Balai Nobat is a ceremonial tower in Alor Setar used to house instruments for playing nobat, the dirge for royal ceremonies. Among the instruments are the serunai, a wind instrument resembling the clarinet; the nafiri, a type of long trumpet; gendang, a drum in the form of a hollow cylinder with parchment stretched over its open sides; and the gong.
The original Balai Nobat was built during the reign of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Mukarram Shah, who reigned from 1854 to 1879. It had five floors and was constructed of stone and metal. During the renovation in 1906, it was reduced to three storeys. The Balai Nobat is topped with an Islamic-style dome.
Upon the official opening of the Alor Star town in 1735 by HRH Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin Muazzam Shah, the 19th Sultan of Kedah (1710-1778), a number of early buildings had been completed including the Kota Setar Palace, the Balai Besar, the Balai Nobat and the State Mosque. The original design of the Balai Nobat could not be ascertained but certainly it was built using wood.
During the reign of HRH Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Mukarram Shah, the 25th Sultan of Kedah (1854-1879), the new Balai Nobat consisting of five-story building was built. The building was totally built of wood with zinc roofing. During the reign of the HRH Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, the 26th Sultan of Kedah (1882-1943), a new building was built using concrete and metal. The architecture is the same as the previous wooden building. The height was three-story and the dome at its apex represents the Islamic element such as those found on mosques. This new building was built in 1906.
The Balai Nobat keeps all the nobat musical instruments including the serunai (wooden flute), nafiri, gendang (drum) and gong that are played for specific ceremonies such as royal installations, deaths and other official ceremonies.
You can find traditional musical instruments in Balai Nobat. The hall features the "nobat", the orchestra of royalty. It comprises drums, gongs and a traditional flute. These instruments are played on special ceremonial occasions such as the installation of the ruler. The skill of playing these instruments is generally passed on from father to son.