Drums in Sri Lanka date back to nearly 2,500 years and are among the main instruments that comprise traditional Sri Lankan music. Drums come in different sizes, designs and varying sounds. History records around 33 types of drums from back in the day but today we find only ten. In classical literature books including Thupawansaya and Dalada Siritha there are many references to drums.
Some of the uses of drums included rituals, announcement of messages and ceremonies and the rhythms to vary based on the use. Here are a few:
- During the time of monarchy for announcements. Also called Ana Bera to inform villagers on special functions or orders from the king.
- When sentencing a criminal to death or Vada Bera. According to sources from the internet, Vada Bera (drums) are played when a criminal is taken for beheading.
- At times of death, most funeral processions beat a Mala Bera.
- At war, the Rana Bera comes alive when an army is going to meet the enemy.
For those wondering, the word Bera in Sinhala translates to drums.
Commonly Used Sri Lankan Drums
Geta Beraya a drum with a knot also known as the Udarata Beraya that translates to Kandyan Drum in Sinhala. It is an accompanying instrument in dance sequences for Kandyan rituals. Asala, Kohomaba or Jack wood usually makes up the trunk of the drum while the right side includes a covering of monkeyhide and the left side that of cattledhide. The drummer ties the instrument around the waist and often plays in open air for the sound to carry a longer distance.
Yak Beraya is also called the Ruhunu Beraya and Goshaka Beraya. It’s uses find itself primarily in Ruhunu tradition especially dancing involving masks and rituals. Goshaka also translates to loud due to the sound caused by the drum. Kitul, Coconut and Kohomba wood and a covering of cattle stomach lining make up the instrument. The drummer ties the Yak Beraya around the waist and plays by hand.
Davula is the main drum used for rituals in Sabaragamuwa traditional dancing and a necessary instrument in Buddhist temples. Some of its temple uses include playing during ceremonies, religious services of Buddhist shrines and processions. Instruments for Ana Bera included the Davula and Thammattama. Cattle and goathide cover both faces of the drum and the drummer plays with one hand and uses a drumstick named kadippuwa for the other side.
Thammattama also known as the Pokuru Beraya. The drummer ties this twin drum around the waist and plays with two drumsticks made of Kaduru. Komba, Ehela and Jack wood make up the shell of the instrument. While the covering of one drums consists of treated cowhide and produces a bass sound when beaten, the other consists of treated young calfhide and has a moderately higher sound. Instruments for Ana Bera included the Davula and Thammattama. Its other uses include inviting people to temple or to announce the arrival of Buddhist priests during a Pirith ceremony or almsgiving.
Udekkiya is an instrument used during Kandyan rituals and folk dances. The drummer plays with one hand while using the other to control the sound by applying pressure. Ehele, Milla and Suriya wood and the side covering of iguana, monkey or goat skin make up the Udekkiya.
Dekkiya is mainly used in rituals. The drummer hangs the instrument on the shoulder of the drummer and controls the sound by applying pressure on strings.
Bummadiya is a drum made of clay and covered in animal hides (goat, monkey or iguana). It comes in a unique shape of a water vessel or clay pot. Back in the day, most played the instrument during a paddy harvest.
Hand Rabana is usually accompanied with singing and used by street musicians. Jack and Milla wood, covered with goat skin make up these Rabanas.
Bench Rabana also known as Banku Rabana” or Maha Rabana. Usually played by two+ people at weddings and as a custom during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year by women.
Dandu Rabana or Berya in Sanskrit translates to wood. Folk dancing and communication purposes were among the Rabana’s main uses.
Featured image by Cheri Fernando.