Ritual skull drum "thöpa damaru"

2995 €

Tibet, early 20th century, private collection from Denmark.

Tibet, the historic region and autonomous region of China (often called "the roof of the world") is vast country (covering an area in excess of 2,5 million square kilometers), over two thirds the size of India or more than two and half times the size of Austria, Denmark, France and Germany put together. Tibet is the highest region on Earth, with an average elevation of 4,380 meters. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well some other ethnic groups such as Monpa, Tamang, Qiang, Sherpa, and Lhoba peoples. Surrounded by high snow-capped mountain ranges and dotted with numerous lakes, Tibet is also the source of many great rivers, the Bharmaputra, Indus, Yangtze, Mekong, Yellow, Salween to name a few. Tibet's history begins in 127BC, and it was subsequently ruled by different dynasties. At times, Tibet extended its influence over neighboring countries and peoples and, in other periods, came itself under the influence of powerful foreign rulers, including the Mongol Khans, the Gorkhas of Nepal, the Manchu emperors and the British rulers of India. Until 1949, Tibet was an independent nation in the Himalayas which had little contact with the rest of the world. It existed as a rich cultural storehouse of the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings of Buddhism. Religion was unifying theme among the Tibetans, as was theur own language, literature, art, and world view developed by living at high altitudes, under harsh conditions, in a balance with their enviroment. The Tibet was invaded by Communists China in 1950. On 7 october 1950 thousands of Chinese troops marched into Lhasa. The forcible occupation of Tibet was marked by systematic destruction of monasteries, the supression of religion, denial of political freedom, widespread arrest and imprisonment and massacre of innocent men, women and children. Since that time, over 1,2 million out of 6 Tibetans have been killed, over 6000 monastaries have been destroyed, and thousands of Tibetans have been imprisoned.

A damaru (Sanskrit: ḍamaru) is a small two-headed drum, used in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. In Hinduism, the damaru is known as the instrument of the deity Shiva, associated with Tantric traditions. It is said to be created by Shiva to produce spiritual sounds by which the whole universe has been created and regulated. In Tibetan Buddhism, the damaru (rnga-chung) is used as an instrument in meditation practices, the rhythm of the damaru references the ongoing, relentless beat of time. Typical damaru were made from wood or metal, with bone being a rarity.

The Thöpa damaru (called also chang te'u or thod-rnga) is made from a male and female skull bone or calvarium, cut well above the area of the ear, and joined at their apex. The skins are traditionally cured by burying them with copper and other mineral salts, and special herbal formulas for about two weeks. These are then stretched and applied to the two sides, giving the skins their familiar blue or green mottled appearance. A collar of simple brocade, or copper or silver, has a hand-hold, and is the site of attachment of the beaters, whose knit cover represents two eyeballs. Played by rotating, causing the swinging beater to strike each head. Mantras were often written on the interior of drums such as these. Held in the right hand, the "hand of method," the skull drum is an example of the synthesis of tradition that took place between Bön and Buddhist spirituality.

The symbolism and energetic properties of the drums is extensive. These human skull damaru or chang te'u are used in a wide range of Vajrayana ritual, as a standard right hand accompaniment to the bell, held in the left hand. Usually used to together as an accent or punctuation during various tantric practices, the drum can also keep time during entire passages. For the solo practitioner, it is an essential tool, while in larger assemblies, only the presiding Rinpoches and chant masters use them, in concert with the long horns (radung), short horns (gyaling), large cymbals (silnyen and rolmo) and large temple drums (lag-na). Tibetans regarded the skull as the seat of intelligence, and it was thought that their ancestors’ wisdom could be inherited from the use of skeletal damaru.

The thöpa damaru, often paired with the thighbone trumpet in ritual use, existed as part of traditional Bön ceremonies prior to the presence of Buddhism in Tibet. Traditionally, the crania would be gathered from a sky-burial (jhator) site, or charnel ground. It is the Tibetan belief that the body is nothing more than a vessel and, upon death, it should continue the cycle that is life; therefore, corpses are exposed to the elements, in order to decompose, in designated areas known as charnel grounds. The selection of skulls from charnal grounds, for use in making the damaru, traditionally involved several factors including age of the deceased, gender, and cause of death.

Absolutely magnificent thöpa damaru are in excellent condition. Intact. Age-related wear and signs of use. Gorgeous patina. Dirt, dust and soot. Size approx. 14,6cm x 11,7cm x 8,3cm. Weight c. 210g.

Notice! All of our human osteolgical specimens are ex-medical/ anatomical educational samples or ethnographical seremonial artefacts (eg. kapalas). We don’t sell, buy, or pass on human osteological specimens with unknown origin whose characteristics do not meet the above criteria. Breach of the sanctity of the grave (Criminal Code of Finland, Criminal Law 563/1998, Chapter 17, Section 12).

References, sources and citations:

Damaru, Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection (https://omeka-s.grinnell.edu/s/MusicalInstruments/item/5191).

Damaru, Dick Alastair and Mireille Helffer, 2014, GDMI v.2: 10-11.

Skull drum (Damaru) on Exhibit at the National Music Museum (http://collections.nmmusd.org/Tibet/1383/Damaru.html).

The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols, Robert Beer  Serindia Publications, Inc., 2003.

Instruments of Burma, India, Nepal, Thailand and Tibet, Thomas E. Cross, M.M. Thesis, University of South Dakota, May 1983, pp. 73-75.

Ritual Drum (damaru), Cleveland Museum of Art. (https://www.clevelandart.org/art/1918.391)

Tibetan Rituals of Death: Buddhist funerary practices, Margaret Gouin, Published March 29, 2012 by Routledge.