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Images from The Beede Gallery

Thighbone Trumpet (Rkang Dung), Tibet, 19th Century

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Right side

NMM 7038.  Thighbone trumpet, Tibet, 19th century.  Top view.

Bottom view

Side view

NMM 7038.  Thighbone trumpet (rkang dung), Tibet, 19th century. Bone wrapped in brass wire, finished with repoussé brass work on the mouthpiece and bell. Encased bell prominently features a sea dragon (makara). Exquisite example of the finery common to the monastic ensemble. Single piece of white coral mounted on bell cuff. Joe R. and Joella F. Utley Collection, 1999.

Rkang gling, literally "leg flute," refers to a short trumpet made from a human femur. Another name, rkang dung, literally "leg trumpet," refers to the same instrument and the two names are used interchangeably. However, confusion results from the role played by the thighbone trumpet as the high voice in ritual music, which places it on the same level as the rgya gling (shawm, considered a "flute"), instead of with the other dung (telescoping trumpets), which play low, drone-like passages in the monastic ensemble.

Repouseé Work on Encased Bell Section

Sea dragon head
Sea dragon badge attached to bell

The knee-joint end of femur is encased in brass. The epiphyseal condyles form a double bell.

While rkang gling can be made either of metal or of bone, metal instruments are preferred for ensemble playing since they are louder and offer more immediate response, allowing for greater articulation. Shamans of both Buddhist and Bön traditions employ rkang gling in many rituals, usually holding the trumpet in the eft hand, the "hand of wisdom," while a damaru is simultaneously held in the right hand, the "hand of method."

Tibetan Monk Holding Damaru and Rkang-gling

Yogi holding damaru and thighbone trumpet

"A wandering Tibetan monk, or yogi, who lives as a hermit and recites the holy texts, gcod. The equipment of the yogi includes the damaru drum and the rkang-gling made from a human femur." From Lucie Rault, Musical Instruments: Craftmanship and Traditions from Prehistory to the Present, translated from the French, Instruments de musique du monde by Jean Brenton (Paris: Editions de la Martinière, 2000 and New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000), p. 108.  Image source:  A. David-Neel.

White Coral Inlay

White coral inlay

White coral inlaid on bell cuff

White coral inlay White coral inlay on mouthpiece

White coral inlaid on mouthpiece cuff

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Most recent update:   October 9, 2010

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