Transforming and dispersing sarangi; From avatar of the Gandharba to opportunity to change society
Sarangi is the four-stringed musical instrument which used to be recognized as avatar of the Gandharba, an occupational caste in Nepal. They have been associated with their itinerant life, travelling from village to village to sing songs in the accompaniment of the sarangi. As democracy and the socio-political transition have brought huge changes to Nepalese society, the meaning of sarangi has become diversified; from tools to identify themselves as the Gandharba and sustain their lives, to one aspect of Nepalese culture, such like exotic souvenirs for foreign tourists. On the other hand, as the number of Nepalese going abroad is growing, Nepalese cultures including sarangi have dispersed globally with Nepalese people. Sarangi, as the same like nanglo (a flat round woven tray made up of bamboo) and khukuri (knife associated with the Gurkhas), hanging on the wall can be often observed at Nepalese restaurants both in and outside Nepal. Now non-Gandharbas has become to recognize this material, the sarangi, more or less as one of their own cultures, Nepalese culture, under the rise of nationalism after democratization.
This study aims to bring out how sarangi itself has been transformed materially and ideologically, and dispersed geographically and socially in accordance with sociopolitical changes in Nepal, and examine how such transforming and dispersing sarangi has been influenced on situation of the Gandharba and, consequently, Nepalese society. This study will also attempt to consider how the untouchability that used to be seemed inseparable to the sarangi and the Gandharba has been diluted or converted to other meanings in contemporary Nepalese society.
Since the mid of 1990s, I have conducted interviews with Gandharbas especially in tourism space, Thamel, Kathmandu, and their home villages in Lamjung, Gorkha and Chitwan. In addition, I also interviewed a professional musician who plays sarangi and the director of music museum in Kathmandu to analyze transformation of sarangi.
In this presentation, firstly, based on previous studies on sarangi and the Gandharba, I will take the concrete examples of transformation of sarangi which has become symbol of Nepalese culture, and commercialized and consumed as souvenirs, and improved as musical instruments. Secondly, I will show how sarangi has dispersed geographically and socially, not only as musical instruments but also as materials that represent Nepalese culture through concrete examples. Then I will conclude by discussing how transforming and dispersing sarangi has changed the situation of the Gandharba and how it has influenced on Nepalese society focusing on the socio-political transition from constitutional Hindu Kingdom to a Secular Federal Republic.