ANANT BEDEKAR – Rudra Veena
Born in a family of music lovers, Anant Bedekar also played the sitar and the surbahar. His music, he said, was neither in the dhrupad nor in the khyal style. His expressive playing technique and the singular sound of his bin made him an original binkar at any rate, unjustly condemned to obscurity. In this segment, he plays on a massive instrument made in 1960 by Makanlal Roy in Calcutta
The history of the rudra-vina, one of the oldest
Indian string instruments, is fascinating in many respects.
From its first appearance up until today, this stick zither continued its development
untouched by influences from Persia and Central Asia – which had a great impact
on Indian arts and indeed went on to catalyse a hybrid musical culture unique to North India,
popularly known as Hindustani music. From its appearance towards the end of the Buddhist Gupta dynasty, the rudra-vina soon became an influential and respected symbol of instrumental music, and it became entrenched in the strong religious and
secular traditions of the entire subcontinent.
However, with the collapse of the Mughal empire in the second half of the 18th century
and the ensuing period of social and political turmoil, it gradually lost its primacy of place to new arrivals such as the sitar and was distanced from the musical centre-stage in
an irrevocable process.
Although it was considered for centuries to be the instrument embodying the concept
and practice, and indeed the aesthetics, of the raga (particularly the alap),
and while it still bears a nimbus of distinction, the tradition
is now maintained by a mere handful of musicians.
The rudra-vina or bin – a vernacular term used in North India – belongs to the family of tube zithers, a later development of the stick zither. It consists of a long wooden or bamboo tube (dandi) beneath which two resonators (tumba) made of dried and hollowed-out gourd are fixed. Numerous high wooden frets (sarika) are arranged on the tube with the help of a resinous substance or with linen cords. Four melodic metal strings are stretched out on these frets, while two slender rhythmic strings (chikari) and a drone string (laraj), also metallic, are fastened laterally along the length of the tube, on both sides of the frets.
The morphology of the rudra-vina as we know it today has scarcely changed since the second half of the 18th century and it had already acquired its near-final features almost two centuries earlier in the southern part of the peninsula.
Early chronicles of Rudra Veena
The earliest known depiction of the stick-zither appears on a mural painting in one of the Buddhist caves of Ajanta (in the state of Maharashtra) and dates back to the end of the Gupta period (5th century A.D.).
It shows Lord Indra with a celestial being on his right-hand side. In the palm of his right hand, the latter holds a long, slender stick, whose upper end rests on his right shoulder. A very flared resonator is fixed on top of the stick and the celestial being appears to be singing while plucking the single string of his instrument.
This stick-zither may have been the vina that goes by the name of ghosaka in the Natya-shastra, the renowned treatise on dramatic arts that appeared towards the beginning of the Christian era. In this tome, the ghosaka is mentioned as a secondary instrument probably serving as a drone.
Celestial beings – half-man half-bird – are once again portrayed playing a similar instrument on a seventh-century rock carving in Mahabalipuram, a town on the Coramandal coast to the south of Madras (in Tamil Nadu).
The stick no longer rests on the shoulder but is held across the body, with the hemispherical resonator pressed against the chest. This typical posture is found on a large number of sculptures of that period, especially in the southern parts of the peninsula.
All the iconographic evidence confirms that it remained a one-stringed instrument of a rudimentary design, with just a resonator made of gourd or coconut shell fixed on to the stick or the tube with vegetable fibres.
A similar instrument called tuila was played till recent times in Orissa.
During this period, Lord Shiva was often depicted playing – or holding in his hands – one of these initial kinds of vina which, like the hourglass-shaped drum damaru, were held to be one of his divine attributes.
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Here, the playing posture is practically identical to the one seen on the rock carving in Mahabalipuram. The extremely flared resonator (reminiscent of the one in Ajanta) is held against the chest with the palm of the left hand. The dimensions and mode of construction as well as the sophisticated playing technique on this stick-zither, termed alapini, are discussed at length in several medieval-Indian musicological treatises.
One-stringed vina became very popular towards the end of the first millennium and many Arab scholars made note of them during their travels in India during the 10th century.
A Pictoral Selection of Rudra Veena Players
Bande Ali Khan
Asad Ali Khan
Mohammad Khan Faridi
Murad Khan (right) with disciple
Ustad Abid Hussain Khan
Z .M. Dagar