A Living Portrait of India
Instrtumental Hindustani Music
One of the instruments mentioned in writings of the Vedic period, the vina as we recognize it can be traced to the instrument depicted in the Ajanta caves' paintings and temple art of the sixth and seventh centuries AD. The zither type instrument with strings along the sides and resonance chambers is a direct precursor of the rudra vina. Frets were added to the vina either in the fifth centuries A.D. by Matanga, or sometime in the tenth or eleventh centuries A.D. The older vina was a lute type of an instrument; as a matter of fact, many have suggested that the term vina was a generic one, covering instruments of different shapes and different playing methods.
Structurally, the rudra vina of Hindustani music has a three feet long stem and two resonance gourds, placed two feet apart. The fret board is two and a half feet long and approximately two and a half inches wide. The main strings, four in number, are tuned to different registers of Madhyam, Shadja, Pancham and Rishab. These playing strings are suspended over fixed frets - twenty four in number. A music range of two octaves is covered in these half steps, and all three octaves are playable on the rudra vina. Much of the melody is played out on the main string closest to the body. Three drone and rhythm stings suspended over the side are tuned to different registers of Shadja.
Players hold the instrument in a manner that is comfortable for them, but one gourd always rests somewhere near the left shoulder and the other next to the right knee.
Vina (or bin) playing was popular during the Mughal period, and formed an integral part of dhrupad singing. The khayal vocal form did not use the vina and it was not till the twentieth century that the vina came into its own. The Nawab of Rampur patronized the use of the instrument as a solo.
The Saraswati vina of Carnatic music has the stem flowing out from the resonance chamber rather than from a gourd. The stings are placed in a manner similar to the rudra vina. The vichitra vina is a fretless instrument often used in Carnatic music, and only rarely in Hindustani music (where it is referred to as the batta bin).
Renowned artistes: Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, Ustad Asad Ali Khan on the rudra vina. Gopal Shankar Mishra, Gopal Krishna and Ramesh Prem on the batta bin.