By LB THAPA FOR ONTOTHEROAD.COM

Gandharvas are also known as Gaine and Gayak. But they prefer ‘Gandharva’ a respectful word to address them. Gandharvas have been recognized as the musician caste of Nepalese society. In the past when modern means of entertainments were not available in the country, Gandharvas would travel around the villages, telling the stories they come across.

Jhalakman Gandharva was a legendary singer. Photo: youtube.com

Historical evidence shows that Gandharvas immigrated from Chitaurgarh. They were brought by Kulmandan Shah, the first Shah King. The king ruled his kingdom from Kaskikot. Meanwhile, he allotted Batulechaur for the Gandharmvas. Ever since then Gandharvas have been living in Batulechaur. Today Batulechaur is the largest settlement of Gandharvas in Nepal.

According to the census of 2001, the population of Gandharva in Kaski district was around 500. As per tradition, adult Gandharvas would always travel with their sarangi and tell the story they stumble upon. Meanwhile, their women and children remain at home and working in the field and taking care of livestock.

The best Gandharvas would be obliged to entertain the king by singing all kinds of melodious songs available in their repertoires. They would eulogize the king and describe his valour. High ranking army officers and some influential people would also invite famous Gandharvas to entertain them. 

Over the centuries, the Gandharvas, a community of occupational caste musicians, walked across the length and breadth of the mountains of Nepal and told the events both good and bad in the tune with their sarangi. Gandharvas were talented artists to tell stories, leaving the listeners spellbound. With the passage of time, the population of Gandharva did spread from East to West, but they predominantly concentrated in the Western Development Region, the original home of the Gandharvas.

Gayak Tole of Batulechaur in Pokhara is one of the largest and also ancient Gandharva settlements in the country. Today a thin population of Gandharavas is still pulling the strings of sarangi, anyhow keeping their rich tradition alive.

Once there was a time when the Gandharva community was in the limelight for their extraordinary skill of entertaining the people with their sensational songs, now they are relegated to live in oblivion. Owing to rapid development of transportation and communication in the country, the traditional job of Gandharvas has lost its relevance more rapidly in the rural areas.                

An easy access of radio and FMs across the rural parts of the country virtually left Gandharvas jobless. Their songs are no longer sought by the rural folks as they are well informed by radio and FMs. Once respected profession of Gandharvas is now looked down upon.

Gandharvas find unable to eke out a living practicing their traditional profession. This is the reason why many Gandharvas are displaced from their traditional practices. As a result Gandharvas are leaving their traditional practice and looking for other options of livelihood.

“I learnt the craft from my father Hiraman Gayak. I was then merely a 9-year old boy. I made my father happy by learning the art of a Gandharva rather more quickly than anyone else in the village. My father did also teach me how to select a proper piece of wood and make a sarangi. In later years when my father turned an old man, I took the responsibility of the family onto my shoulders.

Honestly speaking by singing and selling sarangi, I made enough money. But now I am alone in the family to carry on the tradition of Gandharva. My sons do not want to play the sarangi before audiences for money. They think it is an insult for them to beg money from audiences” lamented Harkaman Gayak, a local resident of Batulechaur.

Some elderly Gandharvas look anxious at the rapid downfall of their tradition. They want to revive it but it seems that they are fighting a losing battle. The young generation of Gandharva does not want to carry on Gandharva tradition as means of livelihood.

“I don’t mind playing sarangi and singing songs to entertain my friends, but I can’t do it for living. A sarangi playing Gandharva is treated no more than a beggar. My self-respect does not permit me to do all this for a living…there are hundreds of other ways to survive” opined Ramesh Bogete, a trekking guide in Pokhara, but originally from Gandharva family of Batulechaur.

Jhalakman Gandharva and Prakash Gandharva are always remembered for their invaluable contribution to promote and popularize Gandharva tradition.  Jhalakman Gandharva, a popular Nepali folk singer, who died at 68, had made a tall stature for himself. Born in Batulechaur, Pokhara, Jhalakman Gandharva had recorded more than 250 songs at Radio Nepal. Today Jhalakman Gandharva is treated as a legend.

Prakash Gandharva shot to fame with his presentation Katha Mitho Sarangiko aired over 100 FM stations by the BBC Nepali service. He was a very poor boy who rose to limelight only by the dint of hard work and perseverance. His solo album ‘Ringdai Ghumdai and Katha Mitho Sarangiko made him extremely popular in the country. He went through extremely hard time but never lost hope and continued playing the sarangi. Today Prakash has succeeded in making a name, fame and money with his sarangi.

Without doubt Gandharva tradition is now at its lowest ebb, if necessary steps are not taken for its preservation and promotion, then possibly in a decade or two Gandharva traditions might extinct forever. Senior Gandharvas who have been pulling the strings of sarangi must be patronized with fund and technical supports.

At the same time young Gandharvas must be encouraged to learn the art of their forefathers. It is not necessary that the young generation should adopt the sarangi for a living, but they can practice it to carry on their rich tradition.

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