Narayan Gopal Guruwacharya

Nepali music, classical music, narayan gopal, swor samrat, guruwacharya

Narayan Gopal Gurubacharya (Nepali: नारायण गोपाल गुरूवाचार्य) (October 4, 1939 – December 5, 1990) is the most prominent and popular singer and composer in the history of Nepali music. He is popularly referred to as “Swar Samrat” (Nepali: स्वर सम्राट, meaning: Emperor of Voice) in Nepali music. He is also known as “Tragedy King.” He is well known as a singer as well as a composer. His voice range allowed him to sing songs of every genre of Nepali music. His songs are often richly orchestrated with the sitar, harmonium and flute. He belongs to the first generation of Nepali singers who took singing as a profession. His songs have also been used in movies and dramas.

Born October 4, 1939
Kathmandu, Nepal
Died December 5, 1990 (aged 51)
Kathmandu, Nepal
Spouse Pamela Lama Guruvbhacharya
First Song Panchi ko pankha ma dharti ko diyo
Last Song Birahi Maya Adhuro Rahyo
Cause of death
Occupation Singer, Musician, Playwriter, Editor


Personal life

Narayan Gopal Gurubacharya was born into a Newar family in Kilagal Tole, Kathmandu, on October 4, 1939 (18 Asoj, 1996 B.S.) to father Ram Gopal Gurubacharya and mother Asha Devi Gurubacharya. He had five brothers and six sisters. He completed his School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams in 2016 B.S. and obtained Bachelor of Art degree in Humanities from Tri-Chandra College. Later he also went to Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda to study classical Indian music, but returned without completing his studies. He married Pemala Lama in 1971 (Falgun 2027 B.S.). Later he joined the Rastriya Naach Ghar (National Dance Theater) and rose to the post of manager (hakim). He also worked as the editor of a musical journal Bageena (बागीना) for its first three issues around 2028 B.S. He became the managing director of Sanskritik Sangsthan (Cultural Center) from 2036-05-10 to 2040-10-04 B.S.; became adviser to the Ministry of Communication from 2046-04-16 on wards; and an associate professor in Lalit Kala Campus. He also wrote a musical drama titled Kanchi Masyang (कान्छी मस्याङ).


People who knew him during his lifetime recount some of his personality: He had a considerable knowledge of history. He was an enthusiastic photographer; and he loved to watch football; he was a good chess player. In the kitchen, he was a good cook. Apart from singing, he liked to spend considerable effort in organizing various events. In his editorship, the first editions of Bageena (बागीना) magazine was issued.

Early career

The potential of his vocal talent was first recognized by his friend Manik Ratna Sthapit. Manik Ratna, who used to live in the neighboring Pyukha Tole, and Prem Dhoj Pradhan, who used to live in Bheda Singh Tole used to get together and do vocal practices using Hindi songs. But Narayan Gopal, however, would joke around by changing the words of the songs that they used to sing. Prem Dhoj and Manik Ratna recounts that he used to change the Hindi words into Nepali, thus damaging the melody of the songs to comical effect. Manik Ratna’s household was like a kind of a music school since his uncle, Siddhi Ratna Sthapit, was an expert instrumentalist. In BS 2016, after completion of his SLC exams, Prem Dhoj Pradhan took him to Radio Nepal to take a voice test. He sang “Panchi ko pankha ma dharti ko diyo,” written by Dr. Ram Man Trishit and composed by Prem Dhoj Pradhan himself. He passed the voice test on his first trial. Narayan Gopal’s first public musical performance was during the 40th anniversary of Tri Chandra College, which he agreed on to do at the request of his friends. During the performance, he acted as the tabala player.

In his own household, Narayan’s father, Asha Gopal Gurubacharya, was a strict classical musician. His father did not allow any modern music, except for classical music, to be entertained in his house. Ustad Asha Gopal considered modern music as shallow and vulgar. It was in order to appease his father that he went to India to take up lessons in classical music in Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. But due to ill adjustment, he dropped out from the University after only four and half months.

