Ramesh Pariyar performs on the damaha.
Dhading Naumati Baja
The Panchai Baja (literally "five instruments")
is named after its five main instruments: the sahnai
(shawm), the damaha (large kettledrum), the tyamko (small
kettledrum), the dolakhi (two-headed drum), and the
jhyali (cymbals). Damai music scholar Ram Saran Darnal
restricts the name "Panchai Baja" to a group
using these five instruments only, while others categorize
the bands more loosely. The term Naumati Baja (nine
instruments) is sometimes used to describe a larger
band; Darnal states that the Naumati Baja specifically
contains nine instruments: those that comprise the Panchai
Baja with an added damaha and sahanai, as well as two
narsingha (long, curved horn, popular in central Nepal),
or karnal (natural trumpet, popular in western Nepal).
In popular speech, the term Panchai Baja is often used
for both the five-instrument ensemble and the larger
Naumati Baja. Both Darnal and ethnomusicologist Carol
Tingey mention nagara orchestras of up to 36 nagara
of increasing size, as a popular ensemble in far-western
Nepal, and Tingey notes that the term Panchai Baja is
sometimes also applied to this ensemble.
Pariyar with tyamko
The tyamko is a small unpitched kettledrum, made of
wood, copper, iron or earthenware in different areas.
The shape of its bowl varies considerably throughout
the places where it is used, and like the other drums
it has a head made of animal hide. It is made in the
same fashion as the damaha, but on a smaller scale.
When playing the tyamko it is held at waist level by
a strap around the neck. In eastern Nepal, the tyamko
is very important in the Panchai Baja, and is referred
to as "guru". In Gorkha and in Dhading it
usually takes a supporting role to the dolakhi, but
it is still referred to as the "jetho" (oldest)
member of the ensemble.
Pariyar performs on the damaha
Pariyar shows his son Manoj and a friend how to tighten
the damaha before playing
The damaha is the kettledrum that gives its name to
the Damai caste. It is a large, unpitched kettledrum
made of copper with a head of bullock (goru) hide. Damaha
are made by coppersmiths blacksmiths of the middle hills.
To forge a damaha requires about 4 kilos of raw copper,
which is melted and then forged into a bowl shape by
two or three smiths working together with heavy hammers.
The heads are usually made and attached to the bodies
by members of the Badi or Sarki occupational castes
of tanners. Tanning the skin for the heads requires
soaking it in water with several types of herbs for
two to three days, and then curing with herbs, turmeric
and oil. As the heads must be wet when played, a small
hole is made in the bottom of the copper body to facilitate
wetting the inside of the damaha head. A base ring of
layers of hide is attached around this hole, and the
damaha is inverted onto the head, which is then attached
with strips of hide in a straight-lacing or v-lacing
pattern. When the head is attached, a shoulder strap
is added, and the damaha is complete. The damaha is
unique because it is made of copper, a sacred metal,
and has a higher ritual significance than the other
instruments of the Panchai Baja. For this reason, says
Tingey of the damaha making tradition in Gorkha, a puja
must be performed for the damaha right when it is made.
This puja is required for both kettledrums, the damaha
and the nagara, because when lacing the head onto the
copper body, the feet are used to support the instrument.
Touching the instrument with one's feet is considered
an insult to the deity for which the instrument will
be played, so a puja must be performed in apology. Tingey
suggests that though the dolakhi is also laced using
the feet for support, it does not require a puja because
it is less ritually significant. The way that the damaha
is played varies from region to region. In central Nepal,
it is played with one large stick (gajo), though in
ritual contexts it is played with two sticks, as a nagara.
Dhading, Damai musicians refer to the nagara and the
damaha as the same instrument, with the only difference
being its playing style and context (two sticks and
a sacred context makes a damaha into a nagara). In Gorkha
and Dhading, damahas are often played in pairs. In western
Nepal, where drumming is the most significant part of
the Panchai Baja repertoire, there exist orchestras
of damaha numbering in the 30s. In this setting, the
damaha are played with two angled sticks in a call and
response fashion, responding to one single damaha that
plays the calls. In eastern Nepal, damaha are larger
than their western counterparts and are played singly.
