Dohol the Persian cylindrical drum

Dohol the Persian cylindrical drum

Dohol the Persian cylindrical drum

by Peyman Nasehpour

The "dohol دهل" is a Persian double-headed cylindrical drum popular all over Iran and neighboring countries. Usually, the dohol is an accompaniment for the "sorna سرنا" (Persian oboe), though the dohol has been seen as a solo instrument in recent concerts and performances. In the past, the dohol was also an accompaniment to the "karna کرنا" (a large-sized Persian trumpet or horn) to encourage the soldiers in the war fields. The dohol and sorna are performed on festive as well as mourning occasions. Since dohol and sorna are loud musical instruments, they are usually played outdoors. There is a famous saying indicating the loudness of the sound of the dohol:

آواز دهل شنیدن از دور خوش است!

And this can be translated into English as follows:

The dohol sounds pleasant from a distance!

The history of dohol goes back to antiquity, seen in the stonecutting of "Tagh-e Bostan طاق بستان". The dohol has been very popular since ancient times and because of that, the name dohol can be seen in Persian literature extensively. For example, Persian poet and mathematician Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) has a quatrain (in Persian, "ruba'i رباعی") which includes the mentioned proverb:

گویند کسان بهشت با حور خوش است من می‌گویم که آب انگور خوش است

این نقد بگیر و دست از آن نسیه بدار کآواز دهل شنیدن از دور خوش است!

The poet Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883) translated this piece as follows:

Some for the Glories of This World; and some Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;

Ah, take the Cash, and let the promise go, Nor heed the music of a distant Drum [dohol]!

The other regional names for the dohol in Iran are the dabol دَبُل (in Shushtar city, Khuzestan province), the daval داوال (in Kurdistan), the dovol دُوُل (Bakhtiari dialect of the Lori language) and so on. Note that in Persian literature, the dohol is also called "doruyeh دورویه" and doruyeh literally means double-headed or double-faced drum.

On the structure of the dohol. The heads of the Persian dohol are usually covered by cow skin. The skins are stretched by means of hoop and lacing. The dohol is usually played by two special drumsticks. One is a thick wooden stick with a cane shape (i.e., bowed at its end) called "changal چنگال" or "kajaki کجکی". Note that the word "kaj کج" means crooked in English. Usually, this stick is played in the center of the upper head of the drum to produce a bass sound. The other one is a thin wooden twig called "deyrak دیرک". A dohol player (in Persian, doholzan دهل‌زن) uses the kajaki stick to play the main beats, while the other stick is used to the ornaments and shorter beats. Also, note that during the performance, the dohol is hung from the body of the dohol player with the help of a leather band.

The styles of playing the dohol. There are various styles for playing the dohol. When the dohol is accompanying loud instruments like sorna and karna, it is played by sticks, but in some areas, it is played by hands if it is supposed to be an accompaniment for softer instruments like kamancheh and "ghoshmeh قشمه" (a special double-reed popular in North Khorasan).

There is a special kind of cylindrical drum popular in Bushehr city of Iran called "damam دمام". The damam is the main accompaniment to the "neyanban نی‌انبان", which is a traditional Persian bagpipe. The distinctive characteristic of the damam is that the skin on the right hand side is beaten by a stick, while the left skin on the left hand side is beaten by the bare hand of the drummer.

On the presence of the dohol and related drums in different regions and countries.

The dohol is popular in many regions of Iran, like Azerbaijan, Baluchistan, Guilan and Mazandaran, Hormozgan, Khorasan, Kurdistan, Lorestan, and Yazd.

For example, in Baluchistan, there are various types of cylindrical drums. The small-sized dohol is called "timbook تیمبوک". There is another kind of cylindrical drum in Baluchistan, called "doholak دهلک" (a diminutive of dohol), which is longer than timbook. In some references, Baluchi doholak is called "dorkor دُرکُر". Note that the doholak and the timbook are played by bare hands, i.e., not by sticks. Finally, let me add that there are two kinds of doholak, one is tunable, and the other is not.

The doholak, which is played by the bare hands of the drummer, is an accompaniment to the "gheychak قیچک" (a bowed instrument with the local name "soruz سروز"), the "robab رباب" (a kind of stringed-plucked instrument), the "tamburak تمبورک" (a kind of long-necked lute), the "do-nali دونلی" (a double-reed), and the "ney نی (a reed)".

In Hormozgan, there are various types of cylindrical drums also. For example, there is a kind of large-sized dohol, popular in Hormozgan, called "gap-dohol گپ دهل". The gap-dohol (also known as the "marsaz مارساز") is the main accompaniment of the sorna (Persian oboe). One skin is played by a drumstick, while the other skin is played with the bare hand of the drummer.

In Hormozgan's music, the other cylindrical drums played jointly with the gap-dohol are called the "pipeh پیپه" and the "kaser کَسِر". These drums are performed in festive and religious ceremonies. Note that the "kaser" is smaller than the gap-dohol and only one side of the drum is played with the bare hands of the drummer. The "pipeh" is similar to the "gap-dohol" and usually, one side of the drum is played by a drumstick.

Finally, let me add that there is another kind of cylindrical drum in Hormozgan called "joreh جوره" (also spelled as jureh). This drum is smaller than the gap-dohol and is performed on festive occasions only.

