Matthew C. Glenn
Bancroft School
Music of the Himalayan Region


Himalayan Work Songs

The Himalayan Region, encompassing land from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, and China is an extraordinarily diverse region. As you can see from these two images, the changes in elevation are extreme, resulting in a large range of biomes and biodiversity.

Cultures in this region largely exist as agricultural societies. People within these regions either grow crops or raise livestock. Many areas are modified by their inhabitants to maximize use of the land. Evidence of this is the terraceing built into the side sof the mountains on the left.

Work songs are used to help pass the time and coordinate physical effort. This is similar to in origin to field hollers and work songs sung by American slaves in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. While the potential for economic advancement has been extremely limited in Nepal and Tibet, slavery has existed in Nepal as a result of being convicted for a crime, or being in bondage for debt. Be careful making direct comparisons between American slavery and Nepalese slavery!

Using these songs in a classroom music setting can help enrich your teaching about music sung in everyday life from different cultures. Some parallels from the United States appropriate for young children might be "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad," "Pick a Bale of Cotton," or "Erie Canal."

Here is a Tibetan song that is sung while building a house. The call and response (or antiphony?) between the two older women and the two younger women would normally be between men and women. You can hear a reverberation of a tin washtub in the background.

Chaansai Kaatyo: This is a Nepali song sung by people cutting grass with a sickly in the fields and forests. The grass is used to feed cattle, an important resource in an mountainous region that does not easily lend itself to transportation and use of machinery.

Saanghuree Baree Ni: Here is a Nepali song from Western Nepal sung by shepherds, who sing this when they head off to graze their cattle.

Click here for a web page (with downloads!) about a Tibetan singer who sang work songs while earning money in India. There are also two folk songs available for download.


This site was created by Matthew C. Glenn at the NEH Summer Institute "Cultures and Religions of the Himalayan Region," held at the College of the Holy Cross, Summer 2006