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

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NMM 7198.  Thighbone trumpet, Tibet, 19th century.  Top view.

NMM 7198.  Thighbone trumpet (rkang dung), Tibet, 19th century. Bare bone with simple metal wrapping. Ball joint removed, forming the mouthpiece; the knee-joint, slightly altered, acts as a double-bell. Its characteristic simplicity mirrors the life of the clerics who play it. Usually paired with the skull drum (damaru). 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.

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.

Go to Checklist of Musical Instruments From Tibet and Nepal

A catalog of instruments from Tibet is available from the Gift Shop

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Most recent update:   October 9, 2010

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