The Thavil or Tavil is a barrel shaped drum from Tamil Nadu. It is used in temple, folk and Carnatic music, often accompanying the nadaswaram. The thavil and the nadaswaram are essential components of traditional festivals and ceremonies in South India.

Velliyambakkam VM Palanivel playing thavil – note that thavil sides are reversed, as the player is left handed. In folk music contexts, a pair of wider, slimmer sticks is sometimes used. Thanjavur is famous for thavil, so called Thanjavur Thavil. In Kollywood Filmi songs thavils
are mostly used, Notable movies: “Thillaanaa Mohanambal”, “Paruthiveeran”, “Karagattakaran”.


Thavil is a traditional musical instrument of the ancient city of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. It is an integral part of the Carnatic music in Thanjavur.

Physical components

The thavil consists of a cylindrical shell hollowed out of a solid block of jackfruit wood. Layers of animal skin (water buffalo on the right, goat on the left) are stretched across the two sides of the shell using hemp hoops attached to the shell. The right face of the instrument has a larger diameter than the left side, and the right drum head is stretched very tightly, while the left drum head is kept loose to allow pitch bending. The larger face is higher in pitch than the smaller face.

Methods of use / Posture

The instrument is either played while sitting, or hung by a cloth strap (called nadai) from the shoulder of the player. The right head is played with the right hand, wrist and fingers. The player usually wears thumb caps on all the fingers of the right hand, made of hardened glue from maida flour. The left head is played with a short, thick stick made from the wood of the portia tree. It is not uncommon for left-handed players to use the opposite hands, and some nadaswaram groups feature both a right- and a left-handed thavil player.

Veteran thavilists

Some master thavil players:

1. Valangaiman A. Shanmugasundaram Pillai
2. Kalaimamani Thirucherai.T.G.Muthukumaraswamy Pillai
3. Valayapatti A.R. Subramaniam
4. Haridwaramangalam A. K. Palanivel
5. Thedchanamoorthy – Jaffna
6. Needamangalam Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai
7. Thirunageshwaram Subramaniana Pillai
8. Bhusurapalli Adiseshaiah
9. Iluppur Panchami
10. Kumbakonam Thangavel Pillai
11. Natchiarkoil Raghava Pillai
12. Needamangalam Shanmugavadivel
13. Valangaiman Shanmugasundaram Pillai
14. Thiruvalaputhur T A Kaliyamurthy
15. Tanjore T R Govindaraj
16. Kovilur K.V.Palanivel an eminent Thavil vidwan and professor
17. Thirucherai T.G.M.Radhakrishnan
18. Thirurameshwaram
19. P Karunakaran Polur Thavil & Thabela Vidwan and Manufacturing
20. Karuna Murthy
21. Muthukumaran.S