Online Encyclopedia

RAVANASTRON

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 922 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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RAVANASTRON, an Indian stringed instrument played with a bow, used by wandering pilgrims. A Hindu tradition affirms that the musical bow was invented before 3000 B.C. by Ravanon, king of Ceylon, and that the instrument for which he invented it was named after him Ravanastron.1 Judging from precedent, it is probable that the ravanastron of the present day has changed little, if at all, for many centuries. It consists of half a round gourd, over which is fixed a sound-board of skin or parchment; to this primitive body without incurvation is attached a neck about twice the length of the body. The strings are either one or four in number, the pegs being set in the sides of the neck. The bridge is primitive and either straight or slightly arched, so that in bowing more than one string sounds at once. The ravanastron is regarded by some writers as the first ancestor of the violin, on account of the alleged invention of the bow for use with it. This theory can only be accepted by those who consider the bow, which after all was common to such inferior instruments as the rebec, as of paramount importance, and the structural features of the instrument itself, the box sound-chest with ribs, which have always belonged to the most artistic types of instruments, such as the cithara and the guitar-fiddle, as of secondary importance. (K. S.)
End of Article: RAVANASTRON
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Additional information and Comments

This article seems to suffer from a few inaccuracies. The correct name of the king was 'Ravan' and not 'Ravanon' - refer to any ancient Sanskrit Text such as the Ramayana. I Sanskrit grammar, the suffiz 'am' (here referred to as 'on') is used for inanimate objects only. For masculine nouns (such as 'Ravan', the correct suffix is 'aha' or 'uha' ('u' as in 'but')). Secondly, 'Ravanastron' (referred to in this article) is not a proper word in Sanskrit at all. As used in this article, it appears to be a compound ('Sandhi' in Sanskrit) of two words - 'Ravana' and 'Astram' (incorrectly changed to 'astron' in the article). 'Astram' means 'instrument', 'implement', 'tool' or 'weapon'. Care must be talek to note, however, that its meaning 'instrument', does not mean 'musical instrument'. Thirdly, there is not a single ancient or medieval musical text in Sanskrit that contains a reference to 'Ravanostron'. This strange word seems to be a concoction from a less-than'authentic source. In the folklore of western India, there is reference to a bowed instrument known as 'Ravanhatta'. 'Hatta' refers to something used (or played) with the hands. 'Ravan', of course, is the name of the King of Lanka, of Ramayana fame. The exact location of Lanka is still the subject of debate, with the people of modern day Sri Lanka (erstwhile Ceylon) claiming that island was the Lanka of Ramayana. But other scholars have advocated other places (such as the land to the south of the confluence of Ganga and Jamuna in central India) as Lanka. Anyway, it is not the location of Lanka that is the subject of this article, so this interesting debate is not persued here. What is interesting is that Ravanhatta is a bowed stringed instrument and there is a bowed stringed instrument used even today in rural Rajasthan of India people still call Ravanhatta.
The ravanhattha has just one playing string, made of horse hair, on the right side of the instrument. There is also a metal reference string on the left side. The playing string passes over the bridge. The (up to 13) additional metal strings pass through the bridge and are sympathetic i.e. they are not bowed or stopped but resonate in sympathy with the playing string. Several strings are not bowed at the same time as stated here.
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