Rattle drum

Texts, photos, videos: © Patrick Kersalé 1998-2020, except special mention.


The rattle drum was an object used by religious officiants. Today, it is still played by Tibetan Buddhist monks in the form of a wooden hourglass reminiscent of the two skulls joined together by their summits, formerly in common use. 

 

No representation was noticed in Khmer iconography. Thanks to epigraphy, we know with certainty two Sanskrit names for the rattle drum - ḍamarin and ḍamaru - but not its name in Old Khmer.



The rattle drum in Asia

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”.

In Tibet, Buddhists use it during their ceremonies.

In Nepal, Newar Buddhists and street vendors in the Kathmandu Valley still use it.

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.

Frame rattle drums

We distinguish in Cambodia, for the Angkorian period, two types of rattle drums: frame ones and hourglass shape ones. A frame drum is a drum than thickness of the soundbox is less than its diameter. Their shape differs from the hourglass of Śiva-Naṭarāja. Their decor is truly Khmer and they have a handle. Several instruments of this type, in bronze, have come down to us whole or fragmented. Today they belong to institutions or private collections.

 

A frame rattle drum at the Russian Market (Phnom Penh)

The opposite instrument was on sale at the Russian market (phsaar Tuol Tom Pong) in Phnom Penh in 2012. Its exact provenance is unknown. Appraised by the National Museum of Cambodia, it was immediately reported to the seller on the pretext that it was a fake! We believe on the contrary that it is an authentic instrument given the relationship between the complexity of its manufacture and the ridiculous price at which it was offered. Indeed, when it is necessary to manufacture such an object, its cost is higher. Today it has disappeared from traffic but we have had time to photograph it.

 

Its top is adorned with a button-shaped lotus flower made up of thin bronze leaves superimposed like real petals. The center of the circumference of the soundbox is lined with bells. The two membranes were attached using a set of tubular loops. The top of the handle is decorated with two Naga. We do not see rings where the whipping balls should have been attached.


A frame rattle drum at the Vat Reach Bo (Siem Reap)

Another frame rattle drum belongs to the Vat Reach Bo archaeological museum in Siem Reap. Only the frame remains. In the central hole came a handle. Two surrounding rows of small holes allowed to nail the skin. Two rings secured to the soundbox received the whipping balls. It is referenced 2007-1-2129.

Proposal to reconstruct by Patrick Kersalé.
Proposal to reconstruct by Patrick Kersalé.

The frame rattle drum of the Musée Guimet

To our knowledge, the frame rattle drum of the Musée Guimet is the most prestigious known. It is surmounted by a large male figure seated cross-legged surrounded by four others, female and smaller, holding in their joined hands a budding lotus flower. The outside of the soundbox is decorated with rows of denticles. The two circular edges have a series of holes to nail the membranes. Two lateral rings forming the beak of two Garuda received the wires connected to the whipping balls. At the foot of each Garuda is a Naga.

Sounds of Angkor reconstructed this object in 2019-2020, drawing inspiration for the final assembly from the ḍamaru of the Bangkok National Museum.


The frame rattle drum of the National Museum of Bangkok

This Khmer instrument belongs to the National Museum of Bangkok. It is called glong banthoh (กลอง บัณเฑาะว์) in Thai.

The top part, the soundbox and part of the handle surmounted by four Garuda are in bronze. The piece between the soundbox and the top is made of wood, as is the fitted handle. The skin (goat or doe?) Is fixed with metal nails. The whipping balls consist of two polyhedral stones.

The set measures 57.5 cm.

To play, the officiant had to grasp the part including the Garuda and wave the balls in a rotational movement.

The hourglass-shaped rattle drum of the Vat Reach Bo (Siem reap)

A rare hourglass-shaped rattle drum belongs to the Vat Reach Bo archaeological museum in Siem Reap. Its surface is covered with lotus decorations. At present (2018), it has disappeared from the collections…

Hourglass rattle drum found in the Banteay Chhmar area. Vat Reach Bo, Siem Reap. Ref. 2007-1-2130 + 2132.
Hourglass rattle drum found in the Banteay Chhmar area. Vat Reach Bo, Siem Reap. Ref. 2007-1-2130 + 2132.