Traditional drums of Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Traditional drums of Sri Lanka

24 November, 2019

Continued from November 3, 2019

We learnt about some traditional Sri Lanka drums two weeks ago. Here are some more different drums much used in the country.

The rabana is another type of traditional drum played in Sri Lanka. They are one sided or one faced and is generally made from jak (kos), milla, ehela and other such wood. Goat skin is used to cover the face of the rabana. There are four types of rabanas.



Shaped like an hour glass the dekkiya is hung on the drummer’s shoulder with a small rope which is tightened before playing to control the sound of the drum. The dekkiya is made from two pieces of wood bound together with leather and the drum skin is of thin goat skin.



Banku Rabana
The Banku or Bench Rabana is also known as the Maha (big) Rabana or Banku (bench) Rabana. It is the biggest of the Rabanas and is generally played at festive occasions by two or more people.
The Rabana has a special system of rhythms called Raban Pada. They are generally verses of four lines and the players would recite them while beating out the rhythm on the Banku Rabana. The Rabana is kept on three wooden trunks about 18 inches high and a fire is lit under it so it gets tuned to produce finer sounds. The face of the Banku Rabana varies in diametre from 24 to 48 inches. Apart from playing the Rabana by hand, some elders use ekels as well.



Dandu Beraya
The Dandu Beraya is a simple drum carved from bamboo and is tied to the drummer’s waist. It is played with two atteriya sticks eight to twelve inches in length and is used for communication and folk dancing. The word dandu comes from the Sanskrit word danda meaning wood. The Dandu Beraya is unique as it does not have a drum skin. It was traditionally used by farmers to scare away creatures who destroyed crops. The Dandu Beraya is used for harvest ritual dances .



Karakawana Rabana
The Karakawana Rabana (Spinning Rabana) is a Ath Rabana (Hand Rabana). The performers spin it on their fingers or on painted poles, sometimes even balancing the pole in their mouths with several rabanas on spikes fixed to it. A small rabana’s diametre is between six to eight inches. While a medium sized one will have a diametre of eight to 12 inches. Kos (Jak) and Milla wood is used to make this Rabana and the skin of a goat used to cover the drum face, The sides of the drum and the poles are often gaily decorated. The Karakawana Raban performers are often seen in pereheras and will be walking on stilts at times.
The Virindu rabana is also an Ath Rabana used by singers of folk songs in a style in the Virindu tradition or style. It is the telling of a story in verse or song and is very rhythmic, melodius and upbeat. This is a very old tradition. Virindu singers can be seen in public places, buses and trains even today.


The Udekkiya is a smaller version of the dekkiya used mainly in Kandyan rituals and folk dances like the udekki netuma. It is played with one hand, while the other hand will control the sound by exerting on the string and Sawarama with the other. Wood such as handun, jak, ehela, gansuriya and kohomba and metals like silver and brass are used to carve and make the drums. Udekkiya's are decorated with lacquer work and the drum faces are covered with goat, monkey or monitor lizard hides. They are about about 11 inches long and the middle is thin and is known as giriya or gela (Sinhala – neck). The face called the valayama is not used to produce sound in this drum. The pahatharata udekkiya or the low country udekkiya looks a little different from the udekkiya and is used in traditional Ruhunu ritualistic dances.



The Maddalaya is used in Nadagam, a popular operatic folk drama in the country. However, it is of South Indian origin and has two diametrically different drum faces. Before playing, a powdery paste is applied to the left hand face and an oily paste to the right hand face. In Nadagams, drummers are used with one playing the minor beats and the other the major beats. There are seven talas for the Maddala and they are the Pasan, Kadinam Pasan, Kobehara Pasan, Vadimudi, Tirlana, Thangapatta and Tillana Keertanam.