K. Sambasiva Iyer
Left Hand Technique
The player sits cross-legged, placing the kudukkai on his left thigh while
holding the kudam by gently pressing the right thigh against it. The instrument
will be a little slanted if the left thigh is positioned slightly higher
by placing it on the right ankle.
This posture facilitates sliding. Some players hold the instrument closer
to themselves, while certain others keep it farther away, as much as the
frets are visible to the audience. The kudukkai is hinged on its rim to
allow for the swerving motion during performance. The vertical position
of holding the vina which was practiced by eminent artists like Venkataramanadas
of Andra Pradesh and the elder
of the Karaikudi brothers, Subbarama Iyer, in Tamil Nadu, is seldom used
nowadays. Some players place their right hand on the kudam about an inch
away from the wrist into the forearm so that the hand is loose, arching
like a crane.
Some others place the wrist, on the butt of the kudam so that the fingers
are arched (as part of a circle). Here the wrist rests on the kudam in such
a way that the player is able to reach the anumandaram only by a gentle
forward movement of the wrist. While most performers most of the time use
only index and middle fingers, some use also the ring finger. Some use the
most often during performance.
To play harmonics some use the thumb and the little or ring finger in combination,
the former to touch the required node, the latter to pluck the string at
the string at the same time. Thus, all the five right fingers are used at
some point or other during performance. Some performers use wire plectra,
some their fingernails and some others the soft part of the finger for plucking.
Accordingly, in the resultant sound one can distinguish three different
The one with a wire plectrum has a certain sharp-metallic quality; the one
with fingernails has certain edgy-soft quality while the one with the tip
of the skin part of the fingers has a certain blunted-languorous quality.
Some players use plectra for the little finger as well, which when combined
with any of the above categories gives each of them an added tonal coloring.