The Ravanahatha

The Ravanahatha (Ravanhatta or Ravanastron or Ravana Hasta Veena), originating in western India and Sri Lanka, is thought to be the oldest instrument in the bowed chordophone family.  A bowed Chordophone is a stringed instrument(chordophone) played with a bow.

The Ravanahatha originated during King Ravana’s reign, from 2554 to 2517 BC.   In medieval India the Ravanahatha was played for kings and royal families in the areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat.   Legend tells that Ravana was an ardent devotee of the Goddess Shiva, and his devotion took the form of the playing of the ravanahatha. The name Ravanahatha in Sinhala means Ravana’s hand.

It is thought that the Ravanahatha was adopted by Arabs and an evolved version of the instrument was brought to Southern Europe by Muslim merchants and musicians in the eighth century.  This in turn evolved through the middle ages and eventually became the violin played today.

A Rajasthani Folk Singer with his Ravanhatta a...
A Rajasthani Folk Singer at the Akhyan festival in Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts (IGNCA), near India Gate New Delhi.

Most Ravanahatha players are priest singers called Bhopas. These wandering nomads travel from town to town and sing in devotion of the local folk deities.  The Bhopas make their own instrument which is made up of a bamboo body and a bowl of cut coconut shell acting as a resonator, which is covered by goat or monkey skin.

The modern Ravanahatha has two strings: one steel, the other made of horsehair.  In addition to the strings which are played it has sympathetic horsehair strings which are not played but which resonate when the primary strings are sounded.



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