Saran Pariyar performs on the dolakhi
dolakhi is a medium-sized drum with two unpitched heads,
one large and one small. The smaller head is played with
the hand, while the larger is often, though not always,
played with a stick. As with the sahanai, the dolakhi
is made using wood that is available locally. An appropriate
length is cut from a tree trunk, and the bark is removed
from the outside. Then, the inside is chiseled away, a
painstaking task that can take an entire day to complete.
After this, a decorative pattern is chiseled into the
outside of the drum. The dolakhi heads are made from animal
hide, which is usually tanned by members of the Badi occupational
caste. Cow or goat skin is preferable to buffalo skin,
which is said to be too thick. The heads are then soaked
in water and laced on to the body of the dolakhi with
strips of hide. According to Tingey, Damai musicians sometimes
make their own dolakhi, but most often commission them
from specialist drum-makers, who also make other drums
such as madal and tyamko. To play the dolakhi, the musician
supports it with a shoulder strap so that it hangs at
waist level. Different strokes with the stick and with
the hand are combined in virtuosic rhythmic patterns.
According to Tingey, central Nepal is the center of dolakhi
virtuosity, while in other areas, other drums take on
greater importance in the Panchai Baja.
Pariyar performs on the jhyali
Jhyali are thin-walled, plate-shaped cymbals of varying
sizes. They are usually made by Newari coppersmiths, and
in Asan (Kathmandu) and Patan, they are made of brass
or an alloy called pancha dhatu (five metals): brass,
copper, silver, zinc and gold. Jhyali are not clashed
directly together but rather played with a stroking motion
that keeps the flat sides in contact with each other and
produces a more resonating sound.
and Kancha Pariyar perform on sahanai. Below: Subha
Pariyar readies the lip plate of his sahanai to attach
The sahanai used in the Damai ensembles is a compound
double-reed wind instrument with a curved conical bore.
The reed is mounted on a lip disc and attached to the
wooden body with a conical brass staple. The wooden
body ends in a flared metal bell. Apart from these general
characteristics, sahanais vary greatly in form throughout
Nepal. 6 to 8 finger holes are the norm, though the
8th is not used in playing the instrument. Some sahanais
have a dorsal (thumb) hole, while others do not. The
type of wood used to make the sahanai varies according
to area; usually the wood of local trees is used. Carol
Tingey describes how the sahanai is made by Damai sahanai
makers in Gorkha district. There, sahanais are constructed
in two halves: first, a solid body is made, and then
it is cut in half and most of the bore is hollowed out
of each piece. The first 4 cm, near the mouthpiece,
is left to hollow out later. The two sides of the sahanai
are joined together with a glue made from sugar cane
juice, and then bound with rings of braided cane. Then,
the holes are burnt into the wood at equally-spaced
intervals with a heated poker, which is also used to
burn the final, cylindrical part of the instrument's
bore. The wooden body of the sahanai is then seasoned
by soaking it in water, then in yogurt, for several
days. The metal parts are made by blacksmiths from any
metal, though brass is often preferred, and are added
on to the sahanai after the body's completion.
reed is made from two layers of palm leaf, folded over
a small stick (mandrel) that is used to mount the reed
on the staple. Sahanai players must have some skill
at making reeds to ensure they have a playable reed
ready when needed. Usually, they make several reeds
and keep them at the ready by tying them to the staple
of the sahanai. The tuning of the sahanai, and thus
the fingering required to produce specific pitches,
varies from instrument to instrument and from player
to player. The sahanai is often played using circular
breathing, and notes are articulated with the breath
and with the fingers, using techniques such as taps
Pariyar attaches his sahanai reed.
Bahadur and Bajra Pariyar perform on narsingha
The name narsingha means "buffalo horn," but
the instrument is much larger than the horn of a buffalo.
The narsingha is a long curved natural horn with a conical
bore, which varies widely in size, shape and usage in
ensembles throughout Nepal. Narsinghas are made by coppersmiths
and blacksmiths, in Kathmandu and in the middle hills.
They are crafted usually in four sections, but players
often have the sections fixed together into two pieces
so that the instrument does not fall apart during processionals.
