Also:       madal      magakhin      

Title: Songs and Dances of Nepal--Nepali Love Song; Govindman Serchan, violin, Sunimayan and Indraman Serchan, singers, mādal player not identified. Label: Folkways. Format: CD. Catalogue#: F-4101. Track: 18.

Contextual Associations

The mādal is a double-headed membranophone used throughout Nepal. It was apparently at one time associated with a particular caste, the Magars, but has subsequently lost this association. This drum is today used to accompany folk singing and dancing (such as for the ghatu dance drama of the Guruñg people of central Nepal) throughout the country, invariably played by a male drummer. It is also found in modern urban ensembles consisting of traditional Nepalese, Indian, and Western instruments that play music inspired by Hindi film music.


The tubular shell of the mādal is carved from a solid block of wood; its exterior profile is basically conical (one opening is larger than the other) but with a bulge near the larger head. The heads are of a compound structure; a primary circular membrane covers the opening and a secondary ring of hide frames it. Both components are sewn together in a braided fashion with rawhide lace, which is used to provide a stiff but not totally rigid hoop for the head. The heads are placed over their respective shell openings and then connected to one another with rawhide lacing that runs back and forth between and over the hoop lacing of each head (see second detail image) ten times in a ‘V’ pattern. Each head has a circular patch of black, semi-permanent paste applied to it to add mass to the membrane and to shape its sound quality and pitch. The circle of paste on the large head (3.5 inches in diameter; see gallery image and the second detail image) covers a greater percentage of the head’s surface area than does the patch on the smaller head (2.3 inches; see first detail image). These differences in the diameter of and the amount of paste on the two heads result in the larger head having a much lower pitch relative to that of the smaller head. A strap made of rawhide is attached to the two head hoops.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The mādal player performs either from a standing or seated position; if the former a leather strap/belt is used to strap the instrument around the drummer’s waist so that it is positioned horizontally. The digits and palms of both hands are used to strike the drumheads. The sound of the drum is surprisingly low in pitch given the instrument’s diminutive size, thanks in large part to the presence of the tuning paste on both heads.


Probably originated in India, the mādal has been adopted by the Newari and other peoples of Nepal since at least the late 19th century.

Bibliographic Citations

Ballinger, Thomas O., and Purna Harsha Bajracharya. 1960. “Nepalese Musical Instruments,” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 16/4: 398-416.

Dick, Alastair, and Mireille Helffer. 1984. NGDMI v.2: 589-590.

Moisala, Pirkko. 2002. "Nepal." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 5. South Asia. ed. Alison Arnold. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., pp. 696-708.

Tingey, Carol. “II. Indo-Nepalese music,” in Grove Music Online, accessed 6/2/15: http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/42916q=nepal&search=quick&source=omo_gmo&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: South Asia

Nation: Nepal

Formation: Newar

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

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

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - bulging-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

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
lacing - rawhide

Entry Author

Roger Vetter