Survival crisis: Glory days over for the Bobbili veena as young people turn away

Children of craftsmen who make GI Tagged Bobbili veena look for other career options as instrument’s plummeting appeal seals its fate.

BySNV Sudhir

Published Apr 28, 2023 | 10:00 AMUpdatedApr 28, 2023 | 12:36 PM

An artisan with a Bobbili veena. (Supplied)

A man whose forefathers designed the first Bobbili veena some 300 years ago says the instrument is a relic of the past, its glory days over.

“There is a dip in overall interest in learning the veena,” says Sarvasiddi Ramakrishna, a scion of the Sarvasiddi family that has been crafting the string instrument out of jackfruit tree wood since the 17th century.

“Earlier, we would get orders for big veenas used by musicians, but now we get orders for miniatures that are used as gifts and souvenirs,” the 56-year-old told South First.

“Today’s young people are not interested in the veena.”

Also read: Meet a successful woman who runs charity for tribals in AP

Glorious association

A critical instrument in Carnatic classical music, Bobbili veena is the traditional Saraswati veena from the Bobbili region of Vizianagaram district in Andhra Pradesh.

An ancestor of Ramakrishna by the name of Achanna is believed to have made the first Bobbili veena under the patronage of Pedda Rayudu, the founder of House of Bobbili and the 15th descendant of the Rajas of Venkatagiri.

Ramakrishna’s father Sarvasiddi Veeranna, too, was a master craftsman who was selected for a National Master Craftsman Award in 1980 that he received from the late president Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy.

Today, the family’s glorious association with the Bobbili veena seems to be tapering off to a dead end, with the next generation in his family lukewarm about the specialised craft.

“It’s not as lucrative as other professions of the internet age,” says Ramakrishna, explaining the young lot’s disinterest in the Bobbili veena.

“The majority of them are looking at other career paths.”

Also read: Cash-strapped AP eyes revenue from sale of seized red sanders

Bobbili veena: A unique instrument

The Bobbili veena is celebrated for its dulcet tunes and distinctive notes, which, together with the unique style of playing, have given its makers the sobriquet “Bobbili Veena Sampradayam” (Bobbili veena community).

Single log of jackfruit wood used to make Bobbili Veena. (Supplied)

Single log of jackfruit wood used to make Bobbili Veena. (Supplied)

Members of the Sampradayam diligently craft each veena out of jackfruit tree logs at Gollapalli, a town in Bobbili, labouring for almost a month to mould a single piece of log into a fine musical instrument.

Even the resonator, which is shaped like a hollow sphere that accounts for the veena’s unique sound, is handcrafted, says Ramakrishna.

Craftsmen prefer the wood of the jackfruit tree because of its lightness and its unique grain that enhances the quality of the instrument’s sound.

Needless to say, a single log is used for creating one instrument, giving it the name “Ekandi Veena”.

The Bobbili veenas also stand out for the exquisite designs that are etched on their structures, making each piece an exclusive piece of creativity.

Its central part has a lion’s head carved at the tapering end. The decorative inlay work, which earlier used to be done on elephant tusks, is now done on plastic.

Miniature Bobbilis

Even the miniature veenas are painstakingly made with comparable dedication; they are made to scale and of the same wood as their larger counterparts.

So attractive are these miniature Bobbili veenas that they were presented by the Andhra Pradesh government to delegates at the Global Investors Summit (GIS) in March, and also at G20 meetings in Visakhapatnam.

Quite expectedly, the miniatures were the cynosure of all eyes at these prestigious events.

Little wonder then that in an acknowledging of the veena’s unique qualities and features, Bobbili town was given its own Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2011.

Cruel honour

But guarding a product that no one is overly bothered about against identity theft seems ironical.

What is even more ironical is the government’s efforts at promoting Bobbili veena-making skills development among a generation that sees it as a useless craft.

Craftsman of Gollapalli making Bobbili veena. (Supplied)

Craftsman of Gollapalli making Bobbili veena. (Supplied)

The Crafts Development Centre that it started in the 1990s in Bobbili has not quite found traction.

“Why would anyone from this generation want to take up this work?” asks veena maker T Brahmedawar Rao rhetorically.

Like fellow craftsman Ramakrishna, the 51-year-old Rao is also ridiculed by the young members in his family, he says.

“I learnt this art from my father as a schoolboy, but today’s generation from my family asks me, ‘What have you earned all your life’,” Rao told South First.

Rao has no answer, as he himself confesses that the income from this work now is not enough for his family to subsist on.

Making matters worse, the state governmental efforts to push veena’s sales have not quite worked out.

“The government buys veenas from us and sells them across the state and several places in of the country,” says Rao.

“But this is not enough. We need financial support from the government.”