Tantric Secrets of the Nepalese Murchunga Revealed
A paper presented at 1st World Mouth Harp Festival of India, February, 2013
By Ram Prasad Kadel
The Murchunga is a traditional Nepali folk musical instrument; a mouth harp made usually of pure Iron. It is believed to be a favourite of Lord Shiva and is said to have been brought by Kirateshwar Mahadeva.
The music culture of the Himalayan region employs music to integrate the health and tranquillity of sarir, man and atama (body, mind and soul) and to connect man to the Paraatma or God. In this ancient landscape, music was not simply developed for entertainment but also for enhancing spiritual wellbeing, and the murchunga, when made following the correct Tantric procedures, was and still is, regarded as a sacred folk musical instrument with inherent healing power.
The mouth harp is thought to be one of the oldest folk musical instruments in the world, going back to at least the 20th century BC (ed.), and is native to Asia. Long ago the Rishi Munis, identified the strong power in iron and realised its potential for music making; they already had iron tools as far back as the time of the Ramayana, i.e. the 5th to 4th century BC. Evidence that iron mining began very early in South Asia was given by S.C. Britton in Nature in 1934. He placed the first date of iron production, in this area, earlier than 1000 BC. We also know that the musical culture of South East Asia was well advanced at that time because Bharata Muni compiled his musical treatise ‘Natya Shastra’ about 2000 years ago.
Iron ore deposits are reported from 85 localities in Nepal and Nepal has also exported iron to Tibet in the past. There are still the remains of more than two dozen iron mines in the Mahabharata range of the mid-hill region but all have been disused for at least 50 years. The process of removing iron ore from these mines was too costly, deforestation led to a shortage of charcoal for smelting and there was also no good quality coal available. These days all iron is imported from outside.
Tantra is often wrongly believed to be the yoga of sex, black magic and witchcraft and a way to overpower the mind of others. This is really a misuse of Tantra. We believe that Tantra includes the least selfish and the most practical aspects of the South Asian Vedic religions. Generally Tantrics worship Goddess Shakti or Lord Shiva.
In my book ‘Musical Instruments of Nepal‘ published by Music Museum of Nepal (2007), I mention the close relationship, in form, between the murchunga, trisula, Shiva Linga and the symbol for Aum in Devanagari script.
The secret and time honoured Tantric process of murchunga fabrication
In order to discover a new site for an iron ore mine, one or two methods where used. One way was to taste the leaves of certain plants to detect iron content. The other method used Bhugharbha Siddhi performed by a Tantric Siddha to discern what lies below ground. The Tantric priest would then receive information about the depth and site of deposits by direct communication with the God.
After the mine is open, iron for making murchunga should only be removed after determining the saita (most auspicious time) by consulting an astrologer. The miners must also make a special puja to the Ban Devata, on the day before mining begins, to ask permission to take iron ore for this purpose. If the miners are given a sign during the night, which suggests that the deity is not happy with their proposal, then they will not go ahead. If all is well, they will start work before sunrise.
The miners must all be from the Kami caste or Magar and their name must start with one of 5 syllables, these are ‘aa’, ‘ba’, ‘ma’, ‘pa’ or ‘na’. In addition they must have completed Sani Sadhana. This involves chanting the shani mantra and playing murchunga, in turn, 125,000 times.
When the miners have obtained enough iron ore, they smelt it to purify it. They must then give Chaitenya Dikshaya to the pure iron. After receiving dikshaya the iron is no longer ordinary iron; it is believed to be imbued with special power or energy and also to have some ‘knowledge’ that it will be used to make a murchunga.
Only Kami caste iron-smiths can be involved in the next stage of the process and must have names starting with one of 5 different syllables, these are ‘bha’, ‘ja’, ‘dha’, ‘ cha’ or ‘la’. They must also have completed Sani Sadhana.
The iron for the frame of the instrument is heated in the furnace and then beaten into the shape of a nine year old virgin girl’s yoni. Exactly 64 beats are used to make this shape and these represent the Chhausatthi Kala or 64 artistic disciplines. Next the iron for the instrument’s tongue is heated and beaten into the shape of a 9 year old boy’s linga using exactly 32 beats to represent Battisha Lakshana, the 32 signs of perfection. The linga is representative of Lord Shiva and the yoni is representative of the Goddess Shakti and the two are united by Shivashakti Yoga. This results in the murchunga now being regarded as having a life force or prana. It is treated as a living thing by being bathed and offered food, water, garments etc. This whole process is known as Jiva Nashaya.
An odd number of murchunga are made in each batch and the first 3 are never played but are offered to the fire deity and burnt in the furnace. This is known as the Tin Khutte Sadhana. Fire made the fabrication of the murchunga possible and the smiths wish to pay respect to Agni. Finally the smiths must perform Chhema puja to Sani and Natyaaswora to beg forgiveness for any error in the manufacture of the murchunga.
