miércoles, 1 de junio de 2011


In Bhutan there are many musical instruments, but most of them are played in religious ceremonies and festivals and very few are folk instruments. These religious buddhist instruments are also played in Tibet. They may have similar or different names. Although there is some books of tibetan music and musical instruments (see below), there is a lack of information about the music and musical instruments of Bhutan. In this page I will describe the most frequent instruments of Bhutan.
It is quite common that different instruments of the same family, local people gave me the same name (eg. Kanling described a horn copper trumpet without side holes and a shawm with finger holes that is played with pairs).
For different tibetan names of some wind instrumen in tibetan check the page of the Beede Gallery web page


The typical folk instrument of Buthan is a long lute named Dranmryen. Other folk instruments are the piwang (two bowed string "fiddle"), Yang-chen (dulcimer), lim (flute) and kongtha (jew's harp), but they are also played in other asian countries.

Painting in the Semtoka Dzong, Timphu

The most common Bhutanese instrument are listed below. The tibetan name equivalent is given in some of the religious buddhist instruments.

Piwang. Two strings bowed instrument. It has a rounded-cylindric resonance box with a skin as a resonance membrane. It reminds the xinese erhu.

Danmryen (Dranyen). It is a long frestless lute with seven strings. One of the strings comes from the middle of the neck. The strings are commonly made of gut. It is usully beatifully painted with green, blue and red colours, usually with religious motifs. On the top of the neck there is almost always a dragon figure. There is one bridge that is over the skin in the resonance box. The body of the dranyen is usully made of one pice of wood (except the top with a head of a dragon) and the resonance box is carved to make a cavity where the skin is placed. The size is between 60 and 110 cm, depending of the maker. In the villages it is possible to see dranyen home-made, quite simple and without decorations. Similar instruments of the dranyem are found in the Himalayas (Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim, west Bengala), but they don't have the characteristics of the Bhutanese one. They are smaller than the bhutanese type and they usually have 5-6 strings. Quite similar in shape is the Dranyen played in Tibet. However, it is commonly less decorated and it has 3 pairs of strings (total 6 strings). The size and the sound is quite similar. A monk told me that a small dranyen is played in east Bhutan, in the Trashigang distring (Merak Village).

Yang-chen. It is a hammered dulcimer. It is not an indigenous bhutanese instrument. It is very similar that others played in Xina, Mongolia or Tibet. There are different sizes. It is usully painted in green, red or/and blue colors. (Tibetan: Gyumang).


Dharu. Double membrane small drum played by monks. Also it is played in festival as a folk instrument in the dances. The equivalen name in Tibet, India and Nepal is dambaru.

Tangti. Small Dambaru. It is usually played by Gampo Monk.

Choe-Drum. Medium size dambaru played by “nu” or women monks

Nag. Large buddhist drum. It is found in buddhist temples. It is played with a curved stick (Tibetan: Rnga, when it is played with a curved stick; Rnga-Chen: It is larger and played with two sticks)


Lim. Bamboo flute. When is front-blowed is named dong lim and when is side-blowed is named zur lim. (Tibetan: “linguo” or Gling-Bu)

Pili-Pipi. Little reed flute

Pilkang/Kangdung. bone trumpet (Tibetan: Rkang-Dung)

Dungkar. shell trumpet (Tibetan: Dung-kar / rag gshog-ma)

Kanling. Small copper trumpet. No side holes for the fingers and no reed. Sound is made blowing and tappering the cone of the trumpet with one hand. (Tibetan: Gang-Lin / Rkang-gling)

Kanling. Copper shawm played in pairs. The size is a about 40-50 cm. It has hole fingers that allows to play a melody. It has a reed in the tip. The same name as the previous one name was given to me (Tibetan: Rgya-Gling)

Dung-Chen. Long trumpet. Played in pairs. It is a telescop trumpet made of copper. They are collapsible to facilitate the transport. In Lhasa are sold as souvenirs. In temples and festivals (Tibetan: Zang-Dung / Dung-Chen).


Tshuetee. Large bell found in buddhist temples

Tingsha. One cymbal attached to a small stick. It is played by Gompo monks

Rim. Large cymbal (Tibetan: Rolmo)

Torche. Small cymbals (Tibetan: Sil-Snyan/Sbug-Chal)

Khar-nga. Medium size gong (Tibetan: Khar-nga)

Deap: Hand bell. It is used by monks together with the dorji. Both are named Manchi. (Tibetan: Dril-bu and Rdo-rje).

Kongtha. Bamboo jew's harp. Very few people played, only children and some people in the villages. There is one tuned in a low pitch or female and another one in high pitch or male.

Arka. A row of jingle bell attached to a ribbon or a belt. It is wear in festivals by the dancers.

In the following pictures there are some examples of musical instruments played by musicians and monks in the Festivals of Tsechu and Thangi, in Timphu and Bumthang, respectively

Musicians playing the dranyen and yang-chen

Musician playing the dramnyen

In the front a musician with a "bass" piwang and in the back a normal sized piwang

Monks playing the kangling

Playing de lim

Monk playing the Dung-Chen

Monks dressed as atzaras playing a shorter version of Dung-Chen

Dung-Chen. It is played in pairs

Kangling (without finger-holes)

Ceremony of monks carring drums played with a curved stick or Nag


Nag placed in a stand

Dharu (right hand) and Deap (left hand)

Dancer wearing a belt of large rounded bells or arka

Deap (right hand) and Dorchi (left hand)

Monk playing the rim


Suspended Khar-nga in a temple or Dzong


Painting of a God playing the dramnyen in Kurge Lhakhang, Bumthang

Painting of a God playing the lim in the Tromsa Dzong

Recommended Tibetan Books (not bhutanese)

1) Peter Crossley-Holland. Musical Instruments in Tibetan Legend and Folklore. Monograph Series in Ethnomusicology. University of Californiam Los Angeles, 1992

2) Mireille Helffer. Mchod-rol. Les instruments de la musique tibétaine. CNRS Editions, Paris, France, 1994

3) Ivan Vandor. Bouddisme Tibetain. Les Traditiones Musicales. Buchet Chastel, Paris, 1976

All three books are out-of print

A monk and the author of the blog talking about the religious music in Bumthang, Bhutan

Aknowledgment: To the owner of the Phuenzi Guest House, Mr Tobga Tshering who helped me to find one of the few makers of kongtha, Mr Ap Dolay . By the way, from the guest house you will see a panoramic view of the Trongsa Dzong and the valley and one you can try of the most tastful meals in Bhutan.