First successes

By that time Prem-Manik duo had started to sing their own compositions. Following suit, Narayan Gopal composed six original songs written by the contemporary poet Ratna Shumsher Thapa. In that collection four of the songs were for solo vocal (स्वर्गकी रानी, आँखाको भाखा आँखैले, भो भो मलाई नछेक, मधुमासमा यो दिल) and two were for duet (बिछोडको पीडा र ए कान्छा ठट्टैमा यो बैंश जानलाग्यो). All these songs were eventually recorded in Kolkata, India, while he was in that country for his studies. These songs started to attract attention within Nepal and India, and in short time he became recognized as a major Nepali singer.

Nepal at the time had recently been liberated from Rana rule. Midst these wave of social and political changes, Narayan Gopal was able to lend his voice to songs related to love, life, hope, and patriotism. While the East-West highway was under construction, he recorded ‘जाग, जाग चम्क हे नौजवान हो,’ whereas in the fervor of patriotism ‘आमा ! तिमीलाई जलभरिका औंलाहरुले चुम्न’. Such songs made him popular among the youths of Nepal. His songs further evolved as he became more selective of songs with right combination of words, music, and emotions. Along with his contemporaries such as Pushpa Nepali, Bacchu Kailash, Tara Devi, Amber Gurung, Prem Dhoj Pradhan, Nati Kaji, Shiva Sankar, he added a new dimension to the modern Nepali music. To broaden his style, he started to hold discussions with his admirers, his competitors, and his critics. It was in this process of development that he visited Darjeeling, India, during the March 1965. The visit was fruitful for two reasons: there he met his long-time fan and future wife, Pemala Lama, with whom he fell in love; and it was there that he met another young, struggling musician Gopal Yonzon, with whom he formed a close friendship as mitjyus, in part because both had Gopal as their names.
Partnership with Gopal Yonzon

With the partnership of Gopal Yonzon during the later sixties, Narayan Gopal’s music entered a new phase of development. In the words of Ishwar Bhallav, Narayan Gopal became the singer of the hearts of the Nepali people. It was in this phase that he started to sing his famous songs of love, loss, and tragedy; and he emerged as the most prominent singer of this era. At this time, the musicians of Nepal were starting to become more self conscious and were seeking to express themselves in original emotions and style. Originality was becoming increasingly important. It was also at this time that new sounds from the West, such as by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, were entering and influencing the music of Nepal. In order to confront the influence of Western pop music, a new consciousness and a new style of music was felt to be necessary. To meet these challenges, Narayan Gopal in partnership with Gopal Yonzon created songs that have since been ever popular in Nepal. Song like बिर्सेर फेरि मलाई नहेर, चिनारी हाम्रो धेरै पुरानो, तिम्रो जस्तो मुटु मेरो पनि, लौ सुन म भन्छु मेरो रामकहानी not only gave new lease of life to Gopal Yonzon’s musical career, but it also carved a special niche for Narayan Gopal among the listeners of Nepali music.

Soon he found himself to be sought after by all the major composers of Nepal. He collaborated with established composers like Nati Kaji, Shiva Sankar, Amber Gurung, and Dharmaraj Thapa. He was starting to be known as the singer of intellect.

During the beginning of the seventies, he married his long-time fan Pemala at the age of thirty-one. After their marriage his residence shifted for sometime to Pokhara and later for sometime to Hetauda. In Pokhara, he became acquainted with the poet Bhupi Sherchan, while in Hetauda he became acquainted with fellow songwriter and composer Bhim Birag. As a result of the interactions, he composed and sang Bhupi Sherchan’s सानै हुरीमा बैँसको सपना and अल्झेछ क्यारे पछ्यौरी तिम्रो चियाको बुट्टामा; and he sang Bhim Birag’s तिमीले पनि मजस्तै माया दिएर हेर.

