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Cymbals (Rol Mo), Tibet, ca. 1700

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Pair of rol mo, Tibet, ca. 1700

NMM 7451 A/B.  Cymbals (rol mo), Tibet, ca. 1700. Two bronze cymbals with large central knobs. Handle of blue brocade with gold-thread embroidery attached to cymbal through hole in center of knob. Original, form-fitted wooden case with cloth overlay, painted red. Geometric bronze lotus leaves in repoussé attached to exterior of case. Two small brass rings mounted to edge for securing cymbals while in case. Board of Trustees, 1999.

Exterior and Interior Views

Exterior of knobbed cymbal Interior of knobbed cymbal

Rol mo are used in Tibetan music to provide the structural outline and rhythmic articulation in ritual chant, as well as to provide rhythmic impetus in the instrumental ensemble. However, Tibetan cymbal playing is not only viewed as useful for rhythmic and time-keeping purposes, but is a sensitive ritual in itself. The number of cymbal beats in a chant forms a complex mathematical structure with great symbolic value. Every beat, for example, consists of three parts:  the initial stroke, the accelerating pulse(s), and the concluding hum.

During chants, the cymbals are rotated as they are played and strokes occur on different parts of the rim, so that geometric patterns are formed during a piece which relate to the mystical use of the mandala, ". . . a geometric figure or ritual diagram used in Hinduism and Buddhism to create a structural, diagrammatic 'map' of various levels of reality, from the cosmic to the personal. The number of cymbal beats in a chant, therefore, is not arbitrary, but forms a complex mathematical structure with great symbolic value." Source:  Ter Ellingson-Waugh, "The Mathematics of Tibetan Rol-mo," Ethnomusicology Vol 23, No. 2 (May 1979).

The rol mo are traditionally played in a roughly horizontal (diagonal) position, utilizing short vertical strokes. However, other playing positions can also be found in different monasteries that follow different traditions.

Wooden Cymbal Case

Cymbal case Front of cymbal case Bottom of cymbal case

Original, form-fitted, circular case covered on both interior and exterior with cloth painted red. Interior, printed in red, green, yellow, and off-white, features geometric patterns and lotus flowers. A single metal hinge, nailed to the case with six nails, holds the halves together. Although there is no latch, two rings at the open end can be tied together to secure the case. Thirteen geometric, bronze lotus leaves in repoussé are nailed to strips of metal that cross the top and bottom of the case exterior.

Bottom of cymbal case

Pad Used To Protect Cymbals When Stored Inside Case

Pad Cymbal with pad

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