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A rare collection of Nepali musical history faces imminent threat

Sunny Mahat

Sunny Mahat

A rare collection  of Nepali musical history faces imminent threat

A creaky wooden staircase leads to the second floor of the dilapidated house where a collection of endangered, rare and extinct Nepali folk instruments are displayed, attached to the walls and in wooded cabinets

The rather obscure premises of the Tripureshwor Mahadev Temple on the banks of the Bagmati River at Tripureshwor has been home to the Music Museum of Nepal for the past eight years. The ancient brick-and-mortar building being run by the guthi in the temple courtyard is almost in ruins after the 2015 earthquake. The main temple is also being recon­structed at the moment and the two-storey historic hous­es that host the museum of Nepali folk instruments is in a shambles. A creaky wooden staircase leads to the second floor of the dilapidated house where a collection of endangered, rare and extinct Nepali folk instruments are displayed, attached to the walls and in wooded cabinets. In the dim light one can witness the rich cultural diversity in music of the country from these instruments that are hundreds of years old. The museum now boasts of the largest and most com­prehensive collection of traditional folk instruments collected over 23 years, from the high Himalayas to the Tarai plains.

 

“But it could all be lost,” says Ram Prasad Kandel, the founder and curator of the museum who in 1995 started the long process of collecting and saving the music instruments. “It could be a matter of weeks before we pack all these invaluable pieces of history into a box and shut down.” The Music Museum of Nepal, previously known as the Nepali Folk Musical Instru­ment Museum, has gotten a notice to vacate its premises and without any support from the government or the private sector, the non-profit institution has no option but to shut its doors—perhaps forever.

 

“But I will not stop my research and will continue collecting and archiving Nepali instruments,” says Kandel, who is now in the UK to raise funds and prepare for the Eighth International Folk Music Fes­tival the museum organizes annual­ly, and which will this year be held in Kathmandu on November 22-24. “I hope if not this generation, at least future generations will show more interest in the musical history of Nepal.”

 

Nepali folk instruments like the sarangi and madal have been able to survive through their incorpora­tion into the larger pop culture but around 1,300 other ethnic Nepali instruments have not been as for­tunate. Although culturally rich, rapid modernization and an apa­thy to history has made most of Nepal’s musical heritage vulnerable to extinction.

 

Professional musician castes like Gaine, Damai, Badi and Kapali passed on their skills down many generations. Over 100 different ethnic groups and castes had their own musical traditions and cultures that sustained their livelihood and enriched the society. “Yet we fight for bare sustenance,” says Kandel. “We are a long way from collecting and conserving all Nepali folk instru­ments and at this rate some might be extinct before we finish our work.”

 

Some instruments at the museum like the Panha Mukha Baja, Haade Bansuri, Yaba Mridanga, Rudra Mri­danga and Jor Murali have already become extinct, with the remain­ing specimens available only at the museum. But even at the low entry tickets of Rs 20 for students and Rs 50 for adults, the museum rarely sees visitors, and it does not make anywhere close to the kind of money it needs for its long-term survival. The temple guthi has now asked the museum to move because it has given out the premises to a univer­sity on a long-term lease. The only hope for the museum is to win the legal battle against their tenant, the hearing for which is on August 29.

 

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