Bhutans religion | Buddhism | The Buddhist ritual | Musical instruments

The musical instruments

Music plays an important role in the liturgy of Buddhism. Its sound is meant to please the sense of hearing of the gods and to ring out the sacred doctrine to make its message accessible by means beyond rationally argued language. Music accompanies the meditation of the lamas and supports their visualisations of the evocated deities. Music also helps those playing it dedicatedly in purifying themselves and removing karmic obstacles on the path to enlightenment. Play audio


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The tonal language varies between a regularly changing monotony and melodic patterns which are slightly changed in repetitions. This is based on a fixed procedure of between three and seven notes (usually four or five). The ensemble consists of wind instruments played in pairs and percussion instruments of unspecified pitch. String instruments are only used in secular music.

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Shell horn (dungkar), copper, silver, gilding, semi-precious stones; size: 55 cm x 29 cm x 11,5 cm; loan from the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, Liverpool
The horn, made out of the shell of a sea snail, is mainly used to call the monks together for their prayers. The tone is said to be equal to the »pure ocean of wisdom» and to lead the believer to the understanding of the Buddhist teaching. The wing which is attached to the main body is decorated with a pair of dragons and framed by lotus motives. The dragons' eyes are set with lapis lazuli. In their claws they hold further precious stones.

Oboes (gyaling), copper, silver, wood; H: 60 cm; loan from the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, Liverpool
Oboes are always played in pairs. They are mostly used in combination with long horns.

Wind instruments like oboes or long trumpets are always played in pairs. The long trumpets can be up to four meters long; the pipe sections can be moved into one another.
Photo by Christian Schicklgruber