The Ravanahatha (variant names: ravanhatta, rawanhattha, ravanastron, ravana hasta veena) is an ancient bowed violin, once popular in Western India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It is an ancient Indian stringed musical instrument on which western stringed musical instruments such as the violin and viola were later based.
The ravanahatha is believed by the Sinhalese to have originated among the Hela civilization of Sri Lanka during the time of the demon king Ravana. The bowl is made of a cut coconut shell that is covered with goat hide. A Dandi, made of bamboo, is attached to this shell. The two principle strings are made of steel and horsehair, respectively. The long bow has jingle bells. In India, the origin of Violin is traced into the Ravanastrom. This instrument is said to have belonged to a sovereign of India in 5000 BC. It is similar to the ancient instrument called ravanhatha, which is found even today in Rajasthan. Mythology credits this creation to Ravana from Ramayana. The ravanhatha was played on one string which was 22 inches long encompassing the 3 Octaves. Whereas the Violin encompasses the 3 octaves on 4 strings with a finger board which is 5 1/4th inches long. This 5 1/4th when multiplied by 4 is 22 inches which was the size of the Ravan Hatta. Both are played with a bow. Throughout the history of Medieval India, the kings were patrons of music; this helped in increased popularity of ravanhatha among royal families. In Rajasthan and Gujarat, it was the first musical instrument to be learned by princes. The Sangit tradition of Rajasthan further helped in popularizing ravanhatta among ladies as well.
According to legend, Ravana was an ardent devotee of the Hindu god Shiva, and served him using the ravanahatha. In the Hindu Ramayana epic, after the war between Rama and Ravana, Hanuman picked up a ravanahatha and returned to North India. In India, the ravanahatha is still played in Rajasthan. From India, the ravanahatha traveled westwards to the Middle East and Europe, where in the 9th century, it came to be called the Ravan strong. Some use to say that the Ravanahatha brought from Sri Lanka to India by Lord Hanuman.
Migration to the West and the basis for the violin
Arab traders to India carried the ravanhatha with them between the seventh and the tenth centuries. Through these trading routes, it reached Arabia, and subsequently the Mediterranean. In Spain, Italy and Europe, it served as the basis for stringed instruments used in western classical music, the viola and the violin. 
In modern times, the instrument has been revived by Sri Lankan composer and violinist Dinesh Subasinghe and used in several of his compositions, including Rawan Nada and the Buddhist oratorio Karuna Nadee.
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- Media related to Ravanahatha at Wikimedia Commons