Dotar The Persian Two-stringed Long-necked Lute

by Peyman Nasehpour

Introduction. The "dotar دوتار" is a Persian two-stringed long-necked lute used in Persian regional (folk) music since ancient times. Today, the dotar is popular in different regions of Iran such as "Khosrasan", "Mazandaran", "Aliabad-e Katul County", and "Turkmen Sahra". The main purpose of this note is to introduce the dotar and its applications in Persian regional music.

The etymology of the name dotar. The name "dotar دوتار" is a combination of the two Persian words "do دو" and "tar تار" meaning "two" and "string", respectively. In the past, other similar names such as "dotareh دوتاره", "dota دوتا", and "dotay دوتای" have been given to this two-stringed long-necked lute.

The Persian-speaking poet, "Sultan Walad سلطان ولد" (c. 1227 - 1312) who was the eldest son of Rumi has a verse in his Waladnamah book that clearly includes the name "dotar":

چون محبت شود میان دو یار یک بود آن دو چون بساز دوتار

Another Persian poet who mentions the name "dotar" in his poems is "Toqra طغرا" from Mashhad city. In fact, in Section 10 of his Saghinamah book he brings the names of many musical instruments such as "dotar", "arghanun ارغنون" (a kind of organ), "daf " (a frame drum) with "jalajel جلاجل" (jingles), and "ney نی" (a kind of reed). I bring the verse which includes the "dotar":

به گل‌کاری نغمه‌های دوتار به آبی که جاری‌ست در جوی تار

The major Persian poet "Khaqani خاقانی" (c. 1120 - c. 1199) has an interesting verse including all the instruments "yekta یکتا", "dota دوتا", and "seta سه‌تا":

گرم ساز یکتا زنی یا دوتایی در اندازمت کز سه‌تا می‌گریزم

Finally, let me bring a verse attributed to Hafiz which says:

مُغنّی ملولم؛ دوتایی بزن به یکتایی او سه‌تایی بزن

O Moghanni[=musician]! vexed, I am; play the dota[r] To His uniqueness, play the seta[r]

Remark. In some references, it is believed that the second hemistich is as follows:

به یکتایی او که(؟) تایی بزن

and I believe that this does not sound to be of Hafiz. However, the whole verse is not included in the Diwan of Hafiz edited by Persian contemporary poet Amir Hushang Ebtehaj (1928-2022) with his pen name H. E. Sayeh. So, I guess Sayeh believed that this verse was not of Hafiz at all.

The structure of the dotar. As the name "dotar دوتار" suggests, it has only two strings. The lower string is the main one and the upper one is, in some cases, a sympathetic (resonance) string. The soundbox of the dotar is pear-shaped with a couple of, usually eleven, movable frets on its neck. The whole body is wooden. The soundbox is made of mulberry wood (Morus) and the neck is made of the wood of the tree "prunus armeniaca" or sometimes "walnut". Though in the past, the strings of dotar were made of silk or gut, today its strings are metallic. The dotar is played by the fingertips and/or nails of the musician.

The use of dotar in folk music. The dotar is perhaps the most popular instrument in Khorasan. Kurdish, Persian, and Turkic-speaking people in Khorasan use the dotar extensively. It is also quite popular among Katulis, Mazanis, and Turkmens.

  • Katuli dotar. The soundbox of the "Katuli dotar دوتار کتولی" is constructed in small and large sizes. Though in the eastern Khorasan style, the upper string is used mostly as a sympathetic (in Persian "vakhan واخوان") string, in Katuli style, the thumb of the musician's hand may catch the upper string before the frets to give different harmonies to the main melody which is played on the lower string. Since the thumb needs to catch the upper string, the neck of the Katuli dotar is thinner than the east Khorasani dotar.

