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When folk culture met print culture: some thoughts on the commercialisation, transformation and propagation of traditional genres in Nepali (1).


At first glance, print culture may appear to be the antithesis of folk culture. After all, print culture depends on industrial and economic structures far removed from the simple village culture which the term 'folk' tends to invoke. Bur perhaps the disjunction between folk and print is not as great as it first seems. Perhaps, more pertinently, any perceived gap is conditioned by our understanding of English concepts which do not necessarily equate to local cultural understandings.

This article examines some of the dynamics of the interaction between folk culture and early Nepali print culture, primarily as the latter rapidly developed in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century. It proposes we should start such a study by comparing 'folk' to its widely adopted Sanskrit-origin counterpart lok. It is often assumed that the translation of, say, 'folk culture' as lok-samskrti is an unproblematic process representing conceptual equivalence. But it seems to me highly problematic: lok bears a very different range of connotations to 'folk', and our interpretation of lok-samskrti, lok-sahitya, etc. should be informed by an awareness of these connotations.

The first section of this article therefore examines in some detail the origin and meanings of lok, and the importance of its various significations for reexamining local patterns of cultural categorisation. The second section investigates Nepali folk culture as an object of study and as a commodity: it traces the origins of the self-conscious study of folk traditions by Nepali writers, and then analyses the influence of print on the interpretation, presentation and marketing of folk culture from an early stage. The third section looks at the same processes from the reverse angle: the influence of folk culture on shaping the wider world of Nepali print in its formative decades. This study of the collision of folk traditions with the technology and commercial practices of modern print-capitalism is centred on Banaras, the birthplace of the Nepali publishing industry. (2)

The article demonstrates that, as one might expect, folk culture was transformed when it was rendered into printed format for commercial purposes. More interestingly, it suggests that folk traditions exerted significant influence on the way the economics of the Nepali literary system were moulded. The article concludes that print culture should not be seen as the antithesis of folk culture: in many ways it was, in fact, the apotheosis of lok-samskrti.

Folk and lok: rethinking cultural categories

Although lok is the universally adopted translation for 'folk' in Nepali, as well as most other New Indo-Aryan (NIA) languages, its range of meanings are quite distinct and worthy of consideration. Without such consideration we run the risk of assuming that lok culture in Nepal is understood and valorised in the same way as folk culture is in the English-speaking world. This would be a serious misunderstanding, as the discussion below illustrates. Equating lok with folk also leads to problems in the interpretation of the relationship between Nepali folk culture and print culture, the meeting of which forms the main subject of this article.

The suggestion that 'folk' and lok should not be seen as precise equivalents is hardly novel: Cuda Mani Bandhu opens his major recent survey Nepali loksahitya (2001/02) with a lengthy discussion of the contrasts between 'folklore' and loksahitya. However, while his analysis will not offer surprises to a thoughtful researcher familiar with both English and Nepali, the folk/lok disjunction has perhaps not received as much attention in writing in English on Nepali as it deserves.

Let us start by reminding ourselves of the main sense of 'folk'. While its primary meaning is 'people in general', the definition--as a modifier--most relevant to the academic study of folk traditions is 'originating from the beliefs and customs of ordinary people'. Similarly 'folklore' is 'the traditional beliefs and customs of a community, passed on by word of mouth' and a 'folk tale' is 'a traditional story originally transmitted orally' (Pearsall 1999: 550-51). The word 'folk' itself has a folk origin inasmuch as it is of Germanic origin and made its way into Old English (as folc) at an early stage, as also did 'lore' (OE lar). In this respect, we may observe that both of these terms are more deeply embedded in common English than the more recent, Latinate 'culture' and 'literature'.

The central essence of 'folk', we may conclude, is that--in contradistinction to 'high' culture--its origins lie in the beliefs and customs of 'ordinary people' and folklore or folk culture is normally transmitted orally. What then of the origins of lok? The different heritage of this term is obvious from the moment we consider its source: as an established part of the vocabulary of classical Sanskrit, its usage has historically been associated with high culture and sophisticated written traditions from a much earlier stage than 'folk'. (3) In the Vedas the basic sense of lok (correctly lok, but let us use a transliteration that represents its current pronunciation) was 'free or open space, room, place, scope, free motion'. However, it then gained more specific and enduring meaning as 'world' (in the Atharvaveda, certain Brahmanas and onwards). Classical texts generally enumerate three worlds: heaven, earth, and the atmosphere or lower regions, among which sometimes only the first two are mentioned; a fuller classification gives seven worlds (Monier-Williams 1899).

