“This is how it looks after a month of hard work,” says Manjunath Papanna, 40, whose family started the veena-making tradition in Simpadipura, a village in Doddaballapura, Karnataka. He shows me with pride the finished veena placed in the living room of his modest house.

Manjunath belongs to the third generation of the family that specialised in making Mysore veenas. The nonagenarian Penna Hoblayya, who is called Pennoblayya, learnt the craft when working with a veena-maker and taught it to his family members and other villagers.

The 1989 Karnataka state gazetteer mentions that the craftsmen at Simpadipura revived veena making in the 1950s after it faded out in Magadi in the same region. Says the 72-year-old Pappana (Manjunath’s father), “Pennoblayya is my uncle. I learnt the craft from him and passed it on to my son. A few families in the village are engaged in it.”

A craftsman at work

A craftsman at work
| Photo Credit: Bindu Gopal Rao

The craftsmen here work on the Mysore veena, which is made of aged jackfruit tree wood. “The trees are the ones that are over 100 years old, have stopped bearing fruit, and are basically of no other use. It is difficult to source these trees, usually the vendors whom we sell the veenas to help us procure them.”

I see a large tree trunk being cut to make the round sound box. One trunk can be used to make about 20 such boxes.

It usually takes about 15 days to make a veena, and they are primarily supplied to Veena Works in Basavanagudi in Bengaluru. The cost ranges from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 15,000 per instrument, based on its quality and the designs on the veena.

According to Manjunath, “There are different types of designs. The bodi veena has no design. A craftsman can make about three to four veenas in a month, depending on the complexity of the design and carving.”

The pandemic has hit the business hard, yet the villagers continue making the instrument as it is their skill of sustenance. The four parts of the instrument — taley (head), koda (sound box), dandi (neck), and taley dhoni (peg box) are made by the craftsmen. The strings are then attached and the instrument given a proper finish by the vendors who regularly buy them from these craftsmen.

Says Raju, whose father started Veena Works in Bengaluru, “We supply the wood to the craftsmen at Simpadipura or they procure it from the mill in the village. Some of the master craftsmen have passed on or are too old. However, this is one of the places where the Mysore veena is still made. Once I get the veena, I work on fixing the seven strings that are strung over the 24 fixed frets.”

At Manjunath’s small workshop, situated amidst the fields (they grow sandalwood, silver oak and mahogany), I notice simple tools like chisels and knives being used to carve the wood. “We make these tools ourselves. The kind of carving we do depends on the client’s requirement,” he says.

While many youngsters of Simpadipura have moved to the city to earn a livelihood, there are a few who have returned to the village to continue the legacy. The craftsmen rue the lack of support from the government that has failed to recognise their efforts in keeping a tradition alive.

Says Manjunath, “Instead of earning ₹10,000 in the city, I would rather work in my village and do what makes me happy. But I am not sure if my daughter will take up the craft. Maybe I can train her to be a veena artiste.”

The Bengaluru-based author is a freelance writer and photographer.

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By Dipak

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