Remembering Nau Lakha Tara Udaye
Words: Agam Singh Giri
Music: Amber GurungSinger: Amber Gurung
Nau Lakha Tara Udaye was written by Agam Singh Giri. Amber Gurung composed the music for this song and also was the singer.
Nau Lakha Tara Udaye is a history in itself, a Nepali music history, a Nepali political history and a history of Nepalis living in the Indian town of Darjeeling to the east of Nepal. Nau Lakha Tara Udaye represents the time when Nepalis in Darjeeling were searching for their identity, the time when their suppressed feeling of unresolved belongingness was looking for an outlet. Many Nepalis had joined India to fight the British. But even after the British rule ended, Nepalis, especially in the Darjeeling area with people mostly of Nepali origin, thought the situation had not improved under the Indian rule. They continued their struggle for their rights, for their language and their culture.
Those sentiments continued, and grew, during the fifties. Nepali music was also flourishing during that time and soon became a vehicle to express those emotions. In the beginning of the 1960s, circa 1960, a Nepali school teacher, Agam Singh Giri, wrote a song and gave it to young Amber Gurung, who had founded the Art Academy of Music in Darjeeling, which had musicians like Gopal Yonjan, Karma Yonjan, Sharan Pradhan, Ranjit Gazmer and others. Gurung composed the music for it, arranged it for his Art Academy musicians. The song with its awakening text, revolving around the identity of Nepalis living in India and their hardship, touched every Nepali's heart. When he sang the song, it became an instant hit all over Darjeeling in a short time.
Gurung started winning all the music competitions in the area. He was soon not allowed to compete and could only participate as a guest artist. After one show in Kalimpong, a police officer came to Gurung and told him how much he had liked the song and how he thought it was not enough that only the Nepalis of the Darjeeling area listened to the song. He thought that they had to take the song to every Nepali. The officer was Sachindra Mani Gurung of Darjeeling and he asked if he could get the song recorded and offered to bear the entire cost of recording it.
Gurung [Sachindra Mani] started contacting various recording companies. The first company did not even respond for a year and a half. The second company said it would not record it citing lack of enough market for Nepali songs. Finally, Hindustan Records of Calcutta conditionally made an offer. For them to record it, they wanted Gurung and the artists to take on the responsibility of selling the first five hundred records, provide them a five hundred rupees deposit and bear of the cost of the company's musicians. Sachindra Mani Gurung was motivated to get this recorded; he borrowed money for recording and travel costs, and sent Amber Gurung and Ranjit Gazmer to Calcutta.
Gurung [Amber] and Gazmer arrived Calcutta seven days before the recording date, they were afraid they might miss the opportunity they had received with so much effort, and stayed in a budget hotel. That day in January of 1961, when the song was recorded, it marked a special day in the entire Nepali music history. While 23-year-old Gurung sang, Gazmer played the tabla and all other musicians were Bengali musicians from the recording company. A newspaper quoted Gurung as saying, "After the recording [of the song], about fifteen to twenty Bengali musicians [who had performed during the recording] shook hands with me and said - 'Very good Mr. Gurung. You are a great singer.' Then we listened to the recorded song."(1) The article continued to quote Gurung, "I was happy to record a song for the first time. But we did not celebrate or had a party. We returned to our hotel, had our simple meal. I felt as if it was a huge burden off my shoulders."
The company returned the deposit. To the company's and everyone's surprise, the first five hundred records were sold in just a week. It was very popular. The song reflected the collective experiences of the Nepalis of Darjeeling. It was their song.
The company wanted to make more copies. Another round of order was made for two thousand more records. The company could not keep up with the demand and said they would deliver more records after a month. But within that one-month timeframe, many unexpected things happened, which changed Gurung's life and made Nau Lakha Tara Udaye more than a song and the reason for many political upheavals that soon followed.
India thought the song, about the lives of Nepali people in India, incited anti-national feelings and cracked down on the song and on Gurung. The song was banned in India. Intelligence agents from the Government started to monitor and harass Gurung. Gurung, who was employed with West Bengal's Folk Entertainment Unit (Lok Manoranjan Sakha,) had to resign from his position. He had a family with a wife and four kids to support. He started to perform at schools and functions as a freelancer, but with the permanent job gone, it was not easy.