By the time of the composition of the Mahabharata, lok had acquired the key connotations which remain pertinent to its deployment today: as 'the earth or world of human beings', 'the inhabitants of the world, mankind, folk, people (sometimes opposed to 'king')', and more generally as 'ordinary life, worldly affairs, common practice or usage'. Thus the Sanskrit locative case lok came to be used as 'in ordinary life', 'in worldly matters', or 'in common language, in popular speech'. Here--and this, for us, offers the first clear pointer as to the distinction within Indian tradition between lok culture and its 'high culture' counterparts--loke stands in contrast to either vede 'in veda' or chandasi 'in [metric] verse', which could refer to incantation-hymns in general or to the Vedas, especially the Atharvaveda.

In other words, even at an early stage of the development of classical Sanskrit literature, there was a reasonably clear understanding of the separate sphere of lok culture. In particular, we may conveniently focus on the sense of 'worldliness' that underlies all of the central meanings of lok in classical Sanskrit. Just as in English, this 'worldliness' implied a direct link to the temporal rather than the spiritual: what took place in the lok was the affairs of human beings within their own communities rather than the affairs of gods; discourse that took place in lok language was divorced from that conducted in the devavan, of Sanskrit. These themes are echoed in current Nepali usage of lok. Certain compound words developed in classical Sanskrit are also indicative of the areas which would later overlap with the usage of lok as an equivalent for 'folk': lokakatha 'a popular legend or fable', lokagatha 'a verse or song (handed down orally) among men', lokapravada 'popular talk, common saying, commonly used expression'.

So far, we can see that while the traditional connotations of lok overlap at certain points with 'folk', its reference tends to be both much wider than the English term and also generally lacking in the pejorative associations that colour English phrases such as 'folk etymology', where 'folk' is reduced to the opposite of 'scientific' or 'rational'. What then of the changing significations of lok within modern languages? Can we trace the development of new patterns of meaning built on top of this Sanskrit base? We may start with some continuities: insofar as many NIA languages use lok as a tatsama (unchanged) Sanskrit loanword, its primary sense of 'world' or 'people' is retained. In this sense, and in this form, it is used in current Bengali as the standard word for 'people'. The log of Hindi demonstrates in two ways its deep embeddedness in modern language: both in its ubiquity (without log it would be impossible to make the plural pronoun forms tum log and ap log) and in the fact that its current form in -g indicates its continuous heritage from Sanskrit through Prakrit and Apabhramsa to the present day. In these languages, the wider connotation of lok is retained in its very general application to 'people' at large.

Nepali presents a slightly different case in that lok on its own is not a common feature of everyday vocabulary. It is, however, the basis for several well-known compounds which helpfully illustrate its contemporary range of meaning. The sense of lok standing for society at large is evident in lokpriya 'popular', while it stands as an official equivalent to 'public' in the civil service Lok Seva Ayog 'Public Service Commission'. Similarly, loktantra stands alongside prajatantra as a translation of 'democracy' (a sense even more prominent in India, where the Lok Sabha is the lower house of parliament, and where lok-nirman can describe public works in governmental language). More broadly, lok-mat can be used for 'public opinion' and lok-hit for 'general well-being' or 'the public good'. In all of these instances we can see that lok could not be represented in English by 'folk', and here the continuing disjunction between the terms should be most apparent.

It is only with reference to particular forms of folk culture that the folk/lok equivalence can be maintained, and this may be largely attributed to the way in which lok became the bearer for a new signification that was introduced into South Asian thought and languages from the English 'folk'. (4) The next section examines how, in the case of Nepali, the conscious study of popular traditions as 'folk' may have taken root, and how folk culture then became both an object of study for researchers and a commodity to be traded in the print market. The fourth section then investigates aspects of the emergence of a Nepali form of print-capitalism and asks if it can be read as a development of lok-samskrti in the sense of 'popular culture' which the Nepali term most naturally suggests.

