DOTĀR, long-necked lute of the tanbūr family, usually with two strings (do tār). Several different types are current in the area between Turkey and Central Asia, sometimes with other names (generally derived from the word tanbūr). The principal feature is the pear-shaped sound box attached to a neck that is longer than the box and faced with a wooden soundboard. Dotārs can be classified in several different types.

The Central Asian dotār is the largest (total length ca. 125 cm) and is equipped with two silken strings; the box is made of wooden strips glued together (Plate XLV). It is tuned in fifths, in fourths, and sometimes in unison. Its sonority is grave and noble, and it is as suitable for accompanying popular songs as for solos and interpretation of the classical repertoire (e.g., Šaš maqām, Oniki muqam).

The dotār of Khorasan (in the broad sense) is narrower and shorter (total length ca. 100-10 cm); it was formerly strung with silk or gut, materials that in the 20th century have been supplanted by steel. It is tuned in fifths or fourths. The box is carved from a single mulberry log, and the neck is often fitted with metallic frets, sometimes of silver. This dotār is played by the Turkman, Karakalpaks, Turks, Kurds, and Persians, as well as the Afghans, of Khorasan (Plate XLVI). It is the favored instrument of the troubadours (baḵšī) and is also played as a solo instrument. It has a very light, brilliant timbre, and the technique of playing it is based on ornamentation, basically a very rapid tremolo. Several subcategories can be distinguished, corresponding to the various ethnic traditions in the region (Baily and During). A close variation is the Kurdish and Lorī tanbūr, the sharp cord of which has recently been doubled (Plate XXXVI, above).

The sound box and neck of the dotār (or dombra) used in the popular music of Tajikistan are carved from a single piece of apricot wood. There are no frets, and the gut (or nylon) strings are no more than 60 cm long, the total length of the instrument being 75 cm (Sakata, p. 72). In contrast to the other types, its sounding board is of poplar wood, rather than mulberry.

The dotār of Herat has undergone certain recent modifications. The gut strings have often been replaced by metal ones, and a third string has been added. In the 1960s, under the influence of Indian instruments, strings for resonance and a drone bass were added, which led to a change in the technique of playing (with a metal pick) and to a change in proportions (Baily, pp. 31-33).

The musical function of the dotār determines its status. In the province of Herat it has been relegated to the array of rustic instruments, but in Persian Khorasan it retains its former nobility, especially in Torbat-e Jām, one of the great musical centers of the region. It is often richly decorated with inlays, marquetry of bone and horn, and silver niello.

Despite differences in proportions, sonority, and manufacture, all the dotārs (except the modern Afghan instrument) and many other tanbūrs and dombras share one common feature: When played the two strings are plucked simultaneously in a single movement of the entire hand, including the index finger and one or several other fingers, without a plectrum or metal sheath, in such a way that the accented notes are sounded from high to low. This basic technique has been refined to varying degrees, incorporating different kinetic-rhythmic patterns and fingerings and reaching a consummation in the Tajik-Uzbek tradition.

The term dotār does not appear in early texts, but it is probable that this same instrument was described under the term tanbūr. In the 14th century Marāḡī (1367 Š./1988, pp. 200-01) described a two-string tanbūr that was tuned in fourths and equipped with ten frets (dasātīn), producing the Pythagorean scale based on limma and comma; he doubtless drew his description from Ṣafī-al-Dīn Ormavī. Marāḡī also described two other two-string tanbūrs (the torkī and the šervānī).

It may be supposed that the original tanbūr, which, with the ʿūd, occupied the central position in early musicological writings (especially those of Farābī), gave rise to variations with three or more strings, called tanbūr, setār, čahārtār, and so on and that the two-string type was then distinguished by the more popular term dotār (or dombra).

This type of instrument is rarely represented in pre-Islamic art, though there are innumerable representations of the barbaṭ (Karomatov, Meskeris, and Vyzgo, pp. 92-93) and later of the ʿūd. To judge from medieval miniature paintings, the dotār or two-stringed tanbūr lost its place among the classical instruments of Persia for a considerable period, doubtless supplanted by the setār, which is represented frequently.

For a music sample, see Harāy-āhang-e bolbol.

For a music sample, see Ilāri.

For a music sample, see Ḵorasan - Dekr Hāji Majnun Šāh.

For a music sample, see Köroğlu.

For a music sample, see Sanandaj – Dekr Qāderieh.


J. Baily, Music of Afghanistan. Professional Musicians in the City of Herat, Cambridge, 1988.

Idem and J. During, “Dutār,” in S. Sadie, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, London, 1984, s.v. Dotār. Central Asia. The Masters of the Dotār (compact disk with booklet), Geneva, 1993.

F. M. Karomatov, V. A. Meskeris, and T. S. Vyzgo, Mittelasien, Musik-geschichte in Bildern 2/9, Leipzig, 1987.

ʿAbd-al-Qāder b. Ḡaybī Marāḡī, Maqāṣed al-alḥān, ed. T. Bineš, Tehran, 2536=1356 Š./1977.

Idem, Jāmeʿ al-alḥān, ed. T. Bineš, Tehran, 1367 Š./1988.

L. Sakata, “Afghan Musical Instruments. The Dambura,” Afghanistant Journal 5/4, 1978, pp. 170-52.

Idem, “Afghan Musical Instruments. The Dotar and Tanbur,” Afghanistan Journal 5/4, 1978b, pp. 150-52.

[Plate numbers in this entry have been corrected; the numbers given in the print edition's version of the entry are in error.]

(Jean During)

Originally Published: December 15, 1995

Last Updated: February 27, 2013

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 5, pp. 524-526