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Thavil (or Mealam), is a cylindrical shaped instrument of ancient Tamil origin. Traditionally the Thavil, often accompanying the Nathaswaram, are essential and used extensively at temples, folk music, carnatic concerts and other auspicious events such as weddings.
The cylindrical shell of the Thavil is hollowed out from a single block of Jackfruit wood which is about 16 inches in length and has a diameter of about 13.5 inches. The wood left to season for several years before the drum is constructed. Layers of animal skin are stretched acrosshoops traditionally made of hemp (a fibrous plant) and attached the two sides of the shell using hemp straps (Naar).
The right head is played with the right hand, palm, wrist and fingers. The player usually wears caps, called Koodu, on all the fingers of the right hand, made of hardened paper mache with glue made from wheat (Mmaida/Atta) flour. Modern finger caps are also made from very fine cement type material. The left head is played with a short, thick stick (Kutchi) usually made from the wood of the Portia (Poovarasam) tree. Other hard woods such as Jackfruit wood, Rosewood etc can also be used.
It is not uncommon for left-handed players to use the opposite hands. Some Nathaswaram groups feature both a right- and a left-handed Thavil player. The two heads, however, are still known by its common name (i.e. as it would be for a right-handed player).
In folk music contexts, a long thin stick made of bamboo is sometimes used on the right head. Thanjavur is most famous for the Thavil, which is said to have originated there millennia’s ago.
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