The melody of the hills fades

- Weena Pun, Kathmandu
The melody of the hills fades

Oct 14, 2014-

Dharmaraj Thapa, a multi-award winning devoted folk singer, collector and songwriter, who imbued his compositions with vernacular colours, died at his son’s home at Swoyambhu in the Capital on Tuesday. He was 90.

Thapa had been battling dementia for the last two years and was bedridden for the past three months. He died of complications from dementia, hypertension and diabetes, said his eldest son, Madan Raj Thapa.

Dharmaraj, better known as Janakabi Keshari, a title he received in the mid-1950s from then-king Mahendra, was, as the appellative suggests, renowned for his knack for composing songs that touched the mass.

One of his famous songs, “hariyo danda mathi halo jotne sathi”, evokes in most nostalgia for the life in the hills, of communicating with an ox ploughing the fields. Another equally famous creation, “aja madal bajeko kina” combines folk melody and patois to highlight the cheerful and flirtatious side of a village life. The song, “hamro Tenzing Sherpale chadhyo himal chuchura” taps into the collective pride of having a Nepali man become the first person atop Mount Everest. Penned in simple, breezy words, his songs inspire people, making them forget the harsh reality of poverty and penury.

His contemporary, art and history researcher Satyamohan Joshi predicts that some of Dharmaraj’s songs will be deemed classics because they are intrinsically linked to the history of Pahade Nepalis, their culture and identity. But what really distinguishes Dharmaraj from other folk singers and songwriters is that he was a dedicated pursuer of folk literature.

“He used his hands, legs, brain, time… everything to search, study, compile, compose, sing and publicise folk literature and melodies,” says Joshi.

Dharmaraj travelled across Nepal, and even to parts of India in Assam, Darjeeling and Dehradun, to collect folk music. The music he collected then is published in his book entitled Mero Nepal Bhraman, released in late-1950s. His own compositions were published a few years earlier in a book called Banchari. His dedication to ethnic music was such that he also published a now-folded magazine called Danphe Chari.

Although lesser-known as a poet, Dharmaraj has more than 20 publications to his name, one of which--Mangali Kusum--won the esteemed Madan Purashkar in 1968. Other awards include Jagadambashree Purashkar in 2001, Chhinnalata in 1992 and Sajha Purashkar in 1985.

In his long, prolific career, Dharmaraj’s another important contribution was in motivating and helping young folk singers to hone their skills and shine. Dharmaraj presented a popular radio programme, “Lokalahari” in the late-1950s when Kumar Basnet, of the fame “chhori bhanda aama taruni” was nudged to sing as well.

“I started singing because I saw him do that,” says Basnet, who travelled to different places of Nepal and India as a performer with Dharmaraj.

More importantly, around 50 years ago, Dharmaraj gathered 22 Gandharva singers from his birthplace, Batulechaur in Kaski, and brought them to play sarangi in Kathmandu. One of them, Jhalakman Gandharva, later became a star sarangi-playing folk singer. Dharmaraj is survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters. On Tuesday, officials and party leaders paid their last respects to the Janakabi.


Published: 15-10-2014 08:59

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