Country’s only folk musical instrument museum hits a sour noteOn a winter afternoon, eight-year-old Ojaswi Kathayat was sitting near the window at the Music Museum of Nepal in Tripureshwor, facing the gleaming sun, trying to play the sarangi Kathayat often visits the museum during her holidays, sometimes with her friends, to learn to play the sarangi, one of the 650 folk music instruments housed at the museum-all linked to Nepal’s various ethnic groups.
On a winter afternoon, eight-year-old Ojaswi Kathayat was sitting near the window at the Music Museum of Nepal in Tripureshwor, facing the gleaming sun, trying to play the sarangi. Kathayat often visits the museum during her holidays, sometimes with her friends, to learn to play the sarangi, one of the 650 folk music instruments housed at the museum—all linked to Nepal’s various ethnic groups.
“I want to become a doctor when I grow up but I also enjoy playing the sarangi. So, I want to learn to play it well,” said Kathayat, who lives near the museum.
Kathayat, however, is not aware that the country’s only folk musical instrument museum might no longer exist in its current form.
Situated on the eastern outskirts of the Tripureshwor Mahadev Temple, an ancient house has been home to the museum and a daycare centre for senior citizens for the past 23 years. The house belongs to the Guthi Sansthan.
As per a renewable five-year agreement between Ram Prasad Kadel, the curator and founder of the museum, and the Guthi Sansthan, the Music Museum was housed at its current location at the recommendation of the Cultural Ministry, which also provided the museum with Rs2 million last year. According to the agreement, Kadel would pay a monthly rent of Rs25,000 to the Guthi.
The agreement also meant the Guthi would send a two-month prior notice if it ever wanted the museum to vacate its premises.
This agreement is set to expire in April, and the Guthi Sansthan has already signed a deal with the Kathmandu University to lease its property to the varsity. The university is planning to construct a new building in the area where the museum is located for its new music department, which is currently in Bhaktapur. The Guthi Sansthan and the Kathmandu University have even got a building design approved by the Department of Archaeology.
Kadel, however, is not happy with the arrangement, calling it “a conspiracy jointly plotted by the Guthi Sansthan and the university”.
“The three parties—Guthi Sansthan, the university’s founding Vice-chancellor Suresh Raj Sharma, and the committee of the museum—had earlier verbally agreed to the reconstruction of temples and houses that fell within the Guthi’s area of 9,157.32 square metres. As per the plan, the museum was to remain where it is now and the KU was to build its music department at other sattals around the temple,” said Kadel.
However, Kadel said that the museum committee was excluded from subsequent meetings regarding the Guthi premises.
“We received an official letter in December 2016 asking us to vacate the building months before the end of the agreement,” he said. “We were confused when we received the letter. When I enquired about it, I came to know that the Guthi had already handed over the museum sattal to the university on a lease for 35 years,”
Kadel then filed a petition with the Kathmandu District Court, demanding that the deal between the Guthi and the university be dismissed and the contract that the museum committee had reached with the Guthi be maintained.
The Guthi Sansthan, however, claimed that it had the right to make decisions about its property.
“We want to reconstruct the quake-affected area, and after the agreement expires, as an NGO, they [the museum] should find a new place on their own for relocation,” said Saroj Thapaliya, spokesperson for the Guthi. “Also, if the university is investing, it definitely deserves something in return.”
With the museum caught up in legal issues, Kadel said he was trying to find a way to save it.
“We tried to provide him [Kadel] with other options like the Chhauni Museum—which is more relevant to their collection—where the music museum can be shifted. But he did not agree,” said Thapaliya. “He seems to have a sentimental attachment to the place and he is passing misleading information about us. He needs to understand that he can’t demand that the museum should remain there.”
Thapaliya further said that the Guthi Sansthan is not responsible for NGOs like the Music Museum.
“I thought Chhauni museum could be a good option,” said Kadel. “But it has a very limited space for storage—which is not sufficient for us. We also need space to display our instruments.”
Lochan Rijal, assistant professor at the Kathmandu University and coordinator of the music department construction project, said that he had already spoken to Kadel. Rijal had shown Kadel Kathmandu University’s Music Department in Bhaktapur as a viable option—a location swap between the university and the Music Museum.
“He was quite happy the day we went there but he said he’ll talk to his committee and the next day, he didn’t agree to move,” said Rijal. “We will help him find alternative solutions but we can’t take complete responsibility.”
Kadel agreed that he had visited Bhaktapur with Rijal but had discovered complications in moving there. “I found out that the land where the university is currently situated belongs to the guthi of a Mathema family that has been trying to remove the university,” he said. “If the university itself wanted to shift from there, how can we guarantee about our security?”
According to Kadel, the official letter asking the museum to relocate only came recently, even though the Guthi Sansthan and Kathmandu University had reached an agreement long before the 2015 earthquake.
Rijal agreed that the university had reached an agreement with the Guthi Sansthan long before the Music Museum’s agreement was due to expire. “We already had a plan and design idea to build our music department before the earthquake. We had also reached a verbal agreement with the Guthi,” said Rijal. “After the earthquake, we moved the talks forward and reached a deal to construct our music department in the whole area.”
The Department of Archaeology, the primary government agency responsible for archaeological research and the protection of cultural heritage, however, expressed ignorance about all that has been happening between the museum and the Guthi Sansthan.
“We have no information about any case against Guthi by the museum,” said Ram Bahadur Kunwar, spokesperson for the department. “The Guthi had talked about removing the museum but it later said it would let the museum stay where it is. It’s up to the Guthi.”
Although officially registered as a ‘charity’ with the Government of Nepal in 1997, Kadel—now 53—started collecting folk music instruments since 1995 as guru dakshina for his Guru Swami Akhandananda Saraswati, who taught him meditation when Kadel was in his 30s. His guru wanted him to do something for the country, said Kadel.
But over the years, Kadel’s collection of folk musical instruments grew and took the shape of a museum.
“As a person from the Bahun community, the only instrument I could play well was the shankha, which I learned after my bratabandha at the age of eight,” said Kadel. “That was the first item in my collection. But as my interest grew over the years, I started collecting all types of instruments, even those which I cannot play.”
Now that the future of the museum is uncertain, Kadel appears confused about his next steps. “I don’t know where I can take this museum,” said Kadel.
A court hearing for the case filed by the museum committee against the Guthi Sansthan and the university is scheduled for February 4. What the court decides will ultimately dictate the fate of the museum.
If the museum closes and is unable to find another viable space, children like Ojaswi Kathayat might have nowhere else to go to learn to play some of Nepal’s unique folk music.