19-25 July 2013 #665

Have Nepalis forgotten Dharmaraj Thapa?

Sunir Pandey

FORGOTTEN GENIUS: Ninety-year-old poet and songwriter Dharmaraj Thapa lies bedridden at his home in Swayambhunath.
Dharmaraj Thapa. The very name evokes strong feelings of love of country, of Nepal’s mountains, rivers and plains, and one starts humming familiar songs made famous by Nepal’s best-known poet and singer.

At age 90, Thapa is bed-ridden at home in Swayambhunath. He cannot talk and doesn’t recognise visitors. Thapa’s life was devoted to documenting, recording, and conserving Nepal’s treasure house of folk lyrics and music. At a time when Nepal didn’t even have roads, he walked right across the country and travelled to the Nepali-speaking parts of north-east India in search of poetry and songs.

Today, Thapa’s songs like Nepali le maya maryo and Dhuru dhuru narou ama have become eternal anthems for the Nepali nation, evoking the neglect and exclusion that has driven Nepalis to suffer and migrate for work. The words of these songs are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s when Thapa first recorded them.

His inspiration was the traditional troubadour of Nepal, the gandarvas. It was Thapa who first brought the gandarvas to Nepal’s musical mainstream and recognised their role in voicing the Nepali people’s stoic acceptance of suffering and hardship. Thapa ‘discovered’ Jhalak Man Gandarva and brought him to the national stage, as well as another 200 singers from Pokhara’s Batlechaur where he was born, giving them employment and even taking one on a tour of China with him Few know that Thapa was involved even in the democracy struggle during the Rana rule and composed the song Prajatantra ko kaphal pakyo where he used words and music that people related to in order to rouse them. The lyrics of his songs are simple, everyday Nepali words and when accompanied by the flute, sarangi, and madal they pour out the Nepali soul.

Thapa in his late 20s in this black and white photo.
Thapa won the Madan Puraskar for his 1969 book of poetry, Mangali Kusum. Later he won the Jagadamba Shree for his life’s work as a poet and folk musician.

Thapa’s daughter, Gyanu Rana, is an accomplished singer in her own right. She says her father showed her the way. “I grew up in a musical household. He was progressive and taught me how to sing for a cause,” Rana told Nepali Times. Thapa took his daughter on visits to famous Nepali poets like Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Bal Krishna Sama, and Lekhnath Poudel.

Thapa was writing till four years ago when he turned 86. Gyanu Rana was by her father’s side this week after he was brought home from the hospital. She said: “Now he has stopped recognising us too. And it looks like the government has also forgotten him.”

Listen to Nepali le maya maryo Dhuru dhuru narou ama

Nepali le maya maryo

Dhuru dhuru narou ama