When the sounds of Nau Baja resound in Patan


The Newar community of Kathmandu Valley have a rich culture. Elaborate symbolic jatras (festivals) round the year marked by revellery and delicious food is one vibrant essence. Adding to these festivities is the resonance of traditional music and instruments. Be it nagada during Bhimsen Jatra or dhime during Machhindranath Jatra, no event is complete without the traditional musical quotient.

And the Newar community in Patan put up distinctive performance of Nau Baju — collection of more than nine instruments — to light up the Matya Jatra, which is the festival of lights remembering deceased family members and relatives every year. The stunning sound of instruments like dhime, dha, nya khin and damo khin among others echoes in corners and gullies of the ancient city of Patan during the jatra as well as on other days in other venues.

There are 10 toles (localities) in Patan and each tole takes turn to organise the jatra and play Nau Baja each year. So, gearing up to hit the notes of the Nau Baja this Matya (on August 31) is the tole of Mangal Bazaar, which is shouldering the responsibility after 10 years.

Tale of Horns

This popular festival of Patan is also known as Nekhu Jatra or Shringa Bheri Jatra meaning festival of singh (horns). It is an old tradition that is held the day after Gai Jatra. As per 76-year-old Nau Baja teacher and musician Keshav Krishna Shrestha, “The festival is being celebrated for more than 1,400 years. It started with Raja Shinga Ketu.”

The legend has it that the Raja was always engaged in violence. His queen said otherwise, but he didn’t listen to her. When he died he was reborn as a rango (buffalo). As a buffalo, he is killed and consumed with his only bones and horns remaining. Meanwhile, his queen, who is reborn as a Brahman, comes to know about her husband, his rebirth as a buffalo and death. So, she constructed a temple of sand on one singh, while the other horn was used blown while making a round of the temple.

That is how the festival started and the old tradition continues even today.

READ ALSO: The charm of playing Nau Baja Passing the knowledge on …

Damo khin is one part of Nau Baja. Other instruments in the Nau Baja include dhime, dha, nyakhin, koncha khin, dholakh, mridanga, jwa nagada, khanjari, kasi baja, maga khi (madaal), bya baja, sain baja (Jhankri), daha baja, damaru and daarma (thulo nagada).

As a treat, 15 instruments of Nau Baja is performed only during the time of Nekhu Jatra. It starts on the day before Janai Purnima at Kumbeshwar. After a gap of two days, it is performed at Mangal Bazaar (in front of the Patan Durbar) on the day of Matya parikrma. Swayambhu and Bungamati are other venues for the next two days.

Of the performance, Anil informs, “Nau Baja performance will take three to four hours. Dhime, dha, nya khin… each instrument is played in one taal, one after another. Each instrument’s performance is about five to six minutes.”

And different raagas like Deepak raaga and Malhar raaga are performed.

“The Nau Baja has more than nine instruments and it is has different kinds of instrument. It has instruments of Kasi and Jhakri. This means that people initially must have come to play here from other places,” shares Shrestha who has been part of many Matya Jatras. And the teacher who started to play these instruments at the age of eight has been sharing this knowledge since 1995 (2052 BS) to the younger generation.

The Nau Baja performance this year will be held on Bhadra 11, 14, 15 and 16 (August 28 and 31, September 1 and 2).