Musical Instruments

Many musical instruments traditionally used in Kalmykia are also common among other nomadic peoples in Central Asia. Materials used in the making of musical instruments are various, including animal skin, hair, wood, not to mention stones, shells, and metals.

Kalmyk musical instruments can be divided into religious and folk instruments. The former were used during religious festivals and celebrations, whereas the latter at various social occasions such as weddings, concerts, competitions or simply for private entertainment.

Due to dramatic social changes in the past century, many traditional musical instruments along with accompanying melodies have either disappeared or are on the verge of being forgotten.

On this page you can watch and listen to various musical instruments and listen to stories, legends, and myths about them.


In the past monastic orchestras usually consisted of about two dozen different musical instruments, but during daily rituals the number of instruments was less. The most frequently used instruments can be divided into the following two categories:

Percussion: Khonkh (bell), kenkrg (drum with drumsticks), tsan (small sound plates), denshya (consists of two brass plates, the knobs of which are connected by means of a short leather string), dodrm (wooden frame with copper brasses inside), and damaru (small drum).

Wind: Dung (white shell), bishkur (wooden pipe), ganlin (horn made of human thigh bones or wood, covered with silver), burya-bishkur (short pipe), ukr burya (long and heavy clarinet, resembling an elephant’s trunk), and burya (middle-sized clarinet).


It was in the Soviet period that many folk instruments disappeared being either relegated to museum shelves or left only as pictures on the pages of historical documents. As a result, today the number of instruments in everyday use is minimal, with dombra being the most popular. Dombra, a long-necked string instrument, is used as a solo as well as an ensemble instrument. Khur, a fiddle instrument, is used less often.

In Kalmykia the revival of musical instruments began in the 1980s. In the Elista School of Arts of Chonkushov, a class was opened to teach traditional instruments, including dombra, yochin (dulcimer), yatkha (zither), khuchir (bowed musical instrument), morn khur (horsehead fiddle), and limbu (flute). Today in Kalmykia there are several orchestras and ensembles, including Tyulpan, the National Orchestra of Kalmykia, Oirat, Jangar, and Erdm, that use traditional instruments in their repertoire.

Alena Lidzhieva, Dombra Melodies

Alena plays Kalmyk melodies on the dombra instrument, including Siberian melodies and those of the songs ‘Okonov Naran’ and ‘Kotush’.