Folk culture as an object of study and as a commodity


Every jati in the world has its own oral stories about its customs and manners, social and periodic institutions (samajik ra samayik pratha sambandhi). In our society there are many such stories. Having collected such stories current in Bengali society Lal Bihari De wrote Folk Tales of Bengal. In English, story-writers such as Scott have written many such books. The Bengal Asiatic Society has also prepared a book of such stories in the Lepcha language and published it. If the loving readers of Adarsa would be kind enough to write in Nepali such stories that they know or have heard and send them to our office we shall try in time to make a collection of such stories and publish a good and worthwhile book.

Editorial comment, Adarsa 1(3): 38, 1930

At first glance, it may appear that a conscious Nepali interest in folk tales, and in folk culture at large, dates to no earlier than the 1930s. Certainly, Kalimpong-based Adarasa editor Ses Mani Pradhan's note cited above is the first explicit call to make folk culture the object of concerted study and recording of which I am aware. Similarly, Bandhu (2001/02) identifies the Dantyakatha compiled by Bodhvikram Adhikari in 1939/40 as the first true collection of folk tales, which he specifies as 'folk stories that are current in popular usage (lokvyavaharma pracalit lokkathaharu)'. Adhikari's work appeared only shortly before the publication of the most extensive--and probably best remembered--early effort towards investigating and compiling Nepali sayings and popular usage, Puskar Samser's two-volume encyclopaedia Nepali ukhan, tukka, vakyamsa, vakyapaddhati, ityadiko kos (1941/42).

However, an active interest in what would later be termed 'folk' traditions, can be traced to a much earlier period. Starting with Motiram Bhatta (1866-1896), some writers had researched Nepali proverbs, demonstrating the links between folk inspiration and printable literature. Bhatta, who remains best known as the biographer and publisher of Nepali's adikavi ('first poet') Bhanubhakta Acarya, compiled a collection of proverbs entitled Ukhanko bakhan, which was published in Banaras by Ram Krsna Khatri at the end of 1894. The official statements of publications from India's United Provinces (into which the principal Nepali publishing centre Banaras fell) also record the publication of a book entitled Muha okhan bakhan in 1897. This was attributed to a certain Badri Narayan. and published by Banaras's Hitacintak Press, which was responsible for the production of many early Nepali books. It is not clear if any copies of Badri Narayan's book have survived but the title suggests that it could be a version of Motiram's Ukhanko bakhan. Such a suggestion also reflects the commercial environment of early Nepali publishing: successful works were frequently copied without permission by other authors and publishers, and it would not be surprising if an unscrupulous rival had taken the opportunity of Motiram's untimely death to bring out an unauthorised version of his work. In any case, the appearance of these two books within three years of each other surely indicates that there existed a market for this type of 'folk' tradition compilation: both titles had print runs of 1,000. (5)

Meanwhile, the interest in proverbs and their reflection of colloquial expression had spread to Darjeeling, where the pioneering publisher Gangaprasad Pradhan was also infected with an enthusiasm for collecting folk sayings. Gangaprasad, the son of a former palace gatekeeper in Kathmandu who had run away from his new home on a Darjeeling tea estate to have himself baptised a Christian in Allahabad, became the first ordained Nepali priest and the proprietor of the Gorkha Press. From 1901 to 1930 he produced the Gorkhe Khabar Kagat, by far the longest-lived Nepali periodical in pre-Independence India. His own compilation of 1,438 sayings was published in 1908; although they represented the mixed heritage of Darjeeling's population, the vast majority of whom had migrated there within the last couple of generations, he described them as 'pure Nepali proverbs' (Pradhan 1908). Very few copies of this book--which Gangaprasad researched, printed and published himself--have survived bur Salon Karthak's recent biography of Gangaprasad reproduces one sample proverb for each letter of the alphabet (2001: 100-04; in the original work the proverbs were arranged alphabetically by first letter). (6) Less than a decade later, Kaji Mahavir Simh Garataula Ksatri contributed a slimmer and less well organised collection of popular sayings (Ukhan bakhanko pravaha, 1917) which, despite claiming to be author-published, was produced in 500 copies by one of the leading Nepali publishing houses in Banaras, that of Visvaraj and Harihar Sarma.

