Home Bot CategoriesLivingMusical Conversation WOMEN KEEPING THE TRADITION OF DĀPHĀ MUSIC ALIVE


by Ankita Jain

A chapter of Tahnani’s history comes alive every evening at the Tahnani Dāphā Khalah when a group of women play devotional Dāphā music.

When Pushpa was working on a college project while pursuing her Masters degree in Ethnomusicology, she came across Dāphā, the oldest surviving devotional music of Nepal, with its origins in the 17th century.

Intrigued, she started researching areas where the music was still in practice. Tahnani topped her list. Tahnani had a history in Dāphā music but wasn’t of much interest to people. “Those who knew about the music were too old to pass the skill to the younger generation,” shares Pushpa Palanchoke.

“The idea germinated at the end of 2019 to collaborate local tradition with musicians that would become part of a music festival called Echovalley Fest in Kritipur. In the planning stage, the date was tentatively set for March 2021,” recalls Pushpa.

To bridge the gap, Pushpa designed a program called Dāphā Calling: Folk Lok. “It is a community-based arts program focused on revitalising the Dāphā music tradition of the Newars, indigenous to the Kathmandu Valley,” informs Pushpa. Folk Lok works in close collaboration with Tahnani Dāphā Khalah, a traditional music group in Kirtipur. Folk Lok supports the documentation of Dāphā music, builds community linkages to Dāphā music, and is hoping to revive the Lal Hira Pyakha, a musical theatrical based on local folklore in Kirtipur. And from the outcomes, Folk Lok will document the research for academic purposes.

To make Folk Lok diverse, Pushpa invited females to participate in the program. The government has registered Dāphā Kala as a social organisation under which there are 18 members, all of whom are men. “It wasn’t easy to convince them as they had never had female participation in Tahnani Dāphā Khalah. When I approached them to give it a try, a few agreed and others followed suit,” she says.

Puspha recognised the interest of women to learn flute instruments within the Dāphā tradition. So, instead of forcing them into more complexes Dāphā singing and drumming, she facilitated them to learn flute. “This initiation into music today has also ignited their interest for Dāphā music altogether. Some have finally signed up for Dāphā singing,” she shares.

(Pushpa Palanchoke under the guidance of Satori Center for the Arts Directors, Pranab Man Singh and Suvani Singh, represented the Folk Lok program)

This way the female apprentices from Tahnani were included in the apprenticeship program for the first time in Tahnani Dāphā Khalah history. “It is empowering to see women participate in a local tradition that was once only reserved for men,” she says. The female apprentices are seen as flag bearers of change in their communities and have brought about a paradigm shift in the possibilities for women in their community.
The reviving of Dāphā music is also an attempt at revitalising their tradition by building stronger connections with local businesses and other community organisations.

The most challenging part of the program has been the global pandemic as physical classes weren’t possible.

“Digital connectivity and technology has become a panacea for education and it is now common to run online classes over apps like Zoom. However, indigenous knowledge transfer based on oral transmission embodied practices and community-based learning has been severely hampered,” she shares.

As a music group, Tahnani Dāphā Khalah’s practices are closely tied to festivals and occasions within the Newar community’s annual calendar and way of life. The knowledge that they transfer is not limited to the playing of instruments but is closely tied to the Newar worldview. In the co-mingling between generations that happens during the apprenticeship and on the many festive occasions where they play for the community, it creates a chain of continuity for traditional and heritage practices.

WOW speaks to some of the female apprentices who are a part of the Dāphā Calling: Folk Lok program:

Manmaya Maharjan, 66

For Manmaya Maharjan, age is just a number. Her willingness to learn and play is testament to that. “All men in my family know Dāphā. I was the only odd one out earlier but I am glad I got an opportunity to change this,” smiles Manmaya.

More than learning the music, Manmaya enjoys the company. “For me the training has been as a source of enjoyment. Everybody loves what they do and we have lots of fun playing and singing, it’s become a recreational playground for women like us,” she tells.

Alisha Maharjan, 22

One of the youngest in the group, Alisha Maharjan is also the most skilled. Alisha is often observed teaching the older women in the group. “The older generation developed the skill through listening but now we learn through notation, techniques and methods. The practical method has made it a lot easier to master the skills,” says Alisha, a BBA student.

She believes cultural preservation is important and possible through the participation of the younger generation. “The community I belong to is so rich in arts and culture that we are responsible to take it further and conserve it for our future generations,” she shares.

“The youth participation is minimum but still encouraging,” she adds.

Gomayaju Maharjan, 50

“A person who had no idea about music is now able to play the flute, thanks to the team and Puspha for such a wonderful opportunity,” says Gomayaju Mahajan who comes to the practice hall every day and diligently plays for an hour or more. Gomayaju admits that her life routine has become more fun with the music group now. They have a platform to learn, talk and meet each other regularly.

Rina Maharjan, 48

It’s almost a year of training and Rina Maharjan can play nearly 12 songs. It’s a team effort, she says. “If I am asked to play individually, I might lack confidence yet,” she adds.

Rina was immensely encouraged when the group from Bhaktapur came to Kirtipur to perform at the inaugration of the women’s apprenticeship. During the event she encountered women playing musical instruments beautifully. “The stories of these women inspired me to push beyond our boundaries,” she shares. Rina is proud that she is part of the change in culture where only daughters were allowed to practice music but daughter-in-laws weren’t.

Indra Maya Maharjan, 43

For Indra Maya it was her friends who encouraged her to participate in the Tahnani Dāphā Khalah. “I attended an event organised by the Dāphā Kala with my friends and I loved it. When I heard about the female group from the community learning this art, I quickly jumped in,” says an excited Indra Maya.

She adds, “When you’ve good company around, learning can be a fun thing to do.” Indra also talks about the involvement of women in other communities in learning and mastering the art. “In our community, the involvement of women was next to zero, but the women of other communities were active,” she shares. Since childhood, she loved dancing and now music has become another thing that she enjoys doing.

Gita Maharjan, 46

Gita Maharjan is like any other woman who is mostly home-bound with responsibilities. Gita was interested in music since her childhood but never had the opportunity to learn the art. “Before I joined Tahnani D Dāphā Khalah, I never imagined that I could ever play music on my own. Today I can play and enjoy music at the same time,” Gita rejoices.

Playing music and meeting diverse women has opened a door of discovery for Gita and she thoroughly enjoys it. “Music for me is not a career. I don’t do it for money or external factors rather it is pure joy and fulfillment of my desire,” she says.

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