MIT Bhangra's Dhol
and Live Music Page

Copyright 2001 MIT Bhangra

Funded by a grant from the MIT Council of the Arts, 2002

Bhangra is associated with many musical instruments, but none as important as the dhol. The dhol is a two sided drum, with a bass side played with a curved stick and a treble side played with a thin bamboo stick. Other instruments used in bhangra and punjabi music are the dholak (small two sided hand drum), algoje (double flutes), tumbi (one stringed instrument) and chimtas (metal clamp with cymbols). The Punjab Online website has a very nice description of these instruments along with pictures.

This year (2002), we are starting to make forays into the territory of incorporating live music, primarily the dhol, into our club - thanks to a wonderful grant from the MIT Council of Arts. This page is meant to be a repository for the club, and hopefully also of use to others who might be interested in buying/starting dhol programs of their own.


For us its been quite a production trying to buy a dhol. Now we have some experience, but again you have to do your own research to make sure. This information is dated Oct 29, 2002. There are alot of things to look for when buying a dhol. The stated dimensions are not the only factor in how the dhol will sound. What also matters is the "bent" of the wood. The more"pregnant" the dhol looks the better it sounds. The cylinderical measurements do not depict the true quality. The more the dhol resembles a non-pregnant cylinder, the lower the quality. The type of wood matters; Seesham wood is usually used for its acoustical properties. The dhol foundation (UK) has a page about buying dhols and things to beware of.


A dhol seems like such a rugged instrument, especially the way it is played with such force. But at the same time it is also fragile and right now a costly investment too. In most cultures, respecting the instrument is the first lesson in learning how to play it. Here are some tips on loving and protecting your dhol.


[this part of the webpage is still under construction]
The language of the dhol is intricately tied with the language of bhangra, specific taals correspond to specifc chaals. The dhol plays just as much a role as boliyan (lyrics). We hope eventually to document the various rythems and dance styles, right now this is just a beginning. If you have something to contribute to this effort, please let us know (

Web Resources:

The Language of the Dhol

The dhol is a two sided drum, with a bass side played with a curved stick (called Dagga) and a treble side played with a thin bamboo reed (called Tilli). The dhol has 7 words. These words and their associated sounds have a direct correspondance to other drums, like the tabla and the dholak.

The Different Taals

Taal Keherva: This is the basic bhangra taal. Many chaals such as Pehlwani are done to this beat. Keherva is always 8 beats long, but it comes in many different variations and can be played at many different speeds. Gidda and punjabi wedding songs also use variations of keherva, explained in the dholak section. Here is the basic dhol keherva. It sounds like "Dhatin Dhatin Natin Natin" when you play it.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Dha Thin Na Thin Na Thin Dha Thin

Transition 1: Between changes in taal or to mark the end of a dance section, you can play a transition beat. Here is one of the commonly played transition beats. This sounds like "Dhanana Dhanana Dhana Dha" when played.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Dha Na Na Dha Na Na Dha NaDha

Transition 2:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Dha Ga Ta Dha Ga Ta Dha

Punjabi Chal 2: This chal has a caesura (|) and melody is fast until the caesura, then the next ta is soft and light and the remaining words swoop act to the beginning.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Dha Ga Ta Ka (|) Ta Ga Ta Ga


The two-sided dholak is played at punjabi weddings and other occasions, but usually in a much simpler manner than professional dholak. Often one woman plays while the other woman sits accross from her and plays a 4-4 constant beat with a spoon on the wood of the dholak. When dholak is played by a single person, usually the person wears a ring on one finger and uses it to play some beats on the wood of the dholak. Like the dhol, one side of the dhol is a bass the other is a treble. Many of the punjabi songs on our website take on a whole new sound when you sing them while playing a dholak. There are good books on how to play the dholak properly; you can get one from Jas musicals.

The Dholak has some of the same language elements as the Dhol. And most punjabi songs are based around Kehrva beats. The difference is what the words correspond to. Here is one version of how the beats can be played, everyone I meet seems to have a different way of playing the dholak. If you are right handed, wear a ring on the thumb of your right hand. The right hand plays the treble side and the left hand plays the base side.

With these words you can play the simple kehrva beat Dhatin Dhatin Natin Natin.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Dha Thin Na Thin Na Thin Dha Thin

Here is a variation that is played by many women at weddings. It goes very well with songs like Jind Mahi, Bhangra paon nu jee karda, Dupatta tera satt rang da, Laong Gavacha and Ambarsar de papard (very fast).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Da Thin Ta Thin Ta Thin Da -

It is almost the same as the previous kehrva but you never play both hands together and you drop one beat. This increases the emphasis on the first/last piece, so it sounds like "Da Datin Tatin Tatin". Two things to notice are: (1) Da Da Ta Ta basically form a constant 4 beat rythem and this is what your partner would follow with a spoon (2) you always start with one Da, even though when you sing it you might sing beats in the order 34567812. Here is an example of how the beat goes with a popular song.

Dupatta             tera     sat(Da) rang(Ta) da(Ta), kurdi(Da) ye(Da)
Du(Ta)patta(Ta) tera(Da) sat(Da) rang(Ta) da(Ta), kurdi(Da) ye(Da)

With these songs you also use transitions, like the dhol transition 1 "Dhanana Dhanana Dhana Dha". On the dholak this comes out very strong because you are only using the base and the ring (Dha = bass+ring, Na=ring).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Dha Na Na Dha Na Na Dha NaDha

By mapping the words to the dholak hands, you can play many other beats like Khemta or Teen Taal, etc. The trick however with both dhol and dholak is learning how to make the beats sound right and that is hard to do from a book or webpage. Hopefully some day we can organise group lessons to learn the dhol and dholak.


There are many people who played a role in making this program happen. Sunil Vemuri and Amar Kendale made the council of the arts grant a reality. Radhika Nagpal did the background research to locate and purchase instruments, with the invaluable help and resources of Navroop Singh Mitter who ultimately led us to Jas Musicals. Quinton Zondervan and Ravi Dixit lugged dhols all the way from UK for us. Ravi, Sunil and Radhika set up the first set of dhol jam sessions and classes. Amritpal Singh and Moninder Jheeta were the first dhol teachers. Sumer Johal recorded dhol lessons specifically for us, and as always provided some of the initial impetus for launching a live music program. There is still a long way to go.

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