Sunday 28 October 2012

Ravana's violin

Though the modern day violin is a western instrument,  its origin can be traced to a mythological figure in the Ramayana. This figure is none other than Ravana, the tragic villain of the epic and the king of Lanka who dies at the hands of Rama.
Ravana was skilled in many shastras, including astrology, Ayurveda and music. Of course that he was a matchless warrior is beyond doubt. But not many know that the earliest form of violin owes its origin to Ravana.
The violin in its present form came from mediaeval Europe. The first four-stringed violin was made by Andrea Amati of Italy. In India, the present day violin is believed to have been introduced by the East India Company and the early Portuguese. Records indicate that Baluswamy Dikshitar (1786-1859) learnt the violin in its present form from an English band master of the military band at Fort St. George in Madras.
Dikshitar, who was the brother of  Muthuswamy Dikshitar, one of the music trinity of Thyagaraja and  Shamba Shastry, helped adapt the violin to Carnatic music. He learnt violin for three years. He later became the court musician of Attaiyapuram in 1824.
A minister in the Marratha court of Tanjore, Varappa Iyer,  once visited the house of the British Govenor in Chennai. He was a scholar in music and knew English, The Governor gifted the minister the violin and also a piano. He then began accompanying some local musicians on the violin. Even today., there is a road in Tanjore named after him.
Vadivelu (1810 to 1845), of the four Tanjore brothers, was an earlier pioneer of the violin in Carnatic music. All the brothers were disciples of Muthuswamy Dikshitar. In 1834, Swathi Tirunal presented a violin made of ivory to Vadivelu.   
Vaduivelu was the Asthana Vidwan in Travancore during the reign of Swathi Tirunal (1813-1837).
At around the same time, the Portuguese Christian missionaries made extensive use of the violin during church services and also taught the use of the violin to converts. The violin thus came to be very popular in Goa, Kerala and other places where the Portuguese had their factories.
With the violin sharing a stringed bond with the veena and tamboori, the violin soon became an integral part of the Carnatic music ensemble. However, India had been familiar with bow like or stringed instruments from centuries.
The Mallikarjuna temple in Vijayawada built during the 10th century and the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram during the 12th century have sculptures playing a bow like stringed instrument. Even today, Rajasthan has continued with the tradition of a bow string. This tradition goes back to several centuries.
The bow like instrument in Rajasthan is  believed to have originated from Ravana more than 5,000 years ago. During the time of Ravana, it was called Ravanahatha.
The Ravanahatha is 22 inches in length and it is made of wood. It has three octaves. It was primarily made of coconut shells and bamboo.
Ravana was a master of  Ravanahatha.  He could play it so well, that even Shiva was moved by it. In Rajasthan, the legend is that Hanuman picked up the instrument from Lanka and came to Rajasthan where it underwent suitable changes. Thus, it is India that the oldest bow instrument originated.
Ravana also composed Shiva Thandava which is popular even today

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