An Insight To Dong Son Drum - A Typical Artifact Of Dong Son Culture

Dong Son drum is the name of a type of bronze drum typical of the Dong Son culture (the 7 century BC - the 6th century AD) of the ancient Vietnamese and the Red River Civilization. The bronze drum is considered as the precious treasure of Vietnamese culture, closely associated with the culture, national identity and history of the nation. Each motif and decorative pattern on the Dong Son drum Vietnam hides the thorough meanings that have been considerably and controversially studied by a number of researchers. The article below will give you a closer look at the origin and some typical meanings of the valuable drum. 

Table Contents
dong son drum
Source: redsvn

The Dong Son drum Vietnam is the product of wet rice civilization which bears the typical cultural characteristics of the historical periods. Both the origin and the spiritual symbols of the bronze drum make the significance and the high values of the drum. Let’s gain more insight into the special, valuable bronze drum in the article below, which partially gives you an overview about the Dong Son bronze drum based on studies and ancient documents. 

I - Origin of Dong Son drum Vietnam

dong son bronze drum
Bronze drums were venerated as cult objects - Source: redsvn

The Dong Son culture is one of the most influential cultures in Southeast Asia during the Bronze Age and the Dong Son bronze drum is also one of the most famous and critical artifacts of the East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures over the last two millennia. The bronze drums are typical of the Dong Son culture and the Red River Delta wet rice civilization. It is not only a precious and valuable treasure of Vietnamese culture but also the “brief reflection” of the long course of Vietnamese history. During thousands of years of defending the Nation, the Dong Son drum symbolizes the cultural quintessence as well as the indomitable will of Vietnamese people. 

According to ancient history, the homeland of the Dong Son bronze drums is Phu Tho province and some provinces in the North and North Central of Vietnam. The drum existed during the period from the 7th century BC to the 6th century AD, which was the intellectual “product” of the ancient Vietnamese who overcame the extreme weathers and made use of their intelligence, creativity and courage to create the bronze casting techniques. Particularly, in 1990, a Dong Son drum type 1 with the largest size - the pinnacle of the technical perfection in manufacturing the bronze drums was discovered in Khuon Muoi hill - an ancient village at the foot of Nghia Linh mountain, where the temple of the Hung Kings is located. 

dong son drum vietnam
Using the lost-wax casting method - Source: Zingnews

The Dong Son bronze drums were also excavated in other provinces in Vietnam, of which the Thanh Hoa province is also considered as the center of the Dong Son culture with the largest number of bronze drums discovered here, largely allocated in various areas from mountainous areas to the midland and lowland districts. In 1990, of 115 Dong Son drums discovered in Vietnam, there were 31 in Thanh Hoa province of different types. 

Currently, the Dong Son bronze drum are exhibited in:

- Thanh Hoa Provincial Museum - No.206 Truong Thi street, Truong Thi ward, Thanh Hoa province. 

- Vietnam National Museum of History:

+ Branch 1: No.216 Tran Quang Khai street, Trang Tien ward, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

+ Branch 2: No.01 Trang Tien street, Phan Chu Trinh ward, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

II - The features of Dong Son drum

dong son bronze drums

A variety of bronze drums found in Vietnam - Source: Internet

In 1987 and 1980, 115 Dong Son bronze drums are excavated and analyzed to divide into 5 groups: 

1 - Group A 

The bronze drum in Group A consists of three sections with balanced shape and diverse decorative bronze drum pattern. The images of animals and people are really vivid and realistic.

2 - Group B

The body of the drum in Group B is divided into three distinctive parts but not balanced as that in Group A. The decorative Dong Son drum patterns are considerably simpler. Apart from the rings of flying birds on the surface of the drum, the rest are geometric patterns. The number of bronze drums in Group B accounts for the largest number. 

3 - Group C

The body part of the Dong Son bronze drum in Group C still comprises three balanced segments with large and medium sizes. The rich and diverse decorative patterns are stylized with many new geometric motifs. On the face of the drum are the images of the toad. The legs of the drum are decorated as well. 

4 - Group D

In Group D, the body part of the Dong Son drum is divided into three sections with short, imbalanced shape and short legs. The simple decorative patterns are not arranged into rims. Some bronze drums do not have any decorative patterns. 

5 - Group Đ

The body part of the bronze in Group Đ is divided into three distinct parts. The boundary among the barrel, the head and the leg is not clear. The decorative patterns on the face of the drum and geometric motifs still reflect the Dong Son traditional culture.

III - Design and meanings of patterns on Dong Son drum

dong son drum pattern

Meticulous patterns on the design of drum - Source: redsvn

Cast in bronze using the lost-wax casting method, the drums can reach up to one meter in height and weigh 100 kilograms each. Drums were used as musical instruments in festivals and rituals, including weddings and funerals, as well as for command during wartime.

The exotic designs reflect lots of meanings and features of the Oriented society & Vietnamese culture. Dong son drums cast in bronze with details of meticulous, geometric patterns, depicting the scene of daily life, agriculture, war, animals, birds, boats, culture, and beliefs of the Vietnamese people as well as symbolic images of totems. Particularly, the Yin-Yang harmony is clearly represented to express the prosperity of all species on earth. 

Particularly, in the center of every Dong Son drum is the image of 14 pointed-star radiating out, interspersed between the “wings” of the star are triangular patterns, represented by two straight lines and tiny dots in the triangular shape like the peacock’s tail. Many scholars believe the 14-pointed star symbolizes the sun, which is considered as the core factor in Dong Son bronze drum Along with the sun, the appearance of “chim Tien” or “chim Lạc” (a kind of fairy bird according to the Vietnamese’s beliefs) with long beaks, legs and broadened tails flying around the sun is almost the fixed, integral decorative patterns of the Dong Son drum. The images of this bird species also appearing in the outermost circle on the bronze drum’s face are the circle of time, symbolizing a year because this species of bird normally showed up in a certain period of time every year as an annual routine, according to the observation of the ancient people. In addition, the images of “Trào Kê” - a species of chicken which was believed to “inform” the high tide by clucking are also found on the Dong Son bronze drum’s face.

dong son drums design
Geometric patterns - Source: Zingnews

There are also the images of people dancing, rowing boats, blowing trumpets and warriors carrying armaments, which was perhaps a ritual of sacrifice of a buffalo or a bull on the Dong Son drum. The scene of sacrifice of a captive on a boat is also believed to be closely associated with the rain-giving ritual, the very popular one in many regions of ancient Vietnam. The images of people with a bun standing next to dome houses, stilt houses with curved roofs in a ceremony shows that the inhabitants during the Dong Son culture knew the methods to build houses from wooden materials. The scenes of a couple (man - woman) holding pestles to pound rice represents the Yin-Yang harmony, in which the pestle represents the Yang element and the mortar symbolizes Yin. Many other meticulous motifs bear the deep, spiritual meanings that have been studied by many researchers over the globe. 

More images of Dong Son bronze drums: 

dong son drum image

Patterns on bronze drum of Dong Son - Source: redsvn

dong son drum in vietnam

Patterns on bronze drum of Dong Son - Source: redsvn

dong son drum for sale

Bronze drum for sale - Source: belux

dong son drum tattoo

Dong son drum tattoo - Source: Internet

That is a quick look at Dong Son drum - one of the most famous & iconic of Dong Son culture. As being considered as a vital cultural heritage in Vietnam, you can find lots of exotic patterns and details on the drum that can tell a lot about history, culture, and society of the people living in southern China, and Southeast Asia areas.  

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