Discovering Traditional Drum Making in Rural Sri Lanka

Discovering Traditional Drum Making in Rural Sri Lanka

The entire village plays a role in the business of manufacturing these drums. To start work on the drums wood is cut, mainly from the Jack Fruit tree. Some other woods used are from Ehela (neem) and coconut trees. The artisans use the wood which, is most readily available at the time. The carving of the shape of the drum thereafter begins, where the raw logs are carved to the required shape of each of the drum types. After the cutters and carvers have done their job, the product goes to the finishers and shavers – who smoothen the other layer and scoop out the insides of the drum to form a hollow cavity after which the polishers will apply varnish to give the drum colour and protect the wood. Thereafter the goat and cattle skin is used for the drums itself, where the skins are cut into circles and tightly bound onto the drum. Afterwards, the grinder will grind up a black porous rock which is pasted only to the centre of the leather on each side of the drum.


Some of the most popular drums used are mentioned below.


This hill country drum is called the Geta Beraya (a drum with a knot) according to its shape. This is the main drum used to accompany dance sequences in all Kandyan rituals. The two faces of the drum are described as ‘left’ and ‘right’. The right side is covered with the hide of a monkey or monitor lizard and the left side is covered with cattle hide, which is used to provide a finer sound. Since the drum is usually played at open-air venues, the sound carries to quite a distance. This drum is turned out of wood from Ehela, Jak, Kohomba and Milla trees. Various parts of the drum have separate names and are played by tying around the waist.


This low-country drum is also called the Ruhunu Beraya, Yak Beraya or the Goshaka Beraya. It is used in the southern coastal areas known as the Pahatha Rata’. The Yak Beraya is the main drum used to accompany dance sequences in this region of Sri Lanka. This cylindrical drum is covered with the stomach lining of cattle and turned out of wood from Kitul, Coconut, Kohomba, Ehela and Milla trees. The drummer plays the instrument by hand whilst tied around the waist. Some players decorate the trunks of their drums with various motifs or fix stainless steel bars around the body.


The Thammattama consists of two separate pieces. It is called the Pokuru Beraya and is also referred to as the cluster of drums. This twinset of drums is of different sizes. As this is a twinset, it is termed `Ubhayatala’. The top side is covered with cattle hide, and the body is made out of wood from Milla, Kohomba, Jak and Ehela trees. The left side produces low pitched tones while the right produces high pitched tones. These drums are played with two special sticks fashioned out of Kirindi. The Thammattama is an essential instrument during religious services at Buddhist temples and shrines.

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