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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Importance of veena in spiritual journey

It is needless to say that whenever we do anything pertaining with someone or something, either consciously or subconsciously, we first assess the qualities of that someone or something. If we get to know that the who or what we are dealing with is great, we then proceed to assess the greatness of that someone or something. With this said, the context of this post is on vINa and when we are dealing with it, we first make an assessment of the vINa. 

[ While reading this, you might want to play these peaceful stOtras: 

In the process of our assessment of the vINa, lets look at which hands play the vINa. The following appear first to any common man's mind.
  • saraswati: vInApAni, vainikOllAsini, vainikOdhAriNi, kachapIvINApAni
  • shiva: vInAdhara
  • nArada muni: holds EkataMtIya vINa and is also a veenApAni
  • riShi's and muni's: used to play the shatataMtri vINa (the ancient version of today's saMtoor) along with reciting the vEda
  • kaliyuga kalpataru shrI guru rAghavEMdra swAmy: he used to play the saraswati vINa and bAla krishNa used to dance for him when he played it
  • puraMdara dAsa: he used the tambUri, which also is a form of vINa while he used to compose and sing songs in devotion to vishnu and his avatAras, shiva, saraswati, lakShmi, durga..
  • mIrA bAi: she also used to use the tambUri and used it while composing and singing on GOD.
Though the above hands are enough to make one recognize the greatness of the vINa, one can also recognize the magnitude of spiritual greatness of the vINa by paying due attention to the following words spoken by the great sage yAjnavalkya:
वीणावादन तत्वग्नः श्रुतिजातिविशारदः |
(vINAvAdana tatvajnaH shruthijAtivishArada)
ताळग्नश्च अप्रयासॆन मॊक्षमार्गम् स गच्चति ||
(tALajnaShca aprayAsEna mOkShamArgaM sa gacchati)

meaning: वीणावादन तत्वग्नः (the one who is skilled in art of playing vINa) श्रुतिजातिविशारदः (one who is aware of the intricacies of the various shruthis and their positions) ताळग्नश्च (and one who is proficient in the various tALas (that is beat systems) of music) अप्रयासॆन (without difficulty or much effort) मॊक्षमार्गम् स गच्चति (he goes in the way leading to mOkSha (that is liberation) )

After having recognized the greatness of the vINa, the task at hand is attempting to understanding it. There is only one way to understand its greatness. This way is the way of experiencing its greatness by actual practice and playing and involvement and not by reading or learning about it. But, this act of understanding the greatness of the vINa, in itself is a task both impossible and possible. It is impossible to be understood in the fullest extent and possible to be understood in the least extent, well atleast for lesser souls like those of myself. On the other hand, it is fully possible for the divine such as, dEvi saraswati, rudra dEva, braHma dEva, vAyu dEva, and dEvi lakShmi.

dEvi Saraswati, the very embodiment of knowledge, art, expression, creativity and music has that unimaginably great capability of seeing lord vishNu in every nAda, and in every sound. We can only wonder in joy and amazement at this capability of hers, left alone understand it. We are like the frogs in the deep well located on an infinite shore. What horizons that lie beyond those infinite shores, knows not does this frog, even if it jumps out of its well. Such pitiful is the analogy between present day man and that frog in the well... Anyways, coming back to the point, when dEvi saraswati uses the method of using nAda to see vishNu, it is both imperative and conclusive that nAda indeed is very very very important tool which can be used to see the divine lord VishNu. This conclusion about such importance of nAda, is indeed extremely important and useful. This also makes us aware of the greatness of the vINa which is the source of nAda. Such great is the meaning of the symbolism of the vINa in the hands of dEvi saraswati commonly depicted in paintings and idols.

To actually try to understand and experience the greatness of the vINa, I am afraid this post would be of no much value since, words cannot describe it (Why ?.... Because, words only describe what is already known and finite). Nevertheless, any effort in this direction in trying to express through words about the greatness of experiencing the greatness of vINa, would indeed be immeasurably useful for both me (the blogger.. :P) and the interested readers such as yourselves :). 

I now provide below, in order of their increasing maturity and heavy'ing weight, four points. Each point discusses on the reasons to experience the greatness of vINa and also the fruits of experiencing it. I am hoping that the following points (assimilated here from both acquired and realized knowledge) would prove to be valuable (but definitely not invaluable) in trying to make one understand the greatness of the vINa even if to the least possible extent.

