The important part of the Veena is Melam. This is the portion of Veena on which the frets are fixed and the artists exhibit their talents. To fix Melam Shruti Gnana and Swara Gnana are very important. Till recently this was a secret art
Items required for setting the Melam:
- Honey wax
- Black color or softly grinded coal powder
- Little quantity of GUGGUL
- Brass rods (the breadth of the dandam should be taken as the length of the reeds)
• Firstly the wax should be put in a vessel and be melted over a stove. Then the black color along with the guggul should be added to this wax liquid, the paste will become soft.
• 24 new brass frets equal in length and thickness should be taken. This is to avoid sruti bhedam. It is better to select reeds with small legs (3 mm in height) on both sides. If plain reeds are taken there is a chance for the reeds to slightly move from their original place and this will lead to sruti bedha in that particular note.
• The rods should not have any cuts on them. This has to be checked properly.
• The top 4 strings should be new ones. Otherwise again there will be a chance for sruti difference. Old and used strings will have problems.
Fixing of the 24 frets:
- Firstly the top 4 strings should be accurately and perfectly tuned. While fixing the frets the Sruti of the strings should not be high (like 3rd or 4th Sruthis).The shruti if fixed low, will be perfect.
- Firstly the Panchama Sthana fret should be fixed on the Sarani String, then the tara Shadjam and the Ati Tara Shadjam frets are fixed. – To identify these Swara than the overtone on the string should be played. – The Shadja and panchama swaras can be produced by overtone technique.
- Then at that particular place, a lump of the wax should be put up the fret should also be fixed to that wax. (The wax block should be 1/8″)
- Then on the Mandra Panchama string if you strike (at the place of Panchama Sthayi of the Sarani string) Chatussruti. Rishabha will sound. Depending on this the Chatussruti Rishabha sthana can be located and the fret should be fixed along with the wax.
- All the Swara Sthanas can be identified with overtone striking. If you strike at the place of Gandhara on the Mandra Panchama string Kakali Nishada will be heard. At the same place on Sarani, String Gandharam can be heard. We have already placed frets for Chatussruti Dhaivata and Chatussruti Rishabha on the Panchama string. A little more than half of the distance between the Meruvu and Chatussruti Dhaivatam fret is the place of Suddha Rishabha. All this is just common sense. It is very easy to identify any swarasthana placing without fret just by striking overtone.
- Now as all the frets are fixed the gaps between each fret are to be filled with wax and pressed at equal heights. A most important point to be careful about is that during this process only the Andolita Gamakam should be played and seen that string is not touching the next fret. If it is so then the next fret or reed should be pressed down a little.
- If the reed is moved towards the right, the sruti increases, and if moved towards the left the sruti decreases. The distance for the 1st fret is more (Broad) and is thin or narrow at the last fret then Atitara Shadja. Finally, after all the frets are fixed and the gaps are filled with wax, a penknife should be taken and the wax should be cut equally. The wax at the Meruvu should be at a height and slides down towards the bridge. The melam should be correct, and the swarasthanas perfect as if done by a Vidwan and not by a worker.
Ahobila in his Sangeeta Vaangmaya and Nookala in his ‘Sangeeta Sastra Sudharnavam’ have said that the Swarastanas can be decided by the length of the string also. It is given below:” At the middle of the string (1/2) tara shadjam is heard. In between 2 Shadjamas (1/4) Madhyama is heard. Divide the string into 3 parts, and leave parts, then (3/4) you can hear Panchama. Gandhara can be heard between Shadja Panchama. Measure the distance between Meru and Panchamam divide the distance into 3 parts. Then at the end of the 1st part you will get Rishabham. Dhaivatam can be heard in between Panchamam and tara shadjam. Divide the distance between Pancham and Tarashadjam into 3 parts, and at the end of the 2nd part Nishada can be heard. All these above given Swaras are Suddha Swaras i.e. (Haripriya) Samagana murchanas. “The above knowledge is very important and required for a worker or a vidvan whoever does the melam. If the melam is not perfect, the veena will sound apaswaras even when played by great vidvans. Hence to avoid all these it is a must for a vidvan to learn melam fixing (He should at least learn to adjust the mela done by the worker). One more point to know is from 7th fret onwards all frets on panchama, Mandra and Anumandra strings (panchama fret on sarani string). So while playing on these strings you have to adjust the wire by pulling slightly to the other side and produce the correct note