The Newars are very much rich in traditional, classical and folk music as in dances. Various music and dance events take place in different parts of Newar societies on the occasion of different festivals. In fact, the Newars are so duly intermixed with music and dances that not a single festival, feast or ceremony, ‘from womb to tomb’, passes without a music or music and dances.
Various songs, musical instruments and dances are connected with various religious, social and cultural life of the Newars Different musical instruments are in practice in the festival, feasts, ceremonies and also in funeral procession.
It is believed that there are about 200 (two hundred) types of original musical instruments in Nepal, and 108(one hundred eight types) of musical instruments have been found till now. A great number of Newar musical instruments are included init. These instruments can be classified into four classes according to Sangeet Shastra.
i) Membranophones – Dhimay, Dhah, Paschima, NayaKhin etc.
ii) Idiophones – Bhusyah, Chhusyah, TainNain etc.
iii) Chordophones – Piwancha
iv) Aerophones – Muhali, Nekoo, Bansuri etc.
Mostly used musical instruments in Newar societies are membranophones, which are generally accompanied with idiophones and aerophones.
Dhimay is the most common musical instruments amongst the Newars. It is considered as the oldest musical instruments amongst the membranophones. Even though there is no evidence that Mahadeva invented this instruments (as legend says) but there is evidence to support that it dates back to Kirat period. It resembles the Chyabrung of Kirat Rais and Dhola of Tharus. Dhimay is played in almost al ceremonial marches by the Jyapus. They are fund lost in dancing with deep rumble of Dhimay in festivals.
Dhimay is constructed from cylindrical hollowed tree trunk with leather pads at both of its ends. Nowadays, Dhimays are frequently made of brass and other metals. the general size of Dhimay is 20″ in length and 16″ in diameter .Its left hand hide which sounds much higher is known as Nasah, whilst another hide is called Mankah or Haima. Mankah carries a tunning paste inside. Dhimays are of two kinds: bigger Ma Dhimay and smaller Dhahcha Dhimay or Yalaypoh Dhimay.
Dhimay has capacity to produce a multiple reverberating echo, which is its main feature.
Dhimay is accompanied with Bhusyah (a pair of cymbals). Chhusyah and TainNain is also played in some places. [Audio]
Gunla ( a month according to Nepal Era ) is taken as Buddhist holy month. As Dhah is played during Gunla it is also termed as ‘Gunla Bajan’.It looks similar to Dhimay but is Slightly smaller than Dhimay.
Dhah is constructed from cylindrical hollowed tree trunk slightly smaller than that of Dhimay. Tuning paste is stuck at the inner side of Mankah. Tuning paste is made of castor seeds, mustard oils etc.
Besides in the Gunla month, Dhah is also practiced in different dances and other different festivities.
Dhah is accompanied with Bhusyah (pair of cymbals), Tah (smaller cymbals), Muhali (clarinet/trumpets) or Bansuri (flute ). Ponga is also played in Bhairab dance of Thimi. [Audio]
Myth says, Paschima was invented by lord Krishna. This instrument is also known as Mridanga. It is a double headed drum with tuning paste in on hide (Nasah) and dough made of wheat flour is plastered in the other hide (Mankah) before playing.
Paschima is accompanied with Baboocha (thinner cymbals), Tah (thicker cymbal), Muhali (shwam) or Bansuri (flute).
It is another musical instrument used in many rituals. This instruments is mainly played by the Khadgis, however, this instrument is also played by other castes. It is also called as ‘NayaKhin’ or ‘Dyah Khin’. Since it is also played in funeral processions it is also known as ‘Seeh Bajan’ (funeral drum). Long long ago, there was a tradition to play fanfare on NayaKhin to proclaim the news. In the Malla period, proclaiming by beating of NayaKhin was widely spread.
The NayaKhin looks similar to Dhah but it is smaller. It is constructed from hollowed tree trunk of an average size of 14″ length and 7″ diameter.
NayaKhin is played by producing a rubbing vibrato in Mankah hide.
Whilst playing as the ‘Seeh bajan ‘, NayaKhin is accompanied with Chhusyah and Kaha. Similarly, whilst playing as the ‘Gunla bajan’ Tah is also played and instead of Kaha, Muhali is played. [Audio]
DapaKhin has various names: Yakah Khin, Joh khin, Lala Khin, Deshi Khin, for instance. It is double headed drum with tuning paste in both hides. Dapa Khin is mainly played in Dapa Bhajans (traditional hymns). If a single Khin is played it is called Yakah Khin and if two Khins are played, they are called as ‘Joh Khin’.
Dapa Khin is accompanied with Tah, Baboo and Bansuri (flute) or Muhali (Shwam).
