musical instruments in India : gut strings

Jean Fezas jean.fezas at
Thu Apr 3 08:16:55 UTC 1997

At 01:58 03/04/1997 BST, you wrote:
>On Thu, 3 Apr 1997 J.Napier at unsw.EDU.AU wrote:
>> against the sarangi (as distinct from a prejudice against sarangi players) 
>> to the 'polluting' gut strings. Given that gut strings were standard for 
>> the violin in the nineteenth century, did this cause a problem in South 
>> India? Did Indian violinists quickly adopt metal wires for stings?
>Contemporary Indian violinists prefer strings from Europe or USA, so they
>don't seem to make any special effort to use metal strings exclusively. 
>Quite a few vaiNikas, including my guru (whose brother, father, sisters 
>and husband are all violinists), feel that no musical instrument can be
>quite as sacred as the vINA. The fact that it has wood construction and
>metal strings is a reason for this. But earlier texts quoted by C. S.
>Anantapadmanabhan (The veena: its technique, theory and practice, New
>Delhi: Gana Vidya Bharati, 1954) seem to indicate that gut strings were
>used on the vINA also. It must be remembered that the south Indian vINA
>owes much of its present form to Govinda Dikshitar (16th century CE).
>S. Vidyasankar
>ps. Re: use of wires: there just might be some vastuSAstra texts that
>describe wires/strings. An alternative would be to take a field trip to
>the places where musical instruments are made, and interview the older
>artisans about their methods and sources of strings before India's modern
>industrialization. Trichy, Mysore, Miraj and Calcutta should be very good
>places for this. 
A literary testimony about the strings of the [ancient?] vINA :

According to KathAsaritsAgara 5.3.158-161 & 169-171, string made of cow's
gut were used on the vINA : the sight of a caNDAla bearing a load of cow's
flesh reminds BindumatI that, formerly a vidyAdharI, she was reborn in a
fisherman's family (dAza-kula-) because she was cursed for having cut with
her teeth a string made of dried cow's gut while installing it on her vINA :

158.	ekadA harmya-pRSTha-stho dhRta-go-mAMsa-bhArakam.
	mArgAgataM sa caNDAlaM dRSTvA tAm abravIt priyAm..
159.	vandyAs tri-jagato 'py etA yAH kRzodari dhenavaH.
	tAsAM pizitam aznAti pazyAyaM pApa-kRt katham..
160.	tac chrutvA sApy avAdIt taM patiM bindumatI tadA.
	acintyam Arya-putraitat pApam atra kim ucyate..
161.	ahaM gavAM prabhAveNa svalpAd apy aparAdhataH.
	jAtA dAza-kule 'muSmin kA tv etasyAtra niSkRtiH..

169.	ahaM janmAntare 'bhUvaM kApi vidyAdharI purA.
	martya-loke ca zApena paribhraSTAsmi sAMpratam..
170.	vidyAdharatve ca yadA chittvA dantair ayojayam.
	vINAsu tantrIs teneha jAtAhaM dAza-vezmani..
171.	tad evaM vadane spRSTe zuSkeNa snAyunA gavAm.
	IdRzy adhogatiH kA tu vArtA tan-mAMsa-bhakSaNe..

I shall shortly make available an e-text of the books 5-7 of the KSS...

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