Kettledrums of Persia (Iran) and Other Related Countries

Dr. Peyman Nasehpour on Tabla

The other pair of drums is called "desarkutan" (Naghara of Mazandaran province).

The other pair of drums is called "desarkutan" (Naghara of Mazandaran province).


Persian large-sized kettledrums are called Kus. Many poets have mentioned the word Kus in their works. It is a pair of drums 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 leather or wood drumsticks (The leather drumstick was called Daval). Kus usually was carried on horseback, camelback or elephantback. 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 have mentioned Kus and Karnay when describing the battlefields. Many Persian paintings (miniatures) show the presence and importance of the Kus and Karnay in the battlefields. There were applied to encourage the army. The antiquity of the Kus and Karnay reaches Achaemenid period (533-330 B.C.). 

After Islam the word Naghghareh has been used for 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. There is a Persian popular poem that mentions the Naghghareh.

The translation of the above poem is:

Dambel-e-Dimbo Naghghareh! 
The bride has not Tonban [long, loose skirt formerly worn by women]! 
The bridegroom has gone to fetch one 
May he comes back healthy

Dambel-e-Dimbo or Zimbil-i-Zimbo is the sound made by a drum (compare with Rub-a-Dub in English).This is a very important poem because the rhythm of the verses calls to mind the rhythm of 'chahar-chubeh' of Mazandarani regional, which is played by Desarkutan. 

Different names such as Gavorga, Kaseh, Khom, Naghghareh and many similar names have been applied for the kettledrums.

Iran (Persia) 

Naghghareh can be found in different sizes in different regions of Iran: 

Naghareh-ye-Shomal (northen naghareh) 

One of them is Naghghareh-ye-Shomal that is played in North of Iran. Its native name in Mazandaran province of Iran is Desarkutan. Desarkutan is in fact a pair of small drums. The body of drums is made of clay. Their structure is like bowl. One is larger than the other. The large one is called bam and the smaller one is called zil. It should be mentioned here that bam and zil respectively mean bass and treble. The diameter of the bam is about 22 centimeters and the diameter of the zil is about 16 centimeters. Two drums are covered by cow's skin, though in the past the skin of boar was used. The skin is tightened on the drums by bands to be made of cow cut. The drums are played with two wooden drumsticks. The length of the drumsticks is from 25 to 27 centimeters. The thicker drumstick is used to play on the larger drum. The diameter of the drumsticks is from 1 to 1.5 centimeter. 

Serna (Mazandarani oboe, same as Persian Sorna) is accompanied by one or two Desarkutan-s. These instruments are played in festive ceremonies such as wedding ceremonies, sport ceremonies and so on. Desarkutan is not used as a solo instrument. It is really wonderful that we have the same occasion in India. Naghghareh can be found in India and its native name is Nagada or Nagara. 

Nagara of India is a pair of drums. These are the kettledrums of old 'naubat' (traditional ensemble of nine instruments). It is played with sticks. Today this instrument is usually used to accompany the shehnai (Indian oboe). Shehnai is an indispensable component of any North Indian wedding (shadi). 


In Azerbaijan there is a kind of kettledrum that is called Ghosha-Naghara. Ghosha literally means pair.


 The Naghghareh played in the Fars province of Iran is a little larger than ordinary Naghghareh. 


The Naghghareh played in the Sanandaj city of Kurdistan province of Iran is a little larger than ordinary Naghghareh. 

Egypt and the Other Arabic Countries 

The Naqqarat is the name of kettledrums to be applied in Arabic countries. Naqqarat, hemispherical with the skin stretched over the top, come in pairs. The larger ones are carried on camels and played during the pilgrimages. Another type is used to accompany one of the Mawlawi ceremonies. Under the late Abbasids and Fatimids in Egypt, kettledrums were beaten before the five daily prayers, and small ones form part of the present-day orchestral ensembles. 


In Turkey Naghghareh is called Nakkare (small kettledrums beaten with the hands or two sticks). The Kös (giant kettledrums) played on horseback that is a dialect of the Persian Kus. These drums and davul (Turkish cylindrical drum) were used in the Ottoman Mehter Music. (Mehter is a Persian word and means greater, senior, elder and groom). 


In Uzbekistan the kettledrum is called Naghara. 

Dul-Naghara is a large kettledrum that gives a low and loud sound (i.e. "tum"). Rez-Naghara is a small kettledrum that gives a high and loud sound (i.e. "tak"). Kosh-Naghara is a small-paired kettledrum, a pair of clay pots with goatskin tops. 

Naghghareh goes to Europe. 

According to history with the Islamic culture the kettledrums spread through other parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. I should mention that kettledrums were adopted in Europe during the Crusades (13th century). The Arabic term Naghghareh became the French Nacaires, the Italian Naccheroni and the English Nakers. Nakers have been described like this: They were more or less hemispherical, 15-25cm in diameter, frequently with snares and usually played in pairs, suspended in front of the player. They were usually played with drumsticks, mainly for martial purposes but also in chamber music, dance and processional music and probably for accompanying songs. 

Kettledrums in Europe today are called tympani or timpani. They entered the symphony orchestra as a purely musical instrument in the mid 17th century; they were played in pairs tuned to tonic and dominant pitches. Beethoven was the first composer to vary the tuning of kettledrums from the conventional tonic-dominant. Berlioz was possibly the first to require a change of tuning during a single movement. Bartok made use of the glissando, which is a rapid slurring effect created by mechanical tuning of the kettledrum. 

Indian Tabla and Persian Naghghareh 

As the excellent study of tabla by Rebecca Stewart (The Tabla in Perspective. Unpublished thesis, UCLA, 1974) has suggested tabla was most likely a hybrid resulting from experiments with existing drums such as pakhawaj, dholak, and naqqara. The origins of tabla repertoire and technique may be found in all three and in physical structure there are also elements of all three: for example, the smaller pakhawaj head for the dayan, the naqqara kettledrum for the bayan, and the flexible use of the bass of the dholak.


Khaneh literally means house, home, room, place etc. In Iran there were different kinds of Naghghareh-Khaneh and there were places for announcing important news by playing on the kettledrums such as rising and setting of the sun, victory, mourning, birth of a male baby etc. Naghghareh-Khaneh is also called Kus-Khaneh or Naubat-Khaneh.


[[C]: David R. Courtney, Fundamentals of Tabla, Vol.I, Sur Sangeet Services, Houston, 1998.
[Le]: The World of Islam, Written by Thirteen Authors (Edited by Bernard Lewis), London, 1976.
[Ly]: Debby Lyttle, A Brief History of the Timpani, 1998.
[G]: Jamshid Gholi-Nejad, Musighi-ye-Bumi-ye-Mazandaran, Sari City, 2000. 
[K]: James Kippen, A Brief Discussion of the Delhi Tabla Gharana.
[Sa]: Cemsid Salehpur, Türkçe Farsça Genel Sözlügü, Tehran, 1996.
[Se]: Mehdi Setayeshgar, Vazhe-Name-ye-Musighi-ye-Iran Zamin, Tehran, Vol. I (1995) & Vol. II (1996).

Kettledrums of Persia (Iran) and Other Related Countries