Ravanhattha - Epic Journey of an Instrument in Rajasthan

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Item Code: IHJ061
Author: Suneera Kasliwal
Publisher: Shubhi Publications
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788182901285
Pages: 168 (Illustrated Throughout In B/W & Colour)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.2 inch X 8.6 inch
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Fully insured
100% Made in India
100% Made in India
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Fair trade
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23 years in business
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Shipped to 153 countries

Book Description

From the Jacket

Ravanhattha, a musical instrument favoured by itinerant minstrels in the state of Rajasthan, is a curious combination of primitive and modern features. It has been refereed to in some of the earliest musical texts as one of the foremost bowing instruments of India. Mythologically, it is associated with ‘Ravana’ and demon king of Lanka. Its historical background suggests that the instrument enjoyed widespread popularity throughout India till the medieval period, after which it gradually got restricted to the western region. Nevertheless, Ravanhattha prototypes and variants can still be found in various regions of the country.

At present, Ravanhattha has emerged as the most popular and representative folk music instrument of Rajasthan. It has a pivotal role to play as the instrument of accompaniment in the presentation of the folklore Epic of Pabuji.

Although, Ravanhattha players are often unassuming tribals, they have introduced various innovative modifications in this instrument making it contemporaneous. Hundreds and thousands of these wandering minstrels are earning their livelihood by narrating the epics while playing the instrument and would continue doing so in future.

This book Endeavour’s to be an exhaustive study of this wonderful instrument.

A performer as well as a musicologist, Suneera specializes in instrumental music i.e. sitar. Educated in Jaipur and BHU (Varanasi), she became a disciple of Pt. Lal Mani Mishra and Dr. Ramdas Chakravorty. She completed her doctorate under Prof. K.C. Gangrade. Later she became a Ganda Bandh Shishya of Pt. Uma Shankar Mishra of Maihar Gharana.

A gold medialist in Master’s degree, she also received U.G.C. junior fellowship while pursuing her Doctoral pregramme. A recipient of senior fellowship of Department of culture, Govt. of India from 1996 to 1998, She has been conferred upon with Pt. Omkarnath Thakur Award, Sur Mani Award and Sadhana Prashasti Award. As a performer of sitar, she has participated in countless festivals in India and abroad amongst which her participation in festival of India in USSR, Moscow (1987) and Performances and Lec-Dems in Tashkent, Ujbekistan, (2003) are worth mentioning.

A regular contributor to music journals (National and International), she has to her credit two publications amongst which her first book entitled Classical musical instruments received international acclaim.

She has been working on a Post-Doctoral project titled “The development and changes in Instruments and Instrumental music since last hundred years”. She started working on music & musical instruments of Rajasthan under the able guidance of Lt. Shri Komal Kothari and has successfully completed projects like string Instruments of Rajasthan and Wind Instruments of Rajasthan with the grant support from Sangeet Natak Akademi. She ahs participated and presented a number of papers in national and international seminars. Her paper on ‘Pabuji kip had & its presentation’ with live performers in ‘Jeonju Sori world music festival’, South Korea, 2002 was a great success.

In addition to this, she has been associated with the electronic media (AIR & Doordarshan) since last 20 years. She has prepared 26 episodes on folk instruments of India for an AIR sponsored programme. Besides, she has to her credit, audio cassettes and CDs of her own compositions. Recently, she has contributed in developing a museum of musical instruments in Dundlod, a town near Nawalgarh in Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.

She is on the panel as an expert and consultant with premier organizations like SNA, NCERT, IGNOU, NIOS and various Indian universities. At present, she is working as Professor in the Department of Music, Faculty of Music & Fine Arts, University of Delhi-7.


Rajasthan is a treasure house of hundreds of folk instruments. The crowning glory of this rich treasure is the Bowing instruments and the most ancient amongst them is Ravanhattha.

Ever since I started working on a project on string instruments of Rajasthan, the first instrument which attracted my attention was Ravanhattha. Born and a brought up in Jaipur, I have had the chance of listening to this instrument now and then since my childhood. At that point of time, it was to me more of an entertainment than an object of study. Later on, when I got training of classical music and that too of an instrument, I slowly got inspired to work with the instrumentalists of Rajasthani folk music. The childhood memories of somebody playing Ravanhattha and singing had a great impact on my subconscious mind since this as the only instrument which I was exposed to in my childhood. Classical musical instruments were a later entry.

Now, after being into the subject and studying Rajasthani music since long, I could understand why I was only exposed to Ravanhattha and no other instrument like Sarangi etc. Ravanhattha and its variants are found almost throughout Rajasthan and in its adjacent regions like Haryana, Punjab, U.P., M.P., Gujarat and so on. Whereas, other instruments are limited to small areas only.

