2013: I was meandering on the streets of Pushkar, dodging the army of photographers who had descended in locust proportions onto the city (Oh yeah, I was one of them too 😉 ) Nearing a large open field full of camels, the soft strains of a stringed instrument reached my ears and I started to look around for the source. The music was haunting and tragic, raising goosebumps on my arms.
A man was seated on the ground, strumming a rather strange-looking fiddle and his young son was at it too. I walked across and greeted him. He was happy to have an audience and smilingly acknowledged permission for me to photograph/ record him.
“Its called a Ravanhatha”, he informed me. Seeing my perplexed expression, he went on to explain it further as a founding base for the modern-day Violin and Viola (Latter I read up about later). Whoa!!!! now I was really impressed. It seemed this instrument had some links to the legendary Ravana (from Hindu epic Ramayana) and quite possibly could claim origins in Sri Lanka.
This unusual “pre-violin” has a bowl, usually fashioned out of a coconut shell and then clad with goat/camel hide. The neck is a “dandi” (stick) made out of bamboo and there are two main strings on it. Now this is the uniquest part about a RavanHatha – one string is made out of steel while the other is, hold your breathe – horse hair!!! There are also some bells / shells attached at the tail end which jingle in rhythm as the man strums it.
The man lovingly caressed his Ravanhatha and then tuned the strings to give me a performance to record. I was impressed to see his young son having a go at it too. They teach them young as its easier to pick and sustain their interest too. This is a dying tradition now with the modern-day advancements, but one can see many traditional dance and music performances in Rajasthan that employ these musicians. Otherwise one meets them at popular touristy spots, like I did in Jaisalmer too. There the gentleman also had pre-recorded CDs of Rajasthani music which I had purchased too.
I loved the colourful dress of this young child with the mirror work and embroidery – it’s a typical traditional wear of Rajasthani folks. He seemed to be struggling at first with his Ravanhatha but then played some festive strains of a popular folk song for me to easily recognise and applaud him.
I look forward to digging into the local crafts and traditions of India on my travels – be it dance, music, food, clothes or just a way of making the bed – its humbling to see them and learn the simplicity of life and beauty of it all. Pushkar with all its colors and hustle-bustle, is just a village town that comes alive during a rural fair that has been made into a huge photo-op by the city slickers but is actually a way of life and business for these folks. Maybe the big towners do help generate some money via tourism but the mainstay of life here is buying and selling cattle and farm produce.
I loved wandering on the streets of Pushkar and clicked many a coloured stalls, which maybe I will write about someday in another worthwhile post!!!
For now, leaving you with a rendition of his playing and look forward to hearing what you think of it!
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
– Ibn Battuta –
- Pushkar is a town made popular by its camel fair which takes place on the month of November every year.
- RavanHatha is a traditional veena, made popular by the royalty in Rajasthan and to some extent, Gujarat too.
The post on S is simmering for a bit, lets see what gets cooked up
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