  • Khorasani dotar. There are at least two kinds of "Khorasani dotar دوتار خراسانی", one popular in the northern regions of the Khorasan and the other in the eastern regions of the Khorasan. The soundbox of a northern dotar is slightly smaller than the soundbox of the eastern one, and the neck of the northern dotar is thinner than the eastern one because of the reason that I explained in the section for the Katuli dotar. The upper string of the eastern dotar is only a sympathetic string and so, the neck does not need to be thin to be convenient for the use of the thumb for catching the upper string before the frets. Perhaps the tanbour of Khorasan illustrated by Farabi in his famous book on music entitled "Kitab al-Musiqa al-Kabir كتاب الموسيقى الكبير" is related to a version of dotar which has been popular in Khorasan since ancient times. For more, go to Tanbour the Persian long-necked lute.

  • Mazani dotar. The "Mazani dotar دوتار مازَنی" is a kind of dotar popular in Mazandaran province. Today, some dotar makers have constructed in different sizes. However, as Nabi Ahmadi reports, a traditional dotar in Mazandaran had a small soundbox, and the length of its neck was twice the length of the soundbox.

  • Turkmen dotar. The Turkmen dotar is very similar to the dotar popular in the northern regions of Khorasan. The dotar is also called "tut-tar توت‌تار" by Turkmen people since the body of the Turkmen dotar is wooden made of mulberry wood and the Turkmen (and also, the Persian) word "tut توت" stands for mulberry. Another name for the dotar among Turkmen people is "tamdirah تامدیره" since the wood of the instrument was put in a traditional oven to dry it. Note that "tamdir تامدیر" is a Turkmen word that stands for a traditional oven. Azd-al-doleh reports that "when Agha Mohammad Khan (1742-1797), the founder of the Ghajar dynasty of Persia, was in a good mood, he was playing dotar".

Bakhshi. The "bakhshi بخشی" is a title which is given to a dotar player in North Khorasan and Turkmen Sahra. A "bakhshi" is usually a vocalist also. Ostad Haj Ghorban Soleimani has pointed out in his interviews that a real "bakhshi" must be an excellent vocalist, poet, dotar player, and dotar maker; i.e., a real bakhshi must need nobody in creating the music. The bakhshi, in a Turkmen traditional music ensemble, is usually accompanied by Turkmen kamancheh. The local name of a Turkmen kamancheh is "ghichagh قیچاق". In Turkmen Sahra, an old title for a bakhshi was "uzan اوزان". Also, in the old Istanbulian Turkish language, the meaning of the word "uzan" was a strolling poet-musician, as Redhouse reports in his dictionary. Mohammad Reza Darvishi believes that the title "bakhshi" should not be older than 300 years as the most famous Turkmen poet "Magtymguly مخدومقلی" uses both titles in the same place and most probably the word "uzan" is gradually replaced by bakhshi. As far as I know, today, the title "uzan" is rarely used.

The dotar, also spelled as dutar, has the same name in Uyghuristan and its Uyghur spelling is "دۇتار". It is also quite popular in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Bengal name "dotara" should be originated from the Persian name dotar. However, the dotara may have two, four, or five strings. Note that the traditional "dutar دوتار", which was popular in Herat city, had a small soundbox with two strings (similar to the one that was and is popular in Khorasan, Iran). In the years between 1950 and 1960, as Baily and Blacking report in their research paper, it changed in terms of size, shape, fretting, and stringing. Today, the Herati dutar is much larger than its traditional version and has fourteen metal strings (including drone and sympathetic strings). People in Herat consider Ostad Mohammad Karim Heravi (1938-2009) the father of the Herati dutar.

The dotar is related to the Persian setar.

Appendix. I had the chance to meet "Ostad Haj Ghorban Soleimani استاد حاج قربان سلیمانی" and his son "Alireza علیرضا" at the First Gathering of Musicians in Semnan city organized by my father's student Mr. Hassan Adib, in January 1995. Haj Ghorban's mother tongue was a special Turkic language spoken in Khorasan. Later, while traveling from Tehran to Mashhad and passing through Ghuchan city, my parents, my brothers, and I stopped by the door of Haj Ghorban Soleimani's house. The picture of Haj Ghorban and my father which is taken by my brother Pooyan documented that meeting. After resting for some days during the Nowruz holidays in Mashhad, we all went to Torbat-e-Jam to meet "Ostad Gholamali Pouratayi استاد غلامعلی پورعطایی". I met "Ostad Nazarli Mahjubi استاد نظرلی محجوبی" in a private concert in Tehran organized by my father's student Farshad Fadaian who is, now, a famous documentary filmmaker in Iran. "Ostad Amirgholi Gholizadeh استاد امیرقلی قلی‌زاده" was a great dotar player from Ghuchan city whose mother tongue was Kurmanj (the Kurdish language spoken in Khorasan). Since he lived in the Gholhak area of Tehran which is somehow near our house located in the Qeytariyeh area of Tehran, he came to our house several times, and each time he kindly played for us. Let me finish this note with the following poems that Ostad Gholizadeh used to sing for us:

