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Music of Autumn – Malashree

October 17, 2013 , by Sewa Bhattarai, 2 Comments
Music of Autumn – Malashree » My Dreams Mag

Music is very important to Nepali culture, we have particular music for specific occasions. The Malashree tune is one of them. This gentle, soothing melody is heard all through Dashain from different instruments. The article explores the roots of this music and its association with harvest, plenty, prosperity, and the worship of feminine power. 

 

As children, we barely noticed the Malashree dhun, it was just a part of the general background of Dashain. But as adults, we notice more and more the tune that heralds Dashain festival. We realize that this tune is unique to Nepal, even though Dashain or Dussehra is celebrated in many parts of the world. And we realize that this tune is such an integral part of Dashain that it tells us, unmistakeably, that Dashain is here. But what does this tune mean, and why is it associated with Dashain?

Maal means things” says Tejeswor Babu Gongah, an expert of Newar culture. “And autumn is the season full of bounty. Rice, fruits like oranges and tangerines, are found aplenty this season. Shree, a word for Goddess Laxmi, also means wealth. And for an agricultural society like us, nature is the greatest wealth.”

No wonder then, that Malashree is the popular tune for Dashain, which falls in autumn, the season of harvests. This means that Malashree is actually not specific to Dashain, but to the entire autumn season. “Our culture is so rich in expressions, we have songs for all of the six seasons,” says Gongah. “One for the harvest season, one for hemanta, one for sharad, one for spring, one for summer, one for the monsoon.” We even have songs for mornings, called Byanchuli, and songs for Tihar and other specific festivals.

When we were kids, we used to sing songs to this tune” says Gongah. “We sing of what we eat, we talk of what we sing, and that is culture, a composite of our lifestyles,” says Gongah. And the Malashree is no different. Today, it is more famous as a tune with few words, but previously, people used to sing songs to it. These songs consisted of the cultural elements of autumn: green plates of leaves, white beaten rice, black soyabeans, white garlic, ginger, mustard greens, grilled meat, fish, beans, potatoes, chatamari, bara, in other words a traditional Newar feast, found expression in these songs. These reflect the lifestyle of a community moulded according to the topography and geography of a place. “Nowadays, of course, it is not so much a part of everyday life. It has been reduced to a tune that plays on in the background. But before the advent of mass media, this song was a powerful means of expression of folk life.”

In the folk tongue, even the name of the song is mala-siri. “How sweet it sounds, in the common language spoken by the people” says Satya Mohan Joshi, culture expert. But Joshi goes on to explain that the song has its roots in religion and philosophy, in the celebration of power that is a major part of autumn festivals. “Dashain is a worship of female power” says Joshi. “Of course, any version of Dashain, whether it be a celebration of the victory of Ram over Ravan, or of Durga over Mahishasur, is a celebration of power. But in Nepal, it is specifically attached to feminine power, and the Malashree tune itself evokes the power.” Songs composed in the Malashree traditionally worshipped the female power, calling to the goddess Kalika and Jagadiswari. The famous hymn to Goddess Durga, beginning with Ya Devi Sarva Bhtueshu, was also sung to this tune.

Gongah agrees that in this aspect we are unique, since Malashree originally belonged to the Newar culture of Kathmandu, which has a unique identity. Later, it amalgamated with the larger Nepali culture and now is associated with Dashain for all Nepalis. For many other residing outside of Nepal, it also brings on a wave of nostalgia and longing. But most importantly, today, the Malashree has come to mean “affection, hospitality, and faith” –in the words of Gongah—for all of us. Let us enjoy Dashain with this beautiful and timeless music.

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Text by: Sewa Bhattarai
Images: Bikkil Sthapit

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2 comments on “Music of Autumn – Malashree

  1. Kamla says:

    Hi Sewa, thanks for writing it down as your memoire. I enjoyed reading it.
    I am wondering if you can also throw some light on the timescale when these popular- Dashai or Mangal dhuns got into the national stage; and if the Hindu Kings delibrately promoted classically -backed versions of them? Recently I heard the versions promoted by Radio Nepal and realised that somehow the widely used folk instruments like maddal-flute were not made a part of those recordings.

    • sewa says:

      Dear Kamala ji,
      Thank you for the comment, Recently I have also been researching on the aspects you have mentioned. As we know, this is the music used to celebrate the 9 goddesses during dashain, this is the music that has been played since Malla times in processions to the goddess’ temples. This music is played in several different instruments all over Nepal. FOr example, the gandharvas play it only on sarangi, and all of them use this music to celebrate the nine goddesses of Dashain. Regarding its entry on the national stage, this is the information available online: “राजधानी नजीकको छिमेकी जिल्ला धादिङको देवी मन्दिरमा बज्ने मालश्रीको आफ्नै किसिमको मौलिकता रहेको छ। यहा दसैँमा बज्ने मालश्री अन्यत्र बज्ने मालश्रीभन्दा फरक रहेको छ। यहाँको मालश्रीमा मुख्य तालबाजा ढोलकी बजाइँदैन। त्यसको सट्टा ‘नगरा’ दुन्दुभि बजाउने गरिएको छ। सुवि शाहद्वारा सङ्कलित धादिङको पञ्चैबाजाको धुन रेडियो नेपालबाट विजयदशमीभर बजाइन्थ्यो।” i do not have more information as of now, but when I do, I will update here. thanks again for your interest.

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