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Naumati Baajaa: A signifier of Nepali culture


Music is like a magnet. When I hear some music, it attracts me in such a way that I begin singing silently along with its ebb and flow. When it’s the typical Nepali folk music of the Naumati Baajaa, I cannot control myself. I need to dance.

Naumati Baajaa is fundamental to Nepalese culture and is famous throughout the country, particularly in the hills.

I remember listening to Naumati from my early childhood in Parbat. Every time there were social functions such as marriages, initiation ceremonies, school anniversaries and arrivals of VIPs in my village, there was a Naumati. We would be excited and happier than at other times because of the possibility that we’d have an opportunity to dance at those events. As soon as I heard the melody of Sanhai and the taangku-paanku-dhang music of drums and cymbals, I would run either up or down the hill, trying to control my breath so I could catch the musicians. I still have that attachment to Naumati.

Naumati is an ensemble band made up of different musical instruments. Given that the band comprises of nine musical instruments, it is called Naumati (this literally means nine musical instruments). The instruments can be broadly categorized into two types; the first category provides the intonation, while the second complements the first group with the rhythm. Sanhai (oboe), Karnal (trumpet) and Narsingha (U-shaped trumpet) come under the intonation/tone category and are played through the mouth, which supplies them with air.  Damaha or Nagaraa (big kettle drum), Tyamko (small kettle drum), Dholak (drum) and Jhyali (cymbals) are played with sticks to produce the rhythm. Together these instruments produce wonderful Sangeet, the Nepali term for music that denotes a complete harmony of Soor (intonation) and Taal (rhythm).

Nuamati is one of the oldest traditional musical bands, and it is loved and valued as an intrinsic part of Nepali culture even today. Social functions and festivals are often accompanied by a Naumati. The tone and style of music, however, is different according to the event or the place. For instance, Nuamati played during the cultivation season is called Bethi. Farmers enjoy Bethi while cultivating rice paddies in the fields, and it is famous in the eastern hills of Nepal. The tune of the music is different again during the Dashain festival. Naumati is played in the Dashain Ghar (a special place made for observing the Goddess Durga), particularly when sacrificing animals for the goddesses. Music is played nonstop for a long time, and the trumpet and drums dominate. During marriage ceremonies, the sounds of Naumati resemble popular folk music.

Traditionally, Naumati has been played by the people from the Pariyar caste. Pariyars are adept at playing musical instruments; the skills are inherited and learned at home, often from their parents. In addition, they also work as tailors by tradition. It is a great shame on the caste-based hierarchical Nepali society, however, that these skillful people are treated as untouchables even today. The stigma of untouchability has been forced upon them because of these skills, and has discouraged the younger generations. Sometimes they even hate their traditional occupation. If such trends continue, Naumati might become extinct someday in the future.

Music is a signifier of culture; it gives voice to a culture, allowing it to speak out. When you listen to your traditional music, you feel attached to your culture. It not only entertains you, it also gives you your identity and reminds you who you are, and about your culture. If we are to sustain culture, music should be preserved and the musicians should be respected.




Image. Picture from Hole in the Donut.

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