Rattle drum

The rattle drum was an object used by religious officiants. Nowadays, it is still used by Tibetan Buddhist monks in the form of a wooden hourglass recalling the two cranial skins united by their summit, formerly in common use. In Nepal, Newar Buddhists and street vendors in the Kathmandu Valley still use them.

No representation has been noticed in the Khmer iconography. Thanks to the epigraphy, we know with certainty two Sanskrit names of the rattle drum - ḍamarin or ḍamaru - but not its denomination in Old Khmer.



Attribute of the Hindu god Śiva, the rattle drum, also called whipping balls drum, appears in one of his hands when it is represented in its cosmic aspect Śiva-Naṭarāja or "King of the dance".

Tibetan monk begs with his wooden rattle drum and his vajra bell. Nepal. Photo © Brigitte Blot
Tibetan monk begs with his wooden rattle drum and his vajra bell. Nepal. Photo © Brigitte Blot
Śiva-Naṭarāja or "King of the dance", dancing in the posture of nadānta tāṇḍava after the submission of the heretical sages of the forest of Tāragam. Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam.
Śiva-Naṭarāja or "King of the dance", dancing in the posture of nadānta tāṇḍava after the submission of the heretical sages of the forest of Tāragam. Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam.

Several bronze instruments have come down to us in complete or partial fashion. They now belong to private institutions or collections. Their physiognomy differs from the hourglass drum of Śiva- Naṭarāja. These are drums with handle. The decor is truly Khmer. The one of the Musée Guimet is surmounted by a large, cross-legged male figure surrounded by four smaller female figures holding a lotus flower in their buds. The exterior of the resonance box is ornamented with four rows of denticles. The two circular peripheries comprise a series of small holes allowing the fixing of the membranes. Two lateral rings received the small cords connected to the whipping balls.

Bronze rattle drum. Angkor era. Musée Guimet. Paris.
Bronze rattle drum. Angkor era. Musée Guimet. Paris.
Bronze rattle drum. Its provenance and authenticity are not proven. Angkor era (?).
Bronze rattle drum. Its provenance and authenticity are not proven. Angkor era (?).

A fragmented bronze drum-rattle belongs to the archaeological collection of Vat Bo in Siem Reap. Only the framework remains. A hole on which a handle was fixed. All the other functional elements previously described are present. Bronze rattle drum. Its provenance and authenticity is not proven.

Bronze rattle drum discovered in the Banteay Chhmar area. Wat Bo coll., Siem Reap. Ref. 2007- 1-2129.
Bronze rattle drum discovered in the Banteay Chhmar area. Wat Bo coll., Siem Reap. Ref. 2007- 1-2129.
Proposal for reconstitution of the bronze rattle drum ref. 2007-1-2129 by Patrick Kersalé
Proposal for reconstitution of the bronze rattle drum ref. 2007-1-2129 by Patrick Kersalé

Another bronze rattle drum, hourglass-shaped, belongs to the archaeological collection of Wat Bo in Siem Reap. Its surface is covered with floral decors. At present (2018), he has disappeared from the collections ...

Hourglass-shaped rattle drum discovered in the Banteay Chhmar area. Wat Bo Coll., Siem Reap. Ref. 2007-1- 2130 + 2132.
Hourglass-shaped rattle drum discovered in the Banteay Chhmar area. Wat Bo Coll., Siem Reap. Ref. 2007-1- 2130 + 2132.