Vipanchi Veena

The Vipanchi Veena was an ancient type of nine-stringed Veena.

The Sanskrit term Vipanchi in Sanskrit signifies “sport” or pastime” and so it may appear that the vipanchi of the olden times was a colourful and vibrant accompaniment to the main concert instrument namely, the matta kOkilA veena. If the performer on matta kOkilA played played one laghu, the vipanchi player executed two drut mAtrAs. This tonal and rhythmic collaboration was called “pratikrta.”

There is a reference to vipanchi in NAtyasAstra, dated prior to 2nd cent. AD. It is also referred to in the 11th cent. work, Abhinava BhArati by Abhinava Gupta. It did not have the full compass of three octaves.

Vipanchi was made of wood and shaped like a small boat and had a curvature similar to that of a bow. Seven of its nine strings wereused for one full octave. The remaining two strings were for Antara GAndhAr and KAkali NishAd (used in the Karnatik svara system).

Veenas of this type are seen in sculptures dated between 200 BC and AD 800 in both North and South India.

[G.H Tarlekar referenced in the Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India]

A 1500 BC sculpture, “Roopur”1 shows a woman sitting cross-legged, holding an instrument horizontally at waist level. Scholars opine that this instrument is Vipanchi Veena in which three Vedic notes could be tuned. Thirteen centuries later around 150 BC (Bharhut)2 there is a group of twelve musicians depicting women playing Mridang, Manjeera, Vipanchi Veena, marking beats and singing. Another group of same period sculpted on west gate of Sanchi Stupa – 13 shows one playing on flute, another on Mridang of Bharat period and two playing Vipanchi Veena. Such resources indicate that from third, second BC to sixth, seventh century AD the Veena-s in prominence were Vipanchi, Chitra and Ghoshvati. While Vipanchi carried nine strings, Chitra had seven strings and Ghoshvati was single-stringed. Dr. Lalmani Misra says that on the basis of available sculpture and paintings, one may construe that Vipanchi was like modern Harp, Chitra resembles Sarod and Ghoshvati was built like Ektara.

[Ragini Trivedi on


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