Some narsinghas have a pronounced C-shaped curve, while
others are put together in the form of an S. Carol Tingey
states that the S-shape was the trend in the late 1980s
in Gorkha; musicians in Kathmandu and Dhading today seem
to prefer the C.The shape of the instrument does not seem
to significantly affect the sound, and it is often the
case that narsingha players will assemble their unwieldy
instrument in whatever way is convenient to the location
in which they are playing. In eastern Nepal, narsinghas
are shorter and thicker, while in western Nepal, narsinghas
are longer and thinner. The mouthpiece is connected to
the first joint of the instrument, and is made of two
layers of copper. The bore inside the mouthpiece is conical,
tapering to a tiny hole in the center. Around the hole
is the cup-shaped horn mouthpiece. Carol Tingey found
that narsinghas in central Nepal were tuned to an approximate
pitch of E flat, with variations of up to a semitone higher.
These narsinghas produced their third through ninth harmonics;
the fundamental frequency and the first and second harmonics
being difficult to produce on the small mouthpiece. Narsingha
players use circular breathing, as do sahanai players,
and notes are articulated by rapid tonguing techniques.
Flutter tonguing is also used on some occasions, as a
virtuosic technique. In Naumati Baja processions, the
narsinghas are the leading instrument. They usually perform
in pairs, alternating fanfares, and the number of narsinghas
hired by the patron of the group increases the amount
of prestige this person enjoys. Different players and
different ensembles develop distinct narsingha calls that
are unique to the ensemble and sometimes to the individual.
While the general public is not usually aware of these
musical identity markers, musicians often pay attention
to these narsingha calls and are able to identify a number
of bands from their area.
The karnal is a straight, conical bore natural trumpet
that substitutes for the narsingha in some Panchai Bajas,
especially those from the area northwest of Pokhara. It
is also used in combination with the narsingha, and in
Nagara Bana temple music. It is made of copper by blacksmiths
of the Kami occupational caste, and is constructed in
the same way as the narsingha except that it is straight,
in only two sections, and its copper walls are much thicker.
Its thicker walls make it more difficult to produce the
range of harmonics that is possible on the narsingha,
so most of the karnal fanfares are played using the third
and fifth harmonics, with occasional use of the second
and sixth. The members of the Panchai Baja in Salle, Dhading,
say that people in their area used to use karnal several
generations ago, but that the instrument has now been
completely replaced by the narsingha as its sound was
preferable to the karnal.
Bana Temple Instruments
The nagara is a large kettledrum very similar to the damaha.
Its predecessors were the kettledrums of the Moghul Naqqara
Bana, transported to South Asia starting in the 12th century
C.E. The nagara is the most sacred of the instruments
played by the Damai, and is accorded the greatest respect.
At temples that use, or may have once used, a full Nagara
Bana, the nagara remains the minimum requirement for sacred
music if other instruments are not present. Nagaras are
made often of copper, or of the same pancha dhatu (five
metals) alloy of which some jhyali are made. They are
constructed in the same way as the damaha, but are usually
much larger. Their heads are made from buffalo hide, and
they are played with two thick sticks. In Carol Tingey's
study of the Damai and their music in Gorkha, the nagara
are significant in both temple and palace (Gorkha Darbar)
rituals throughout the year. The making of the nagara
is connected to the ritual sacrifices of Dasain (Durga
puja): the largest buffalo sacrificed provides the hide
for new nagara heads. Dasain is celebrated to mark the
goddess Durga's slaying of a demon who had taken the form
of a buffalo; the Damai musicians in Gorkha also attribute
the origin of their instruments to the body of a demon
slain by the goddess. The tradition of using the sacrificial
buffalo to make the nagara heads thus perpetuates the
linkage of these two myths. During the sacrifice, the
Nagara Bana plays special tunes specific to the occasion.
In Jumla, according to Darnal, the nagara is used instead
of the damaha in the Panchai Baja. In Dhading, in central
Nepal, the damaha and the nagara are considered to be
the same except for playing style and context; damahas
played with two sticks, and used in a sacred context,
are considered nagaras, though they may be used as damahas
at other times. In far western Nepal, a common type of
ensemble consists of up to 36 nagara ranging from small
to very large.
types of sahanais.
