Traditional storytellers: Ghandarvas of Nepal


sarangi-ghandarva The musical messengers, the community of occupational caste musicians Ghandarva, fulfilled the exclusive role of relaying information from one place to another with soft musical tone played with the traditional Nepali musical instrument Sarangi in ancient days. Isolated communities across the mountains of Nepal were entertained with the news and information from other places through the songs played by Ghandarvas who traveled around many districts for the sole purpose. In times, prior to postal era, telephones and introduction of modern technologies the Ghandarvas travelled singing about legendary heroes, ongoing battles and incidents of what they saw on their journeys.  The lives of the people they came across on their way were also the parts of their songs. Ghandarvas were the only source to address and fulfill the right to access the information to the ‘high’ caste and the wealthy people of that time.

According to a Hindu myths, one of the four Rishis (sages) created by Brahma, the supreme creator was Ghnadarva Rishi and Ghandarvas are supposed to be the descendants of Ghandarva Rishi. Few arguments also suggest that at a time of labour division, a Gandharva Rishi sat by the side of an apsara (nymph) totally absorbed by her performance. Hence, he was assigned with the task of singing a song to accompany her.



Sarangi, a traditional Nepali musical instrument is the best friend of Ghandarvas . Sarangi, a long necked instrument is made up of single piece of wood hollowed-out double-chambered body. The lower opening is then covered up with dried sheep-skin upon which the bridge rests, while the upper chamber is left open. The neck is fretless, and the strings are tuned with the kunti. The original strings were made out of sheep intestine, similar to the use of catgut in violins. The intestine of sheep sacrificed during Dasahain is decomposed in a vessel for few days. As the intestine rots fully the fine strings out of it are pulled out.

Today, because of digital connectivity, the time-honored storytellers Ghandarvas has been losing their authenticity rapidly. However, in the tourist hubs of Kathmandu and Pokhara, the Ghandarvas now wonder hoping to make their living by playing tunes for the tourists or selling them a Sarangi (a fiddle-like instrument). Despite, Ghandarvas losing their identity, there are still few places in Nepal where the authentic Ghandarva culture can be witness at its best. Batulechaur in Pokhara, is one of the major places where few old hands are schooling the young ones to preserve the rich Ghandarva culture of Sarangi Music. Late Jhalak Man Ghandarva, Khim Bahadaur Ghandarva and Tirtha Bahadur Ghandarva and many others have won the hearts of several traditional music lovers to become the national figures.


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