Bhutanese Lute

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Physical Description
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Background History

Dramnyen is a fretless lute which is one of the most popular musical instruments in Bhutan. Literally, dramnyen (sgra snyan) means ‘melodious sound’. It is one of the most sacred musical instruments used for non-religious purposes in Bhutan. Yangchen Lhamo (Saraswati), the goddess of wisdom and melody has a dramnyen on her lap as her symbolic emblem. She is the mother of all the Buddhas of infinite times – past, present, and future. Through this instrument, she offers music of praises to the Three Bodies of Buddha (Trikaya). She also subdues and disciplines evil forces or antagonists for the protection of the institution of Buddhism, using its melody. Therefore, the music emanated from this object is highly sacrosanct and spiritual.


As per oral history, the seven Dakinis (celestial beings) from the celestial realm came on earth to take a bath. The youngest of all had a sceptre of dramnyen which was hanged upon a tree nearby, while she was bathing. The incident coincided when a poor orphan boy came across it while collecting firewood. He got hold of it and tried to play. While the rest of the Dakinis flew away, hearing its melody, the youngest one stayed back as the boy refused to return the instrument. However, after much negotiation they came to an agreement on two conditions: he may keep the instrument but away from the sight of other human beings at all times; and he should not play this instrument except at the stroke of midnight.


Accordingly, the boy played the instrument every midnight, to which the youngest Dakini used to visit him and leaves before dawn. Due to blessings and mystic power of the Dakini and the dramnyen, he became wealthier with the dawn of an each new day, conquering everyone's wealth and power.


On the other side of the river bank, there lived a rich family. They were surprised to see him becoming rich, day by day. So, the family plotted a plan and sent their daughters to visit the poor boy. The girls somehow succeeded in interpreting him as their uncle through various means to lure him to share his secret of success. However, he strictly followed the words of the Dakini by placing his instrument safe. One day, when he left for an archery match, the girls entered his house and discovered the dramnyen. When the girls tried to play the dramnyen, the Dakini appeared at the melody but was disheartened to see them having access to the sacred instrument. So, she cut off one of the strings and left. When the boy returned, he tried to play at midnight but to his surprise, the Dakini didn't turn up. Inspecting closely, he noticed that a string was missing. Thereafter, his wealth diminished day after day. Before becoming as poor as he used to be, he left for the bathing site and hid himself amidst the flowers to check on the Dakini.


When the Dakinis were about to leave after the bath, he came out and caught hold of the youngest sister. He requested her to fix the string back but she refused for he failed to keep up the preconditions which put her life at risk, due to human contaminations. She refused to accede to his request. Yet, as the boy was so adamant, she had to finally agree. Since then, the instrument became public with a half string out of the seven strings.


The number of string represents seven sisters of Dakini. The short string represents the youngest sister symbolising the breaking of promise between her and the orphan boy. Different types of ‘heads/tops’ are used on the C-shaped neck of the dramnyen. The commonly used head is the symbolic crocodile head as it has the power to ward off evil forces. The C-shaped neck serves as peg box which has six turning pegs to adjust the tune of the dramnyen while the short one is in the middle of the hollowed body of the dramnyen.


The dramnyen has to be handled properly since it is the instrument for making offerings of melodies to the infinite Buddhas. One will gain merit if one plays with devotion. If one happens to play without minding those qualities, one will be met with unfortunate incidences, as the melody believes to cause emotional crisis to evil forces. Hence, the impact is being felt to the player due to the ‘law of cause and effect’. If handled and played with respect, it would help gaining wealth, glory, and enormous merits.


Today, besides focusing on the above spiritualistic considerations, it is widely used for entertainment purposes on various occasions, be it for praising gods, expressing love, conveying messages, and so on. Hence, the culture of using this instrument thrives well in Bhutan although the spiritual value of the instrument is fading away in this modern age.

No. of Performers

Only one person is required to play the lute/dramnyen.

Proceedings

Proceedings of Making a Dramnyen

  • Woods are selected based on its durability and therefore, woods such as very hard wood and soft woods are not used in making a dramnyen. Usually birch trees and similar trees are selected for the dramnyen.
  • It requires a woodblock which has a diameter of about 20 cm at the base and a length of 60 to 70 cm (approximately).
  • The base has two waists or three resonance boxes and is hollowed out up to 40 to 50 cm depending upon the length of the dramnyen.
  • The upper part is connected to a C-shaped neck which acts as a peg box. Subsequently, a carved head of a crocodile (chusin or sea monster) is fixed to the C-shaped neck of the dramnyen.
  • The hollowed part is covered with a thin sheet of wood which usually has a carving of goddess Yangchenma just above the main resonance box. It also has a few or small holes to produce a sound.
  • The base or the main resonance box is covered with a thin skin preferably of the sheep, goat, snake and so on.
  • It is then painted beautifully usually with different motifs.
  • Plastic line is used as a lute string where six strings are tightened at the peg box while half-string is tightened at the middle of the dramnyen body in the hollowed area.
  • Once the tune is set, it is ready to play.
Significance

It is an offering in the form of melody to the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

Researcher Detial:

Gengop Karchung
Researcher,
Research & Media Division,
National Library & Archives of Bhutan,
Department of Culture,
Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs,
PO Box No. 185
email: luckycarchu@gmail.com

Date of Research:2015-06-09

Data Enterer Detail:

Gengop Karchung
Researcher,
Research & Media Division,
National Library & Archives of Bhutan,
Department of Culture,
Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs,
PO Box No. 185
email: luckycarchu@gmail.com

Date of Entry:14/07/2015 3:53 pm





Asset Details
  • Domain          :  Performing Arts & Games
  • Catagory        :  Musical Instruments
  • Local Name  :  Dramnyen (སྒྲ་སྙན།)
  • Dzongkhag   :  National
Location

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ཀུན་བཟང་འཕྲིན་ལས། གླུ་དེབ་བློ་གསར་ལམ་སྟོན། ཀེ་ཨེམ་ཊི་པར་སྐྲུན་ཁང་ ཐིམ་ཕུ་ ༢༠༠༣ །

Gengop Karchung (2010). Dra-nyen: Bhutanese Musical Instrument. ICH Courier, Vol.6, pp. 4. South Korea: The Intangible Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia-Pacific.

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