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Music full circle: On the verge of extinction

Updated: 28-Aug-14

Nanda Maya Dura, 58, is among the handful of indigenous folk singers from Thuloswanra of Lamjung district who are keeping Thado Bhaka—traditional folk music—alive today. “All of us are above 40 years of age and we’re afraid our music will die with us,”

DEC 20 -

Nanda Maya Dura, 58, is among the handful of indigenous folk singers from Thuloswanra of Lamjung district who are keeping Thado Bhaka—traditional folk music—alive today.  “All of us are above 40 years of age and we’re afraid our music will die with us,” says Dura. Thado Bhaka comprises of songs with complex patterns, which include lyrical references to mythology, history, religion as well as everyday life.

Thado Bhaka is initiated by a lead singer to be followed by her comrades. Duets are sung between groups of males and females, where flirtatious and suggestive remarks are often tossed back and forth. Though widely popular in districts like Lamjung, Tanahun, Kaski and Gorkha in western Nepal until some seven decades ago, these folk traditions—once the main form of recreation during marriages, carnivals or pujas—are now on the verge of extinction.

“We inherited Thado Bhaka as an oral tradition. It basically deals with themes that we encounter in daily life,” shares Shree Jung Dura, 66, Nanda Maya’s elder brother. Inspired by his seniors in the village, Shree Jung had started singing at the age of 13, and Nanda Maya had followed suit.

These two siblings are perhaps the only lead singers in the entire district, and as they’ve aged, villagers have grown increasingly concerned about the lack of interest demonstrated by the younger generations in perpetuating the genre. “This isn’t the sort of thing that can be taught or learnt formally. It’s more spontaneous, something you acquire through participation,” says Yam Maya Dura, a member of one of the female groups.

Tracing the history of Thado Bhaka, Yam Bahadur Dura—a lecturer of Journalism at Madan Bhandari Memorial College and a journalist who is interested in the subject—credits Dew Bahadur Dura (around 1896-1934), born in the village of Bardha in Lamjung, as a pioneering figure. “There’s a saying among elderly villagers that Dew Bahadur had such a gift that he could sing non-stop for seven days and seven nights,” says Yam Bahadur. Mani Ram Dura succeeded Dew Bahadur, thereby continuing the Thado Bhaka tradition.

Another well-known figure in the folk genre is Vedikharke Saila, although the actual point of his entry into the field, Yam Bahadur admits, is debated. He laments the fact that the history of Thado Bhaka is so unclear. “It’s a special poetic art which is sadly almost likely to disappear,” he says.

This is attested to by Bhumikar Dura, a local from Dura in Lamjung, who says time is running out. “Younger people are more inclined towards more modern genres of music, while our traditional tunes are fading.”    

Although circumstances might appear dire, there are ongoing individual attempts at keeping the folk traditions alive. Siblings Nanda Maya and Shree Jung for instance have recorded a hefty 300 songs. “We don’t sing cheap love songs. Our tunes are much more substantial than the kind of commercial music that is popular these days,” they say. They have also been participating in various events and festivals in a number of districts—Tahahun, Gorkha, Kaski and elsewhere—trying to inspire others to take an interest. Just a few days ago, in fact, the two sang with their groups at the inauguration of the Puranokot Tandrangkot Trekking route in Lamung, a program supported by CHOICE Humanitarian Nepal and managed by the locals at Turlungkot, Lamjung.

Whether or not these efforts will be adequate in preserving the Thado Bhaka legacy is yet to be seen, however, we must understand that the question isn’t limited to this particular genre of music; it represents a problem we are facing today in various other forms within society, where we stand to lose much of our inherited culture to modern indifference.

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