Daf (Persian, Khowar: ڈف, Kurdish, Arabic, Urdu: دف, from Middle Persian: dap) is a large Persian frame drum used in popular and classical music. The frame is usually made of hardwood with many metal ringlets attached, and the membrane is usually goatskin. Daf is mostly used in the Middle East, Kurdistan, Iran, Armenia, Pakistan, Turkey, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan, and usually accompanies singers and players of the tambura, violin, oud, saz and other Middle Eastern instruments. Some dafs are equipped with small cymbals, making them analogous to a large tambourine.
The earliest evidence of the daf dates back to Sassanid Iran. The Pahlavi (an ancient Iranian language) name of the daf is dap. The word daf is therefore the Arabicized form of the word dap. Some pictures of dap have been found in paintings that date before the Common Era. The presence of Iranian dap in the reliefs of Behistun suggests the daf existed before the rise of Islam. Dafs were part of religious music in Iran much before Sufism. Iranian music has always been a spiritual tool. It shows that dafs played an important role in Mazdean Iran emerging as an important element during the Sassanian times during the Kâvusakân dynasty. Also there is a kind of square frame drum in the stonecutting of Taq-e Bostan (another famous monument located 5 km (3 mi) northeast of Kermanshah city). These frame drums were played in the ancient Middle East (chiefly by women in Kurdish societies), Greece, and Rome and reached medieval Europe through Islamic culture.
Norouz (the first day of the Iranian New Year and the national festival of the Iranian peoples) and other festive occasions have been accompanied by dap in Sassanid periods (224 A.D. - 651 A.D.). In this period the dap was played in order to accompany Iranian classical music. Daps were likely used in the court to be played in the modes and melodies of traditional music. This traditional or classical music was created by Barbod the Great and was named the khosravani after the mythical king Khosrow. Recent research reveals that these modes were used in the recitation of Mazdean (Zoroastrian) prayers. The modes were passed down from master to student and are today known as the radif and dastgah system. Many of the melodies were lost, but most of those that remain date to the Sassanid period. Dafs can be played to produce highly complex and intense rhythms, causing one to go under a trance and reach an ecstatic and spiritually-high state. For this reason, they have always been connected with religion in Iran.
The Moors introduced the daf and other Middle Eastern musical instruments to Spain, and the Spanish adapted and promoted the daf and other musical instruments (such as the guitar) in medieval Europe. In the 15th century, the daf was only used in Sufi ceremonies; the Ottomans reintroduced it to Europe in the 17th century.
The art of daf playing in Iranian Kurdistan and other parts of Iran has reached us by the effort of Iranian Sufis; especially in the 20th century. The daf still functions as an important part of Persian art music (traditional or classical music) as it did in ancient times. It successfully encourages many young Iranians to take up learning this ancient instrument.