January 30, 2017 By Tashi Tenzin*



Dranyen, an instrument with six strings in three groups, is the basis and foundation of Tibetan traditional music. For a thousand years it has existed predominantly in Tibet and is believed to have been exclusively created on the plateau. There have been many research works published on Tibetan art, literature, culture and religion in and outside Tibet, but the articles on dranyen, its origin, features, shape and the type of rhythms played were rarely explicit and largely superficial. However, in-depth research, particularly on its origin and existing challenges, is rarely accessible.

This study, though with limited sources, focuses on historical background, the use of notations, and the expansion of its use and challenges in facing threats from external factors. I have pointed out here possible links which could guide the readers or dranyen-lovers to know how the instrument was invented or introduced in Tibet. My hope is that this will also benefit the fledgling Tibetan artists, and future generations who intend to learn dranyen, in understanding the spread of use of dranyen in various regions and the development of regional rhythms and styles of playing.

In addition, this paper also discusses the birth of the Tibetan traditional music genre, Nangma-Toeshey, and how it became acclaimed as one of the crucial elements in Tibetan identity. Apart from this unique Tibetan traditional genre, the study also partly highlights other music such as folk songs and street songs of the mid-20th century. The study also examines the impediments to, and the advancement of, dranyen during critical stages of the late 20th century and also the corresponding rise of artists in and outside Tibet. The conclusion is that, while the instrument was invented in Tibet, it may have been inspired or derived from elsewhere.[Full paper in PDF]


*Tashi Tenzin is an administrative staff  at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.


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