The rasa sahanai is a regular sahanai, named for the temple
ensemble after the rag, rasa, which is specific to the
Nagara Bana. The term rag in this sense refers more to
a tune or piece, with expected improvisations added, than
to a rag in the shastriya classical sense. For more on
rags in the Panchai/Naumati Baja, please see the Beats
and Melodies page.
The karnal is also used in temple music, playing fanfares
in the same manner as in the Panchai Baja. Tingey noted
a great variety of karnals in use in temple ensembles
throughout Nepal, some long and straight like the karnals
at Gorkha Darbar and some smaller, more closely resembling
the Tibetan dungchen. The following instruments are
mentioned by Tingey in her study of the instruments
in temple ensembles around central Nepal. They are not
necessarily regulars in the ensembles.
The dhop bana is another straight, conical bore natural
trumpet that is made from copper in the same manner as
the karnal, but is significantly larger.
The kahal is a straight, conical-bore natural horn made
in one piece. Unlike the karnal and dhop bana, it does
not have a bell at the end. Its sizes and decorations
vary widely throughout Nepal.
baja (bijuli bana)
The nag-beli baja (snake instrument), also known as bijuli
bana (lightning instrument), is most likely so called
because of its double S-curve that resembles a snake or,
with imagination, a bolt of lightning. It is a cylindrical-bore
natural trumpet with a detachable mouthpiece. It is used
to play fanfares, like the other trumpets used in temple
The beri is a cylindrical-bore natural trumpet with a
detachable mouthpiece, resembling a Western natural trumpet.
It is also known as the Bhairavi baja, according to Tingey,
because it is said to call "Bhairavi, Bhairavi."
Dance: Far Western Nepal
hudke of Karnali zone poses in costume with hudko.
The hudko is an hourglass-shaped drum whose pitch can
be adjusted while playing, as the player tightens or
loosens his grip on the lacing connecting the two drum
heads. The lacing is straight, and the drum heads are
of equal sizes. The hudko is played with the hand, and
is most often used in the performance of the hudke dance-a
spectacle in which the major performer, called the hudke,
dances and accompanies himself on the hudko while singing
epic ballads (ghata) of regional and Puranic heroes.
It is common throughout far western Nepal and in the
Kumaon and Garwhal regions of India, directly across
the international border.
to the performance of the hudke dance is the voice,
an instrument in its own right. The hudko player must
also be a masterful singer, actor and dancer, narrating
stories in song while drumming and dancing. In addition
to the hudke, two or more singers will add their voices
to the song.
The Kaijadi frame drum is sometimes used to accompany
the hudke dance. Its head is usually made of goat's
hide and its frame out of a hard wood. It is held by
the frame in one hand, and played with the other hand.
For more about the hudke dance, please visit the Beats
and Melodies page.
Everest Band Baja leads a wedding procession along the
main street in Saugal, Patan.
Panchai Baja is sometimes augmented by, or replaced
by, the Band Baja which uses Western band instruments.
The Band Baja is different from the Panchai Baja in
that it is not necessarily a uniquely Damai ensemble;
in addition to its roots in Western military bands,
it is also played by members of other castes. However,
the Damai who play in Band Bajas do often see this practice
as characteristic of, and special to, their caste. Like
the Panchai Baja, the Band Baja serves as a processional
band at weddings and other special occasions, and also
plays versions of popular songs. The following instruments
are common in the Band Baja:
Trumpet, Euphonium, Snare drum (tamar), Tenor
frame drum, Bass Drum (dhol), Maracas (rama,
instruments can be seen in the photo below, with the
euphoniums leading the way, followed by trumpets, then
a maracas player, a tenor drum and snare drum visible
on the far side, and a bass drum on the near side of
the photo. Between the tenor drum and the bass drum,
in black with his back turned, is the clarinetist--the
master, or leader of the band.
Rashil Palanchoke. Instruments alone: Spiny Babbler archives.
Hudke: Ram Saran Darnal. Band Baja: Anna Stirr.
Subha and the Salle, Dhading Panchai Baja. Personal Communication,
Sukha Bhagat. Personal communication, July 2005.
Carol. Heartbeat of Nepal: The Panchai Baja. Royal Nepal Academy,