Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Naumati Baaja

The Naumati Baaja

(An Introduction to the Nine Musical Instruments of Nepali Folk Music)

Bhim Thatal

Music has been a key factor in the human life since time immemorial. It has been deeply rooted as an indispensable activity of human civilization.
Humans, for they are social animals, have different religious rites, social customs, conventions and usages and such other unaccounted activities where music is integral.
Of such traditional and folk music, the Naumati Baaja has a significant place. These folk musical instruments in Nepali tradition are normally played in a particular community of the people and in their particular rites only. Naumati Baaja is such a band of musical instruments, which is protected, preserved and performed by the Damai community. Though the Damais exclusively maintain this band, it is widely played in almost all occasions of all the communities. Because of the maintenance and performance by the Damai community, the Naumati Baaja is also known as Damai Baaja.
Naumati is more comprehensive form of the Panchai Baaja. Panchai Baaja (or a band of five instruments) has been played since olden times as a good luck to any auspicious performances. There is a reference in the scriptures that Panchai Baaja was played in the Dwapar Yug on the auspicious occasion of the Christening Ceremony of the Lord Krishna. The Panchai Baaja represents the five metals and while designing these instruments, the images of five deities viz; Ganesh, Bishnu, Shiva, Goddess and Sun were kept as the background. This set of five instruments later was modified into Naumati Baaja with nine or even more instruments to play.
So far the legend has about the origin of the playing of this band it is believed that the Damais who play this today were none but nephew of the Brahmans. There is a fallacy that once a Brahman had asked his nephew to work but the nephew kept on playing some kind of beating instrument. The Brahman then told the nephew: With the drum of earth and stick of wood henceforth
Keep on playing keeping aloof.¡±
It is thus believed that the Damais are thus kept aloof while playing this band.
The Naumati is an auspicious band played during prayer offerings, christening, in respect and welcome of king, ministers and reputed personalities, during paddy transplantation and especially during the marriage ceremony.
It has also been learnt that the Naumati in a monotonous beat with sad ragas are being played while cortege is on the way to funeral pyre. It is said that it is a great fortune for a departed soul to find resort in the eternal bliss with the auspicious music of the Naumati.
In Nepali tradition, the Naumati is played throughout the day right from the morning raga Bibhaash till the evening Sandhya Aarati. The Naumati has thus its impact upon the Nepali soul¡¯s right from the marital unison till the journey to eternity.
So far musical instruments are categorized as per the western system there are three categories:
01. Wind or the instruments that are played by blowing air into them. E.g. flute, trumpet, horn, etc.
02. Percussion or instruments that are played by beating. E.g. drum, etc.
03. String or the instruments that are played by plucking. E.g. guitar, violin etc.
As per the Indian system, there are four classifications of musical instruments viz;
01. Tatvaadhya or Chordophones: These instruments are played by plucking or scratching. Strings are the sources of sound in such instruments. Saarangi, Veena, etc.
02. Sushirvaadhya or Aerophones: These instruments are played by blowing air into them. Sahnai, Turahi etc. These are further categorized into instruments with holes; e.g., Baansuri and without hole e.g. Sankha.
03. Aandhyavaadhya or Membranophones: These instruments are played by beating with hand or stick and are made up of leather. E.g. Nagada, Damaha, Dholak, etc.
04. Ghanvaadhya or Idiophones: These instruments are played by rubbing against one another or by beating. E.g. Jhyaali, Jhyamtaa etc.
We shall now briefly discuss about the nine musical instruments that comprise the soul of Nepali Folk Music:
01. Sahnai: The origin of Sahnai can be traced back to the Persian age. In Urdu and Hindi, it is called Sahnai while in Nepali it is known as Sanaai, Sanai, Surnaai, Pipahi or even Piperi. As per origin it is called Hichiriki in Japanese, Surnaai in Persian, Swam or Bassoon in English and Bagpipe in Scottish.
The Nepali Sahnai has three types; the largest is called Dhod, the medium one Majhaula and the smallest is called Pothi or Kaanchhi Sahnai.
In Naumati, two similar Sahnai are played. One Sahnai gives the rhythm while the other plays ragas, numbers and so on.
The wider open part of the Sahnai in front is called Phuli, which is made up of Silver or Brass. Its middle part is made up of wood like Dar, Asana, Sisau, Khayer, and Salisaal etc. and there are eight holes in this wooden pipe where fingers give rhythm while air is blown into. Each hole is separated from the other by way of tightening the wood with a strap of metal. The upper part that has to be inserted into the mouth to blow air has a very thin pipe called Nali. A dart of porcupine is always attached to it so that any obstruction can be cleared. On top of this Nali is a thin Taarika. The name is derived from the plant whose leave is used to make this.
The Sahnai can play as many as thirtysix ragas. However, the Sahnai in Naumati is commonly played for folk music. These are Jhyaure, Khyaali, etc.
The most common ragas that a Sahnai can play are:
a) Sanjay Kali or Sanjay Batti: from evening till 09:00 pm.
b) Biraani, Birhani or Bilani: after 10:00 pm.
c) Chitu: Midnight till 02:00am.
d) Basanta: anytime
e) Bibhaash: Down
f) Bihaani Chari: morning
g) Mangal: anytime
h) Ramkali: till midday
i) Karkha: Midday to 03:00pm.
j) Madhya: Midday
k) Daanday Ramkali:03:00 pm to 04:00pm
l) Biraani: after 04:00pm
m) Khyali: anytime.
