N. Rajendran presents his veenas with the flourish of a jeweller, fastidiously lining up the handcrafted string devices towards 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 pink canvas masking of the devices. The strings appear to reply mechanically to his contact as he takes off the wood slat defending the fingerboard.
“This one took me greater than per 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.
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 individuals 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 not too long ago within the information for making a reproduction 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.
Though he grew up watching veenas being made, and acquired skilled 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 stop my job and returned dwelling on the age of 20 to Thanjavur,” he says.
Lots has modified within the 40-odd years that Rajendran has dedicated to the craft. “We used to stay the completely different elements of the veena with vajram, a gum constructed 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 enjoying, the smaller secondary ‘kudam’ of the veena is now product of bolstered plastic (fibre) relatively than wooden.
The Thanjavur veena was awarded a Geographical Indications (GI) tag in 2014, however this has not likely 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 steer clear of supplying music shops with the decrease priced fashions.
“Normally, cheaper veenas are product of low-grade wooden and are weak to break. I want to work on private orders, and provides a three-year assure. My son or I ship the instrument personally, and I additionally care for repairs,” he says.
The appropriate wooden
The wooden is sourced from the jackfruit timber grown in Panruti (176 km from Thanjavur, in Cuddalore district). “The ‘pazha’ (jackfruit) is the very best wooden for musical devices as a result of it offers a great 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 lower into two-inch thick items. We then carry it dwelling and additional aircraft it right down to 12 mm thickness. All of it’s guide 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 individuals wish to play the Ekantha Veena lately as a result of it offers 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 Growth 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 grasp how you can tune the veena. It took me a yr merely to discover ways to establish sruti (pitch).”
He sounds wistful when he admits that his son, although skilled in veena making, won’t be following in his footsteps. “Younger individuals have much more worthwhile profession choices lately. 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 are going to 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 fastidiously faucets out grooves on the ‘kudam’. “And to me, there’s nothing higher than making veenas.”