Thursday, August 17, 2000

How a 'gem' of Gaijatra faded in modernity...

By Razen Manandhar
KATHMANDU, Aug 16 - Blame it on democracy or the media revolution, Gaijatra has lost a major charm khyalaa, street comics and satires.

As in the last few years, those who lost their parents a year earlier took out religious processions today, without any schedule for khyalaas in different nooks and corners of the capital cities. Whereas earlier khyalaas used to be performed even about a week after the Gaijatra day.

Until as late as mid' 80s, the street comics were an integral part of Gaijatra festival. The satirists and other artistes used to take part in the routine 'cow carnival' with instruments, and perform at crossroads for the surrounding audience.

In such comics, the actors played the roles of ministers, lawyers, doctors, farmers and other dignitaries of the society. Each actor represented one particular community and they shed shower of satires and humour in common people's language.

"Those were the days when locals used to compete with each other to attract our performance to their courtyards," says Prem Bahadur Tamrakar, 57, who wrote and directed such street comics in his young days.

Tamrakar, one of the founders of a Gaijatra troupe Khyalaa Khalaa in 1959, said, "We could even play the King's role. No matter how strict the censorship was, we used to experience the complete freedom of expression at least on the day of Gaijatra."

The tradition of street comic, the khyalaa, is deep rooted in Nepali culture. Dr Chunda Bajracharya explaining the history of khyalaa said, it began in the seventeenth century by King Srinivas Malla of Patan when he added "Bathaa" episode in the Kartik Dance.

Dr Bajracharya said that when King Pratap Malla (1641-1674) started the cow festival, it was a means of entertainment assimilated with social satires. "Religious aspect might have been added later after developing the myth of Yamaraj and the gate to the Heaven," she said.

The tradition of cow carnival and street comics flourished side by side. The aboriginal Kathmanduites, Newar farmers were much active in such performances. The period of the year was a free and leisurely period for them.

A social organisation, Munasa tried to convert such comics into stage dramas in the years 1972-79 and held yearly competitions before it collapsed due to political restrictions. Nabin Chitrakar, a founder of Munasaa, proudly recounts that there were over 80 such troupes taking part in the khyalaa competitions.

On disappearance of such street comics, litterateur-turned-politician Padma Ratna Tuladhar says, "It is unfortunate that the changing time has virtually confined Gaijatra merely into a ritual these days."

In the autocratic Panchayati period Gaijatra and the khyalaa were the only means for the public to voice their dissatisfaction against the government. "Now the freedom of speech and other means of expression have diverted public interest from such traditional beauties," he added.

Former lawmaker Tuladhar is one among the celebrated comic writers in Nepalbhasa literature, who started writing comics in early 1970s.

Ramesh Kaji Sthapit, one of the comic director takes the change as a step of evolution if not really development. He says organising street comics in present context is not practical. "Life has become too busy, neither actors nor audience have time for street entertainment."

Critic Dr Mohan Himanshu Thapa says nobody has to wait for Gaijatra to kick satire against the government now. So the impact of khyalaa is fading out. He blames foreign TV channels for deviating people's attention from indigenous genre of humour and satire. "People must fight against such cultural encroachment unitedly and preserve the rich tradition," he stressed.

[Kathmandu Thursday August 17, 2000 Bhadra 01, 2057.]