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Title: Dalada Maligawa, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 9 December 2009; performer unidentified, horanåva. Format: DVC. Catalogue#: Vetter SL-4.

Contextual Associations

The Sinhalese Sri Lankan quadruple-reed aerophone horanǟva is employed in three main musical contexts: hewisi puja (or sabda puja), festive processions called perahera, and kolam theatre. Hevisi puja, sometimes translated as ‘homage of the drums,’ is an offering of sound made thrice daily in the services of Bhuddist temples. The horanǟva is a main instrument in this practice, along with a pair of drums (daule and tammatta). The hevisi puja ensemble often leads spectacular temple-sponsored perahera processions (fascinating mixture of Hindu and Buddhist elements) that include a number of other music, dance and acrobatic components. Kolam is a Sinhalese masked theatre performance associated with areas of lowland Southwestern Sri Lanka. The horanǟva, the yak bera drum, and a chorus of young female singers are also standard ensemble members for kolam. At least in the central upland region of Sri Lanka in and around the cultural capital of Sinhalese Buddhists, the hewisi puja ensemble is made up of horanǟva players and drummers from the Berava (or Beruva) caste, a hereditary social group of low status.


The horanǟva is a quadruple-reed oboe. See the detail image for a side-by-side comparison of a quadruple reed and the more familiar double reed. The reed is comprised of cane and thread, the latter of which doubles to shape the reed and act as a ligature. A copper staple (tube) is built into the body of the instrument abutting a lip plate. The wooden body (can also be made from ivory; see second gallery image for another horanǟva with an ivory body) tapers outwards as it extends towards a brass bell attached at the bottom. A line of seven equidistantly-spaced fingerholes runs down the length of the body. A decorative pattern of etched rings adorns the body and bell.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

To produce a sound, the musician cups his lips around the reed creating a seal up against the lip plate. By blowing through the reed, its blades are excited into a concussive motion, the frequency of which determines the pitch of a note. The player may then manually shorten or lengthen the reedpipe by opening or closing its fingerholes. The horanǟva has a high, penetrating sound due to the timbre of the quadruple-reed (watch and listen to the video clip). The lowest note produced is always near A4. A horanǟva player will embellish a series of set, skeletal melodic patterns and is the only melodic instrument in the hevisi (temple band).


The horanǟva most likely travelled to Sri Lanka from mainland Southeastern Asian and is ostensibly the Sinhalese quadruple reed version of the Indian sahnai, reengineered with indigenous materials as evidenced by contemporary designs.

Bibliographic Citations

Reed, Susan. 2009. Dance and the Nation: Performance, Ritual, and Politics in Sri Lanka. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Seneviratna, Anuradha. 1979. "Pancaturya Nada and the Hewisi Puja," Ethnomusicology 23/1: 49-56.

Sheeran, Anne. 2000. "Sri Lanka." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.5. ed. Terry E. Miller and Sean Williams. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 954-974.

________. "Sri Lanka." In Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/26484 (accessed May 18, 2012).

Webber, Natalie M. 1984. “Horanǟva.” NGDMI v.2: 232.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: South Asia

Nation: Sri Lanka

Formation: Sinhalese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

422.112.2 aerophone--single conical-bore reedpipe with double (or quadruple) reed: the pipe has a reed (usually a flattened stem) of paired lamellae which periodically open and close, controlling the flow of air; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - conical with flaring open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: exposed concussion (multiple) reed

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


11.5 in. length 3.9 in. diameter of bell rim .62 in. width of reed

Primary Materials

reed - cane

Entry Author

Gaelyn Hutchinson