Popular Musical Instruments in Sri Lanka

Previously called Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a tropical island paradise situated near the southern tip of India and close to the equator that has drawn various travelers and traders throughout the ages. Though it is quite small, the country goes by a number of names like Island of Dharma and Teardrop of India. In addition, the land is beautiful and welcoming to visitors. Many people are surprised how culturally diverse Sri Lanka is. The cultural landscape is filled with colorful rituals, a most outstanding feature of the cultural landscape and a great part of the landscape is music and the many musical instruments involved.

The Different Instruments Played In Sri Lanka

The different types of musical instruments played by bare hands such as drums and Dawla and bells, instruments played by hand-held sticks like the Thammettama, and instruments played by blowing wind like flutes are still a part of the loveliness of Sri Lankan cultural music. The meaning behind these types of instruments differ from the explanations of Indian music since Sri Lanka instruments incorporate their specific definitions carried over from generation to generation.

Outside the unique instruments familiar to the Sri Lankan culture it self, these instruments are wonderful to own whether one resides in Sri Lanka or not. Learning to play them is quite easy; it’s just a matter of being in step with the distinctive rhythms each instrument creates. Even used music instruments can be found that still carry the special sound they are known for.

The History Of Music In Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka foundations in music come from the art and sounds from nature. The beautifully harmonic music in Sri Lanka started from emulating the sounds of birds and other wild animals. For example, the North Indian music notes of Ni, Da, Pa, Ma, Ga, Ri, and Sa, were indicative of the sounds of the elephant, horse, kowula, tern, goat, cow, and peacock. Music was not simply a means of entertainment; it became a part of daily life as well. For instance, a type of folk poetry called “Pa Kavi” is still used in rural areas for protecting the crops of farmers.

Most Recognizable Instruments In Sri Lanka

Geta Berays (Wedding Drum):
Due to the left side of the drum, which is made out of cow skin, and the right of the drum, which is made from monkey skin, the “wedding drum” resonates two differing sounds. It’s played during ceremonial events and is played with free hands.

Horanewa:
The Horanewa is also well-known as Sri Lanka’s interpretation of the oboe. The Horanewa is made from elephant tusk with the back decorated with brass. The base is punctured with tiny holes to allow differing pitches to resonate.

Thammattama:
This double-faced, flat drum is made from the root of the Kithul tree or any timber that is suitable. The person playing the drum strikes this double surfaced instrument on top with sticks, dissimilar to traditional drums where the sound generates from drumming on the sides.

Sri Lankan Drums

Drums play a key role in religion. Though music was initially used for man’s entertainment, it was also used in devotion to God. Important events like the Perehares of Sri Lanka include the sound of drums. Farmers use various types of drums like the Uddakki, Bummadi, and others, when harvesting their crops. Much of the folklore in Sri Lanka includes the sound of drums.

Other unique drums of Sri Lanka include the Udakkiya. This instrument is approximately one foot long and shaped like a sand-clock. This beautifully sounding instrument is played with two sticks called “Walayan.” The sound can be modified by applying pressure to the twine with a bound cloth.

The Rabana is around one foot wide. It is made from wood with leather stretched over the rim and hammered with nails. The Rabana is the instrument of choice for dancing among several other versions used for various occasions.

The Bummadiya is designed from clay in the form of a “kala gediya.” A type of pot used to carry water. The Bummadiya is used by farmers when harvesting paddy. This is also known as “kalaberaya” or “kalaham.”

Sri Lankan Blowing Instruments

Bata Nalawa is a flute type instrument designed with blocking on one end. Seven holes are carved into the base of the stick. Similar to the Bata Nalawa, the Horanewa or Clarinet is made from the horn of the cow or the teeth of the elephant. The backend is adorned with brass. The side used for blowing is small and the opposite end is large. The base is pierced with tiny holes in order to permit the musician to modify the pitch using their fingers. Other blowing instruments in Sri Lanka are the Kombuwa and the Hak Gediya.

Sri Lankan String Instruments

The Ravanahatha is a basic violin made from goatskin, bamboo, and coconut shell, with an organic fiber used for a string. Sheep along with coconut wood are used as well. In fact, the Ravanahatha is acknowledged as the first “stringed instrument” to be played with a bow; therefore, it is labeled as the world’s first violin. The instrument was taken by Hanuman and transported to north India, where it is still played today. From India, the instrument made its way westward into Europe and the Middle East, where during the ninth-century it was known as the “ravanastron.” From the eleventh century and beyond, the Ravanahatha would go through many changes before it became the contemporary violin in 16th century Italy. A well-known musician on the music scene in Sri Lanka is determined to make the Ravanahatha a highly sought after instrument in today’s highly charged music world.

The Sri Lankan Music Scene Takes A Leap

From the early 1970s, the Sri Lanka people have invited the concept of rock music into their lives. Much credit goes to pianist Nimal Goonawardane and several others. Pianos, guitars and other popular instruments are all part of Sri Lankan modern day instruments used on the rock music scene. Sri Lanka has a progressive radio program as well.