  1. Health point of view Practicing veena can be beneficial from the following standpoints: it improves the muscle reflexes of the hands, it brings in better hand-eye and hand-ear co-ordination. It would be worthwhile looking at this point too (I take delight in also elaborating it here): There is a certain term in the physics of vibrations, which is 'natural frequency'. The vINa being made of 24 frets (and also containing 4 pitches and each pitch ranging 2 octaves), is synonymous with the 24 individual segments of the human spinal cord [REF: The human spinal column consists of 24 movable segments called vertebra -- http://www.upright-health.com/spine.html]. All in all we can get 24 * 4 *2 = 192 discrete frequencies on the saraswati vINa. The ball of the game while playing the vINa jumps between individual discretely - continuous 192 frequencies and in the process tries to match the individual natural frequencies of the individual segments of the spinal cord. When the natural frequency of that segment of the spinal cord matches with the frequency of the nAda coming out of the vINa at that very instant, a natural phenomenon called resonance occurs. When this occurs, that particular segment of the spinal cord vibrates in coherence with the frequency of the nAda emanating from the vINa at that instant. This process continues and different spinal cord segments get excited at particular instants of time. This sets the human spinal vertebra vibrating in coherence with the nAda of the vINa. In this state the vINa of the human body, comprising of the spinal vertebra becomes tuned to the nAda of the vINa being played and hence a physical relationship gets established between the two (this physical relationship is quintessential thing, because it is the one which helps us hear sound, because, the ear drum vibrates in cohesion with the external sound impinging upon it !!). As this conscious process becomes more and more well tuned, the bond of this physical relationship becomes ever the more stronger. When the vertebral column starts vibrating, it inturn excites the huge density of nerves which pass through it. This inturn is believed to improve the nerve efficiency in transferring the brain signals all the way to the concerned locations of the body. Moreover, it has a direct effect on the chakrAs of the human body in make it more and more awake. All this will work only with very well tuned vINa
  2. Phsycological point of view A century or a half in the past, it was the matter of debate among the western thinkers, scientists, and musicians over the topic "Whether of not music influences the mind positively or negatively". Later they tested that beethoven's music actually promoted healthier growth of grape plants and concluded that good music not only has a positive influence on the mind of animals but also on plants having no mind. Nevertheless, we knew of this fact centuries prior to the discovery date by western scientists. The adhyAtmic scientists of bhArata had stated and even demonstrated this fact many centuries before itself. For example, madhwAchArya (1238 A.D) has stated the power of music and even demonstrated it by singing to accelerate the growth of a plant. There even exists a rAga called udaya rAga, in the karnATic music system, which when played in morning in front of a cow, makes it easy for the cow to allow milk to flow easily through her breasts, and this is because the udaya rAga influences the mind the cow !!. vINa is the very embodiment of music, in that it is its source. Have you ever seen a child go to sleep by screaming in front of it? or by making noise in front o it?... But I am sure you have seen a child go to sleep by listening to sweet lullaby sung by its mother.. Why is it?.. Its because the music allows the child's mind to get a fixation and allow it to respond to the immediate change in the sleep hormone melatonin. Not only this, how many of you (if not you , have friends) who study well by listening to music ?.. Why is it.. its because, music helps a mind to achieve better concentration because, what is music?; music is in the most broad terminologies, order. When they switch on the music, there is more order in the thoughts, but when they switch it off, there is increased disorder in the thoughts. If just listening to good music has such a great effect on the mind, think of what impact it might have on the mind which actually produces it, whether by singing or by the use of external instruments. The following are some of the readily recognizable aspects of the mind which are directly influenced by playing vINa (I hope i need not write exclusively on each of the below, but nevertheless, I would do so, if you wish to read it through my words.):
    1. memory
    2. mental quickness
    3. ability to converge on a thought
    4. imagination
    5. creativity
    6. confidence
  3. Devotional and Spiritual point of view A quintessential requirement for making the devotional and spiritual journey of every man more efficient is control over ones thoughts. To inturn gain better control over our thoughts, we need a whole list of increased efficiency of the both the tools and their usage, these tools being memory, analytical capability, creativity, imagination, confidence, stability of thought,... All these is easily achievable through the practice of vINa. Also, it is very important to notice that the 24 individual segments of the vertibral column of the human body, is synonymous, [A] with 24 frets of the saraswati vINa, [B] with 24 individual syllables of the gAyatri maMtra, [C] with the 24 (i.e., chaturviMshati) rUpA's of vishNu (that is 4! = 4x3x2x1 = 24).
  4. Higher point of view More than everything, we overselves are basically a form of vIna in the hands of dEvi saraswati, in the hands of shiva, in the hands of vAyu, in the hands of lakshMi, and finally in the hands of GOD vishNu. With dEvi saraswati playing our vINa of speech, divine knowledge, the vINa of bhakti, with rudra dEva playing the vINa of our mind and thoughts (he is the abhimAna dEvate for mind and hence also called as manOniyAmaka dEva) and also health (rujam drAvayatEti rudra - one who cures ill health is rudra), also the vINa of bhakti (also without shiva the body is shava (that is a dead body)), with vAyu dEva playing the vINa of prANa shaktI (life force), with aksharE dEvi lakshMi playing the vINa of existence of everything material, and vishNu playing the vINa of existence of time, existence of everything material and non-material. Upon realizing this, we can see how important is it to let ourselves to be played by these divine hands instead of those unsteady impure imperfect limited hands of ours. We as mortals and ignorant, have to ask them to tune 'this' vINa however they wish and to whatever extent is best for us and play. One this vINa starts making their melody, then our purpose will be satisfied. 

- Sunil Anandatheertha


  1. I find this really interesting as a musician, particularly the idea that you can only experience the greatness through "actual practice and playing and involvement." This is something I experience on a daily basis through both musical practice and meditation. Thanks for this insight!

    1. My pleasure Shri. Julian. It is really astounding to experience the higher levels of consciousness which music puts us into while doing it..

  2. Please Excite any chord of VEENA. The sound "OM" , " AUM " or similar listening pleasure will be received .

    1. Shri ijswamy, yes. you are right.. as per my experience, the aumkaara naada emanating from the vINa can be better experienced if we strike a well tuned vINa by keeping our ears in direct contact with the instrument. This can be done by two ways: either placing an ear on the kuDa (doing this is bit difficult as one has to bend over. But the nAda is unparalleled and very pure) or on the sorekai (this is much easier to do. This can be achieved by placing the vINa in a vertical position like as one would hold a tamburi and keeping our right ear close to or in contact with it). If you want to try this, my experiential advice is to keep the string excitation to a minimum as the sound we hear when our ears are in actual contact with the instrument can be pretty loud.... Every time I do this, I am in spiritual bliss experiencing the facets of nAda emanating from the instrument. So, please give it a try and please also kindly update me about your experience.. Thanks...