Surendra Bikram ‘Subi’ Shah

Subi Shah (1928-2008) was a Nepali performer and educator whose life’s work was to preserve and promote Nepali folk genres of music, song, dance, and drama, especially the wide variety of these that coalesce around the dance-drama tradition known as Pangdure or Maruni.

Raised in this tradition, he became one of its leading exponents, first as a performer in his village, then in the Royal Nepal Army, and finally as a K-12 educator and cultural policy consultant from his Army retirement until his death in 2008. Although he was consulted and honored by state cultural policymakers, and collected many songs, his works are scattered and many of his contributions remain unrecognized. 

This project continues his aim of sharing his tradition with the widest audience possible by translating his books (published and unpublished) into English, and supplementing his notated musical examples with audio and video recordings of performances whenever possible. Translations of six of his volumes, along with annotations, audio, and video, will be published by Open Book Publishers.

Unusually for scholarship on Nepali folk traditions, Subi Shah’s books approach these performance traditions as more than folk literature or social rituals. His studies cover musical aspects of melody and rhythm, relating them to song words, poetic meter, and dance steps, as well as acknowledging their importance as folk literature and social action.

His detailed work offers a major opportunity to understand the folk performance traditions of Sorathi, Charitra, Khyali, Jhyaure, Chudka, and more, as performed in central Nepal, especially in and around his home village of Jhyamrung in Dhading.


What will this project produce?

This six-volume translation and multimedia project will translate Subi Shah’s modern-day treatises on the vernacular musical traditions of Nepal’s central hills, record video of the dance-drama performances and audio of technical musical examples that Shah analyzes, and publish them all together as open access online multimedia books, downloadable ebooks, and print books, with Open Book Publishers. The video and audio recordings from the project will be hosted in UH Mānoa ScholarSpace, a digital repository.

What is important about Subi Shah’s writings?

They approach performance holistically

Lots of people have written about music, dance, and folk culture in Nepal. Subi Shah’s writings are interesting to us because he covers songs, melody instruments, percussion instruments, and dance all together, grounded in the practices of his own village. While most authors focus on one aspect of a performance culture, he gives us a picture of how all these things are intertwined.

They are broadly applicable

The musical styles and instruments that Subi Shah writes about have become well known throughout Nepal and neighboring regions of India through centuries of people’s mobility and more recently through the music industries. Anyone wishing to learn more about how to describe the common genres of jhyaure, khyali, and chudka songs and dances, and the dance-dramas like Charitra and Sorathi, will find a wealth of information in Subi Shah’s writings. Because his writings are focused on Dhading, they provide a point of comparison for how these genres are performed in other places around Nepal and other areas of South Asia. 

They promote vernacular performance traditions 

We agree with Subi Shah that vernacular performance traditions like those he describes deserve to be more widely known and understood, and to be treated on equal terms with other traditions and their discussions of theory and practice. 

Who is sponsoring this project?

The University of Hawaii at Manoa, funded by a Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the US. 

Is this project affiliated with any political party or political agenda?

No, it is not. 

In the US, public universities like the University of Hawaii and cultural funding bodies like the National Endowment for the Humanities are by law non-partisan.

In Nepal, we work with whomever can meet our artistic and research needs, regardless of their political party affiliations.  

How do you choose which artists to record?

This project is about Subi Shah’s earlier work in Jyamrung, Dhading. Thus, the important things for us in choosing artists to perform in our recordings are 1) Their closeness to Subi Shah, both personally and in terms of regional musical style, and 2) Their artistic ability to reproduce the examples that Subi Shah wrote in his books. Thus, our research is focused on Jyamrung and nearby areas of Dhading. 

When will the recordings be online, and where can I find them?

The entire set of works is scheduled to be published online in December 2024. Some recordings will only be available at that time. Others may be released as the project goes along. Please follow this website for new releases of recordings, reports, presentations, and other work related to the project. 

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