When one tunes into the revered voice of the music prodigy Narayan Gopal, recognizing immediately the soft and somber textures, the mellow timbres, and the undulating vibrato of his voice, one becomes steeped in feelings of awe, astonishment, and intense longing.
Narayan Gopal’s songs aren’t just confined to older generations, every emerging musician, singer, or listener of all ages, equally appreciates the music genius’ heart-wrenching songs. Some sing along with great reverence, while others try to emulate his style into the new-age indie style pop-rock. Whichever way the Narayan Gopal songs might have resided in Nepalese heart it is irrefutable that the evergreen singer has thoroughly entertained and enthralled everybody with his impeccable musical talent.
Narayan Gopal Guruacharya, born into a Newar Chathariya Shrestha family in Kilagal Tole, Kathmandu, on 18 Asoj, 1996 B.S. (4 October, 1939 AD) was the second son of nine siblings of classical musician Asha Gopal Guruacharya (father) and Ram Devi Guruacharya (mother). The known names of the siblings, his six brothers, and four sisters are Manohar Gopal Guruacharya, Nanda Gopal Guruacharya, Ram Gopal Guruacharya, Laxman Gopal Guruacharya and Shanti Guruacharya. After his completion of School Leaving Certificate (SLC) in 2016 B.S, Narayan Gopal obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities from Tri-Chandra College.
According to his close friend Nagendra Thapa, Narayan Gopal had also learned wrestling and was very good at it, and was physically called a warrior (pahalman). Interested also in history, as many acclaims, he would have become a historian if not a singer. He was a great actor too and had acted for the role of a blind person in the drama “Tyag” written by Durgalal Shrestha in 2013 BS. He was in fact, according to his relatives, very good at mimicry too. Gopal was a big-time foodie and often liked cooking his own side dishes, like boar meat. He had a penchant for sour food, milk, and ghee. According to music researcher Prakash Sayamika, Narayan Gopal used to sit at Tundikhel, Kathmandu’s largest grass ground, and eat Nepali sweets like Gundapak and Pustakari.
Growing up in a musical family, Narayan was influenced by his father, a sitar maestro of his own time. He learned many musical instruments but was particularly keen on playing harmonium and a Hindustani percussion instrument called tabala. “Father was a teacher of musical instruments, and he had told Narayan dai to not go into vocals. But as we know he did not listen; as a rebel, dai went into vocals and garnered such unsurmountable level of fame and appreciation,” remembered Laxman Gopal Gurubacharya, Narayan Gopal’s youngest brother. While Narayan Gopal’s prodigious musical ability enabled him to render his voice to over 550 compositions of every possible genres life including modern songs, ballets, dance dramas, movies, and patriotic songs at various societal scenarios and stages of his life, his versatility as a singer was not limited to his vocals and was equally diversified in composing them too. Many melodious Nepali singers like Tara Devi and Phatteman Rajbhandari have sung some of Gopal’s finest compositions.
Narayan Gopal’s musical talent was first recognized by his friends, Manik Ratna Sthapit, who lived in the neighboring Pyukha Tole, and Prem Dhoj Pradhan, who lived in Bheda Singh Tole. The three friends would practice singing Hindi songs together at Manik Ratna’s house. Prem Dhoj and Manik Ratna recount that Narayan Gopal would always joke around and changed the Hindi lyrics into Nepali, sometimes damaging the melody of the songs for a comical effect. Narayan Gopal’s first public musical performance was during the 40th anniversary of Tri Chandra College where he played tabala, While his first teacher, father Asha Gopal Guruwacharya, Manik Ratna, and Prem Dhoj composed Gopal’s first song.
To further broaden his style, Gopal held discussions with his admirers, competitors, and critics, and in the process of the singer visited Darjeeling, India, in March 1965 where he met his long-time fan and future wife, Pemala Lama. There he also met another young musician Gopal Yonzon, to whom he was first introduced by Yonzon’s first love Madan Pradhan. The two were bound in the relation of special friends as mitjyus because both had “Gopal” in their names. With the partnership of this famous composer and lyricist, Narayan Gopal ventured into tragic love ballads which gave Narayan Gopal’s music a different dimension. Often remembered for his melancholic heart-rending songs that eased, soothed, and told the tale of pain that resonated with that of the listeners, Narayan Gopal was called “The King of Tragedy”. The two Gopals were challenged to carve a new niche for Nepali music as famous Western musicians, like the Beatles and Bob Dylan and so on were entering and influencing the local ones. They were successful in confronting this influence and maintaining their popularity at its peak as they continued to create massively successful songs.
