Origins of the War Drum?

Ancient and medieval history is replete with references to the beating of war drums to herald the outbreak of war.

Verses 26-31 of Rig Veda hymn 47 in Mandala VI, composed by Garga Bharadvaja are addressed to the Dundhubithe War Drum.  These verses, based on Griffith’s translation are re-produced below:

  •  [29] Send forth thy voice aloud through earth and heaven, and let the world in all its breadth regard thee;

O Drum, accordant with the Gods and Indra, drive thou afar, yea, very far, our foemen.

  • [30] Thunder out strength and fill us full of vigour: yea, thunder forth and drive away all dangers.

Drive hence, O War-drum, drive away misfortune: thou art the Fist of Indra: show thy firmness.

  • [31] Drive hither those, and these again bring hither: the War-drum speaks aloud as battle’s signal.

Our heroes, winged with horses, come together. Let our car-warriors, Indra, be triumphant.

 These verses appear in the oldest Mandala (book) of the Rig Veda, in turn one of the oldest books known to humankind. Does this then qualify as the origins of the “beating of the war drum” practice? And the Bharadvajas as the inventors of this practice? Perhaps…

The practice would have evolved over time and manifests as a full blown “Hymn to the battle drum” in the Atharva Veda, reproduced below:

  1. High sounds the voice of the drum, that acts the warrior, the wooden (drum), equipped with the skin of the cow. Whetting thy voice, subduing the enemy, like a lion sure of victory, do thou loudly thunder against them!
  2. The wooden (instrument) with fastened (covering) has thundered as a lion, as a bull roars to the cow that longs to mate. Thou art a bull, thy enemies are eunuchs; thou ownest Indra’s foesubduing fire!
  3. Like a bull in the herd, full of might, lusty, do thou, O snatcher of booty, roar against them! Pierce with fire the heart of the enemy; with -broken ranks the foe shall run and scatter!
  4. In victorious battles raise thy roar! What may be captured, capture; sound in many places! Favour, O drum, (our deeds) with thy divine voice; bring to (us) with strength the property of the enemy!
  5. When the wife of the enemy hears the voice of the drum, that speaks to a far distance, may she, aroused by the sound, distressed, snatch her son to her arms, and run, frightened at the clash of arms!
  6. Do thou, O drum, sound the first sound, ring brilliantly over the back of the earth! Open wide thy maw at the enemies host; resound brightly, joyously, O drum!
  7. Between this heaven and earth thy noise shall spread, thy sounds shall quickly part to every side! Shout thou and thunder with swelling sound; make music at thy friend’s victory, having, (chosen) the good side!
  8. Manipulated with care, its voice shall resound! Make bristle forth the weapons of the warriors! Allied to Indra do thou call hither the warriors; with thy friends beat vigorously down the enemies!
  9. A shouting herald, followed by a bold army, spreading news in many places, sounding through the village, eager for success, knowing the way, do thou distribute glory to many in the battle!
  10. Desiring advantage, gaining booty, full mighty, thou hast been made keen by (my) song, and winnest battles. As the press-stone on the gathering skin dances upon the soma-sboots, thus do thou, O drum, lustily dance upon the booty!
  11. A conqueror of enemies, overwhelming, foe-subduing, eager for the fray, victoriously crushing, as a speaker his speech do thou carry forth thy sound; sound forth here strength for victory in battle!
  12. Shaking those that are unshaken, hurrying to the strife, a conqueror of enemies, an unconquerable leader, protected by Indra, attending to the hosts, do thou that crusheth the hearts of the enemies, quickly go!

One Response to Origins of the War Drum?

  1. KRISHNA JETTI says:

    Dundhubi – is like Thunder of Clouds by Indra ie MEgha Gharjana in sanskrit

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