Object: Instrument

E/1956/3/1
Ravanahatha (or Ravanhatta or Rawanhatho)
Hindu
India
ca. 1950s
Materials: Wood, coconut shell, mother of pearl, leather

This fiddle-like instrument from India is called a Ravanahatha (or Ravanhatta or Rawanhatho). It is has a wooden body and a small coconut resonator covered in skin. There is one melody string made from horsehair, a single metal drone string and a number of sympathetic strings. The following is a video showing a Ravanahatha being played.

According to legend, this instrument was first created by the mythological figure Ravana, the primary villain in the Hindu legend Ramayana. In the legend Ravana attempted to move Mount Kailash, the home of the Hindu deity Shiva, from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka, in order to please his mother. In the process he angers Shiva and is briefly tortured by the deity. Ravana then prays for mercy and is released. In order to thank Shiva for sparing his life Ravana decided to sing for the god. To accompany his song of praise, Ravana magically creates a musical instrument, the Ravanahatha, out of one of his arms and some of his hair. Shiva is so impressed by the performance that he grants Ravana immortality. Ravanahatha are still played today and are popular with the Bhopa priest singers of Rajasthan.

Other examples of Ravanahatha can be found in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Nadsadhna Institute for Indian Music and Meditation, and others. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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