The purpose of presenting these details is to demonstrate that even if the explicit recognition of folk culture per se as a topic worthy of study by Nepali writers may not be seen until 1930 or thereabouts, in practice elements of folk expression were evident from the earliest stages of the development of Nepali print. And while the collection of proverbs is the clearest indication of a deliberate research approach to folk issues, I would suggest that their centrality to the emergence of Nepali narrative forms in print is of much greater significance. Narrative, in fact, was the primary concern of the essay by Rupnarayan Simh that prompted Pradhan's comments in Adarsa. Simh was one of the most talented and creative Nepalis of his generation, and even now is well remembered as the author of one of the most important early Nepali novels, Bhramar. In 1930 be had graduated with a BA and was based in Calcutta; he would go on to become a senior lawyer and a leading light of Calcutta high society, famed for his dashing good looks and the womanising which formed the semi-autobiographical background to Bhramar ('The Bumble-bee'; the title alluding to the metaphor of a bee which feeds on many flowers, flying from one to another and never settling). The aim of his article in Adarsa was to highlight the paucity of inventive narratives in Nepali, in either the novel or short story genres. In his consideration of the latter, his choice of word, galpa, indicates that be was considerably influenced by the achievements of Bengali literature (1930: 38): 'There is an absence in Nepali literature of both novels and stories. There is not a single noteworthy novel. As for the word galpa, it is still hardly heard or understood in the vernacular.'

But again, we should be cautious in taking his insistence on the 'absence' of narrative genres at lace value: for example, Bandhu (2001/02: 294) dates the highly influential and much reproduced prose narrative Virsikka to 1889/90 and includes it among works that are related to folk stories. We may rather interpret Simh's statement as specifically bemoaning the lack of tales that had clearly moved beyond those of folk origins. For there had been a flourishing market for Nepali novels, stories and poetry for more than three decades: in fact, as the next section aims to illustrate, it was reworked folk formats such as Virsikka that provided the main platform for the Nepali publishing business, which in turn enabled the production and distribution of more refined literature through the infrastructure thus established.

How, then, did the advent of print as a technology and business influence folk culture? The foregoing paragraphs have already hinted at the change in the interpretation of folk formats as they came to be consciously distinguished as 'folk' or lok and contrasted to an implicit 'non-folk' modernity. Let us now look at a couple of examples of how print brought changes to the presentation of folk genres, and how this consequently spurred new styles of writing (and, of course, reading). By presentation, I have in mind all the steps required to bring folk formats into printed format, including composition, distribution and marketing.

First, we may note that the relationship between folk culture and high culture was a complex one even before the arrival of print. To take a prominent example, the Ramayana was, as a Sanskrit epic poem with many written recensions, distinctly representative of sophisticated literary culture. Yet it also spawned numerous folk interpretations, both within Nepal and throughout South and South-east Asia (cf. Richman 1991). The fame of Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas throughout north India rested on the ready intelligibility of his Avadhi language and his adoption of the popular doha and caupai verse formats. Similarly in Nepali, episodes from the Ramayana had, long before Bhanubhakta's fuller literary rendition, been rendered into the form of baluns, a form of folk drama popular among Brahmans and Chetris of Nepal's central hills. Such dramas would have been performed relatively informally at the village level but with the arrival of print they both took on a permanent form--what at that time Hindi literary critics would describe as sthayi--and gained a potentially much wider audience than the original dramas themselves. For example, Purnananda Upadhyaya's Ramayapako balun (published in Banaras in 1912 by Visvaraj Harihar) gave print-permanence to one particular version of the Ramayana tale. (7) Other baluns that were transformed into print in the early twentieth century included parts of the Mahabharata and tales of the incarnations of Visnu.

While Bhanubhakta's Ramayana (which was a great commercial as well as literary success) may have promoted a relatively homogeneous devotional culture, the simultaneous circulation of a variety of divergent folk traditions must have acted as a reminder of the heterogeneity of cultural forms within Nepal. As such works reached new audiences they also enabled a form of print-mediated communication between different experiences and traditions.

Thus, from a starting point quite far removed from the religious narratives of the epics as they were translated into baluns, the savai form of popular verse developed into a versatile print medium for the recitation of tales from distant battlefronts, of historical characters or events. Like most popular genres, savais have not received much scholarly attention: while Bandhu praises many savai poems for their liveliness (2001/02: 215) he observes that 'as published savais ... were confined to the little educated, the assessment of Nepali savai literature can for now be only based on estimation.' Savais, which may be most conveniently glossed as narrative folk-poetry, entered the printed market themselves and then, perhaps more significantly, offered many writers who would otherwise never have had the opportunity to produce printable works an entry to the burgeoning Nepali literary bazaar.