King Mahendra was closely watching the developments. He had liked Nau Lakha Tara Udaye very much and he used to invite Gurung to Nepal. While Gurung went to Nepal, King Mahendra had requested Gurung to stay in Nepal. During Gurung's second trip to Nepal in 1964, when King Mahendra requested again, Gurung decided to stay and work in Nepal. Gurung recalled, "I was a young person who was not even thirty [when I decided to stay in Nepal.] It was Nau Lakha Tara Udaye that provided me the opportunity to come to Nepal and practice music here. I had never thought people would have loved this song this much." In an interview with Nepal Television, he recollected his surprise on the popularity of the song, "One day I was lying on the bed listening to the radio; one song had a long Farmais [list]," referring to list of people who had requested the song. Radio channels used to read such list aloud before playing a song. "The Farmais was so long and I started wondering which song that was for. To my surprise, it was Nau Lakha Tara Udaye." Gurung said when Nau Lakha Tara Udaye was recorded, they did not have any professional ambitions, "It was recorded solely out of personal hobby. We had not, even in our dreams, thought that we could make a career out of it."(2)
Gurung recognized Sachindra Mani Gurung for his enormous help in getting the song recorded and Giri, who had portrayed the feelings of Nepalis in India so well in the words. Gurung recalled, "After the song was recorded, Giri Dai [Agam Singh Giri] hugged me and said - 'Bhai [brother], you did a historic thing. I can never forget [it.]'"
The ban on Nau Lakha Tara Udaye in India was lifted only after the Nepali language became one of the officially recognized languages in India. The song also helped many other artists in the Darjeeling area; after it was recorded, it paved the way for more recordings of Nepali songs from Sharan Pradhan, Aruna Lama, Gopal Yonjan and other various artists in Darjeeling.
1. Sangeetsrota. "Mero pahilo geet Nau Lakha Tara" [Nau Lakha Tara my first song]. Naya Patrika [Kathmandu] 30 Dec. 2010. Web. 2 Jan. 2011.
2. Mero Jindagi Mero Biswas [My life my belief]. Nepal Television. Kathmandu. 9 Dec. 2009. Television.
This song did inherently carry the identity issue of the Indian Gorkhas, which still remains afresh and unresolved. Sad, Bengal's internal colonialism in Darjeeling literally threw this pioneering singer out of India. The loss was of the country India and its people. He was destined to remain as powerful a singer as any famous singer in this global world. Amber Gurung was not a stooge of masters of internal colonialism in Bengal and proved his mettle by composing the national anthem of a neighboring country equivalent to what Gurudev [Rabindranath] Tagore did for another neighboring country. We salute you Amber Gurung-jiu for your immense and unparalleled contributions that generation after generation will cherish in this subcontinent. You will be remembered for your warmth, humility and that infectious smile.
Even as a youth, who just heard and read about the dynamic duo, Kabi [poet] Agam Singh Giri and Maestro Amber Gurung, [I find that] this song still reflects the agony and pain of the Indian Gorkhas. It is the music that shook the Bengal administration without a stone thrown at them. We miss our heroes. The hope that they inculcated within our hearts will live forever.
We hope one day you [artists of the song] will see us from the skies full of stars when we will be free from the imperialism of Bengal. And we'll tell our children to look into the skies and ask them to name the two brightest stars as Agam and Amber and share your stories to them. Yes, we hope, and hope is a good thing and no good thing ever dies.
The song that challenged the Indian establishment. Nepalese in the NE India were banned to sing, listen and broadcast this song in those days.
The best heart-touching meaningful song ever in my life. I salute Shri Agam Singh Giri-jiu and Shri Ambar Gurung-jiu.
Wow, heart-touching song ever... Salute to these heroes who [wrote,] composed and sang the song.
Salute to you two [the artists] for this heart-touching song.
Appreciate your effort. I never knew the history behind Nau Lakha Tara Udaye.
Beautiful song ever.