Culture & TraditionNepal

Mangal Dhun, the Music of Nepal

Once, I received a curious query from someone I knew in America; he wanted to know about the origin of the mangal dhun, one of the most familiar tunes in Nepal. The name means “auspicious tune”, and is played during festive and celebratory occasions. It is the tune that announces that Dashain, the biggest Hindu festival of Nepal, has arrived. You’ll also hear it at the beginning of many rituals, and when a janti (groom’s procession at a wedding) begins, it is preceded by a band bajaa (brass band) playing a mangal dhun. When the janti reaches the bride’s home, this same tune is played again, this time with more fervor, which helps heighten the excitement of the bride’s family, relatives, friends, and other guests.

The mangal dhun also throws out its familiar notes at critical points during the wedding ceremony, such as during the swayambhar (exchange of garlands and ring ceremony), when the couple walk around the sacred fire, and when the tearful bride is bid an equally tearful adieu by family and friends. The mangal dhun has great significance in the lives of Nepalis because you’ll hear the same tune wherever you go in the country, and especially during the great festivals of Dashain and Tihar in October/November.

This great tune has the greatest presence in the Kathmandu Valley, although factual details of the mangal dhun’s origin are difficult to determine. I was unable to answer my American friend’s question with any authority, unfortunately. But, my deep research led to another discovery; it seems that mangal dhun is also known as “malashree dhun”.

Whatever name it goes by, this popular national tune is very melodious and extremely soothing, and the listener becomes one with the natural order of things in the universe. The sitar and the tabla are the mainstays of the spiritually uplifting dhun, with some other instruments like the tungna and flute taking a more subdued role. The sitar is the grandfather of the Western guitar, made world famous by George Harrison of the Beatles, who learnt it from an Indian maestro named Ustad Ravi Shankar.

The sitar is capable of conveying so many emotions; it is an almost magical instrument. It is especially able to bring out deep emotions related to tragedy, grief, and lost love, and is equally capable of creating uplifting tunes of new-found love, the celebratory spirit of humankind, and the inherent harmony of nature in an ideal world. The sitar is married to the tabla in an unbreakable bond of togetherness. The tabla provides the solidity of unwavering rhythmic beats, enabling its better half to go all out in exploring the depths of already deep emotions with its tremendously expressive sounds conveyed through sharp but extremely sensitive chords.

No wonder the mangal dhun is so very evocative, and succeeds every time in connecting with the human heart, leaving behind the cluttered mind for a blessed moment of peace and serenity.

Top image: rubber bullets / Flickr

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