handbook work,” he says, exhibiting me the hollowed out casing of a Rudra Veena.

The hardest to make is the ‘Ekantha Veena,’ which makes use of all the trunk of a single tree. “You may make three Saraswathi Veenas with the wooden of 1 Ekantha Veena,” says Rajendran. “However extra folks need to play the Ekantha Veena as of late as a result of it provides a greater musical resonance.”

Rajendran was awarded the District Craft Award for finest craftsman three years in the past by Poompuhar, the Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Improvement Company Ltd. “A standard instrument maker like me needs to be expert in additional than simply carpentry and woodwork,” he says. “I formally realized Carnatic music for 2 years simply to know learn how to tune the veena. It took me a 12 months merely to discover ways to establish sruti (pitch).”

The legacy

He sounds wistful when he admits that his son, although educated in veena making, is not going to be following in his footsteps. “Younger folks have much more worthwhile profession choices as of late. However I’ve taught 4 others to make these devices as a substitute. They’ve apprenticed below me for over 10 years, and I’m assured that they may take the craft ahead,” says Rajendran.

Because the rain lets up, and the electrician activates a tester bulb on a unadorned wire to assist us take images, we catch a clearer glimpse of Rajendran’s workshop. The chisels and hammers seem like they haven’t modified from his ancestors’ days. “I like working with wooden,” says Rajendran, as he rigorously faucets out grooves on the ‘kudam’. “And to me, there’s nothing higher than making veenas.”

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