Later career

After his short stay in Hetauda, Narayan Gopal returned to Kathmandu and managed to find a job in Rastriya Naach Ghar (National Dance Theater) with the help of his friends Manik Ratna and Janardan Sama. He had entered Naach Ghar as a mere instrumentalist, but he slowly rose to the post of a hakim (rector). While he was in Naach Ghar, he lost many of his friends or abandoned many of his previous collaborators. After he became the hakim of Naach Ghar, he was no longer in speaking terms with his early mentor Manik Ratna. Similarly, the relationship with his childhood friend Prem Dhoj became distant. After the marriage of his mitjyu Gopal Yonzon, the relationship between the two also dampened. Among the reasons for this was his fame, success, and growing arrogance.

At this stage of his life, he found himself confronting a new generation of Nepali youths. Among the young musical talents of that time, his partnership with Dibya Khaling took off; and he started lending his voice to Khalings compositions, thus initiating another phase of his singing career. Songs like सँधै नै म हाँसे तिमीलाई रुवाई, मायाको आधारमा सम्झौता नै हुन्छ, बिपना नभइ helped to revive his popularity. During this stage he started to collaborate with new breed of songwriters such as Khyetra Pratap Adhikari, Kali Prasad Rijal, Norden Rumba, Dinesh Adhikari, and Bishwambhar Pyaukurel, while his relationship with his old collaborators was neglected. Among the composers of the new generation, he collaborated with the likes of Sambhujit Baskota, Bhupendra Rayamajhi, and Shubha Bahadur. In his late stage of career, he lent his considerable prestige to launch the career of many upcoming musicians. As such, he was willing to compromise his artistry and sing weak songs by new composers and songwriters. He also sang in film songs.

In total his career spanned twenty-eight years, during which he sang in eighteen movies and recorded a hundred and fifty-seven songs.

Narayan Gopal suffered from diabetes, yet had a propensity for sweetmeats. This habit led to his demise in December 5, 1990 (19 Mangsir, 2047 B.S.) in Bir Hospital, at 9 p.m. in Kathmandu, at the age of fifty-one. He had no children. He has four brothers and three sisters.

Musical Style

To Narayan Gopal, the most important part in the art of modern songs were: melody, lyrics, and the singer. This did not rule out other aspects, however. Chords, he said, are required to put life in the music, but the chord progression is part of the arrangement, not something to base the composition of the melody on. When the melody is composed, the arranger will make the progression from the melody. Without a good arrangement, Narayan Gopal said, a song will be like a vegetable dish without salt or other spices.

The aspects of this recipe at work included nonrepetitive melodies moving over the accompaniment in short, repeated rhythmic figures; heterophony, countermelodies, chords, and harmonic progressions; one melody for refrain, another for the verse, and then — as part of the arrangement — melodies for the instrumental interludes marking off the sung sections.

Awards and recognitions

Narayan Gopal was awarded several national honours which include (all dates in Bikram Sambat):

Best Composition (Radio Nepal) – 2023 B.S.
Best Singer (Radio Nepal) – 2024 B.S.
Ratna Record Award – 2039 B.S.
Gorkha Dakshin Bahu, Fourth – 2033 B.S.
Indra Rajya Laxmi Award – 2040 B.S.
Chhinalata Award – 2044 B.S.
Jagadamba Shree – 2045 B.S.
Urbashi Rang Award – 2047 B.S.
Trishakti Patta, Third – 2048 B.S. (posthumously)
Narayan gopal singing award-1969

Biography in other media

A short biography (available at first, second, and third) has been made as a tribute to Narayan Gopal.

Geeti Sradhanjali Vol 1-4 (2049-03-02)
Swarneem Sandhya Vol 1-2
Preyasi Ka Yaad Haru (2054-02-16)
Prem Ko Mala
Manche Ko Maya
Malai Nasodha
Lali Gurash Bhayechu
Aljhe Cha Kyare
Timro Mann Ma
Geeti Yatra Vol 1 (2044-10-10)
Narayan Gopal Ka Aadhunik Geet Haru Vol 1-9
Malati Mangale (a musical drama)

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