This genre was produced commercially in Banaras but, probably more than any other type of literature, drew in a wide range of authors and readers: this ethnic and geographic diversity certainly owed much to the medium's popularity among soldiers. (8) Early contributions from India's north-east included Tulacan Ale's Manipurko savai (1896); Dhanvir Bhandari's Abbar pahadko savai (1894); and Bhuimcaloko savai (1897). Dakman Thulung Rai's savai account of the 1899 Darjeeling landslide (Pradhan 1982: 100) probably made him the first Kirat writer in Nepali to be widely read. Yet this genre managed to embrace more subjects than the historical or martial. The collection Savai pacisa (1914), published in Banaras by Visvaraj Harihar, merited a print run of 1,000 copies despite its potentially prohibitive cost of two-and-a-half rupees.

Works such as this indicate the ease with which a popular format was adopted and commercialised by Banaras publishers. As with savais of the Shillong earthquake, Visvaraj Harihar's main rival Padmaprasad Upadhyaya also added Jangabir's (1916) description of the 1899 Darjeeling landslide to his catalogue. That this tale of the heroism of Gurkha soldiers in their rescue efforts should become a vehicle for the profit of a mercenary entrepreneur is indicative of the ambivalent relations that characterised the emergent Nepali print-capitalism. The publishing infrastructure developed in Banaras offered new outlets for savai literature and promised to bring these verses to a wide audience in a convenient, and generally affordable format. In doing this they also elevated folk-style rhyming tales to a form of sthayi-printed literature. The composer of a successful savai could hope for some fame and increased literary respectability; yet for a publisher such as Padmaprasad, the most important verses were surely the rhyming couplets on the back cover that be hoped would carry /be message of his wondrous Mahakali oil and other products to new markets. Meanwhile, we can observe with the commercialisation of this genre an interesting tension: members of historically non-Nepali-speaking, working/soldiering classes were being offered entry into an arena that had previously been closed to them; nevertheless, the major beneficiaries remained confined to a small circle of Banaras-based Brahmans.

The patterns that can be observed in the adaptation of savai verse to book format are echoed in other genres. A further tension in the deployment of folk formats in print came into focus with the development of Nepali literary criticism. For example, the most widespread early use of the immensely popular jhyaure folksong rhythm was in mildly erotic srngar poetry. The flavour given by the jhyaure rhythm surely contributed to the remarkable success of cheap romantic works in this genre: they sold in the tens of thousands and seemingly appealed to a very diverse audience. Books such as these made publishing in Nepali commercially viable but they also incurred critical disdain and moral censure. Such attitudes were no doubt largely informed by the growing consensus among the self-appointed guardians of high class literature that writing had to be socially useful and preferably morally improving, a viewpoint common among Hindi critics which had become well entrenched by the time it was institutionalised in Ramcandra Sukla's seminal Hindi sahitya ka itihas (1940). It was when jhyaure was exploited to help convey an approved message, such as in Mahananda Sapkota's reformist Man-lahari (1923), that it was most appreciated by contemporary and subsequent critics.

We may conclude that the decades around the turn of the twentieth century witnessed both the birth of the modern Nepali publishing industry and the extensive remoulding of traditional folk forms into new printed books. The few specific illustrations presented above offer only a glimpse of the mass of works which drew on folk genres and contributed to their reformulation. By the later part of the period examined, writers had started to treat 'folk' or lok culture consciously as an object of study in its own right but it is clear that the interest in investigating and representing folk traditions dates back to near the beginning of Nepali print culture. We have seen that the use of folk was not entirely unproblematic but rather reflected various tensions inherent in the nascent literary system: between creativity and profit, the local and the universal, and between popular success and critical esteem.

Print culture as lok culture

The foregoing section has aimed primarily to sketch some of the ways in which the process of transfer of folk genres from local, oral traditions to printed and widely distributed formats affected their form and their role in society. But how can we assess the influence of folk culture on shaping the wider world of Nepali print? The collision of Nepali folk traditions with the technology and commercial practices of modern print-capitalism, centred on Banaras, had a double-edged impact on both elements in the equation. Folk may have been transformed as it was remoulded into printed output but it also exerted a major influence in shaping the economics of the modern Nepali literary system as a whole. In short, without folk literature as a base to draw on and from which to revise and improvise, it would have been difficult for the Nepali literary system as a whole to establish itself as a viable print business.

