Drums to the beat of culture

Drums in Bhutan are mainly used for three purposes. It is used in celebration of victories like ‘Black Hat Dance’ and ‘Drum Dance’. When all else fails, shamans use drums to invocate blessings of the enlightened ones and when there is a need to subjugate and dispel negative forces from the community or individual lives.

So, said Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi, Director of the National Museum of Bhutan.

Drums as narrated by Khenpo Phuntsok is the oldest form of musical instrument that existed even before the coming of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the year 1616 and beating of drums today ‘resonates the culture’.

In the making of drums, animal hides are used for drum heads and taking into consideration the Buddhist context, it leans toward sinful practices. A justification offered here is that sins that animal commit unknowingly are ‘purified’ as drums are only used for spiritual enhancements in Bhutan.

“In Bhutanese culture we use drums not for entertainment but only for spiritual enhancement and nothing else. Using animal hide is not at all a sin when it is understood that it erases the sins of the animals which it might have done unknowingly,” said the Director of the National Museum of Bhutan.

Be that as it may commercialization of such products or materials should not be encouraged for it can be construed as greed and ignorance.

Asked if Bhutanese are losing the culture of drums, Khenpo urged that creative minds must accept them and fuse them with local culture and ‘conceive our own music’. He is also hopeful that each people will have their own perception of life and time that itself will make sense that intrinsic mode of life and time will retain.

Professor K.N.O Dharmadara, pioneer of linguistics in Sri Lanka and scholar of international repute said drums are the oldest form of musical instrument which was prevalent since the 3rd century.

He said drums are used to express one’s feelings when it comes to religion and devotion to god through such arts like music and paintings.

He complemented that “Bhutan has a rich tradition of drumming”.

Meanwhile, scholars and traditionalist presented their perspective and views in all possible forms which included ‘pulsating culture through drums’ and ‘socio cultural aspects of Sri Lanka drumming’ in a SAARC Drumming festival in Thimphu from 1 December to 4 December.


Puran Gurung /Thimphu

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