Panche Baja or Naumati Baaja: If you are traveling in rural Nepal, especially in the mid-hill regions, there are chances that you see different cultural activities of rural folks. Nepalese people observe colorful festivals and other important occasions amidst much fanfare and rejoicing mainly for the purpose of pleasing their deities and entertaining themselves. While doing so, they are also preserving their timeless culture and tradition that their ancestors had started centuries before.
A common feature in these special ceremonies is Panche Baja, literally five musical instruments, that add a strong flavor to these auspicious occasions Panche Baja is an important aspect of the celebration for the Hindu population of Nepal. It is a mixed band of wind instruments, drums, and cymbals. Wind instruments Sanhai, Karnal, and Narsingha; drums: Damaha, Tyamko, Dholaki; and cymbals: Jhyali or Jhyamta are the major members of the Panche Baja family. Apart from these major members, the Panche Baja family can be expanded with the use of Nagara, Nagbeli Baja, Bheri, Shikhar, Kahal, and other musical instruments as per the geographical variations. The ensemble is found across the country from east to south and from the lowlands of Terai to the foothills of the Himalayas, wherever Hindus live Panche Baja basically encompasses Sanhai, Damaha, Tyamko, Dholaki, and Jhyamta.
On big occasions, people prefer Naumati Baja, literally nine instruments, to Panche Baja. Two Sanhais, two Damahas, one Tyamko, one Dholaki, Jhyali and a pair of Narsingha or Karnal, according to geographical variations, complete the Naumati Baja.
Panche Baja is mostly used to mark auspicious social occasions, the popular among which is obviously wedding ceremonies. Led by the Panche Baja troupe, Janti, a procession, leaves from the groom’s house to the bride’s house. People in the procession enjoy the soothing melody of Panche Baja and dance throughout the journey. So popular is the melody of Panche Baja, that marriage procession with Panche Baja grabs the attention of village people and passersby. Led by the Karnal or Narisngha players, the Panche Baja troupe adds strong charm to the marriage processions. When the procession reaches the bride’s house, the religious procedures are carried out at a sacred altar amidst the melody of Panche Baja. The Panche Baja troupe plays different melodies according to different religious activities at the altar: However, the popular melodies of the Panche Baja are that of the popular folk songs. Apart from marriage, Panche Baja is also played on other important social occasions like Bratabandha (sacred thread wearing ceremony), Anna Prashan (rice feeding ceremony), Nwaran (naming ceremony) and others. Likewise, Panche Baja is also performed at religious sites to mark different festivals like Dashain, Tihar, New Year, Vivah Panchami, Maghe Sankranti, Ropain Jatra, and other celebrations. In later years, Panche Baja is also used to lead different processions aimed at generating awareness of local people against several social issues.
Panche Baja is played exclusively by the Damai community. The term ‘Damai’ is believed to have been originated from ‘Damaha’, a member of the Panche Baja family. This suggests that persons playing Damaha’ are Damai. Apart from playing Panche Baja, tailoring is the supplementary profession of the Damai community. Even though, people from other communities have also started to play the instruments these days.
The history of Panche Baja in Nepal cannot be clearly ascertained as there are no historical facts suggesting the entrance or origination of Panche Baja in Nepal. Miss Carol Tingey, the author of “Heartbeat of Nepal: The Pancai Baja”, claims that Panche Baja probably arrived in Nepal with the Rajput refugees during the fourteenth century. Kitab al-aghani (Book of Songs) written by Al-Isfahani lists nauba, naubat, tabl khana, and naqqara khana as the ensembles of several musical instruments. The most near to Panche Baja, however, is Tabl-khana which comprised shawms (resembling Sanhai), long straight natural trumpets (resembling Karnal), double-headed drums resembling Dholaki), large and small kettledrums (resembling Damaha and Tyamko) and cymbals (resembling Jhyali and Jhyamta). The Tabl-khana was carried to India by Muslim invaders from the Middle-East who established the Delhi Sultanate in the twelfth century. This musical band of the Sultanate court was later adopted by the native Rajputs of India. When the Rajputs migrated to Nepal, they carried the improvised Tabl-khana to Nepal, which later developed as Panche Baja and became a common feature in Nepalese villages.
With people’s rapid thrust for modernization, Panche Baja seems to be losing its color in urban areas of Nepal. It is sad to note that this popular ensemble is fast being] of replaced by Brass Bands, popular as Band Baja, comprising western musical instruments. In recent years, people in urban areas have started preferring brass bands, dressed in attractive uniforms: coat, hat, pants, and boots; to the Panche Baja troupe. The popularity of brass bands is not limited only to urban areas, it has also entered some rural areas of the country where people are preferring it to Panche Baja.
Even the Damai community, the traditional Panche Baja musician, has also started adopting Band Baja because of its widespread popularity. With a decline in its popularity, the future of Panche Baja is becoming uncertain in Nepal. To add more woes, the new generation of the Damai community is also not interested in Panche Baja because they, too, are attracted to the finely dressed brass bands. Likewise, the indigenous art of producing Panche Baja instruments could also disappear as such instruments are produced at an individual level, not at factories.
These days, the Panche Baja has become a rare sight in urban areas of Nepal. Among hundreds of marriage ceremonies organized every year in urban areas, only a handful of them uses Panche Baja. Though Panche Baja is fading away from urban areas, it continues to rule rural areas of Nepal where it is charming millions of rural folks.
Panche Baja Family
Sanhai: It is a small wind instrument, usually Dholaki: Dholaki is a two-headed hollow 30 cm and a member of the shawm family. Unlike other shawms, the Nepali Sanahi uses four instead of two vibrating reeds as a mouthpiece and has a curved body.
Damaha: Damaha drums, around 14 inches in diameter, are bowl-shaped with a buffalo-skin head. The skin is stretched across the bowl with strings from buffalo skin. Damaha is played with a single stick.
Tyamko: Tyamko is a miniature Damaha around six inches in diameter and tied around the waist of the player. Tyamko is continuously played with a pair of sticks.
Dholaki: Dholaki is a two-headed hollow drum made of wood and skin. It is held in the neck with a strap and played with a stick on one side and hand on the other.
Jhyali: Jhyali is a pair of cymbals often made of bronze and played by striking one with the other
Narsinga/Karnal: Narsinga is long and curved natural trumpet often two meters long. Narsinga is made of copper and is high pitched. Karnal is a strong natural trumpet made of iron. It is also high pitched. People use either Karnal or Narsinga in Panche Baja ensemble.