Music of Nepal

Nepal’s dominant music was found in its folk songs for until recent times. Now, Nepali music is highly influenced by rap, pop, rock, folk, and Classical music. Indian music has a great influence in the modern music scene of Nepal. In this space, we will introduce Nepal’s popular music and tribal folk songs will be introduced. Various Nepali musical instruments like Madal, Mridhunga and Sarangi will be explained and most popular musicians of the likes of Narayan Gopal will be introduced you.

Despite being a small country, Nepal has a rich variety of folk music and popular music. It is difficult to trace a unifying profile of Nepalese music. The different ethnic dialects, practices, traditions and styles of singing define many “micro-cultures” in Nepal. Come and learn about the great musical traditions of the people of this mystique land.

Musical Instruments

Madal

When the word “madal” comes to mind, people usually first think of a brown cylindrical shape with two ends which are usually dotted black. These dots are put there as a paste to make the music better. The madal is made using softwood hollowed in a cylindrical shape. The two ends of the hollow cylinder are then covered with goat leather and fastened and tightened by goat leather straps.

For a rough reference of its most common size, one can imagine a madal to be about 16″ long, 5″ in diameter and 1.5 kg in weight.

The madal is a percussion instrument that produces a sound similar to a tabala, which is an instrument used in classical Indian music. The madal is used for marriage ceremonies, parades and Nepali festivals. However, madal remains a typical instrument of Nepal.

Sarangi

The Sarangi is a classical musical instrument of Nepal. It is made from a block of wood, has a length of about two feet and a width of half a foot. The sarangi is said to resemble the human voice very well. The sarangi creates a sound like the buzzing of a bee.

A sarangi has 4 strings, which are played using a bow. Tune is further controlled using fingertips to press the cords. Strings are plucked by fingernails and damped by the palm to create special effects. The original inspiration for Sarangi must have come from the same source that inspired guitar, sitar and many other string instruments of Asia and Europe.

For long, some specific ethnic communities called Gandharva (Gaine) played sarangi and entertained people professionally in the villages and the cities alike. They captivated people with a music that carried stories of sorrows and tragedies. However, at some point in history cast system was entrenched in the region that ranked Gaine to be on the lower plane of the cast hierarchy. As new-found consciousness is breaking the old and stereotypical roles in Nepalese society, it is now clear that such traditional roles will not be maintained in their past forms. A new breed of musicians is now adopting sarangi in Nepali music.

Mridunga

The Mridunga is a drum instrument shaped almost like a madal but the body can be made up of clay instead of wood. Mridunga is traditionally played in Nepal for Kirtans and Bhajans. When you are singing Bhajans or Kirtans, you are singing songs to God, the Mridangam.

Damaru

The Damaru is a percussion instrument made of wood. Leather is used on the drum heads. It also has two beads tied to the waist of the drum. To play the damaru, you repeatedly shake your wrist and the two beads cause the sound as they hit the two ends of the drum. It is believed that Lord Shiva created the sounds of the Sanskrit language from the Damaru’s drumbeats. The Damaru is used in Hindu and Buddhist rituals.

Panche Baja

The panche baja are comprised of 7 different musical instruments (sometimes managed to be played by five people) and are played in marriage ceremonies and other auspicious occasions. This is a combination of tyampo (high pitch drum), dholaki (two sided drum), damaha (low pitch drum), sahanai (flute-horn), karnal (long-horn), narsinga (circular-horn), and jhurma (large symbals). Pahche Baja that gave an unique and rich character to Nepal’s folk music are now in trouble due to the increasing lure of Western and Indian music. If these instruments are popularized and refined to standardize, it could re-surge as a popular musical tradition once again.

Further Reading

  1. Wiki – Music of Nepal
  2. Introducing Nepal Through Music
  3. World Musical Instruments
  4. Nepal Arts and Entertainment
  5. Canada in Reading

The content of this page is developed by Avipsha Basnyat, a Grade 9 student of Bell High School, Ottawa, Canada. The Nepali Language Class, to which Avitsha is a volunteer, is made possible due to collaborative efforts of Nepalese Canadian Association of Ottawa (www.nepalese.ca) and Ottawa Carleton District School Board (ocdsb.ca).

After our students research all the material and write their material with the best of their abilities, our teachers correct them and enhance the grammer and writing to make them presentable to all people around the world.