Ancient musical instruments of the Turanian steppes

Saturday, February 9, 2013


The early forms of dombra first appeared in ancient Egypt. In the current form it emerged in the sixteenth century among the steppe people of Asia.

The Kazakh dombra typically a pear-shaped, convex-bodied, long-necked, plucked string instrument. In general, it has two strings. The little brother of dombra is shingkildek or balakay dombra made for children.


Zhetigen is a plucked instrument, it resembles to the Hungarian citera. The original zhetigen has 7-strings.


This string instrument is widespread among the Turkic peoples of the Volga region (eg Cheremises); it is a basic musical instrument among steppe peoples. But, only the Kazakhs use it as an orchestral instrument. It can imitate the sounds of wind, storm, or birds. The two strings made of hairs from the tail of a horse. Kodyz bodies made out of wood; it is carved hollow and its lower half covered by animal skin. The kodyz bow made of horsehair.


The sazsyrnay's closest relative is the Hungarian “körtemuzsika”. The ancient Hungarian “körtemuzsika” originates from the orient and our ancestors already used it at the time of “Honfoglalás” (conquest) in the tenth century. In the Carpathian Basin finds have been excavated near “Cseke” lake. In ancient times, Hungarian shamans used the instrument to treat patients. By imitating the sounds of various birds shamans invoked the floating souls of the dead. The Kazakh version of sazsyrnay has 4-6 holes. In general, sazsyrnay is a bird egg-shaped instrument, but there are more angular versions as well.


The dangyra is a traditional shamanic drum, it has a wooden frame covered by stretched animal skin. The dangyra or dabil has been used by shamans during meditation. The larger ones have been used by Central Asian nations during wars as war instruments. The horseback battle drum was brought to Europe by the Hungarians. The double timpani that was hanging from the side of horses caused a quite a stir in France when Hungarian King László the fifth sent double timpani to a French parade. The shaman drums belong to the so-called single-bottomed drums family, since only one side of the frame is covered with a membrane the other side is open with a cross bar attached to it to hold it. When Hungary adopted Christianity the church banned the use of shaman drums. Despite the ban it has survived in various modified forms throughout the centuries. In the 18th century witch trials inquisitors used the shaman drum as an evidence of guilt. However, the shaman drum survived among Csángó Hungarians up to this day in modified forms. Csángós used a larger version of the original shaman drum even in the 20th century often making it out of sheepskin and fitting ringing accessories around its sides.


The darbuka is a hand-held drum similar to conga drum and used mainly in Central Asia. In Anglo-Saxon countries it is known as doumbek.

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Kaustav Chakrabarti said...

How Asian is the Hungarian nation
In Spirit
And Expression
Its Musical warriors
Like their ancestors of Old
Have surely taken the world
By Storm
Riding on the melodies of Horse-hooves
The music is carried far into time
The Past comes alive
With the Darbuka and the Zhetigen
The Hungarian nation lives
And it shall live
Despite time
Dr. Kaustav Chakrabarti
Asst. Professor of History

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