Drums In Sri Lanka Play A Key Role In Sri Lankan Culture As An Music Instrument.

Drums in Sri Lanka

Among the traditional Sri Lankan arts, dance and drumming are unique. Even before the beginning of a dance, drums have been made and played. The Sri Lankan drumming tradition is a powerful art medium that demonstrates the identity of Sinhala culture. The talented craftspeople’s creation of high-quality drums in Sri Lanka has significantly impacted and supported the growth of music and dance throughout Sri Lanka.

Get to know drums in Sri Lanka.

There are various definitions of the term drum. In the Sumangala Dictionary, the translation of “Bera” is “Bheri.” “Bheri” is an ancient Sanskrit word. Even today, in Sri Lankan texts, you can see that drumming is mentioned as Bheri. The term “Beraya” is called “Drum” in English. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Drum” as “A percussion instrument with a skin stretched across a frame sounded by being struck.”

A drum, as defined above, is a percussion band made by pulling a skin through a form that emits sound by striking it. Another definition has been presented for this in the Oxford English Dictionary. “A cylindrical container or part.” This definition clarifies that a drum is a cylindrical container or part.

Drums in Sri Lanka

History of drums at a glance!

When talking about the history of the drum, historical information reveals that it is an instrument with a long history. After an animal’s skin was placed on a tree trunk and dried, it (the skin) remained attached to the tree trunk. It rattled when touched, emitting a sound when touched. Then the villagers took sticks they had cut from the trees and hollowed them out. Then, they skinned this in the same manner as the tree trunk. Ancient people created the drum in this way.

Archeological evidence reveals that the beginning of drumming dates back to prehistoric times. Some tribes worldwide used the tree drum (stick drum) to make noise rather than a beat for dancing.

The anthropological research of Mr. James Hastings has shown that beating boku skins with sticks is the birth of leather-bound drums. It was a custom of the Malaysian island tribes to tie a bundle of boku skin together and beat it with a wooden stick. In the dances of the Chaco Indian tribes, the buck skins thus wrapped together are pounded into a bundle.

Sri Lankan drums history

What are the Sri Lankan drums?

There is evidence that drumming has existed in Sri Lanka since ancient times. The Mahavamsa has the earliest written documentation on this matter. It is mentioned in the Mahavamsa that on the night Vijaya and his group arrived in Sri Lanka, they heard a band playing. When Prince Vijaya inquired about this, Kuvenia replied that it was a sound heard from a wedding ceremony held in Sirisavastupura. Drumming was certainly among the bands.

In later times King Pandukabhaya also held a festival to offer sacrifice to the demons Chittaraja and Kalavela. It is mentioned in the sources that there were also drums, singing, and dancing. After that, many kings of Lakdiva used drums as musical instruments. The names of many types of drums used in Sri Lanka are mentioned in Maha Vamsaya Thupa wanshaya Dhatu Vamsaya Dalada Sirit Dambadeni Asna etc. It implies that drumming has existed since ancient times.

According to Buddhist and Vedic literature, the drum is an instrument created by the Divine Son Vishwakarma. According to legend, Panchasika Gandharva beat the drum as an offering to Lord Buddha.

How do Sri Lankans make drums?

Before making the drum, the artisan should cut a suitable tree for it. It is a traditional custom to use the auspicious time for that. Traditional drummers believe that after cutting the tree with the auspicious words “Utrapala” and “Punavasa” and making the drum with “hena” yoga, its sound is very good. Astrology also mentions that making drums with Hena Yoga is very auspicious.

Traditional artisans follow a series of procedures in making a drum. All other types of drums used in this country are prepared using wood, except for Bummadiya. For this purpose, they used a well-grown mature tree. Before cutting the tree, they prepare a flowering plant at the base, perform rituals with flowers, lamps, incense, etc., and take the gods’ blessings. If there is a deity who has taken care of that tree, artisans also take the deities’ permission and cut down the tree.

Kithul, coconut, varaka. Wood species such as Gansuriya, Eela, Kohomba, etc., are used to make drums.

Artisans make the drum eye with the help of animal skins. For this, leather types, such as camel leather, crocodile leather, deer leather, goat leather, etc., are used.

Types of drums in Sri Lanka

Drums can be classified according to the way a drum is played.


Drums played only with the hands. Eg – Gataberaya, Yakberaya, Udakkiya, Dakkiya, Bunmadiya


Drums played with the help of kadippu (kotu). E.g. Thammattama, Dadu drum


Drums played with palm and drumsticks, e.g., Daula

Among these Sri Lankan drums names, following drums are very popular and mostly seen for Sri Lankan entertainment purposes and religious festivals.


The dawula is played as a background instrument for Buddhist temple rituals and Sabaragamuwa dance tradition rites and dances. The primary percussion instrument utilized to accompany dances in the Sabaragamuwa culture is the dawula. The aluyam duraya (morning prayers), madiyam duraya (afternoon prayers), and handha duraya ceremonies in Buddhist temples have all traditionally been used (evening prayers). This enormous cylindrical drum is played with both hands on one side while the other is pounded with a drumstick called a kadippuwa.

Yak beraya

The main drum used in the Low-Country drumming tradition is called the “demon drum,” or yak beraya. Other names for the yak beraya are the pahatharata beraya, devol beraya, and ruhunu beraya after various South Asian kingdoms and the ceremonial devol maduva, respectively (Low-Country drum). The yak beraya is a performance tool employed in different non-religious settings, including Buddhist weddings, welcoming marches for dignitaries, and tourist-drawing acts.

Geta beraya

This is the primary musical accompaniment for the Hill Country Dance or the Kandyan Dance. Artisans use the wood of the ehela, kohomba, or kos (jak) trees to make the drum. They cover the right side of the drum in monkey skin while coating the other in cow skin. The drum tapers towards the ends. Large threads that cross the drum from side to side are made of deer hyde to tighten the two skins.


The banku rabanaya, ath rabanaya, viridu rabanaya, and karakawana rabanaya are the four kinds of this drum. It is the banku rabanaya, which locals have historically performed at avurudu celebrations and Sinhalese wedding rituals. The word “banku rabanaya” refers to the enormous circular drum typically played by four ladies who sat around it on benches. Even now, during the avurudu celebrations, this drum is occasionally played. Due to their size and portability compared to traditional drums, street performers choose the ath and viridu rabanaya.


The drummer beats a twin drum called a thammattama or pokuru beraya with two drumsticks while it is hung on his waist. The drum with a treated cowhide covering that produces a bass sound when struck is significantly bigger than the other. A young calf’s treated skin covers the smaller drum, which beats at a higher pitch. Treated buffalo or thick goat hide is used for the fastenings that secure the drum skins. When performing rituals in Buddhist temples, performers occasionally play this drum alongside the dawula.


The creation of high-quality traditional music instruments in Sri Lanka by talented craftspeople has significantly impacted and supported the growth of music and dance throughout Sri Lanka. Making drums in Sri Lanka is an ancient craft that has persisted in some societies unaltered, accompanied by the transmission of the necessary abilities from one generation to the next.

Each instrument must perform in a specific way, and the artisans must be incredibly sensitive to produce the sound and tone needed. This craft involves a great deal of talent and competence. All raw materials must be treated, including the animal skins used for the drums’ sides and the various tree trunks chosen for use.


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