I thought I’d share this piece that Ganesh Gandhari, a member of the Gandharba Culture and Arts Organization, and I put together. (Ganesh acted as the primary author, but I helped a bit with the structure and grammar of the article.) It gives a short personal personal perspective of the history and current struggles of the Gandharbas. It was published in the JMC eBulletin and can be found on the JMC website
The Gandharbas of Nepal
We, the Gandharbas, are said to be the people who played music with the gods. For centuries we mastered the art of creating, crafting, and playing musical instruments which have become integral to Nepali culture. Our musical tradition is nothing less than our passion, livelihood, and identity as a community.
Despite our rich history and traditions, the current situation of Gandharbas is not good. As Dalits, our rights have been curtailed and there are no opportunities for our people. And as modern entertainment technology continues to advance, society increasingly ignores the beauty of our live performances. Some of the most talented musicians from our community are reduced singing in the streets in order to make enough money to survive.
Gandharbas cover only 0.03% of the whole population of Nepal. With our small numbers, the government has found it very easy to ignore us as a community. We lack educational and job opportunities. Consider the literacy rate among Gandharbas. Only 31.12% of our caste can read and write and, within the context of this discussion, a mere 18.1% of the female Gandharba population is literate. It is yet to be seen how we can advance as a community if we cannot even educate our own children.
And now we face an even larger crisis. Our art form is slowly dying. Many talented Gandharbas are realizing that playing music and singing is not going to sustain them or their families. In village areas, our musicians can only rely on a bit of leftover rice and perhaps some alcohol as payment for their performances. Within the cities, our fates depend on the strength of the tourist season. This has driven many young Gandharbas to pack up their instruments forever and take on menial and often dangerous jobs in Nepal, India, and the Middle East.
As we await the upcoming elections, and hear the slogans of a New Nepal, I wonder if the situation for the Gandharba people will change. Hopefully, we will gain the recognition that we deserve as a gifted musical community, and hopefully that will happen within my lifetime.
Presentation: Ganesh Gandhari
Edited by: A. Ted Samuel
Posted By Ted Samuel
Posted Sep 12th, 2007