gata bera

Also:       gata beraya      gata-bere      

Title: Sri Lanka: Maitres-Tambours Guerisseurs--Athya Bera; Master Herat Banda and Korale Gedara Gunaratna Banda, gata bera. Label: Buda Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 3016793. Track: I-3.

Title: Dalada Maligawa, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 9 December 2009; Performer unidentified, gata bera. Format: DVC. Catalogue#: Vetter SL-4.

Title: Lankatilaka Temple, Sri Lanka, 5 September 2009; gata bera players and dancers. Format: DVC. Catalogue#: Vetter SL-1.

Contextual Associations

The gata bera is a double-headed membranophone from Sri Lanka. Its primary contexts of usage are: the now rarely realized kohomba kankariya, a ceremonial practice of supplication to the god Kohomba through a three-day epic dance drama; Buddhist temple events; classical Kandyan dance accompaniment; and tourist presentations, which typically present a sampling of practices from the other three contexts. As part of the kohomba kankariya, drummers compete in opposing teams to outdo one another, as well as the dancers, in demonstrating their skill. This practice is reported by some as utilizing the entire repertoire for the gata bera. At daily prayer times in Buddhist temples the gata bera can be played solo as a sound offering called magul-bera (see video #1). Kandyan dance, which is accompanied by the gata bera and has become somewhat of an icon of Sinhalese Sri Lankan national identity, is widely taught in Sri Lankan public and private schools and universities, and perpetuated and developed at private dance schools. The latter are sometimes run by members of a specific, low caste called the Berava, to whom in times past the performance of the gata bera was restricted. The second video clip shows a group of Berava drummers and dancers participating in a temple festival. So important is the gata bera to the Sinhalese majority of Sri Lanka that they attribute its invention to the Hindu god Brahma and see it as symbolizing a well-ordered universe--the two heads represent the sun and the moon, the flare at the center of the shell the earth (Webber).


The drum's shell is lathed from asala wood and given a relatively minor central flare, just 2.5 in. larger at the center of the barrel than at its ends, to give it its characteristic double-conical shape. The decorations on this instrument appear to all have been done on the lathe and are bilaterally symmetrical. The heads are composite hide—one of ox and one of monkey—that are stretched over cane hoops, slightly larger in diameter than the ends of the shell, and secured with braided cowhide (see detail photo). The heads are then connected to one another over the length of the shell with cowhide laces in a zigzag pattern (indirect lacing). A cowhide loop protrudes from each head, connected to each other via a cotton rope strap. One end of this gata bera has a removable hide cover tied to a cord.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The gata bera is suspended horizontally from the standing player’s waist with the rope strap, while the left and right heads are sounded with the left and right hands respectively (many makers tailor the drum to the player’s body size). The general tension/tuning of the heads is achieved by pulling on each section of the zigzag lacing consecutively until all slack is removed. Fine tuning is accomplished by hitting the hoops of the heads with a wooden wedge-shaped beater. As can be witnessed on both video clips, gata bera drummers produce a variety of strokes that can be delivered at times with stunning speed. The head made from ox hide produces a more muted tone than the one made from a monkey's stomach, on which is produced a particularly distinctive timbre with a buzzing quality (audio clip).


The Yapahuwa fortress in Sri Lanka has stone reliefs representing an instrument much like the gata bera. This fortress was only occupied for a short time at the end of the 13th century. While the form of a double-conical drum is present, it is unclear if this is a depiction of the activities of Yapahuwa inhabitants, or the iconography employed by artists who had been imported from a much larger geographic area. There is very little other data from which to ascertain with any accuracy the arrival of the gata bera in Sri Lanka.

Bibliographic Citations

Reed, Susan. 2009. Dance and the Nation: Performance, Ritual, and Politics in Sri Lanka. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Seneviratna, Anuradha. 1979. "Pancaturya Nada and the Hewisi Puja," Ethnomusicology 23/1: 49-56.

Sheeran. Anne. "Sri Lanka." In Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online, (accessed May 18, 2012).

Webber, Natalie M. 1984. "Gata-bere," NGDMI v.2: 27.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: South Asia

Nation: Sri Lanka

Formation: Sinhalese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.232.12 membranophone--individual double-skin double conical drum, both heads played

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - compound-conical

Number and function of membranes: two, both for sounding

Membrane design: framed with stiff woven hoop

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

Membrane tension control: pulling directly on lacing

Sounding for membranophone: striking directly with both hands

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


27.5 in. length of shell 10.5 in. greatest diameter of shell 8 in. diameter of shell at both ends 8.5 in. diameter of heads

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
lacing - rawhide

Entry Author

Gaelyn Hutchinson