Significance of drums in Bhutan

The instrument, although no one knew how it came into existence, had served key purposes, religious as well as cultural.Lopen Sonam Bumdhen, from the central monastic body, said, from ancient Buddhist texts, one gets to learn that large drums were beaten from rooftop of king’s palaces to summon people in the kingdom. “Apart from that, these drums were beaten to threaten foes at war, sending an army to war, to celebrate victory, fame and to proclaim royal commands, among others,” he said.

Different kinds of drums, he said, are listed in the writings of the Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyeltshen (1182-1251), such as Damaru or Changteu (double-sided hand drum), Marudina Drima (drums with handles), Pranava or Kharnga (gong, drum of bell-metal) and Madala or Balnga (a Nepalese drum). “There is another kind of drum widely known in the country called choddrums,” he said.

Here, the practitioner is said to proclaim the sound of impermanence to summon the dakas and dakinis to the dance of ego annihilation.  It is also to invite spirits and ethereal beings to the great feast of the practitioner’s own body. Further, the appearance of a drum, be it small or large, signified the realisation of great bliss, clarity and awareness, Lopen Sonam Bumdhen added.

“The sound produced from the drum signifies the wisdom or the empty nature of all phenomena, or the absence of any truly concrete identity whatsoever,” he said. “The reverberating sound of the drum is a symbol and a reminder of the ever-enriching Buddhist values of compassion and love.” Director of the National Museum of Bhutan, Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi, said the drum dance in our culture signified three aspects.

“We perform various drum dances during the celebration of victory over the enemy of delusive thoughts within the mind, to invoke blessings from deities and subjugation of negative forces and enemies through compassion,” he said. Under the celebration of victory there are four sacred dances; Zhana Ngachham (black hat dance with drum), Ngaging (drum dance of Peling), Pachham (heroic dance) and Drametse Ngachham (drum dance from Drametse).

Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi also said there are three dances of invocation, namely Berchham (drum and cymbal dance), Rignga Chudrug  (dance of 16 fairies) and Ngachu (drum dance of 16 fairies). “However, there are two dances of subjugation, namely Ging Chham (wrathful dance) and Tsholing Chham (wrathful dance of Guru Dragpo),” he said. “In our culture, each drum has its own role and cultural significance,” he said. A cultural festival on traditional drumming in South Asia was held in Thimphu last week.

Courtesy: Kuensel