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The Ravanahatha or the Ravana hasta veena is a popular fiddle of western India. The bowl is made of cut coconut shell, the mouth of which is covered with goat hide. A dandi, made of bamboo is attached to this shell. The principal strings are two: one of steel and the other of a set of horsehair. The long bow has jingle bells.[1]

Ravanahatha is known as the first musical instrument with strings to be played with a bow and recognised as the world's first violin. According to the legend, Ravana was an ardent devotee of the Hindu god Shiva. Ravana served Shiva using the soulful music emanating from the ravanahatha.

In the Hindu Ramayana epic, after the war between Rama and Ravana, Hanuman picked up a ravanahatha and returned to North India. In India, the ravanahatha is still played in Rajasthan and in the Agra area of Uttar Pradesh. From India, the ravanahatha travelled westwards to the Middle East and Europe, where in the 9th century, it came to be called the ravanastrom.

After the 11th century, the ravanahatha underwent many changes and it took the shape of the modern violin in Italy in the 16th century.

The ravanahatha's birth itself is believed to have taken place under traumatic circumstances. According to legend, Ravana's mother Kaikasi, an ardent devotee of Shiva, was eager to go and live in the god's abode on Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. Ravana opposed the plan vehemently, but to please his mother he promised to bring Mount Kailash itself to Lanka.

As Ravana was lifting the mountain, an angry Shiva trapped his ten heads and twenty arms. Writhing in pain, Ravana prayed for mercy. When Shiva let him off, Ravana decided to sing his praise and instantly made an accompanying instrument using one of his heads, an arm and some of his hair. The soulful music emanating from Ravana's instrument is said to have moved Shiva, who bestowed immortality on him.

Notes

  1. ^ Deva, B.C. (1977). Musical Instruments, New Delhi: National Book Trust, ISBN 81-237-0698-7, pp.140-1
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