Himalayan News Service
KATHMANDU: They are seen on the streets of Thamel, the main tourist hub in Kathmandu, playing soothing tunes on sarangi, at times influencing foreigners with their sonorous sound. Sometimes they receive respect as great musicians and other times they are treated in a rude manner. Despite many difficulties, it is their obligation to play the sarangi on roads so as to fight for their own survival and the survival of traditional Nepali music.
Heartbeat of Nepali
Amaile sodhlin ni khai chhhoro bhanlin rana ma parya vandiyes
(Mother might ask where my son his, tell her he is in the battlefield)
The song of the legendary sarangi player Jhalkman Gandharva reflects agony of Nepali soldier fighting in foreign land. Like him Gandharvas, the nomadic musicians of Nepal, move from place to place with an objective to entertain people with their self composed music and songs narrating the predicament of people, society and themselves, intricately mingled with music.
Radio, television or even restaurants of Kathmandu provide plenty of chance for people to get a taste of Western and Bollywood music. However it is quite difficult for Nepali people as well as foreigners to find places to listen to traditional Nepali music. Gandharvas even at present time sing songs that every Nepali can relate to. “The sarangi and music of Gandharvas existed even before there were any means of mass communication. Our ancestors used to travel carrying messages and news of different events in the form of songs”, said Netra Gandharva, from Gorkha.
Spreading Nepali music
These sarangi players add charm to the chaotic streets of Thamel where the wandering foreigners often stop to listen to their music. In the unsettling noises of Thamel, Gandharvas struggle hard to make their folk music reach the ears of music enthusiasts. Besides listening to the sarangi, they even buy it. “Some are so much fascinated that they even take training with us to play the musical instrument”, added Netra Gandharva who has been playing this instrument in the roads of Thamel for the last 14 years.
Social message through music
Sampatima kahi chhaina
Garnuparchha pariwar niyojan
(We don’t have wealth so it’s important we do family planning)
“I had sang this song to inspire people for family planning”, recalled 50 years old Krishna Bahadur Gandharva. A native of Lamgunj, he had sang this song for a project of Save the Children said, “People have used us in campaigning for social causes like — climate change, HIV/AIDS, sanitation and many other issues because people listen to our songs more attentively in comparison to the speeches”.
To unify all scattered Gandharvas and to make a unity among themselves, Gandharva Culture and Art Organisation was formed in 1992. “Besides providing organisational support to our members, we organise a concert everyday at our office in Thamel where we play sarangi, drum and flute”, informed Kedar Gandhari, secretary of the organisation and a music therapist. The organisation sells sarangi as well as provides training to those interested to learn sarangi.
In the past people listened attentively to Gandharvas, also called gaines and repaid their service with food, clothes and other necessities. But these days not only are they ignored but even humiliated by some people. “Compared to Nepali people foreigners have done lot of things for us — as they respect us and our music and help us economically by buying our sarangi”, shared Krishna Bahadur Gandharva who despised those Nepali people who discourage the foreigners to buy things with them. “Compared to the past, tourists are less attracted towards our art as many Nepalis themselves are de-motivating them to reach us”.
Nineteen years old Anil Gandharva, a rather enthusiastic sarangi player and also a trainer started playing instrument at the age of nine in his village in Tanahun. “I have started to work professionally as sarangi player and my aim is to continue in this field”, he shared. He has also performed in concert with Kutumba.
But everyone from this generations doesn’t seem happy to be in this field. Though Suresh Gandhari, 24 from Gorkha is happy to be able to follow his ancestral footsteps he expressed his dissatisfaction saying “I have to wander on the streets playing sarangi but people here do not respect us. People still are unaware of our identity”. He further expressed, “We are marginalised group deprived of good education, health, employment and are
economically backward. Sarangi is the only thing that has made it
possible for us to exist in this world. Besides it is the oldest and the
traditional folk instrument of our nation which is on the verge of
extinction. And our demand is to declare it as the national musical
instrument”, he demanded