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Music of demon king Ravana, via the Ravanhatta

Rajasthan’s music conveys the essence of this desert land with its soulful and earthy tones. This piece played here by Jaisalmer artist Sethnaram Bhoppa, is on the Ravanhatta, an instrument believed to have originated in Sri Lanka during the reign of Ravana.

It has the basic shape of a string instrument, with a body made of cut coconut shell and covered with goat hide, and a bamboo neck. The two principle strings are made of steel and horsehair. The long bow has bells attached. According to legend, Ravana was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and he pleased the Lord by playing the Ravanhatta. Also, Hanuman is believed to have taken the Ravanhatta from Lanka and brought it to western India.

Music was patronised by kings in medieval India, and ravanhatta was popular among royal families. In Rajasthan and Gujarat, it was the first musical instrument to be learned by princes. The Sangeet tradition of Rajasthan further helped in popularising ravanhatta among royal ladies. From India, the ravanahatha traveled to the Middle East and Europe in the 9th century, where it is called the Ravan strong.