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Sahana violin1 To think of the Carnatic scene without the violin is almost impossible today. Innovative musicians adapted the violin, primarily a Western instrument, to Carnatic music and developed a whole new technique of playing, indistinguishable from its original sound patterns.

Balaswami Dikshitar (1786-1859), brother of Muthuswami Dikshitar, was patronised by Manali Muthukrishna Mudaliar, interpreter to the British Governor, Pigot. Introduced by Mudaliar to Western music at a performance of the European orchestra (or band as it was called), attached to the East India Company, Balaswami trained for three years on the violin. A gifted musician, he contributed much towards adapting the instrument for use in Carnatic music. It resulted in his appointment as State Vidwan of Ettayapuram in 1824.

Early Music Era

Varahappa Iyer, a minister in the Tanjore Maratha court and a musician himself, was close to the British Governor in Madras. He took an interest in various instruments in the Governor's band. Curiously, his first choice was the piano with its seven octaves, but settled down to learn the violin, which he felt, could be best adapted to Carnatic music traditions. You could not play gamaka on a piano. In time, he started playing so well that the Governor presented him with a violin. He too, like Balaswami Dikshitar, adapted the violin for accompaniment to the human voice. There is a road named after him in Tanjore in his honour. Krishnaswamy Bhagavathar also learned the instrument around the same time and attained a degree of proficiency.

The person who really popularised the violin to the extent that it became a totally accepted instrument in the rendition of Carnatic music was Vadivelu (1810-1845), of the Tanjore Quartet (all of whom were students of Muthuswami Dikshitar). Vadivelu had the good fortune of being appointed the Asthana Vidwan in the court of none other than the composer-king Swati Tirunal. His encouragement and patronage saw the violin being performed not only as an accompaniment to the voice, but also as an instrument that even played solo passages during a dance performance.

Significantly, in spite of being a Western instrument with technique developed to suit playing Western classical music, the instrument could be adapted to the needs of Carnatic music. Many Western techniques redundant in Carnatic music were simply overlooked and later discarded. The first of these was the basic way the violin was tuned, held and played. Carnatic music required the violinist to sit cross-legged on a platform. The violin was, therefore, balanced between the chest and the scroll held by the anklebone of the right foot.

Modern Music Era
The posture felicitated the free flow of the left hand along the fingerboard. This necessitated appropriate changes in the bowing technique, which were duly innovated. Western techniques like colegnio (using the wooden side of the bow instead of the horsehair), marcellato (hammering), and even pizzicato (plucking) were not of much use to the Indian violinist. Double stopping was more for showing off rather than for any musical use, because a note not conforming to the domain of the raga crept in. The technique that was most useful and modified to perfection was the glissando (sliding). The changed bowing and posture produced all subtle nuances, gamakas, modulations and all the srutis. It also shifted the emphasis from arm movement and dropping down of the fingers on the right note to more emphasis on the wrist movement and "reaching" for the note and expertly tackling the gamakas. To top it all, the tuning itself was changed to suit the lower pitch in which the vocalists sang. The science of violin making has been mastered by the Westerners to a high level of perfection. Its body is made of pine or maple wood. The front of the violin is slightly elevated at the centre while the back is straight. The f - holes on the face of the violin help in spreading the air enclosed in the body of the violin in a uniform manner. The other important part is the sound post fixed at the right foot of the bridge, kept in a tight position, between the front and back of the violin. The finger-board, the tail piece and the button are made of ebony. The button is at the centre of the rib on top of the violin to which the tail piece is attached or hooked by guts or wire. There are four tuning pegs, which are placed on either side of the neck. The strings are made of gut and steel, the former for lower octaves and the latter for higher. The bow, again, is made in a very scientific a manner. Made of Brazilian wood, it has a slight bent or curve in the centre. About 175 to 260 white horse-hairs are laid evenly side by side and are kept in correct tension by manipulating the screw at the end of the bow.