رنگِ زردم را ببین برگِ خزان را یاد کن با بزرگان کم نشین اُفتادگان را یاد کن

مرغِ صیادِ تو ام، افتاده‌ام در دام تو یا بُکُش یا دان دِه یا از قفس آزاد کن


[Ah] Nabi Ahmadi: Dotar-e-Mazandaran dar Gozar-e-Zaman. Published online on website.

[Az] Azd-al-doreh Ahmad Mirza: Tarikh-e-Azodi, by attempts of Hossein Kouhi Kermani, Tehran, 1949.

[BB] J.S. Baily and J.A.R. Blacking: "Research on the Herati Dutar." Current Anthropology 19, no. 3 (1978): 610-611.

[BD] Bahman Boustan and Mohammad Reza Darvishi: Morouri bar Musighi-ye-Sonnati va Mahalli-ye-Iran, Tehran, 1991.

[Da] Mohammad Reza Darvishi: Dayeratolma'aref-e-Sazha-ye-Iran, Mahoor Publications, Tehran, 2001.

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

[H] Hafiz: Diwan, Edited by Sayeh, Karnameh Publications, Tehran, 1994.

[K] Azam Karegarfallah: Barresi-ye-Tatbighi-ye-Sakhteman-e-Dotar dar Do Mantagheh-ye-Shirvan va Ghuchan, Published online on website.

[Q] Murad Durdi Qazi: "Maxtumquli Ning Kamel Divani مخدومقلی نینگ کامل دیوانی", Qabus Publishers, Gonbad-e Kavus, ????. [In a copy of the book that I have there is no date for its publication!]

[Re]: James W. Redhouse: A Turkish to English Lexicon, Librairie du Liban (New Impression, 1987), Beirut, 1890.

[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).

[W]: Sultan Walad, Waladnamah, Edited by Jalaleddin Homayi, Homa Publishing Company, Tehran, 1998.

Keywords. dotar, dotara, dutar, Iranian, Persian, Iran, Persia.

Ostad Haj Ghorban Soleimani on the dotar and Ostad Nasrollah Nasehpour

Ostad Haj Ghorban Soleimani on Dotar and Ostad Nasrollah Nasehpour

Photo Courtesy: Pooyan Nasehpour

The name "seta" is seen in the verse attributed to Hafiz in this document.

The name "seta" is seen in the verse attributed to Hafiz in this document (taken from the Ganjoor website).

The name "seta" is not seen in the verse attributed to Hafiz in this document.

The name "seta" is not seen in the verse attributed to Hafiz in this document (taken from the Ganjoor website).

Ostad Ali Asghar Khosravi Katuli (1937-March 3, 2019) who was a great master of the dotar of Katuli style.

Ostad Ali Asghar Khosravi Katuli (1937-March 3, 2019) was a great master of the dotar of Katuli style.

Ostad Gholamali Pouratayi (194 - 2014) was a great master of the dotar of the eastern Khorasan style.

Ostad Gholamali Pouratayi (194 - 2014) was a great master of the dotar of the eastern Khorasan style.

Ostad Safiaddin Mohammadi (1918-1981) was a great master of the dotar of Mazani style.

Ostad Safiaddin Mohammadi (1918-1981) was a great master of the dotar of Mazani style.

Ostad Nazarli Mahjubi (1929-2003) was a great master of the dotar of Turkmen style.

Ostad Nazarli Mahjubi (1929-2003) was a great master of the dotar of Turkmen style.