Thanjavur veena maker replicates ‘Mayuri Yaazh’

The intricate engraving to shape the peacock base was the toughest part of the project, said veena maker N. Rajendran.

A veena maker of Thanjavur, N. Rajendran, has made a replica of the ‘Mayuri Yaazh’, an ancient open-stringed harp of Tamil music whose resonator base is shaped like a peacock. Though the instrument was made for a private collector in Karur as an ornamental showpiece, Mr. Rajendran is confident that interest will be revived in the now rarely used Yaazh.

“My family has been engaged in making the ‘Saraswathi Veena’ for four generations. I joined at the age of 20, and have always been keen on making rare instruments from time to time,” Mr. Rajendran told The Hindu.

Though the Yaazh is mentioned in Tamil classical literary texts like the ‘Silapathigaram’ and has been depicted in temple sculptures, it has now become outmoded.

Using old palm leaf manuscripts from the Thanjavur’s Saraswathi Mahal Library as reference, Mr. Rajendran spent over a month to create a modified version of the 12-stringed instrument from scratch. “I sourced the wood of the jackfruit tree from Panruti (in Cuddalore), for this project. I had it machine-cut, and then shaped it by sanding and carving to the required structure manually,” he said.

“Many artisans don’t know how to make instruments like the Yaazh, so I had to work on it all alone.”

Mr. Rajendran’s Mayuri Yaazh is a working replica, and costs Rs. 50,000. The intricate engraving to shape the peacock base was the toughest part of the project, said Mr. Rajendran.

“I have tried to make the bird’s feathers look as realistic as possible with multiple carving techniques,” he said. He has also added a bunch of tail feathers.

The weight of the 3-kg instrument has been balanced on the two sturdy ‘claw feet’ of the rounded base. “I had to carefully calculate the exact spot where the feet could bear the body of the instrument and allow it to stand upright. Unlike the veena which has a separate fibre stand to support its base, and can be used either in a horizontal or vertical position, the Yaazh has always been played upright,” said Mr. Rajendran.

There are around 150 artisans involved in making veenas in Thanjavur. Business has been looking up for Mr. Rajendran after the easing of the lockdown late last year. “I usually complete two veenas in a month. My customers are both seasoned performers and learners. But I always like experimenting. Two years ago, I made a ‘Matchi Yaazh’ shaped like a fish, that was well-received,” said Mr. Rajendran.

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