Cultural identity Westernisation process and our heritage

Vijaya Chalise:

We are heirs to a rich and colourful culture. Nepal is a land of unity in diversity. We can see this in its languages, religions and in its priceless heritage. But our national culture is being exposed to the danger of being lost by the westernisation process. This can be seen in our costumes, rituals and folk literature. Culture, a distinct trait of our national identity, is now disappearing and the cultural components are being overshadowed by the blind imitation of western things, mainly American.

To take an example, our fascinating combination of costumes, such as bhoto, istakota, topi, sari, gunyucholo, and many more, is being displaced by western-style monotones — pants, shirts, skirts, miniskirts, vests and so on. Our own musical instruments such as the madal, the sahanai, the hainjadi, the damphu, the murali, and the sarangi have largely been displaced by western drums, electric guitars and saxophones. Selo, sorathi, rodi and other folk songs and ballads are giving way to pop, disco and other western songs and music. Folk literature survives mainly in the oral tradition. It is mainly heard and remembered, and it is subject to various alterations in the course of retelling over long years. This ageless oral tradition of folk literature is dying a slow death today. Not many grandmothers and fathers these days have the time to tell stories and loris to their children.

In this gloomy scenario, no one can forget that globalisation heightens the importance of preserving, developing and learning from the uniqueness and diversity of various cultures as well as of increasing the cultural symbiosis. It is a great challenge of our time to preserve our festivals, music, dances, languages, fine arts, folk songs and folklore, legends, mythology and the values of the whole ancient culture to keep alive our connection with the past.

Of course, folk songs have made rapid strides in recent years. Nepalis are nowadays being attracted to the tunes and songs of lok doharis (folk duets) played in many restaurants and competitions organised by cultural groups. However, some popular folk singers, musicians and experts claim that artificial folk songs and tunes, as well as pop music including remixed songs and Hindi songs, are killing the true spirit of genuine Nepali folk songs and tunes. The increasing trend of composing songs in a confined room by just imitating folk lyrics and folk tunes in the name of folksong may be a setback to our rich folk literature.

However, it is foolish to blame others. The question is how conscious and serious the people and organisations concerned are, including the Royal Nepal Academy and the government, about preserving and promoting our national art and culture? Just raising the concerns would not serve the purpose. Local talents and artists should be encouraged to collect and preserve the local folk treasures.

A ten-day workshop on folklore and folk life fieldwork recently organised by Nepal Folklore Society was perhaps the first of its kind conducted in Kathmandu. Apart from the dissemination of some theoretical knowledge during university education in culture, no other significant efforts have been done. The work of institutional development of folk literature collection and study was first initiated by the then Nepali Bhasha Prakashini Samiti. Under the aegis of that institution, Lalit Jung Sijapati, Bodha Bikram Adhikari, Puskar Shamsher JBR and some other noted scholars made a considerable contribution to the collection of Nepali folk literature. The Royal Nepal Academy had done a commendable job by carrying out projects concerning folk culture and folk literature. However, such field work and study did not get continuity. However, some people in their individual capacity have done their field work and collected, classified and theorised about the study of Nepali folk literature. Paras Mani Pradhan, Ram Mani Acharya Dixit, Laxman Lohani, Satya Mohan Joshi, Dharma Raj Thapa, Tulsi Diwas, Bashudev Tripathi, Krishna Prasad Parajuli, Purna Prakash Yatri, Bairagi Kainla, Deva Kanta Panta, Jaya Raj Panta, Pradip Rimal, Ratnakar Devakota, Vijaya Chalise, Tej Prakash Shrestha, and Ram Dayal Rakesh are some of the people who have contributed to studying and preserving Nepali folk literature.

In fact, folk literature is the lively expression of their life by early men. Obviously, it expresses early human psychology in different mediums. The medium may be philosophy or religion and it might be either social organisations or rituals. The study of culture is important for giving us an understanding of our own behaviour. It also helps us understand how to get along with the different groups of people living in the world. Folk literature consists of song, dance, stories, proverbs and pieces taught through performance rather than notation (written musical notes), and learned by hearing. The original composers of folk literature are anonymous or forgotten. A folk literature does not have a standardised form. Instead, its words and its lyrics exist in more than one and sometimes a great many variants, or in slightly different versions.

Nepal’s diverse culture, being the source of creation and priceless legacy of historical and traditional heritage, should be preserved and made known to an increasing number of people. Without serious efforts at the national level, one cannot expect any headway in preserving and promoting folk literature.

Chalise is executive editor, Gorkhapatra daily