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Historical Persian Drum Paintings

Drums in Persian Paintings
A Research by Peyman Nasehpour and Mehdi Moghiceh (Painter) ©2002


Painted by Soltan Mohammad in 1519 .....................Painted in 1590 probably by Soltan Mohammad.........

peyman nasehpoor ............ peyman nasehpoor

 We found the two above paintings to be painted in 1519 and 1590 that they show the tonbak. These are the oldest documents that show the Persian tonbak vividly. What is important is that in the paintings the tonbak players are in fact the Persian gypsies. Luti or Motreb-e-Doregard (traveller Motreb) is the Persian expression for gypsy. This needs more explanation:

First we like to have a lexical discussion of the word Motreb. Motreb is an Arabic word that comes from the word Tarab, witch means joy. Motreb means the musician who plays allegro and joyful melodies in the festive ceremonies particularly in wedding ceremonies.

Poets and writers have used the word Motreb very much through the history. For example Hafiz, the shining star of the Persian literature, has composed a very famous poem about the Motreb:

The translation of the verse is:

Wonderful harmony and great melody, the minstrel of love hath:

Every picture of the hidden he striketh, path to place hath.


It is really wonderful that the frame drums to be painted in Persian paintings (that is called in West Persian miniatures) are so similar to the today riq to be played in Turkey, Egypt and the other Arabic countries.

Anyway today riq is not played in Persia (Iran). Riq is small, tambourine-like frame drum used in classical, popular, and dance music. Jingles (circular metal discs) are inserted into its wooden frame. Other spellings are Riqq, Req, Rik, and Rikk.

Also we should mention that there are some poems to be composed by the very famous Persian poet and Sufi, Molana Rumi, which contain the word riq as a drum.

In so many Persian paintings that we considered we found some paintings that the frame drummers put the frame drums on their shoulders for amplifying their voice. This tradition has been remained also in Azerbaijani singers that play ghaval (Azerbaijani frame drum) for accompanying the traditional Azerbaijani ensemble of three instruments (tar, kamancheh and ghaval).

As the paintings show the frame drums were used to play in darbar (court of kings) and khanghah (temple of dervishes).

Kus and Naghghareh

Kettledrums have been painted in Persian paintings very much.

Persian large-sized kettledrums are called Kus. Many poets have mention to the word Kus in their works. It was a pair of drums to be made of clay, wood or metal in the form of a hemispherical kettle, with skin stretched over the mouth of it. Kus was played with drumsticks of leather or wood (The leather drumstick was called Daval). Kus usually was carried on backhouse, backcamel or backelephant. It was played in many occasions such as festivals, wars, decamping and so on.

It was the accompaniment of the Karnay (Persian trumpet or horn). Particularly the Persian epic poets Ferdosi and Nezami for describing the war fields have mentioned to Kus and Karnay very much. Many Persian paintings (miniatures) show the presence and importance of the Kus and Karnay in the war fields. There were applied to encourage the army. The antiquity of the Kus and Karnay reaches Achaemenid period (533-330 B.C.).

Apparently after Islam the word Naghghareh has been used to mention to small-sized kettledrums of the world of Islam. It seems that the word Naghghareh comes from the Arabic verb Naghr that means to strike and to beat (Today in Turkey Naghghareh is called Nakkare). A few poets have mentioned the name Naghghareh such as Molana Rumi.

Other Drums to Be Painted in Persian Paintings

Most of the drums to be painted in Persian paintings are frame drums and kettledrums. Here we explain the other drums to be painted in Persian paintings.

We have seen the dohol in Persian paintings also.

Dohol is a big cylindrical two-faced drum to be played by two special drumsticks. One is a wooden thick stick that is bowed at the end and its name is Changal (or Kajaki). The other is a thin wooden twig and its name is Deyrak. (In Hormozgan province of Iran, Dohol is played by two hands.) Dohol is the main accompaniment of Sorna (Persian oboe). It is played in outdoors in regional music of Persia in the festive ceremonies (The famous poet Molana Rumi has mentioned sorna and dohol in his poems). Dobol is a dialect of dohol in Shushtar a city in Khuzestan province of Iran. Dohol is called daval in Kurdistan. Saz-daval is an expression for sorna and dohol in Kurdistan. Other names such as davul, tavel and so on have been applied too. Since dohol is a double-faced drum sometimes it is called do-ruyeh in Persian language. I should mention that ghaval and daf are yek-ruyeh (one-faced).

There are some proverbs in Iran about this drum. The most famous proverb that many poets have been used in their works is: "Avaz-e-dohol shenidan az dur khosh ast" that literally means dohol sounds pleasant from a distance.

Peyman Nasehpour and Mehdi Moghiceh

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