Damaru

Damaru, c.19th century
Attribution unknown
Bone (skull), skin, cloth
RC1187
© Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

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Damaru, c.19th century

A damaru (drum) made from the skulls of two Buddhist lamas (priests) from Tibet. Drums made of human skulls or painted with skulls and severed heads are considered by Tibetan Buddhists to be powerful tools for protection against evil.

The drum is played by twisting it back and forth with one hand so that the small pellets at the ends of the strings strike the two drumheads. The damaru is a sacred tantric ritual instrument used most likely in the Tibetan Buddhist ritual practice called Chod.

Human remains are found in museums across the world. The International Council of Museums ICOM has strict guidelines on how to handle human remains respectfully. Museum staff, including conservators, use ICOM’s code of ethics when conserving, housing and displaying all types of objects and especially those that are of cultural importance, sacred or made of human remains.

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