Thavil is the accompanying percussion instrument for Nagaswaram. Thavil and Nagaswaram duo is an essential component in a Tamil wedding. It is said to be one of the fourteen instruments mentioned in the Tamil epic Silapathikaram. Traditionally this instrument was made from Ebony (Karungali), Redwood or Margosa wood. Today, the instrument is mostly made from Jackwood.
The body of the Thavil is a hollow cylinder made from a solid block of wood. Similar to that of the Mridangam, Thavil has a treble side and a bass side, held together by straps. Although traditionally, these straps were made from buffalo skin, in recent times it has been shifted to metal straps fitted to the shell with bolts. Tuning the leather strapped Thavil is a cumbersome process and is extremely difficult, and hence the migration to metal straps was welcomed by most.
The instrument is hung from the neck with two special bands attached to rings on the Thavil called ‘Vendayams’. The treble side of the Thavil is played with fingers, while the bass side is played with a special stick called ‘Thavil Kazhi’.