BY DR. BISHWO KALYAN PARAJULI
According to the census of 2001, there are 101 caste groups in Nepal. The Gandharva are one of those distinct groups. They are well known as the professional signers of Nepali folk culture. In the past, they used to sing door to door in the villages but nowadays they have been singing in public vehicles for the tips. They are scattered mainly in the mid hill region throughout, from the east to the west of the country. However, the Gandharva are more concentrated in the Western Development Region (Pokhara Region) of Nepal. Gayak Tole of Batulechour, northern point of Pokhara valley, is one of the famous Gandharva settlements of Nepal. Approximately 300 people within 45 households are living there and sharing Gandharva culture. Batulechaour of Pokhara valley is the most famous Gandharva village and has the largest concentration of Gandharva population. Traditionally, the sources of livelihood of Gandharva were signing, fishing, and begging. But nowadays, owing to economic activities and urbanization, Gandharva are shifting their primary source of livelihood into service and business oriented works.
Origin and history of the Gandharva
The Gandharva are also known as Gaine and Gayak. The etymological meaning of Gandharva, Gayak and Gaine in Nepalese is singer, but as regards the origin of the Gandharva, people have interesting stories. According to a Hindu mythological story, Brahma the supreme creator of the world created four Rishis (sages). One of them was Gandharva and it is supposed that the Gandharva are the descendants of Gandharva Rishi. Some argue that Gandharva was a well-known musician in the palace of India, the King of Heaven. Being the descendents of Gandharva, these people were supposed to earn their living by singing songs and playing the sarangi and the arbaja. Some of the Gandharva argue as saying at a time when there was division of labour, a Gandharva was sitting by the side of an apsara (nymph) and watching her performance. Hence, there was given the task of singing a song to accompany her.
The historical province shows that the Gandharva migrated from Chitaurgarh of India to Nepal as the porters of the ancestor of Kulmandan Shan. They were supposed to sing various types of ritual and religious songs, success stories, patriotic songs, songs of loyalty to the kings, as well as to the jamindars and mukhiyas of the villages who were the king’s representatives. They were supposed to sing the songs in temples, places, and households of the villages as well. Thus, the origin of Gandharva as explained in various sources is a blend of myth and history.
The original home and present status of Gandarva
The major original place of Gandharva in Gandaki Zone is Batulaecour, Pokhara. According to the census of 2001, the population of Gandharva in Kaski district was around 500, of them 245 live in Pokhara. The information provided by the Gandharva shows that majority of the households are engaged in service (54.38 percent) followed by traditional occupations (19.29%) and manual labour (15.78%). The remaining 8.77 percent are running business and 1.75 percent in other occupations. One of the studies shows that just two decades earlier almost 70 % of them were engaged in traditional occupations. This demonstrates that the abandonment of traditional occupations is not just a nostalgic discourse about the past. Those who are practicing traditional occupations are carrying it on in a nontraditional way by singing and playing sarangi in restaurants and a few of them have recorded their songs as music albums as another way to earn money. It is clear that there has been a growing trend for Gandharva to take up service occupations and leave off their traditional occupations. If this trend continues for two or three decades, the sarangi related occupation might disappear as part of their livelihood entirely.
The Gandharva have taken up a variety of modern occupations nowadays. A good number of youths are engaged as cab drivers, some run petty business like tea stalls, or vegetable and grocery shops in their own community. Because of the regular income from their service, job benefits such as pensions, Dashain allowances, leave, and training, etc. holding jobs are highly attractive. Thus, most Gandharva have abandoned their traditional occupations like singing, performing the sarangi, manufacturing of sarangi, fishing etc. Due to the improvement in their economic conditions, they are improving their social status as well.