In the early decades of Nepali publishing, perhaps even the majority of titles (excluding widely-circulating textbooks) had their origins in popular and folk genres. Certainly the volume of 'high' literature--such as, say, Lekhnath Paudyal's Rtu vicar (published in Nepal by Kulcandra Gautam in 1917) or Dharanidhar Koirala's Naivedya (published in Banaras by Mani Simh Gurun in 1920)--was remarkably small in comparison to popular styles such as the baluns and savais discussed above. Were it not for the commercial success of such works, there would have been neither the developed infrastructure to publish more sophisticated creations nor the means to distribute them, nor indeed such a sizeable market for them. Yet folk traditions have often been neglected by mainstream literary historians, except when they have directly influenced written styles. Taranath Sarma's influential Nepali sahityako itihas (1994/95), for example, gives no space to folk traditions. The influence of popular song is acknowledged when its rhythms enter mainstream poetry but its intrinsic value is downplayed. Thus Laksmiprasad Devkota's use of jhyaure in Muna-Madan has generally received rapturous critical applause but many of the earlier published jhyaure verses have slipped into obscurity, despite the fact that they surely entertained thousands of people and played a crucial role in the spread of the Nepali language (cf. Bandhu 1989).

Here we can see the convenience of thinking in terms of lok rather than 'folk'. For whatever the folk origins of much of the material that bulked out Nepali publishers' catalogues and filled up their balance sheets, it was their laukik (worldly) functions that guaranteed their place at the heart of the new industry. Unlike the traditions of, say, the oral transmission of the vedas within priestly lineages or the samasyapurti competitions at kavi sammelan gatherings, print technology was fundamentally implicated in the worldly matters that are bound up in the terra lok itself. Moreover, it was the fact that print offered a new means of reaching out to the 'world at large', to communities of Nepalis of various backgrounds and classes spread out across Nepal, India and beyond, that enabled it to reformulate local 'folk' traditions into books that catered to the much wider lok of all literate Nepalis. Indeed, print culture was not even confined to the reading public, because in many areas it provided new materials for storytelling and recitation that bridged the gap between textual and oral transmission.

The temporal force of lok is also evident in the way that popular publishing brought access to hitherto restricted religious knowledge into the public domain. With the translation of texts from the devavani of Sanskrit and their presentation to people in the lokbhasa (vernacular) they understood age-old barriers around esoteric knowledge started to erode. The outpouring of tales from the puranas, the epics and even some of the vedas may have contributed to the propagation of normative religious values but they also brought about a minor revolution comparable to that occasioned in Europe by the translation of the Bible. The medium of print also became a powerful channel for the dissemination of reformist messages, from the radical poets of the Josmani Sant tradition in eastern Nepal and the Arya Samaji doctrine promoted by Madhavraj Josi and Sukraraj Sastri to the later Theravada Buddhist revival which was intimately connected to the elaboration of a modern Newar social and cultural consciousness. Many of these significant developments were at most only tangentially related to folk traditions but were very much lok-related.

The most lasting legacy of the early period of Nepali print culture is, finally, the most emphatically lok-centred. It was only as the wider public came to be identified with a cohesive sense of jati belonging that the loksamskrti of print began speaking to a proto-nationalist Nepali community. The awareness of a potential supra-ethnic Nepali jatiyata (loosely speaking, nationhood) and concerted efforts towards its definition and development were inalienably linked to the new communicative technology of print and the wide discursive potential it enabled. Jati consciousness was at the heart of much Nepali writing of the early twentieth century and lay at the heart of the rhetorical and practical commitments to unnati (progress, advancement) which preoccupied almost all social thinkers, writers and activists. Insofar as the audience for popular publications thus came to overlap with the nascent 'Nepali jati', the new lok represented 'the people', in a way comparable to the German Volk, or the Russian equation of folk culture with narodnaia ('national') culture.

