Barrel drums

Barrel drums are instruments whose diameter in the centre is greater than the diameter of the ends. Those of which we are speaking about are of small size, carried and played by the musician himself.

In general, these instruments are represented on bas-reliefs in real or mythological situations. They have two membranes each of which is supposed to produce a sound of different height. Their tension is achieved by a lacing system made of leather or vegetable fiber passing alternately by each of the skins. Traditional tuning is carried out either with movable wooden cylinders interposed between the tensioners and the drum, or with movable rings sliding along the links, or again with rice paste mixed with various Ingredients and stuck to the center of each membrane.



In Cambodia, the first barrel drums known through iconography appear in the 7th century on the lintel of Wat Ang Khna (Sambor Prei Kuk site).

Lintel of Wat Ang Khna. 7th c. National Museum of Cambodia.
Lintel of Wat Ang Khna. 7th c. National Museum of Cambodia.

A high relief located to the north of the Terrace of Yama (also called 'of the Leper King') shows a knife-swallower accompanied by a woman striking a small barrel drum and another playing cymbals. The instrument is held by a strap passing around the hips.

Knife-swallower at the foot of the Terrace of Yama also called Terrace of the Leper King. 13th c.
Knife-swallower at the foot of the Terrace of Yama also called Terrace of the Leper King. 13th c.

On a lintel of Banteay Srei, a drummer animates the dance of God Śiva with two drums of different sizes placed vertically with a slight inclination. In this case, the two sound of different heights are produced by two distinct drums. These two instruments seem to take the place of the symbolic drum-rattle ḍamaru or ḍamarin, one of the attributes of Śiva.

Shiva's dance. The tambourine is at the bottom right. Banteay Srei. 11th c.
Shiva's dance. The tambourine is at the bottom right. Banteay Srei. 11th c.
Couple of barrel drums placed vertically and struck by bare hands. Banteay Srei. 11th c.
Couple of barrel drums placed vertically and struck by bare hands. Banteay Srei. 11th c.

In the north gallery of Angkor Wat (16th century), barrel drums of various sizes appear in play position: suspended around the neck with or without support, laid on the floor protected by their support. They are beaten with bare hands. Some show perfectly the lacing of the membranes, others not because the sculpture is sometimes purified.

Barrel drum on support. Krishna's victory over the Asura Bāna. 16th c.
Barrel drum on support. Krishna's victory over the Asura Bāna. 16th c.
Barrel drum skor sampho on support. Notice the device of quick tuning in the center of the skin. Blu-tack replace today the rice paste. Cambodia.
Barrel drum skor sampho on support. Notice the device of quick tuning in the center of the skin. Blu-tack replace today the rice paste. Cambodia.
Barrel drum on support with lotus decoration. Angkor Wat, north gallery. Krishna's victory over the Asura Bāna. 16th c.
Barrel drum on support with lotus decoration. Angkor Wat, north gallery. Krishna's victory over the Asura Bāna. 16th c.