Also:       dholki      

Title: Rajasthani Folk Music--Kotal Ghurhio; Master Sikander, boy vocal, Habib Khan, sindhi sarangi, Ramjan Khan, dholak. Label: Saydisc. Format: CD. Catalogue#: CD-SDL 401. Track: 8.

Contextual Associations

The dholak is a double-headed membranophone of North India and Pakistan. It features prominently in a wide range of folk devotional and theatre music genres, and has become a sonic and visual icon of Indian folk culture as portrayed in film and popular music. In many of these genres it is heard alongside the harmonium as well as other Indian and foreign instruments. As indentured laborers from North India were relocated in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries to distant lands such as Guyana, South Africa, Fiji and other parts of the British Empire, folk genres and instruments such as the dholak accompanied them and continue to be used to the present day by their descendants. Both men and women perform the dholak


The dholak is carved from a block of wood. Each of its skin membranes is stretched over a rattan hoop, and the two hoops are connected to one another with rope lacing that runs back-and-forth across the length of the shell. Consecutive laces pass through a metal ring, which can be slid up and down the length of the shell to adjust head tension. Flour tuning paste is affixed to the inside of the head sounded by the performer’s left hand (the right-side head in gallery #1), lowering its pitch relative to that of the other head.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The performer is typically seated on the floor/ground with the drum positioned horizontally in front of him/her or in his/her lap, oftentimes tilted slightly to raise the right-hand head higher than the left-hand one. Dholak technique involves mostly right-hand finger strokes on or near the rim of the higher-pitched head, and left-hand taps and slaps near the resonant center of the lower-pitched head. Left-hand technique also involves applying different degrees of pressure to the head with the heel of the palm, which produces subtle pitch inflections.  


The dholak is believed to have derived from the indigenous medieval North Indian pataha drum (Dick, p. 41). By the Mughal period (1526-1857 CE) it was a prominent professional and court-music drum in addition to its use as a domestic drum played frequently by women (ibid.). Although it came to be eclipsed by the tabla as the instrument of choice for professional urban and court music in the late Moghul period, tabla players incorporated much dholak technique and repertoire in their own playing. Since then, the instrument’s primary association has been with regional folk music, a connection that has been reinforced in the Hindi film industry since the middle of the twentieth century.

Bibliographic Citations

Dick, Alastair. 2014. “Dholak. 1.” GDMIv.2: 40-42.

Miner, Allyn. 2000. "Musical Instruments: Northern Area." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 5. South Asia. ed. Alison Arnold. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., pp. 331-349.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: South Asia

Nation: India, Pakistan

Formation: Indo-Aryan

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.222.12 membranophone--individual double-skin barrel drum, both skins used for playing

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - barrel

Number and function of membranes: two, both for sounding

Membrane design: framed with rigid flesh hoop

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

Membrane tension control: sliding rings joining adjacent laces

Sounding for membranophone: striking directly with both hands

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


14.6 in. length 6.1 in. diameter of both rims 8.5 in. diameter at middle of shell

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
cord - cotton


Bina Musical Stores, India

Entry Author

Roger Vetter and Toby Austin