Over the centuries, the Gaine or Gandharva, a community of occupational caste musicians, functioned as the sole organised means of information and entertainment for the numerous isolated communities across the mountains of Nepal. In a time before postal networks, telephones, radios and televisions, the Gaine travelled from village to village, singing about everything from legendary heroes and ongoing battles to tales of what they saw on their journeys and the lives of the people they encountered on their way. In a society where access to information was considered the exclusive right of the ‘high’ caste and the wealthy, the Gaine’s function was crucial.
Today, as both digital and physical connectivity grows more efficient and expands deeper into the country, the traditional storyteller function of the Gaine has been losing relevance rapidly in the rural areas. This is already evident, with the Gaines migrating to the cities in large numbers. In the urban centres of Kathmandu and Pokhara, the Gaine now roam the tourist areas, hoping to make money by playing tunes for the tourists or selling them a Sarangi (a fiddle-like instrument). That the Gaines have been displaced from their traditional practices is self evident, and a number of organisations dedicated to ensuring that the Gaines can continue to earn a living through their music are today active.
Amidst such noteworthy efforts, a scholarly approach to documenting and analysing the Gaine musical tradition is lacking. While a significant amount of anthropological research on the Gandharvas of Nepal has already been published, a systematic study of the music of the community is lacking. It is with this in mind that the Hri Institute focused its research on the specific musical styles and techniques of five Gandharva communities across the country, focusing on the modes of diffusion; the barriers to the traditional modes of transmission; and the study of new methods that can be utilized to allow the Gandharva community to pass down their musical knowledge as a means of livelihood. The primary data is available as videos on our website; work is ongoing to transcribe, archive and coalesce these into a comprehensive package of audio and text, providing both a historical and contemporary overview of the Gaines, their music and the manner in which they reflect the realities of Nepal.
This research was made possible by a grant from SEPHIS — the South-South Exchange Programme for Research on the History of Development.
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