Veena is mentioned in the Rig-Veda, Sama-veda and other Vedic literature such as the Shatapatha Brahmana and Taittiriya Samhita. In the ancient texts, Narada is credited with inventing the veena, and is described as a seven string instrument with frets. According to Suneera Kashiwa, a professor of Music, in the ancient texts such as the Rig-Veda and Atharva-veda (both pre-1000 BCE), as well as the Upanishads (c. 800–300 BCE), a string musical instrument is called Vana, a term that evolved to become Veena. The early Sanskrit texts call any stringed instrument as Vana, and these include bowed, plucked, one string, many strings, fretted, non-fretted, zither, lute or harp lyre style string instrument.
The Natya Shastra by Bharata Muni, the oldest surviving ancient Hindu text on classical music and performance arts, discusses Veena. This Sanskrit text, probably complete between 200 BCE and 200 CE, begins its discussion by stating that "the human throat is a sareer Veena, or a body's musical string instrument" when it is perfected, and that the source of gandharva music is such a throat, a string instrument and flute. The same metaphor of human voice organ being a form of Veena is also found in more ancient texts of Hinduism, The ancient epic Mahabharata describes sage Narada as a Vedic sage famed as a "vina player".
The Natya Shastra describes a seven string instrument and other string instruments in thirty five verses, and then explains how the instrument should be played. The technique of performance suggests that the veena in Bharata Muni's time was quite different than the zither or the lute that became popular after Natya Shastra was complete. The ancient veena, according to Allyn Miner and other scholars, was closer to a harp. The earliest lute and zither style veena playing musicians are evidenced in Hindu and Buddhist cave temple reliefs in the early centuries of the common era. Similarly, Indian sculptures from the mid 1st millennium CE depict musicians playing string instruments. By about the 6th century CE, the goddess Saraswati sculptures are predominantly with veena of the zither-style, similar to modern styles.
The Tamil word of veena is yaaá¸» (à®¯à®¾à®´à¯) (often written yaazh or yaal). It is in the list of Musical instruments used by Tamil people in Tirumurai dated 6th to 11th century. A person who plays a veena is called a vainika.