Sikkim's 'Madal' makers find melodious opportunities, breathing life into a fading craft

Sikkim's 'Madal' makers find melodious opportunities, breathing life into a fading craft

With the onset of Tihar, the hills of Sikkim echo with the rhythmic beats of the Madal, a traditional drum integral to Nepalese culture. In the heart of this musical celebration, Madal-makers like Kamal Lamichaney from Tambutar near Ranipool find themselves immersed in a flurry of activity seizing a golden opportunity to not just preserve a fading art but also to earn a livelihood.

Tihar, the festival of lights marks a season of high demand for Madals. The prices of these handcrafted instruments range from Rs 1500 to 12000 depending on the materials used. Kamal Lamichaney, a seasoned Madal-maker with a legacy spanning five decades is witnessing a surge in business. 

During this Dashain-Tihar season he shares his earnings, "I've earned around Rs 1,00,000. I don't even have time to eat nowadays as people need their madals to play deusi-bhailo."

The festival not only brings a windfall for Kamal but also engages his entire family. Like him, numerous Madal-makers are busy mending and crafting instruments in this festive season reviving a profession that had almost disappeared.

Kamal reflects on the changing landscape of his craft, "We generate good income during Tihar. A new Madal costs around Rs 3,000 in the market, but with fewer people taking up this profession, there are only a few of us left in the Madal-making business."

His journey started 56 years ago when he worked in a Kolkata factory, learning the intricacies of Madal-making. Kamal shares, "I haven't demanded anything from the government. If I were to receive any funds, I would start a new, bigger shop. I would be grateful. My son assists me during the festival season and it's a family affair."

Madal-making is not just a source of income for Kamal; it's a cultural legacy he's passed on. "I've trained many people and they have opened their shops as well," he proudly states.

To make one Madal, it takes three to four days of intricate craftsmanship. During the festive season, Kamal sells around 200-300 Madals. Apart from Madals, he also crafts guitars, tablas, and harmoniums. However, he notes that the demand for these instruments is sporadic with the real surge happening during Dashain and Tihar.

Kamal laments the challenge of space as he explains, "Sometimes people who bring their Madals for repair come after 5 or 6 months and inquire about their Madals, which we may have already sold since it becomes old. Due to space constraints, this can lead to disagreements and sometimes we have to provide them with our newly made Madals because they didn't come on time."

To preserve a Madal's quality, one must hang it up as cold temperatures can damage the instrument. A well-maintained Madal can last around 15-20 years and Kamal states the importance of this cultural symbol in Nepali music.

The Madal is a double-headed hand drum made from a hollowed tree trunk with skins stretched at both ends. It features a distinctive black layer known as Khari in Nepal, adding weight to the skin and enhancing the sound. The Madal holds immense cultural significance, symbolizing Nepali music and the history of Nepali arts. It is prominently featured in folk songs, weddings, and various events.

Despite its cultural importance, Madal-making is a dying art, with few craftsmen like Kamal keeping the tradition alive. The festival of Tihar acts as a beacon, drawing attention to this unique craft and providing Madal-makers with a platform to showcase their skills.

The festival of Tihar not only brings economic opportunities to Madal-makers but also resonates with the enchanting beats of the instrument in various festivities. Madal is a crucial element in the celebrations of Dashain, Tihar, and other festivals among different tribes and communities in the region.

Whether played during festivals, hiking trips, or family gatherings, the Madal forms a vital part of the cultural tapestry, fostering bonds of love and joy. Its rhythmic beats, accompanied by other traditional instruments like sarangi and the healing sounds of singing bowls, create an immersive musical experience for people of all ages.

In the realm of Nepali music, Ranjit Gazmer, also known as Kancha, stands as a notable figure. Born on October 3, 1941, in Darjeeling, Gazmer has made significant contributions to the Nepali music industry. Trained under Amber Gurung, he later worked under the legendary R.D. Burman in Mumbai playing the Madal in several Hindi film songs.

Ranjit Gazmer's journey exemplifies the cross-cultural connections embedded in music. He played a pivotal role in introducing the sound of the Madal to Hindi film music.

As the festival of Tihar unfolds in Sikkim, Ranjit Gazmer's connection to the Madal takes center stage. The beats that once reverberated in Mumbai studios find echoes in the hills of Sikkim where Madal-makers like Kamal Lamichaney craft their instruments with reverence. Gazmer's journey becomes a poignant reminder of the interconnectedness of musical traditions where the Madal serves as a cultural bridge connecting the hills to the heart of Bollywood.

In the rhythmic heart of Tihar, the Madal weaves a tale of resilience, cultural pride and the enduring spirit of craftsmanship.