DRUMS, large group of percussion instruments.

Structure. Persian drums can be classified in three families, according to structure.

The first group consists of tambourines, or wooden frame drums, of various dimensions. In antiquity they were frequently represented in a variety of contexts, though more such representations survive from western than from eastern Persia; they were beaten with the hand, rather than with sticks. The two principal types are the daff and dāyera, usually equipped with metallic rings on the interior face, and the more modern dāyera zangī, with small metallic disks.

The second group consists of drums with sound boxes covered with skin (or skins), which is struck with the fingers. There are two main types. First are the double-headed drums, cylindrical or barrel-shaped (e.g., the Azeri naqqāra, which is played on only one of the drumheads, and the Baluch doholak, which is played on both) or hourglass-shaped (the kūba, which has disappeared from the Persian cultural sphere, and perhaps the tabīra). They are always of wood and were frequently depicted (often being played by monkeys) until the 7th century in Bactria and Tokharistan and in Khotan as early as the 2nd century (Karomatov, Meskeris, and Vyzgo, pp. 89, 151). They seem to have disappeared from those regions after the 14th century and survive now only in Indian cultural areas. Single-headed drums constitute the second type; they have the shape of a goblet, like the Persian tombak (or żarb) and the Afghan zīrbaḡalī, and are made of wood or pottery. A small drum of this type, made of horn, has been found in kurgan II at Pazyryk (4th century B.C.E.; Karomatov, Meskeris, and Vyzgo, p. 53), but the type was rarely represented in wall paintings.

The third group encompasses those drums, also with sound boxes covered with skin, that are struck with drumsticks, either simple pieces of wood the striking ends of which are curved or covered with cloth. They include double-headed wooden drums (dohol, ṭabl, dammām), which are still played, and single-headed drums (like kettledrums) played singly or in pairs (e.g., the naqqāra, kūs, and tās of the Qāderī dervishes of Kurdistan and the Azeri qoša naqqāra) made of metal or pottery and sometimes of turned wood. In Persian miniatures they are depicted in different sizes (e.g., Gray, 1961, p. 43; idem, 1979, p 230 ill. 134) and are sometimes carried by camels; some appear to be as much as a meter high. Such illustrated drums doubtless correspond to some varieties known from texts (see below). This type was formerly used principally for military and ceremonial purposes, but it is going out of use at present.

Function. Drums used for art music (bazmī) are often distinguished from military instruments (razmī), though in practice this distinction can become blurred, as when military percussion instruments are played at religious festivals. The names of percussion instruments gathered from texts are very numerous and often difficult to identify with accuracy.

The best-known percussion instruments of the Persian cultural sphere are the double kettledrums (naqqāra) of metal or pottery, supposedly invented by the legendary king Hōšang (Farmer, 1937, p. 14); the kūs (< Aram. kūsā; Farmer, in A Survey of Persian Art, p. 2786 and n. 3; the kūs is mentioned in the Šāh-nāma, e.g., Borūḵīm ed., I, p., 76 vv. 256, 259, p. 91 v. 558), a type of enormous kettledrum often carried in pairs on the backs of camels or elephants (Farmer, 1966, p. 193) and also played in pairs; the dohol, a large double-headed drum played with sticks, which is the origin of the large European military drums (Koch, s.v.); the doholak, a two-faced, barrel-shaped drum played with the hand; the senj (large cymbals); the ḵom (or ḵonb), a war drum (Mašḥūn, p. 19), probably of pottery; and a smaller variant called ḵonbak (Caron and Savfate, p. 179).

Among rarer instruments were the tabīra mentioned in early sources (e.g., Šāh-nāma, Borūḵīm ed., p. 92 v. 559), a drum in the shape of an hourglass; the šandaf, a kind of dohol; the ṭabl-e bāz, a drum used for calling falcons; the jām, a large metal kettledrum; and the gūrga or gūrgā, a drum larger than the naqqāra and made of pottery covered with sheepskin (Farmer, 1966, p. 193; Mašḥūn, pp. 18, 22). G. H. Farmer (Survey of Persian Art, p. 2799; idem, 1966, p. 193) defined this last instrument, which he called korka or korga, as a “monster kettledrum” and the symbol of military power under the Il-khanids.

In addition, a number of instruments mentioned in texts cannot yet be defined with certainty or vary considerably. For example, ṭabl is currently used as a general term, but in Persia and neighboring lands it also refers to a small two-headed cylindrical drum played with sticks, a smaller version of the dohol. Two variants in Baluchistan are the raḥmānī and the smaller keysal (Rīāḥī, p. 7). Baluch women play the kunzag, a clay jar half filled with water. The kūba (or kūma, according to Mašḥūn, p. 21) is a drum shaped like an hourglass and is related to Central Asian drums (Koch, pp. 550-51), but, according to Emām Šūštarī (p. 154), the term kūba, derived from kūftan, also denoted the stick used to beat the drum. Such drums were also called fenjān. The ṭās, a small metal drum struck with two sticks, was used by the Qāderī order in Kurdistan (During, 1989, p. 255). The dammāma or dabdaba was a small double-headed drum from southern Persia, but the dammāma has been defined by Farmer (p. 2799) as a kettledrum. The tombak was, according to Farmer (1966, p. 193), a small kettledrum that varied in form and may have been the ancestor of the Arab tablak; the term seems later to have referred to a chalice-shaped drum of the żarb type made of pottery. The mandal and the mohrī (Mašḥūn, p. 21) have not been identified, nor have the āʾīn-e pīl, the darāʾī, and the qāšoqak; the last consists of two or three slightly concave pieces of wood connected by an elastic cord, making a sound somewhat like that of castanets (Joneydī, p. 232).


Bibliography: (For cited works not found in this bibliography and for abbreviations found here, see “Short References.”)

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

N. Caron and D. Safvate, Iran. Les traditions musicales, Paris, 1966.

J. During, Musique et mystique dans les traditions de l’Iran, Paris, 1989.

M.-ʿA. Emām Šūštarī, Īrān gāhvāra-ye dāneš o honar. Honar-e mūsīqī-e rūzgār-e eslāmī, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.

H. G. Farmer, “Ṭabl,” in EI1, Suppl., pp. 215-17.

Idem, Turkish Instruments of Music, London, 1937.

Idem, “An Outline History of Persian Music and Musical Theory,” in Survey of Persian Art III, pp. 2783-2804.

Idem, Islam. Musikgeschichte in Bildern III, 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1966.

B. Gray, Persian Painting, Geneva, 1961.

Idem, ed., The Arts of the Book in Central Asia, 14th-16th Centuries, Boulder, Colo., 1979.

F. Joneydī, Sarzamīna-ye šenāḵt-e mūsīqī-e īrānī, Tehran, 1361 Š./1982.

F. M. Karomatov, V. A. Meskeris, and T. S. Vyzgo, Mittelasien. Musikgeschichte in Bildern II, 9th ed., Leipzig, 1987.

K. P. Koch, “Persia,” in S. Sadie, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, London, 1980, pp. 549-52.

Ḥ. Mašḥūn, Naẓar-ī be mūsīqī-e żarbī-e Īrān, Shiraz, 1348 Š./1969, ʿA. Rīāḥī, Zār o bād o Balūč, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973.

(Jean During)

Originally Published: December 15, 1996

Last Updated: December 1, 2011

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Vol. VII, Fasc. 6, pp. 563-564