Now the remaining murchunga are ready to be played but before playing for the first time the musician should practice Bajra Danti Sadhana to make the teeth strong. Thereafter the instrument must be taken back to the smith, annually, in Sawan month, for Pain Chadhauni to refresh the metal. This involves heating the instrument in the furnace until red hot and then cooling slowly by burying it in earth. Also on Rishi Tarpani in Bhadau month the musicians must play the murchunga before his or her Music Guru in order to recharge the instruments energy and his or her own playing ability. If the Guru is no longer living then the musician should go to play at one of certain Shiva temples such as Kumbeshwor or Kageswor, or at a Natyaaswora temple the main one being Kabilasha in Nuwarkot.
The murchunga’s repertoire includes hundreds of different rhythms and melodies. Certain melodies are played for specific rituals or occasions, including marching, healing, worship, attraction etc., but the musician may be from any religion, of any caste, and of any age or sex. When the musician’s performance reaches a certain stage of perfection, and he or she hears the naada constantly, then he or she is ready to become a Siddhi and should certainly play at Kabilasha Temple on Janai Purnima and a year later should bathe in the holy lake Gosainkunda. The musician is then a Naada Siddhi perfectly accomplished in naada sadhana and has the capacity to heal all manner of illnesses using the powerful therapy of the murchunga’s music.
There are four very auspicious nights, in the lunar calendar year, for a musician to play murchunga and receive strong revitalising energy; these are Shiva raatri, Mohar raatri, Kaala raatri and Sukha raatri. The main reasons for playing a Tantric murchunga, are to heal and help others, and also to speed one’s own attainment of Mokshaya.
The playing of Murchunga has also been used to influence the sex of a child, about to be conceived, especially in royal households. The hopeful parents should first carry out Bhaga Bhairava Sadhana and then play the murchunga just before intercourse, or else they can ask musician’s to play in the next room during their sexual union. The timing is also important. If they wish for a girl, intercourse should take place on an odd numbered day between the 7th and 19th day after menstruation or, if they prefer a boy, on one of the even numbered days between the 8th and 20th day.
Iron is the only metal ever used for making the murchunga’s tongue but there are other sources of iron, if iron mined according to Tanrik principles, is not available. One source is iron from a trisula, a sickle or a three headed nail that has been offered to a Peepal tree by a person who has a problem and is praying for its solution. The offering must have been stuck in the tree for at least 3 years for it to be sufficiently purified. After this time the smith may take it to make more murchunga. The manufacturing process is the same; only the mining stage is omitted. So the smith must still have a name beginning with ‘bha’, ‘ja’, ‘dha’ ‘cha’ or ‘la’ and must have completed sani sadhana. Another permitted source of iron for Muchunga making is the iron from a shoe of a black horse that has been to war or who has carried a pilgrim on parikarma pilgrimage around Mount Kailash and Lake Man Sarovara. The iron from the clapper of certain animal’s bells can also be used. That from a red or black cow’s bell, is used particularly when doing sadhana for monetary prosperity, that of a hunting dog’s bell, is particularly good for self-protection and, that from a horse’s bell, to induce hypnotism. Music from a murchunga made from the clapper of a buffalo’s bell can be played to dispel the fear of death or to counteract evil imposed by witchcraft. The buffalo is the mount of Yama the deity of death. The clapper from the bell of a mule can also be used but only for instruments to be played by sexually sterile musicians.
Alternative metals can be used for the frame of the instrument and certain metals are more suitable for particular purposes. Copper, is the metal of choice for the frame of a murchunga used in Saatwik Sadhana, Gold, for Rajashik Sadhana, and silver, for teaching an unborn child. But for advancement towards mokshaya or for achieving the status of naada siddhi only a pure iron murchunga will suffice.
These ancient Tantric methods of making murchunga are rarely, if ever, used in modern times and therefore old Tantric instruments that have been regularly maintained are especially cherished. The musician must have performed all sadhana and ritual requirements to retain the Tantric power in his instrument and in him or herself. Specially respected murchunga are passed down from a Guru to a chosen pupil and the new keeper must also observe all the Tantric rites or else the instrument and its player will lose their energy.
A new murchunga with full Tantric power can still be made, even if the procedures described above are not carried out. If a special instrument is manufactured at the auspicious time of a total solar eclipse then it doesn’t matter who makes it or where the iron came from. The murchunga will still have perfect Tantric energy and full Tantric healing potential but to maintain the power, into the future, the annual rituals and sadhanas, on behalf of murchunga and player, must be strictly observed.
Most of the information reported above was learned at the feet of our own Gurudeva and spiritual master, Swami Akandananda Saraswoti a humble, but, never the less powerful, Guru with great healing energy. He preferred to be known simply as Sadhak Satyam and taught a very simple philosophy of simple living. He believed that Tantra should be used for the service and betterment of all God’s creatures.