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Dhimay : The Most Popular Ethnic Drum of the Newars


Newar, footage from the sound collection at the British Library

– Subhash Ram Prajapati

The Newars of Nepal, as in other traditions, are very much rich in music tradition. Not a single festivity, feast or ritual 'from womb to tomb' passes without music in Newar culture. In fact, the Newars play music in every small and big function every day throughout each calendar year.

Dhimay is the most popular and common musical instrument amongst the Newars. Dhimay has become a synonym for the word 'Jyapu'  . Though this musical instrument these days is not only limited to Jyapu caste (and not only limited to the Newars too), till now whenever we term Dhimay, we remember Jyapu and vise versa. It is played in almost all ceremonial marches by the Jyapus. They are found lost in dancing with deep rumble of Dhimay in festivities.

According to a legend, Dhimay is an instrument first played by the lord Mahadeva. The story behind Dhimay goes like this – a long ago, a child was born from Lord Mahadeva and Bhagavati. Both of them argued that the child belongs to him/her. Since the argument could not be overcome, both began to fetch the child. This led to detach the child into flesh and bones. Khyak evolved from the flesh and Kankal evolved from the bones. Lord Mahadeva became regretful from the evolution of Khyak and Kankal (The evil spirits). He then went to the dense forest and started to play a tree trunk as a musical instrument. It is said that this very instrument later developed as Dhimay.

Despite the fact that this legend has no evidence, it becomes obvious that this legend tries to introduce Dhimay as one of the oldest musical instrument (dating back to around 5000 years). As we see the development of Dhimay, we arrive at the conclusion that Dhimay of the Newars, Chyabrung of the Kirat Rais and Dhol of the Terai region were evolved from the same musical instrument . All these instruments have similarity in the construction and also the playing techniques match. Historians have showed that such instruments were used to play to chase wild animals in the jungles. By inspecting the Dhunya (flag pole, that is often played with Dhimay), it is often assumed that Dhimay dates back to the Lichhavi Period. But with other significances it seems to be more precise to say that Dhimay was evolved earlier than the Lichhavi Period and became wider in Lichhavi Period and afterward. In Lichhavi Period, there was a tradition to play a fanfare on Dhimay to proclaim news. In Malla Period, proclaiming by beating of Nayakhin was widely spread. This proclaiming is known as 'Nayakhin Coyekegu' in Nepalbhasa.

The word 'Dhimay' was evolved from the Sanskrit word 'Din-Di-Ma'. Dindim in Sanskrit is defined as a kind of small drum. The word 'Dindi' stands for imitative sound. 'Dindim' in Pali and Prakrit languages mean small drum or a kind of kettle drum. The word 'Dendi' in Bengali, 'Dadandi' in Punjabi and 'Donri' in Hindi means proclamation by beat of drum. Likewise, 'Dawandi' in Marathi means drum beaten by public crier and 'Dadagun' in Gujarati means war drum.

In Nepalbhasa the word 'Din-Di-Ma' changed to 'Dhin-Ma-Da'  (Change in Voiced Aspirated From Din to Dhin and alternation of Ma and Da). Later it changed to Dhen-Ma-Sa (Change of Retroflex Da to Fricative Sa). In Amara Kosh of Nepal Era 501 , the word 'Dhyan-Ma-Sa' has been found. Similarly, in the Amar Kosh of Nepal Era 718, the word 'Dhe-Ma-Sa' has been found and the word 'Dhe-Mä-Sa' was found in Suka Bahatari (Nepal Era 866). These days, Newah people say it 'Dhi-Ma-Ye' in Kathmandu, Patan and 'Dhi-Mä-Ye' in Bhaktapur and Thimi.

Dhimay is constructed from cylindrical hollowed tree trunk with leather pads at both of its ends. Nowadays, Dhimays are frequently made of brass and other metals. The general size of Dhimay is 20" in length and 16" in diameter. Its left hand hide which sound much higher, is known as 'Näsah', whilst the other hide is called 'Mänkä' or 'Haima'. 'Mänkä' carries a tuning paste I,nside. Dhimays are of two kinds : bigger 'Mä Dhimay', and smaller 'Dhähcä Dhimay' or 'Yalaypoh Dhimay'. The right hand hide, 'Näsah', is played with an osier stick curled at one end called 'Pau Kathi' (which is also called as 'Dã Kathi', 'Dhimay Kathi' or 'Khota Kathi'), whilst the left hand hide 'Mänkä' is played with the free hand.

Dhimay is accompanied with 'Bhusyäh' (Pair of Cymbals). In Bhaktapur, 'Sichhyäh' (Cymbals smaller than Bhusyäh) is also played with it. 'Kayenpi' ('TainNain') is also played in different places. With 'Gu' tala of Bhaktapur and with 'Ma Dhimay' in Kathmandu, Ponga (a long wind instrument) is also played. For Naubaja, the shwam Muhali is also played as background melodic instrument. There is no hard and fast rule to teach Yalaypoh Dhimay, however, to learn Ma Dhimay, one must pass through the 'Wahla Samskara' (a kind of ritual done after Kaitapuja, fixing of loin cloth). This prerequisite is found only in Kathmandu. A person who has already gone through 'Wahla Samskara' is fit to learn Dhimay in Kathmandu. While teaching Dhimay to these eligible people, the Dhimay dance and Dhunya dances are also taught. In Kathmandu,  one or more men precede with 'Dhunya Munya' along with the Dhimay baja group. 'Dhunya Munya' is long bamboo poles decorated with colorful cloth pieces and have a yak tail fastened to the end. These poles are swayed and turned in time to time in the rhythm of Dhimay. The tradition of 'Dhunya' is not found in other parts of the valley and in Kathmandu too, only 17 toles among traditional 32 toles have this tradition.


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