A similar association (like that with Gopal Yonzon) with other eminent singers and poets could be documented in Narayan Gopal’s life as he collaborated with famous poet Bhupi Sherchna, with whom he had a close affinity as friends. He sang Bhupi Sherchan’s lyrics like “Aljhechha Kyare Pachauri, timro Chiyako Buttama”, and “Maile Gayeko Geetma Timrai Hansilo Muhar Chha”, which became hit numbers. Similarly, Narayan Gopal’s partnership with influential Nepali poet, Ishwor Ballav gave hit numbers like “Duita Phool Deuralima, Sathai Rakhyaun jasto Lagchha”, “Mero Behoshi Aaaj, Mero Lagi Parda Bho”, and “Yo Kasto Byatha Ho”. Ishor Ballav’s lyrical poem written for Narayan Gopal gave him new heights in his career. Similar consistent collaboration with other established Nepali composers like Nati Kaji, Shiva Sankar, and Amber Gurung shone Narayan Gopal even more and he was known as the singer of intellect. The music prodigy had also sung for hit Nepali films like Manko Badha, Sindoor, Lahure, Chino, and many other dramas.
Narayan Gopal was the first singer in Nepali singing history to pass Radio Nepal’s voice test. He was taken there by his friends, Manik Ratna and Prem Dhoj. While other singers would sing Hindi songs for the test, he sang “Panchi Ko Pankha Ma Dharti Ko Diyo” penned by Dr. Ram Man Trishit and composed by Prem Dhoj for him. Narayan Gopal was employed as a mere instrumentalist at the Rashtriya Naach Ghar (National Dance Theater) and later rose to the post of manager (hakim). He also worked as the editor of a musical journal “Bageena” for its first three issues. He became the managing director of “Sanskritik Sansthan” and adviser to the Ministry of Communication and was also an associate professor at the “Lalit Kala Campus”, Nepal’s first Fine Arts Campus that pioneered the teaching of basic and advanced level courses in fine arts.
Narayan Gopal was honored with multiple awards accolades, like Gorkha Dakshin Bahu, Jagadamba Shree, Ratna Record award, Best Composition (Radio Nepal), and Best Singer (Radio Nepal) among many others, albeit many of them were awarded to him posthumously. However, the first-ever prize he received as The Best Musician was given by Radio Nepal in 2023 BS.
In the Honor of the Swor Samrat, the government has also built many statues throughout Nepal, such as one in Chakrapath, Kathmandu where flower garlands and red floral bouquets are offered to commemorate the 21st death anniversary event of Narayan Gopal adorn its vicinity. His statue was dismounted for a few months to facilitate water pipeline installation, it was reinstalled on the occasion of his death anniversary. Also to commemorate his unmeasurable contributions to the Nepali music industry, the Nepali month Mangsir 19 is marked as the memorial day of the singing legend.
During the twenty-eight years of his career, Narayan Gopal sang in eighteen movies and recorded more than 150 songs, being the epitome of music in the 50s, 60s, & 70s. Even after some three decades of his departure in 1990, he still remains the undisputed voice emperor. To this day, many of his keepsakes like instruments, precious awards, and recognitions that earned him the moniker of “Swor Samrat” remain safeguarded at his house at Maharajgunj by the Narayan Gopal Music Trust. The veteran artiste’s rich repertoire of timeless classics makes him one of the most unforgettable immortals in music history.
Narayan Gopal died of diabetes complications at 9:00 PM of 19 Mangsir, 2047 B.S. (5 December 1990) at the Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, at the age of 51. His friends urged/requested him to quit smoking and drinking, he did quit drinking a few months but cigarettes, he continued until he died. He would smoke 25-30 sticks every day, according to his friends.
Narayan Gopal’s funeral procession turned out to be one of the saddest but biggest events in Nepali Music History. The sea of admirers: the fans, the actors, actresses, poets, singers, politicians took part in the procession. People wept their eyes out many couldn’t believe his untimely demise. The politicians Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Ganesh Man Singh also paid homage to the National gem.
“Today’s singers should sing for themselves rather than for others” stressed Narayan Gopal, whose honest and authentic persona could be seen rendered from his pure passion to make music, devoid of any falsity or deliberateness. These masterpieces are pure in the sense that he sang them only for the sake of singing, and not for commercial benefits. That is why Narayan Gopal’s legacy remains engraved deep into the hearts of every Nepali.
Featured Photos courtesy Old Photos of Nepal