The cultural aspects of folk culture formed the basis for the elaboration of jatiyata in both literary terms and as a practical means for reaching out to disparate members of an undeniably heterogeneous population. It was to folk culture that influential writers such as Suryavikram looked when seeking to define the essence of that which was specifically Nepali. Introducing his new edition of Motiram's renowned biography of Bhanubhakta, Suryavikram devoted a full page (Bhatta 1927: 3-4) to the need to revive and make use of Nepali's jatiya chanda (national/ethnic metres), especially savai. He praised Dharanidhar Koirala for his devotion to producing natural Nepali poetry bur urged other poets to work hard to revive the jatiya chandas. Suryavikram believed that a distinctive Nepaliness could be found in jati heritage but the role of modern litterateurs was to refine it.

In this way, the folk resources of Nepali proverbs, local verse formats and song styles were welded to a much wider proto-nationalist project in which the symbolic value of their nativeness was used to support an emerging jati identity. This project was in a certain sense the summation of lok culture, for it deployed lengthy folk traditions within the new framework of print technology to create a modern concept of shared popular culture and common jati belonging. When thought of in English, the meeting of folk with print seems to be a clash of cultures. The formative Nepali experience suggests, however, that both were essential to the birth of a novel type of lok samskrti whose impact is still felt today.


(1.) This article is based on a paper presented at the 2nd International Folklore Congress, Kathmandu, May 30--June 1, 2003. I am grateful to Tulsi Diwas and Professor Chura Mani Bandhu for their invitation to present a paper at this congress, and also to the participants who offered comments and suggestions.

(2.) Many of the materials drawn on for this brief article are presented at more length in Chalmers (2002), which also provides a more through analysis of the development of Nepali print-capitalism in general. The wider historical analysis within which this study of folk and print may be located--broadly speaking, the emergence and development of Nepali social consciousness within the public sphere of the early twentieth century--is the subject of Chalmers (2003).

(3.) The Sanskrit verbal root lok "to see, behold, perceive' is included in the Dhatupatha (iv, 2) but the noun lok took some time to settle into its current form: 'connected with roka; in the oldest texts loka is generally preceded by u, which according to the Padap.= the particle 3. u; but u may be a prefixed vowel and ulok a collateral dialectic form of loku; according to others u-loku is abridged from uru-or ava-loka' (Monier-Williams 1899:906).

(4.) In fact, the English usage of 'folk' has had a wide influence in other European languages, and the English terra itself has often been loaned to offer the specific sense implied in 'folklore', etc. While German and Dutch make use of the cognate Volk/volk (thus German Volkstanz 'folk dance' or Volkssage 'folk tale'. Dutch volkslied 'folk song'), French has adopted folk as both a noun and an adjective (thus chanson folk 'folk song'), as well as the terms le folklore and folklorique. Russian has similarly loaned fol'klor and fol'klorist but uses narodnyi 'national' as the modifier: narodnaia muzyka 'folk/national music', narodnaia pesnia 'folk/national song'. (It seems that the artificial European language Esperanto tends towards the wider sense of 'folk' as people at large, hence popolo 'folk', popolkanto, 'folk song'.)

(5.) I have only been able to have a brief glance at one surviving copy of Ganga prasad's collection of proverbs held in a private collection in Darjeeling.

(6.) While Parajuli (2001/02: 15-16), probably the most authoritative recent writer on Nepali proverbs, cites the work of Motiram, Gangaprasad and Gartaula, he makes no mention of Badri Narayan.

(7.) Bandhu (2001/02b: 278-80) provides an interesting description of bulun performance but does not discuss published versions.

(8.) The savai remains a popular format. Kamal Dixit recently published retired soldier Punyabahadur Thapaksetri's 328-verse Srstiko savai (2001/02) with an enthusiastic preface.


Bandhu, C.M. 1989. 'The Role of the Nepali Language in Establishing the National Unity and Identity of Nepal' Kailash 15(3-4): 121-33.

Bandhu, Cudamani. 2001/02 (2058 V.S.). Nepali Loksahitya. Kathmandu: Ekta Books.

Bhatta, Motiram. [1891] 1927. Bhanubhaktako Jivan Caritra (edited with an introduction by Suryavikram Jnavali). Darjeeling: Nepali Sahitya Sammelan.

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Author:Chalmers, Rhoderick
Publication:Contributions to Nepalese Studies
Geographic Code:9NEPA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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