Contextual Associations

The dhyangro is a double-headed membranophone of Nepal. It is a ritual frame drum used by shamans of the Sunuwar, Limbu, and Tamang peoples. Through chanting and playing the dhyangro, these religious specialists provide therapeutic and divinatory services for their clients, sometimes entering a trance state triggered in part by the sounding of this drum. Detail #1 presents an enlargement of the carving found on the handle of this drum. The motifs carved onto this handle are highly symbolic in nature and include, at the top, three human faces (lama), and at the tapered bottom, stylized representations of three types of snakes (naga).  For spirit possession ceremonies in which this drum is used, temporary paintings are made on the two drumheads. These are also intensely rich in their symbolism (see Hitchcock and Jones, pp. 100-111).


The drum's shallow circular shell is made from a single piece of thin wood, possibly hazel wood, that is bent and its ends are connected. Each deer- or goatskin hide membrane is lapped over a rattan flesh hoop the diameter of which is slightly greater than that of the shell’s openings. The heads are secured in place over these openings with rattan lacing that runs over the hoop and through a hole in the edge of one of the heads, then over the hoop and through the edge of the other head, back-and-forth in a V-pattern. Several seeds or small pellets were placed between the heads at the time of manufacture. The approximately foot-long, three-sided wooden handle is pegged to the drum frame and further strengthened with rattan lacing. A slightly arched wooden stick with a carved handle serves as the beater (detail #2)

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A shaman holds the dhyangro by the handle with one hand, one membrane close to his/her face while the other head is struck with a delicate wooden beater held in the other hand. The shaman chants into the drumhead he/she is facing. When the drumheads are properly tensioned, the repeated striking of the drum produces a relatively low, continuous sound rich in overtones; perhaps the internal seeds, if resting on the inside surface of the head being struck, add further acoustic complexities to the drum’s sound. The sound of the drum when played properly is a psychoacoustic trigger for attaining the trance state.


Shamanism is practiced in many Asian and Arctic Circle cultures, and several of these traditions incorporate the use of frame drums such as the dhyangro. Such practices are considered very old, but little is known about exactly when they began or how much they have remained the same or changed over time. It is therefore not known when the dhyangro came into existence or how its construction and use may have evolved over time.

Bibliographic Citations

Helffer, Mireille. 1984. “Dhyangro.” NGDMI v.1: 563.

Hitchcock, John T., and Rex. L. Jones, eds. 1976. Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Warminster: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Roche, David. 2002. "Music and Trance." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 5. South Asia. ed. Alison Arnold. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., pp. 288-295.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: South Asia

Nation: Nepal

Formation: Sunuwar

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.322 membranophone--double-skin frame drum (the depth of the body does not exceed the radius of the membrane) with handle

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - frame

Number and function of membranes: two, one for sounding and one for resonance

Membrane design: framed with rigid flesh hoop

Membrane attachment: framed membrane hoop connected by lacing to framed membrane hoop

Membrane tension control: none, tension set at time of manufacture

Sounding for membranophone: striking with one handheld beater

Sound modifiers for membranophone: seeds or pellets inside closed shell


15.4 in. diameter

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin

Entry Author

Roger Vetter