India: Woman playing a drum (dholki)

Front view
Front view

General description Northern Indian woman kneeling, playing a two-headed hand drum (dholki)

Dimensions 11 x 21 x 21 cm

Date when acquired 1990s

Original Date 1990s

Source India

Bought by Elizabeth H.


Back view
Back view


Padded wire frame with white material (cotton), with painted features. Long black hair worn in two plaits down to the waist, made of cotton threads.



The doll is wearing a long, light blue cotton skirt (gagra) and three-quarter-sleeved blouse (choli) combination called a gagra choli. This is the typical women’s attire of North India. Both the skirt and blouse are trimmed with thin silver braid around their hems. The braid is also down the front of the choli’s bodice. The skirt is decorated with three lotus flowers (they have eight petals) made of folded silver braid and yellow thread. Over her head, she is wearing a shawl (dupatta) made of white lace with gold thread running through it. The edges are trimmed with the same silver braid as the skirt and blouse.

Underneath her skirt, she is wearing short red cotton underpants.


Face showing jewellery
Face showing jewellery


She has broad bracelets made of black metal rings on her wrists, a white pearl necklace and hanging silver drop ear-rings. At the front of her parting is an ornament made of a gold sequin and a red bead (possibly a bor).

She is playing a dholki, a two-headed drum from North India. It is held by a white strap going around her neck.


Background information

North Indian culture officially refers to the cultural heritage of the seven North Indian states [Chandigarh (Union Territory), Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Uttarakhand].

This female doll is wearing the traditional dress of the North Indian States as well as Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Sindh, Uttar Pradesh, & the Hindi-speaking Terai region of Nepal. The combination of a long pleated and embroidered skirt (gagra or lehenga), a tight often cropped, short-sleeved blouse with a low cut neck (choli) and large shawl (dupatta) is called gagra choli, ghagra choli or lehenga choli. This doll’s costume is slightly different from these standards as her skirt is not pleated and the tight-fitting choli is high-necked and not cropped.

The ornament which the doll wears on her head is either a bor (a round piece of jewellery signifying marriage) or a tola tikka.

The lotus flowers on her skirt are emblems of India.

The dholak she is playing is a very popular barrel-shaped folk drum of northern India.  It has a simple membrane on the right-hand side, while the left-hand membrane is treated with a special mixture of tar, clay and sand (dholak masala) on its inner surface, which lowers the pitch and provides a well-defined tone.  This dholak is laced with rope. In real dholaks, a series of metal rings are pulled to tighten the ropes and so tune the instrument.

Source(s) of information

Dey Jhala, Angma (2013) Royal Patronage, Power and Aesthetics in Princely India. J. L. Spear (ed)

Victorian Studies Vol. 55, No. 3, pp. 527-528. Published by Indiana University Press.

(4.3.2 )


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