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By: Professor Jean During



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Bakhtiari Naqqara



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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 Iran; they were beaten with the hand, rather than with sticks. The two principal types are the daff and dâyera (q.v.), usually equipped with metallic rings on the interior face, and the more modern dâyera zangî, 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, based on Achaemenid prototype was known as Kūs (e.g., the Bakhtiari as well as Azari naqqâra, which is played on only one of the drumheads, and the Baluch doholak, which is played on both) or hourglass-shaped (the kûba, which has disappeared from the Persian cultural sphere, and perhaps the tabîra). 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 zarb) and the Afghan zîrbaghalî, 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, tabl, dammâm), which are still played, and single-headed drums (like kettledrums) played singly or in pairs (e.g., the naqqâra, kûs, and tâs of the Qâderî dervishes of Kurdistan and the Azari qoša naqqâra) 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.



Drums used for art music (bazmî) are often distinguished from military instruments (razmî), 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 (naqqâra) of metal or pottery, supposedly invented by the legendary king Hôšang (Farmer, 1937, p. 14); the kûs (< Aram. kûsâ; Farmer, in A Survey of Persian Art, p. 2786 and n. 3; the kûs is an Achaemenid origin, and was mentioned in the Š, e.g., Borûkhîm ed., I, p., 76 vv. 256, 259, p. 91 v. 558), a type of enormous double-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 khom (or khonb), a war drum (Mašhûn, p. 19), probably of pottery; and a smaller variant called khonbak (Caron and Savfate, p. 179).

Among rarer instruments were the tabîra mentioned in early sources (e.g., Š, Borûkhîm ed., p. 92 v. 559), a drum in the shape of an hourglass; the š, a kind of dohol; the tabl-e bâz, a drum used for calling falcons; the jâm, a large metal kettledrum; and the gûrga or gûrgâ, a drum larger than the naqqâra and made of pottery covered with sheepskin (Farmer, 1966, p. 193; Mašhûn, 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, tabl 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 rahmânî and the smaller keysal (Rîâhî, p. 7). Baluch women play the kunzag, a clay jar half filled with water. The kûba (or kûma, according to Mašhûn, p. 21) is a drum shaped like an hourglass and is related to Central Asian drums (Koch, pp. 550-51), but, according to Emâm Šûštarî (p. 154), the term kûba, derived from kûftan, also denoted the stick used to beat the drum. Such drums were also called fenjân. The tâs, a small metal drum struck with two sticks, was used by the Qâderî order in Kurdistan (During, 1989, p. 255). The dammâma or dabdaba was a small double-headed drum from southern Persia, but the dammâma 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 zarb type made of pottery. The mandal and the mohrî (Mašhûn, p. 21) have not been identified, nor have the â`în-e pîl, the darâ`î, and the qâšoqak; 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 (Joneydî, p. 232).





(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.-´A. Emâm Šûštarî, Îrân gâhvâra-ye dâneš o honar. Honar-e mûsîqî-e rûzgâr-e eslâmî, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969. 

H. G. Farmer, "Tabl," 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. Joneydî, Sarzamîna-ye šenâkht-e mûsîqî-e îrânî, 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. 

H. Mašhûn, Nazar-î be mûsîqî-e zarbî-e Îrân, Shiraz, 1348 Š./1969, 

´A. Rîâhî, Zâr o bâd o Balûch, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973.




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