Ravanhattha players (Bhopas) are nomads. They do not stay at one place and keep wandering. This mobility also gives them a reach throughout the region, which other musician castes do not have. Made from locally available material, the instrument is very easy to make, and generally, Ravanhattha players make their own instrument. Though, these musicians do not know any vocabulary and terminology of music, yet they tune their Ravanhattha perfectly and sing in unison with their instrument. The deep vibrating sound of Ravanhattha makes you wonder as to how a small resonator, which is no bigger than the palm of the player, reverberates and resonates so voluminously. The bow of Ravanhattha, though looks unfinished, runs upon the strings so skillfully, along with stupendous control on the notes that the resultant melody is really astonishing. Without any formal education, these musicians learn just by listening, and have had been able to preserve the traditional repertoire, intact.

Surprisingly, Ravanhattha is invariably referred in our ancient musical texts since 7th century onwards, with various names. Its association with the mythological king Ravan also adds a colour of mysticism. Almost all the scholars agree that this was one of the earliest bowed instruments prevalent in India. Though its early textual evidences suggest its reach amongst the elite instruments, it was always more popular with the common men. Slowly it restricted itself to the folk music and for the last two centuries or so, we find it attached solely to the folk music of western region, especially of Rajasthan. What is most conspicuous about this ordinary looking but astonishingly melodious instrument is its association with the epic of Pabuji which is the real life force behind it. Though no one knows, how and when Ravanhattha got attached to Pabuji’s epic, the tradition dates back to at least six hundred years.

Pabuji, an early 14th century Rathod prince, was born into a well-to-do family, a family which was to become the ruling line of Jodhpur. His father was a Raja of a small state. Pabuji with his bravery and chivalry added more regions in the kingdom, and achieved great heights. Though born in an upper caste, Pabu never discriminated amongst the upper and lower castes and behaved equally with both. Almost all of his courtiers and chieftains belonged to lower castes. He was the saviour of women and down-trodden lower caste people and cows. He maintained his honour, the honour of his family and was devoted to the principle of ahimsa or non-violence. In his last battle, which he fought, to save the cows of his people, Rebaris and Bheels along with Rajputs accompanied him.

Till today Pabuji is worshipped by all these three castes equally i.e. Rebari, Bheel and Rajput communities.

Priests of Pabuji are termed as ‘Bhopas’. They worship and sing the epic describing the chivalry of Pabuji. While singing , they accompany themselves with Ravanhattha and also show a Phad; a scroll painting of about eighteen feet long cloth, on which the various scenes related to Pabuji’s life are painted.

Studying Ravanhattha revealed that the kind of support these Ravanhattha players get from society in the form of Pabuji’s epic and its performances, has played a vital role in bringing Ravanhattha to the present stature. The faith of people in Pabuji induces life in the instrument, in the instrumentalists, and in the performance.

Ravanhattha is a curious combination of primitive and modern features. It has journeyed through so many centuries and would continue to live. That is why a detailed study of this instrument appears to be imperative.

This study has been divided into three parts. The first part comprises four chapters which have been devoted to brief introduction of folk music of Rajasthan, the tradition of string instruments in Rajasthan, the historical and technical details of Ravanhattha, the allied instruments of Ravanhattha and Ravanhattha’s association with Pabuji epic. The second part comprises chapter fifth, which is totally devoted to the epic of Pabuji and its performance. This chapter deals in brief with all the aspects of performance, i.e., the painter, the scroll etc. and the relationship of painter, narrator and patron. This triangle plays a vital role in the presentation of the epic and because of this, the presentation of epic itself has taken a form of an institution. The third and concluding part of the book consists of last two chapters dealing with the present status of Ravanhattha players in the changing times and also the future of Pabu epic as a whole,. The last chapter, ‘In search of new patronage’, is related to the marketing of ‘Folk’. An attempt has been made to establish that unlike its fellow instrument Jantar, which is only played in the epic of Devnarayanji , Ravanhattha is steadily acquiring status of an entertaining instrument too. Although the future of the Pabu epic is also bright, however Ravanhattha is parallelly establishing itself as an independent instrument, which can survive on its own because of its musical value. It is an ancient instrument which has acquired new role in every age. This time again, it would emerge triumphant.


Preface ix
Acknowledgement xi
Introduction to the folk music of Rajasthan Common folk music, Professional folk music, Folk Instruments of Rajasthan 1
String Instruments of Rajasthan Unique features, Categorization, Chart 11
Historical Background of bowing Instruments in India and the place of Ravanhattha 21
Ravanhattha: Structural and Technical details Variants, Allied instruments of Ravanhattha association with Pabu epic 39
Epic of Pabuji and its performance Epic, Story, Phad, Painter, Narrator, Presentation styles, Temple, Patrons 67
Present status of Ravanhattha players Women’s status, Living conditions 113
A search for new patronage New Patronage, status of an entertaining instrument, Pabu-epic Flute 127
Appendix I 143
Appendix II 146
Bibliography 156
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