Very little is known about the origin of the Sapera community. All that is known is that they are a community of snake charmers. They are one of a number of semi-nomadic communities found in North India, which live in camps at the outskirts of most North Indian towns. Shunned by mainstream society, they have made their living through curing snake bites, ridding people’s homes of snakes and showing the snakes to tourists for money while playing their homemade been (or pungi). The been is constructed out of a gourd and is the trademark music instrument of the Sapera community.
The following tracks are field recordings of the Saperas playing the been, recorded live at the Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal. The mesmerizing drone of the been and the driving rhythms of the premtal and kanyeri (percussion instruments) provide through the music a spectacle that has captured the imaginations of Indians and non-Indians for centuries.