The thavil is a barrel shaped percussion instrument from South India. It is used in Carnatic music, often accompanying the nadaswaram. The thavil and the nadaswaram are essential ingredients of traditional festivals and ceremonies in South India.
Thavil and its Components
The thavil is a cylindrical shell, hollowed out of a solid block of wood .On the 2 horizontal sides of the Thavil a membrane, called the ‘Thattu’ or ‘Mootu’, is stretched over the hamper hoops and tightly fastened to the shell by means of interlached leather string . The thickness of the wall of the shell varies from around 1/3 to 1/10 of an inch.
The right hand side is the more important side; it is the main playing head. The player uses his fingers to beat on this side to make music. This side is called the ‘Valandalai’. The left side is struck by a stick and this gives the rhythm. This side is called the ‘Idanthalai’.
The Thavil players wear small sheath like covering on their finaers for producting sound on the valandalai.This is called the ‘koodu’. A lengthy while piece of cloth is pasted with boiled rice or with a special gum made of maida flour and is wound round the fingers of the players. This was on ingenious method to make the dull soft sound in the beginning a louder one, after some time, because of the heat from their palms!
The stick is normally made by using the sandalwood, rose wood margasa, jackwood manga and the babool wood. Jackwood mango and the babool wood. Jackwood is used more often nowadays and is produced in jaffna. The stick is usually 12 inches long.
A band of leather passing round the shell along the middle over the braces serves to tighten the instrument to the desired pitch. This instrument comes with a thick cotton type materical called the ‘Nada’. It is of great help when there is a procession. The player is able to support the weight of the instrument by hanging it from his shoulders with the help of the ‘Nada’.
Other parallels to Thavil
The thavil consists of a cylindrical shell hollowed out of a solid block of jackfruit wood. Layers of animal skin (water buffalo on the right, goat on the left) are stretched across the two sides of the shell using hemp hoops attached to the shell. The right face of the instrument has a larger diameter than the left side, and the right drum head is stretched very tightly, while the left drum head is kept loose to allow pitch bending.
The instrument is either played while sitting, or hung by a cloth strap (called nadai) from the shoulder of the player. The right head is played with the right hand, wrist and fingers. The player usually wears thumb caps on all the fingers of the right hand, made of hardened glue from maida flour. The left head is played with a short, thick stick made from the wood of the portia tree. It is not uncommon for left-handed players to use the opposite hands, and some nadaswaram groups feature both a right- and a left-handed thavil player.
Age old works in sanskrit mention an instrument by the name ‘Dindima’, Which looks like the Thavil.
There are other instruments Which resemble the Thavil in other countries. There is a musical instrument, with a name close to being Thavil in the Middle East and the in the Far East.
In Arabia, an instrument called the ‘Tabala’ was prominent in Arabia even before the brith of Islam.
There is an instrument called the ‘Tapol’ in Thailand which mostly resembles the Thavil.
In ceylon a similar instrument was called by the name ‘Davala’. The Thavil also had another name in cevlon, ‘Yamabheri’. The Lord of Death, Yama, is the lord of this drum.
The Thavil is a great instrument and an important musical instrument in indian culture. Thavil veterans have preserved this tradition from its brith and have taken it to unbe3livable heights! The Thavil music is therefore not just any other instrument, but is an instrument that will delight even the ones with no sense of music!