Lec Dem – Styles of Veena Playing

Smt. Jayanthi Kumaresh gave a very informative lec dem on “Styles of Veena Playing” at The Music Academy on 27th Dec 2009.  Good communication skills,  good use of technology (powerpoint, audio clips, video clips etc), demonstration of almost all techniques/characteristics spoken about, a well structured presentation, use of humor only at the appropriate places, and adherence to the time allotted made her presentation stand out as the best among all the lec dems I attended during the music season.

Here are some excerpts from the lec dem based on the notes I took. I have taken the liberty to organize these under my own headings.


24 frets, 7 strings, one main resonator and one secondary resonator (given to vainikas in the form of a veena) have been interpreted by vainikas in different ways in the last 300 years according to their musical concepts, emotions and individuality.

A style (of veena playing, today) is defined by

  • Tonal quality
  • Raga bhavam
  • Sahitya bhavam
  • Virtuosity
  • Usage of talam strings
  • Usage of sympathetic strings
  • Adaptation to technology
  • Total presentation

Bani (bANi) is a style that a particular musician or successive generations of musicians

  • has/have felt comfortable with
  • has/have felt suitable to express their individual musical concepts in a way convenient to them
  • is/are convinced of

Styles are either

  • Gayaki – like vocal music
  • Tantrakari – very instrumental
  • Combination of the two above


Styles in violin and mrudangam playing are not demarcated state-wise. However, for veena, there is a state wise demarcation of styles. The reason for this is that patronage for music several years ago was from the royal courts. Great vainikas used to adorn the courts and were patronized by the respective kings. These vainikas stuck very much to their kingdoms and got veenas made with wood that was available predominantly in their state. They also didn’t have much opportunity to interact with vainikas from other states/kingdoms and ended up having more opportunity to develop their own styles of veena playing.


Four styles of veena playing developed this way:

  • Mysore (Karnataka – Patronized by the Wodeyars)
  • Tanjavur (Tamilnadu – Patronized by the Nayaks)
  • Andhra (Patronized in Vijayanagaram)
  • Kerala (Patronized by the Travancore empire)


Representative list of artists:

  • Veena Seshanna
  • Vainika Subbanna
  • Mysore Venkatagiriappa
  • Doraiswamy Iyengar
  • R.S. Keshavamurthy
  • R.K. Suryanarayana
  • Prof Visveshwaran

Characteristics of Mysore style:

  • Clear tone – more treble, less base
  • Preference for straight notes
  • Right hand technique is developed with liberal usage of meettus (stroke inbetween sahitya syllables for added effect)
  • Usage of finger nails instead of plectrums
  • Preference for sharp veena tone
  • Less deflection of strings – maximum pull of two or three notes in one fret
  • Increased instrumental effect to bring out the beauty of veena as an instrument (do not generally believe in playing the vocal way)
  • Split fingering technique
  • Veena structure: Thin top board with neck made of rosewood. Pulling along the strings can cause the weight of the strings to come on the bridge which can cause the bridge to sink in. The structure thus doesn’t allow a lot of pulling of the strings.


  • Video clips of Vidwan D. Balakrishna and Vidwan R.K. Suryanarayana (use of sympathetic strings) were played to demonstrate the Mysore style. Both these artists didn’t use pickup in the clips played.


The Tanjavur style is like a huge banyan tree with the following branches:


Gayaki style is akin to singing on the veena – just play on the veena whatever a voice can sing. No extra instrumental like meettus are used. If a normal voice has a range of 1.5 to 2 octaves, the veena player would stick to playing in that range only.

Representative list of artists:

  • Veena Dhanammal
  • K.P. Sivanandam & Sharada Sivanandam
  • Pichumani Iyer
  • Vidya Shankar
  • Kalpakam Swaminathan
  • Padmavathy Ananthagopalan

Characteristics of Gayaki style:

  • Gracefulness of the nadam (pitch of veenas in Tanjavur style is slightly lower than that of the Mysore style)
  • Less prominence to rhythm based exposition (rhythm based exposition comes from elaborate right hand technique – use of meettus)
  • Replicating vocal music and the dynamics of a voice – the pronunciation and accent on each syllable of the sahitya
  • Elaborate raga alapana replete with gamakas (grace)
  • Leisurely pace


  • Video clips of Vidwans/Vidushis T. Brinda (no pickup), K.P. Sivanandam & Sarada Sivanandam (presence of pickup, lower pitch, leisurely pace), Pichumani Iyer (higher pitch) and an audio clip of Vidushi Padmavathi Ananthagopalan were played


This style has a little bit of right hand elaborate technique.

Representative list of artists:

  • Subbarama Iyer and Sambasiva Iyer (originators)
  • Ranganayaki Rajagopalan
  • Rajeshwari Padmanabhan
  • Prof Subramaniam

Characteristics of Karaikudi style:

  • Balance between right and left hand – have an elaborate right hand technique too
  • Balance between sliding (horizontal) and pulling the string
  • Use of staccato meettu
  • Use of talam strings to denote the beat – to keep talam during the rendition of a composition and to provide instrumental effect (to keep the note active to provide some kind of a sustenance to a note and to fill up spaces between two notes)  – Strumming of the main bass strings for effect and pulse
  • Use of right hand to curb sustain
  • Use of janTa notes in tanam
  • Rare use of playing three notes together (tribhinnam)
  • Split fingering technique


  • Video clips of Vidwans/Vidushis Sambasiva Iyer and Rajeshwari Padmanabhan (use of right hand movement in tanam to denote the nadais) were played to demonstrate the Karaikudi style


This is the style of Vidwan S. Balachander.

