There was a time when veena enjoyed the status of a royal instrument and the kings of Bobbili - who were considered connoisseurs of music -- fostered the invention of the famous Bobbili Veena.
But today, the mellifluous strains of the famous veena are fading away. Ranging from lack of raw material to lack of patronage and increasing use of western or electronic instruments, the Bobbili Veena has numerous reasons for ‘being on ventilators’ now.
Made from jackfruit wood, a full-size Bobbili Veena is also known as ‘Saraswati Veena’ and can be distinguished from the ones made in Thanjavur, Mysore and other places.
With the lion’s head carved at one end, the frets of Bobbili Veenas are made of bell metal.
About 40 families belonging to the Sarvasidhi family in Gollapalli village near Bobbili, are the sole manufacturers of this instrument apart from about a dozen families of the same clan setting shops across the country. They obtained GI status for the instrument in March last year and thus, protected it from extinction.
Sarvasidhi Achutanarayana, the descendent of Achanna who invented the Bobbili Veena, says that notwithstanding its fame for its unique treble, the instrument no more enjoys its former status. “The professional veena is vanishing, with not many people willing to learn it. Hence, we are now manufacturing the miniature versions which are gifted as mementos and memorabilia, to save the dying art,” he adds.
He blames the declining manufacturing of professional veena to lack of proper jackfruit wood. While the Bobbili Veenas were known as ‘ekanda veena’ for being made from one single piece of wood, today the veenas have two or more joints due to lack of availability the wood. Upon that not many children from the Sarvasidhi family are keen on learning the art as there is no major income from it and they are well educated and want to work in cities.
Like many other arts, the trade has never been lucrative. Hence, the Sarvasidhi veena- makers formed a cooperative society called Sharada Veena Society in 1959 and following the intervention of the state government, have started working at the Craft Development Centre (CDC) based in Gollapalli village. Later, the AP Handicrafts Development Corporation joined hands with these veena-makers to market the veenas. The miniature veenas are the most sought after variety following the initiative of the Madras Telugu Academy which presents them as mementos during its events.
Today, there are more orders for miniature veenas than for the professional ones. The CDC manufactures 200 to 300 miniatures a month and earns about `1.5 lakh. While it takes 20 days for a craftsman to make a professional veena, he can produce 10-15 miniatures during the same period. “Unless someone places an order, we are no more manufacturing the full-size veenas. We doubt if the Bobbili veena will ever see its lost glory with dwindling patronage,” adds Achutanarayana.