Koncha Khin is single headed drum resembling Tabla. It is also termed as ‘Khicha Khwah Khin’ as it is said that dogs start to cry when Koncha Khin is played.
Koncha Khin is mainly played in marriage processions and accompanied with baboo, Tah and Baya or Muhali.
Also known as Kwatah Khin, Pasta Khin is a combination of Dapha Khin and NayaKhin. Ancient stone images of people playing Pastah Khin signifies its use since ancient time.
Pastah Khin is an important instrument in Bajrayan sect of Buddhism. Pastah Khin is accompanied with Ponga and Tah.
Nagara is a kettle drum played with two sticks. This instrument has been described in purans as Dundubhi, Dundhu, Dundhub, Bheri, Adamber etc. It is often played in pair, known as Joh Nagara. Nagara is also played in Panchai Baja as Damaha. It is too played in Mahakali Dance.It is accompanied with Chhusyah and Muhali.
Dholak resembles Dhah in structure and its playing techniques are similar to that of Paschima. Dholak is played in Dhalcha Bhajans and also accompanies Bansuri. [Audio]
Also known as Damaru, it is a small two headed drum with straps. It is the instrument played by lord Shiva. KantanDabDab is especially played during Mohani Festival.
This two headed drum with tuning paste at both ends belongs to magar community, however it has become an important part in Newar folk music. It is said that there are fifty four talas of Magah Khin. It is commonly known as Madal. [Audio]
Daha, or a tambourine is a percussion instrument played in Bansuri Bajan or Khin Bajan. It is also used whilst singing songs and in Bhajans.
Though it is not a Newar instrument it has become an integral part in many rituals. Dhyangro is basically played by Jhankris(Witch Doctors) or Kirats.
Muhali is a conical bore shawm, which is played only by Jugi (Kusle) caste.
Jugis are given Khanki (land) for playing Muhali in various occasions. There is a tradition to play Muhali everyday in Phalchas ,i.e. roofed rest places, which tradition is also known as Siwa Yayegu.
Muhali accompanies Dhah, Dapha Khin, Paschima, Nagara and others. Muhali solo is played in Digu puja.
Bansuri is a woodwind instrument which accompanies mainly Paschima, Dapha Khin or Koncha Khin. Basuri are of three kinds: Ghor, Majhawala and Teep, producing low, middle and high tones.
Baya resembles Bansuri but they are different in construction and playing techniques. Baya accompanies mainly Koncha Khin. Koncha Khin and Baya are played in marriage procession.
Also known as Payantah, Ponga is a long wind instrument made of brass. Pongas are made by Tamoh or Tamrakar (Newar Coppersmith). It accompanies Kwatah Khin and it is also played in Bhailah Pyakhan (Bhairab Dance). [Audio]
Kaha resembles Ponga. It is also known as Indra Baja and it is believed to be invented at the time of Manju Shree. It is played with Naya Khin In many festivals nd also playd in funeral processions. There is a typical caste, called Kabuja, who play Kaha.
Nekoo or horn instrument is the oldest form of musical instruments in the globe. It is played during Gunla month. There are various types of Nekoo, Chatti Nekoo, Thika Nekoo, for instance.
Sankha or konch is an ancient instrument. Playing of Sankha indicates starting of any new work. Sankha is played in ‘MahGhah Wonegu’ in dec-jan month. It is also played in different worships.
The word ‘Tah’ comes from ‘ Tala ‘ which is derived from ‘Tandava’ and ‘Lasya’. Tah controls Tandava and Lasya of Music. It controls whole rythm of music. Tah is considered as the principle musical instruments among all Newar musical instruments.
Tah, apair os thicker cymbal, is made of Asta Dhatu (an alloy of eight holy metals). It accompanies Dhah, Dapha Khin, Paschima, Koncha Khin, Naya Khin (when played as Gunla Bajab) and others. [Audio]
It is thinner than Tah, however, it is bigger in size. It is also made of Asta Dhatu. It accompanies Dapha Khin, Pachima, Koncha Khin, Dholak and others.
Also known as Sichhya, Chhusyah resembles Baboocha but is bigger in size. It accompanies Naya Khin, Nagara and others. [Audio]
TainNain is a gong, it is played by striking with a stick. It accompanies Dhimay.
It is a percussion instrument consisting of a steel rod bent in the shape rod a triangle. It is played by striking with another steel rod. It is played in Dhalcha Bhajans.
Gan or a bell play a vital role in ceremonial worships such as Shradh, Janko, Ihi and so on. There are various types of bells in practice: Big, Small, Wind bell, Bajra Ghanta, for instance.
Piwancha is two or three stringed instrument. It is especially played by jyapu (Newar farmer)s .Unfortunately, it has been extinct.