NOBAT MUSIC IN THE KEDAH ROYAL CUSTOM
Introduction / History / Origins / Features
Nobat is a branch of Malaysian traditional music. The states of Kedah, Perak, Terengganu, and Selangor have their own group of Nobat music. Kedah Nobat is believed to be the oldest in the Malay sultanate. According to the Al-Tarikh Kedah pedigrees, Nobat originated from Persia and is believed to have been brought in together with the arrival of Maharaja Derbar Raja.
Nobat has three components of musical instruments, they are semambu called maha guru, the nagara (or nakara or nahara) that is a small drum, and nafiri which is a type of clarinet. All these are played every on the 1st, 15th, and 30th of each month, during the moon eclipse, and during the death of a king or on noble days. Due to the Nobat deemed sacredness and full of abstinences, the players are usually referred to as middlemen in seeking help and fulfillment of vows. Sometimes they act as medicine men.
The vow fulfillment is done on Fridays and paid with turmeric rice and chicken. A bit of turmeric rice is smeared on all the Nobat instruments as if feeding the instruments. Nowadays, this act is no longer practiced as it is against the Islamic religion.
There are six types of musical instruments in the Kedah Royal Nobat as follows:-
2. Nafiri (a type of clarinet)
3. Nahara (a small drum)
4. Mother drum
5. Child drum
Another instrument is the maha guru, also known as semambu which is a piece of the semambu rattan made into a seal to symbolize the King's power. This 1.77-meter rattan is wrapped with yellow cloth and held by the Nobat leader facing his group during a performance. The instruments are played by specially selected musicians from a family ancestry only known as orang kalur, and they play songs that they have inherited.
There are three Nobat songs played in an Installation Ceremony as follows:-
1. Raja Berangkat (Arrival of the King)
(Played during the Seri-Seri Paduka Baginda (His and Her Royal Majesties) Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Raja Permaisuri Agong's arrival at the Audience Hall, and their departures).
2. Menjunjung Duli (Respecting Their Majesties)
(Played when the Installation Instruments are brought into the Audience Hall).
3. Raja Bertabal (An Installed King)
(Played after the Seri Paduka Baginda (His Majesty) Yang di-Pertuan Agong has taken the Royal Vow).
There are also songs played in the morning and evening away from royal or government official events, like Nobat Subuh, Nobat Khamis, and Nobat Raja. Also, the song Puteri Mandi Mayang, played in welcoming the fasting month of Ramadan on the evening of the 28th, 29th, and 30th of Syaaban, the preceding month. The inherited songs played are Raja Burung, Belayar, and Mala Wala, among others.
Nobat is also tied with abstinences that must be abided by the players and the public. Among the rules are that these musical instruments cannot be mocked and their positions must be at specified places. As an example, the drum nahara must be placed facing the east. Non-players are not allowed to touch or disturb the instruments. When Nobat is going to be performed, the players must follow their individual routes to their instruments and then only be seated. Nobody is allowed to see the underneath of the nahara drum believed to be made from the skin of pregnant women. It is believed that ill fate will be fallen to those who breach these abstinences.
The Nobat cannot be played for festivities or normal merriment without the King's consent. A Nobat player is also forbidden to teach all the songs to his successor. This situation explains the reason behind the diminishing Nobat songs in every generation.
Influence of Nobat in the Royal Customs of Kedah
It is believed that Nobat can test Sultan's sovereignty. If an installed Sultan is not sovereign then it is believed that His Majesty will fall sick. Apart from the installation ceremony the Nobat is also played during royal weddings, the customs of berlimau (or literally taking a bath with limes), the Queen giving birth, and a set of duties, as well as during a Sultan's death.