6-12 February 2015 #744

A day in the life of a Kathmandu wedding band

Hanging out with the Everest Band Baja for a day

6.30AM

It’s still dark outside and in the dimly-lit room at Patan’s Tadhoka, members of the Everest Band Baja are busy preparing to perform at a wedding: their 30th engagement of the season. The members put on their uniforms: black trousers, white shirt and a trademark red coat with golden epaulettes and sit down for a last minute rehearsal.

6.45AM

Band leader Ram Kumar Pariyar (pic, right) signals that it’s time to leave. The 16 members lug their trumpets and drums, and squeeze into a microbus and set off for the day’s big event: a Newari wedding in Balaju.

8.00AM

The band has arrived for the ring ceremony, but the groom is nowhere to be seen. They wait outside, huddled for warmth. Some are smoking, others are goofing around. A relative of the groom shouts at them: “Don’t just stand there, play something.”

Trumpeteer Abin Pariyar, 21, is used to the rudeness. “Even though the stigma about being untouchables is not as prevalent as before, we are still looked down upon because we belong to a lower caste and are treated accordingly,” he says.

A majority of Kathmandu’s wedding bands are owned and operated by Pariyar (Shilpi) families from Western Nepal, who have been in the trade for generations. Their traditional flutes and horns were replaced with modern instruments long ago.

Everest Band Baja was started by Ram Kumar’s father, Bhim Bahadur Pariyar in the late 1950s. Ram Kumar, 56, took over the business when he was 22. All four brothers work for the same company. Middle brother Sudarshan Pariyar is the band master, while his other two brothers help with administration.

“It’s a family-run affair,” says Ram Kumar. His eldest son, Pabitra is also in the band and plays the clarinet. Pabitra will take over his uncle’s role once the latter retires.

While Ram Kumar would like to see his children and grandchildren continuing the family profession, he says the younger ones are opting for other jobs.

“This is a seasonal job where the numbers of our bookings are determined by the stars,” says the 56-year-old. “So, I am fine with my children choosing to do something else.” His son nods.

In the last two months, there were only six auspicious dates for a wedding, meaning the band didn’t make much money. The group gets between Rs 26,000 to Rs 35,000 per wedding, and each member is paid Rs 1,000 per day. It’s not much, band members acknowledge, but it is better than being umemployed.

The 32 musicians (they are all male) at Everest Band Baja are between 16-45. Most of the younger ones received their training at Ram Kumar’s studio and are part-time students as well. (see box)

Besides weddings, the band makes extra cash performing at events. Last month, they put on a show at the launch of author Joe Niemczura’s book The Sacrament of the Goddess at Patan Durbar Square.

12noon

The Janti is finally ready to leave, two hours behind schedule. The band has to lead the procession on foot from Balaju to the bride’s house in Kalimati. Family members of the groom travel in cars and only step out a few metres from the bride’s house to dance on the streets, as tradition demands.

Throughout the way, the band attracts angry glances from motorists whose commute has been disrupted by the wedding procession. “They are just one of the many who think of us as nuisance,” says Sudarshan.

8.00PM

It is late by the time the Everest Band arrive back in Patan. Tomorrow is another day and another wedding.




Tuning it

After the death of their parents, brothers Suman Pariyar and Sujan Pariyar from Bhaktapur had to quit school to work full time. Sujan, 20, joined the Everest Band Baja in 2007 where he played the euphonium. Three years later, Suman, 21, followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined the band. While Suman has rejoined college and is now a management student, Sujan says it is unlikely he will go back to school.

“Circumstances were such that I had to drop out and we can’t both afford to go to school,” says Sujan. The brothers earn Rs 800 per event and do not have any other jobs. They hope to open a company of their own in the future.

Since he took charge of the shop, Ram Kumar has trained over 70 young boys to play wedding instruments including clarinets, trumpets and drums. The trainees get accommodation and food and Ram Kumar pays them Rs 500 to play at events.

All band members are Shilpis, but why aren’t there any female band members? Ram Kumar replies: “There are a lot of drunk men at weddings. If they are disrespectful towards our girls, we won’t be able to defend them by fighting back because they are our employers, so it’s best to not bring them”.


Plan to wed?

For Santosh Tamrakar, a sales and marketing director, who was still reporting for work two days before his wedding, hiring a wedding planner was the best decision of his life.

“To wed in Nepal is a big, big hassle,” said the 34-year-old.

In addition, both him and his bride’s parents were busy at work during the engagement. “We had no time to decide and pick good food, banquet locations or decorations,” he said.

Tamrakar is not alone. More couples are choosing to hire professional wedding planners to oversee their big day. Sarvadev Sigdel of Nepal Wedding Planners said the number of couples seeking his services have tripled since he started his business four years ago. He said this is because of time constraints and western influences.

“Brides are getting ideas from watching television programs, and have become more specific about what type of wedding they want,” he said.

Nepal Wedding Planners offer to plan an assortment of weddings based on the couple's choices, that could range from royal to garden settings or following the bride's favourite colour scheme. “The couples have their preferences, and we serve as an extra hand to help them have the most perfect special day.”

The ability to customise one’s wedding without having to fuss over the minute details has made the wedding planning business quite lucrative. When Nepal Wedding Planners first opened for business, there were only one or two other wedding planners in the city, now they are all over Kathmandu.

Cynthia Choo

Read also:

Pre-monsoon weddings, Kapil Tamot

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