The madal is the best-known folk instrument in Nepali culture. From big cities to the country side, all year round, whenever there are festivals, weddings, parties, or small gatherings, the madal is ever present. Although mostly providing accompaniment for traditional songs, it can be part of any instrumental group, either classical or modern.
The madal is a two-headed drum; one side provides the bass, while the other gives a higher pitch sound. The cylindrical body of the madal, which is hollow, is made out of a special kind of wood. Animal leather, such as goat or ox skin, covers both of the heads, which differ slightly in size, and are tightened by leather straps. The center of each head is covered with a paste made from a mixture of soot, straw, ashes, cooked rice, and iron shavings. This is what produces the mellow sound of the madal.
The madal is played by using both hands—fingers and palms—to strike each side of the instrument simultaneously or alone, thus creating two distinct sounds at the same time. There are literally hundreds of patterns for the madal; an experienced artist can shift from one to the other without missing a single beat and provide continuous accompaniment for dancers, singers, and other musicians.
Featured in: Himalayan Musical Journey