02. Narsinga: It is believed that during the Mahabharata Age, Lord Shiva had come up to the hilly regions with Goddess Parvati in the form of a hunter and blown horn. This horn must have developed in to the present day Narsinga that is called Turya in Sanskrit. In later age, in Nepal, this came to be known as Turahi or the Narsinga. The Narsinga has often been used as an instrument while waging war and in victory. The English horn featured in the legendary story of Robin Hood and the Little John could also be the origin of Narsinga.
In Naumati, this is played when the marriage procession leaves for the house of the bride. En route, where rivers and rivulets, holy places and temples come across, it is then played. The Narsinga is said to be able to produce symbolic sounds, which include even calling names, scolding or ordering another marriage procession to give way in narrow crossings.
The Narsinga is made up of copper metal and has two parts. The larger part is called Dhaturo and the smaller is called Dhopbana. This is an S shaped instrument.
The smaller part is put in the larger one and while blowing these two are connected.
The sound thus produced is loud enough to be heard within a radius of 15 kilometers.
While this is being blown, the other instruments change their pattern of playing. There is a practice of firing guns in the air after this is blown. This system speaks much about the connectivity of Narsinga with the wars.
A piece of such a Narsinga with twin Dhaturo has been reported from the Horniman89 Museum in England. It is believed that this must have reached there by way gift from Nepali Prime Minister Jangabahadur Rana or as a collection of Brian Hughson.
03. Karnaal: Alike Narsinga, the Karnaal is also a wind instrument. The only difference is that this is a long pipe cut into two pieces instead of being S as the Narsinga is. In English such instrument is called trumpet. It is made up of brass. The Karnaal is however very less in use these days.
05. Tyamko: This instrument is used to keep music in proper beat. In Naumati Baaja, the Sahnai first starts playing. The Tyamko then picks up the beat and keeps on maintaining beat while other instruments are played as supportive measures.
06. Tyamko is a small instrument made by covering a copper container with leather. The leather used is commonly of dead bull. The upper part of the Tyamko is tied with the leather strings or taana from the mathura or mathaari to its base called Kumbhi. There is a small hole at the base of the Tyamko that has to be blocked with a piece of cloth called sutlo. This is essential to ensure proper vibration as this instrument depends upon the so created vibration.
07. Baauntal: It is but only a larger form of the Tyamko. Mention may be made here that the Tyamko and the Baauntal are played with their leather dried up while the Damaha has to be kept wet. Baauntal only assists Damaha in the whole process. But while the marriage party is in swing, the Baauntal plays a different beat that is often a 2/4 beat. There is a popular folklore to be played in this beat:
Kasko baaja kasko baaja Baaburamko baaja
Kura diney Jarnel, Karnel hokum diney Raaja
08. Damaha: As discussed, this is alike other two Membranophones. This is however, kept wet before and while beating. The Damaha has been playing the role of Base Guitar or Base Drum. It is believed that the skin the right thigh of a red ox that has died because of falling off the cliff is the most suitable leather for making the Damaha.
09. Dholaki: This is similar to that Dholak which are played during Holi or other Indian festivals. The Dholaki is beaten with palm on its left part and with a stick on its right part. At times, this can also be used to replace the Tyamko.
10. Jhyamtaa: Also called Jhyaali, the Jhyamtaa compensates the work of Cymbal in the Naumati. This is a pair of brass bowl like structure with its borders widened so as to beat together to produce the sound. These two are connected by way of string passing through the wholes. In Hindi music, this has commonly been used in Jhankaar beats.
It may be noted that the Membranophones discussed above need some kind of lever to play. Such a common device is called Gazza. Gazza or Gazzas are made up of bamboo sticks or of any other wood. Gazzas for Tyamko are long and sleek while for Baauntal and Damaha they are shorter and thicker. The word Gazza originates from the word gauge or 36 inch in length.
Naumati Baaja can play Mangal dhun, Ramkali, Chanchari, Malsri and Diwas Raaga, etc.
Though Naumati is commonly played during marriage, it is also played in several other occasions in the same tune. However, bethhi or the music while paddy transplantation is played on a different tune.
Folk music has a very special place among the Nepali and the hilly people. The cultures of common masses reflect their own creation, which acquires a significant place in history in posterity. The most beautiful creations on earth are ultimately the creations of the toiling masses. Whatever is beautiful is but their creation, so folk music is beautiful.
The Damai who are also presumed to be sign of Good Luck find mention in the 1969 article entitled ¡®Castes dle Musiciens on Nepal¡¯ in Music de L¡¯ Homme from Paris by French Music Scholar Maria Helffer. Felix Horbeger has also mentioned about this community in his 1975 article in German language about the Nepali Musical Instruments. In 1990, Dr. Carol Tingey of England published ¡®Heartbeat of Nepal: The Panchai Baaja¡¯ from Royal Nepal Academy and ¡®Auspicious Musician in a Changing Society: The Damai Musicians of Nepal¡¯ from New Delhi Heritage Publication in 1994.
The Damai community and the Naumati Baaja, which represent not only the folk music but also the entire identity of the Nepali and the Hilly people, deserve to be well preserved and there is no harm if these are declared as World Heritage.
(Extracts from the Talk delivered at Namchi on March 18, 2007 during the programme on Traditional Performing Arts of Sikkim by Culture Department, Sikkim and Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi)


Reference: 1. Nepali Baaja by Ramsaran Darnal
2. Nirmaan Sanskriti Biseshaank, Vol 19, No.34