The dohol and sorna in Khorasan are played for different kinds of dance music, which is quite popular in different cities of Khorasan. In North Khorasan, as mentioned earlier, the dohol, while played by bare hands, is an accompaniment to the kamancheh and ghoshmeh.

In Kurdistan, the combination "dohol and sorna" is called "saz-daval ساز-داوال". A saz-daval ensemble's role is very important for group dancing in the festive ceremonies of Kurds.

Now, we proceed to explain the presence of cylindrical drums related to the dohol in other countries.

The cylindrical drums are performed in many countries like Armenia, Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, India, Macedonia, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Yugoslavia.

In Armenia, there is a cylindrical drum called "dhol". The dhol's skin is traditionally goatskin stretched on both sides, one high and one low in pitch, though pre-fabricated heads, which are unaffected by changes in humidity, are also popular. I personally believe that the sound of a natural-skinned dhol is more beautiful. Played with the fingers and bare hands, unlike the other styles, the Armenian dhol rests in the drummer's lap and sets off to one side with one arm resting on top of the drum and both hands play the same head, similar to the goblet drums like the tonbak and the darbouka. The same style is used to play the Azerbaijani naghara.

In Bulgaria, the dohol is called tupan. The tupan has a cylindrical wooden body on which goat skin or sheep skin is stretched by means of a hoop and lacing, and it is played by sticks.

There are three cylindrical drums in India that seem to be related to Persian dohol.

  • The dholak: The dholak, related to Baluchi doholak, is a crude folk drum characterized by a cylindrical shell covered with skin on both sides. The dholak survives chiefly in North-Central and Northwest India, as well as, Pakistan, among the performers such as the qawwals (singers of Muslim devotional music), the Manganiyar musicians of Rajasthan, and so on.

  • The dholki: The dholki is a small cylindrical folk drum, also called "nal", popular in tamasha (street performance) of Maharashtra.

  • The tavil: The tavil is a large cylindrical drum used in south Indian temples and wedding ceremonies, sometimes accompanying the nadaswaram (a large south Indian oboe, also used in temples and wedding ceremonies).

Remark. Some believe that the word "dohol" and the other dialects of this name come from the Sanskrit name "dholaka". Today, dholaka is a kind of cylindrical Hindi drum.

In Macedonia, there is a cylindrical drum called tapan. The word tapan should be related to the word tupan which is a Bulgarian cylindrical drum. The tapan accompanies the zurna (Macedonian oboe, related to the Persian sorna) in festive occasions such as wedding ceremonies. It is believed that these instruments are borrowed from Turkish culture, while others believe that they are borrowed from Persian culture. The ancient musical culture of Turkey and Persia are very similar, and therefore, very difficult to make a distinction.

In Sri Lanka, there is a cylindrical drum called "dholak". This drum is used extensively, in both Buddhist and Hindu communities, to accompany musical forms imported from India. It is now usually conical, with a badama spot (which affects the tuning and timbre) on one head. The hemp (or nylon) braces pass length ways down the drum, through metal rings, and over wooden blocks, both of which are used for tuning.

In Turkey, the dohol is called davul, which is an accompaniment of zurna (Turkish oboe). It varies in size. One side is made of goatskin; the other side is made of sheepskin. It is played while hung on the shoulder with a knitted or leather strap. The thin-skinned is beaten with a light wooden stick or twig, and the thick side is hit with a "tokmak". Note that the word tokmak is a dialect of the Azerbaijani word tokhmagh تخماق, and both are the name of a heavy stick to beat on nails, though in Azerbaijani and Turkish music is the name of a heavy drumstick used to produce the bass sound. The davul is generally played outdoors. Similar to what we explained earlier in the Persian literature, there is a proverb in the Turkish language which says "Davulun sesi uzaktan hoş gelir" which literally means that "the sound of the drum comes remotely pleasant". There is also another Turkish proverb that is interesting to bring here:

"Davul birinin boynunda, tokmak bir başkasının elinde", and this literally means: "The davul in on the shoulder of one person, while the tokmak (heavy drumstick) is in the hand of the other person!"

Note that there is another kind of cylindrical drum in Turkey, called nagara and defined in the Turkish language as "koltuk davulu". It is performed similarly to the Armenian dhol, Azerbaijani naghara ناقارا, and Gregorian doli. One can translate the expression "koltuk davulu" into "an armpit cylindrical drum".

The names of cylindrical drums in other countries are: The tabl balady طبل بلدی (Egypt), the dauli (Greece), the doli (Georgia), the tumyr (Russia), and the teppan (Yugoslavia).

Acknowledgments. The author wishes to thank Ms. Anna Smart for e-mailing me the information related to the Sri Lankan dholak.


[AA]: Abbas Aryanpur and Manoochehr Aryanpur, The Concise Persian-English Dictionary, Amir Kabir Publication Organization, Tehran, 1990.

[C]: David R. Courtney, Fundamentals of Tabla, Vol. I, Sur Sangeet Services, Houston, 1998.

[D]: B. Chaintanya Deva, Indian Music, New Delhi, 1974.

[K]: Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam in 30 languages, by the effort of Mohsen Ramezani, Padideh Publication, Tehran, 1987.

[P]: Mehran Poor Mandan, The Encyclopedia of Iranian Old Music, Tehran, 2000.

[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).

For more on percussion instruments see the following notes:

Persian Drums Tonbak Daf Dayereh Dohol Naghareh

Persian Percussion Instruments