Characteristics of this style:

  • Use of left hand fingers for lateral pull of the strings over the fret (He believed that veena should always sound different from the guitar. He could pull up to one full octave on one fret)
  • Use of the length of sound produced from even a single stroke by packing as many notes as possible before that note dies (He could pull a minimum of 4 notes in a single fret by the deflection of strings)
  • Lot of importance to raga alapana (He believed that raga alapana was the pinnacle of a musician’s creativity)
  • No meettu in the right hand wasted – Every meettu would have a purpose
  • Talam strings would not be used without a meaning. No occasional clang clang of talam strings
  • Veena structure redesigned: Open tuning box, use of machine heads/guitar keys to give more precision to tuning and to take less time for tuning, strings pass on a rod and then come to the keys so that the pulling pressure is not on the key but on the rods, metal sheet inside dhandi, bridge made of acrylic material, top place of bridge made of stainless steel (so that it does not crack under pressure when he pulled the string) and grandeur added by usage of decorations


  • Video clips of Vidwan S. Balachander were played to demonstrate his style


Representative list of artists:

  • Veena Venkatramanadas
  • Shanmukeshwara Sastri (?)
  • Emani Sankara Sastri
  • Ayyagari Syamasundaram
  • Chitti Babu

Characteristics of Andhra style:

  • Very elaborate right hand technique
  • Sweet tone
  • Use of high speed passages in rendering the ragam and tanam
  • Variety of meettus and tonal variations (influence of western music, especially on Sri Emani Sankara Sastri’s playing – playing harmony/ seconds, playing on two frets/ strings at the same time)
  • Tanam is replete with very lively, resonant and captivating instrumental effects
  • Structure of veena: Lot of mango wood used


  • Audio clips of Vidwans Emani Sankara Sastri and Chitti Babu (sweetness of tone, no meettu noise) were played


Representative list of artists:

  • M.K. Kalyanakrishna Bhagavathar
  • Desamangalam Subramanya Iyer
  • K.S. Narayanaswamy
  • Trivandrum Venkataraman
  • Ananthapadmanabhan (more of an individual style that is an amalgamation of different styles)

Characteristics of Kerala style:

  • Gayaki (vocal) style pretty much like Tanjavur bani – Meettu used exactly where sahityam comes
  • Playing of ciTTa tAnam (similar to Mysore style, may be due to the Mysore influence)


  • Video clips of Vidwans Trivandrum Venkataraman and Ananthapadmanabhan were played to demonstrate this style


The structure of veena has a lot of bearing on the playing style. The Mysore veena has such a thin top board that it doesn’t have any workmanship. The thinner the board, the more the resonance. The Tanjavur bani has a thicker top board with workmanship (and a central hole) that allows a lot of pull. The bridge will take the weight during the pull.


Technology has helped changed styles. The way plucking is done after the advent of the microphone is different from the way it was done in the pre-microphone days. There is more sustain of the notes today. Artists didn’t have to fear harmonics getting pronounced while playing without microphones. Today they have to be more sensitive and for example mute the pancama string while playing hindolam so that pancamam is not heard. Electronic/ digital veenas are also available today.


Today, each artist has the opportunity to hear other styles of veena playing and incorporate good things from these other styles. The current generation of players is not very particular in sticking to a particular state/style.

Bani is thus a continuous phenomenon of growth and refinement, incessantly reshaping, renewing and revitalizing itself. It is nourished by the insights and wisdom gained by the practitioners of successive generations. “Tradition is addition”.

29 thoughts on “Lec Dem – Styles of Veena Playing

  1. very well-presented account of what appears to be an excellent lecture-demo. I appreciate your efforts in recording such accounts.

    p.s – Could the Andhra vidvan referred to, be Sangameswara shastry, of Bobbili..?

    1. Thanks Keerthi. Wonder if you are the same person whom Kulkarni ji keeps talking about often. If yes, then I have heard a lot about you.

      Smt. Jayanthi’s voice suddenly dipped a bit when she referred to that name and so I couldn’t catch the name properly. I thought she must be referring to Sangameswara Shastry of Bobbili only.

  2. Ram,

    I was there at the Lec-Dem. I can see how meticulously you have documented the proceedings. Kudos! Great job done.

  3. Namaskaar Ms Jayanthi!! i live in Malaysia i was in chennai last dec just missed your lec dem. due to my doctor’s appointment. I was so glad to see your crystal clear explanation here today. Great information for veena players. I will be travelling to chennai end of May if you permit can i meet you in person to know more about these techniques.

    Thank you

    1. Rajalakshmi,

      Not sure if Mrs. Jayanthi reads this page. You might have to contact her separately.


  4. It is really an excellent work in the verge of giving light about the great musicians of karnataka.. Likewise please collect the albums of the about artists. In the above mysore style veena, the concerts of all the instrumentalists are available in the form of cassetes or CD except SRi RS KESHSVAMURTHY. Please give his concerts on facebook. I can also give you the source of his concert. He has rendered his concert in Crawford hall, CFTRI and Mysore Palace, Mysore. Please collect the concets form those places and incert on facebook.

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