The Damphu and Tamang Culture
According to the Tamang tradition, the damphu, a one sided, hand held drum, is an essential aspect of the Tamang Culture. The exact date of its invention is not known, but as per the Tamang legend, the Tamang forefather, Peng Dorje, is credited for the invention of this musical instrument. As is conveyed through Tamang songs and folklores, Peng Dorje’s inspiration to create a damphu came as a result of his affection and devotion to his wife (Mam) The story of the damphu is as follows:
On the hunting trip, Peng Dorje observed male Damphe dancing (Lophophorus impejanus) in circles around its hen (female) counterparts in an attempt to attract them Peng Dorje immediately becomes inspired by the bird’s dance and their cause. Thus, he decides to perform similar dance to please his wife.
Using his bow and arrow, he kills buck deer and uses it dried skin to make a damphu first by bending a piece of mulberry wood to create a circle. Then he places the deer’s hide over one side of the wood, and then he secures it using 32 nails made out bamboo. The 32 nails symbolized the 32 fortunes of living things.
Then Peng Dorje held the newly created instrument with his left hand, and pounded on it with his right hand, creating sound of four beat tak dhing, dhing dhing. He started dancing in circle, sometimes standing, at other times squatting near the ground to pay homage of mother Earth.
Since its invention, damphu has played a major role in the sociocultural aspect of the Tamang Communities throughout Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Darjeeling, Assam. In the Tamang community the people who engage in singing and dancing utilizing the Damphu are known as Damphures and they follow certain rules as to when and where they can exhibit their performance skill. The Daphu is played in every social events such as wedding, birthday, chhewar (a coming of age ceremony for boys) and nawaran (a naming ceremony for babies).
The party that wants to hire the damphures to perform at their event must make special invitation by presenting them with big clay container filled with home brewed raksi. And upon their arrival to the event the host has to present the daphures with another sagun consisting of raksi and sel toti before they can start singing and dancing.
Using the beer and distilled alcohol presented by the host as an offering the Damphures perform puja to all the deities and to the damphu itself, and request the deities for their presence. And then finally they ask all the guest to bless the sagun and this is called lasso chayenge.
Now the damphures are ready to start their show. They hold the damphu with their left hand and beat on it with their right hand, creating a sound of tak dhin dhin while rotating their moves from dancing around in circles to dancing while squatting close to the ground and times dancing while standing. Meanwhile, they begin the songs with “amaile hoi amaile” in respect and praise of one’s mother and end the event with lyrics, manna la hey nanaa la kasya nag ri yoonn la” asking deities to rid the audience of its misfortunes.
Written By Dig Bahadur Tamang