Maharaj’s passion for religious songs

Nitendra Lal Maharaj at his home in Moci Place, Nadawa, Nasinu. Picture: RAKESH KUMAR

Nitendra Lal Maharaj’s musical journey began when he was in Year 8 in 1986. The 45-year-old bhajan singer from Moci Place, Nadawa, along the SuvaNausori corridor was motivated by his music teacher at Waiqele Secondary School in Labasa (now known as Waiqele College).

He is a qualified machinist, an experienced carpenter and a taxidriver. But no matter what work he did, he always took out time for music. He said his singing talent was developed at Waiqele Secondary School.

“That time, my parents were residing at Nasoka, Waiqele in Labasa,” Maharaj said. “I completed my primary school education at Waiqele Primary School and went to Waiqele Secondary School where my musical journey began.

“It continued when we moved to Suva in 1995 and settled in Nadawa. “I enrolled at Indian College (Jai Narayan College) and from there to Fiji National University but I never left singing. “I continued to sing at various occasions, especially during religious festivals and programs.

“My family members are not professional singers but they do sing kirtan (religious songs) and recite Ramayan (Hindu holy book) when they get together in programs. “I am the only one in my family who is well-known for singing.”

He said he has never forgotten his music teacher at Waiqele Secondary School because of his early influence. “I was in class eight when I started singing. We had music classes and master Narayan from Batinikama, Labasa, used to take us for music lessons.

“He was a very good singer and he trained me on how to sing and project my voice. He taught me the basics of the music which is sargam (sargam refers to singing the notes, commonly used in Indian music which are ‘sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni, saa).

“He also taught me how to sing lokgeet (folk songs sung at Indian weddings) and sohar (folk songs sung during the birth of a baby). “Master Narayan had a very good voice, and he was a very good trainer. He motivated all the children including me to sing.

“With his motivation, I took part in one of the cultural events in the school and sang a kirtan on stage. “From that day, my fear of singing in public was gone. Master Narayan kept motivating me and gave me more opportunities to sing on stage.”

Maharaj said he continued to take part in singing programs even after leaving school.

“After school, I used to sing kirtan, bhajan and lokgeet in our Ramayan mandali (religious group) in our village in Nasoka. I had opportunities to sing openly there during our Ramayan programs.

“That’s how my interest in singing developed. “When we moved to Suva, I continued to sing in various religious events. My cousins and other relatives who had moved from Labasa to Suva, formed a Ramayan mandali here as well, where I continued to perform.

“As I gained experience, I started singing outside our group in other events such as death rituals and Ramayan programs organised by other mandali. People liked my singing, and they started inviting me to sing in their programs.” Maharaj said he has lost count of the number of times he has sung in various programs throughout the country.

“Wherever I sang, people praised me and that motivated me. More and more people started to know me through my music and I became very popular.”

He is working on his first bhajan album and said it should be released soon. “I haven’t released an album as yet. A lot of people, especially my friends and family have been pestering me to release a bhajan album.

“I have spoken to Procera Music and I am now working on releasing my first album. As soon as I have a good set of bhajan, I’ll do the recording and release the album.” Maharaj also runs his own Ramayan mandali in Nadera where he promotes music.

“I am running a Ramayan mandali in Nadera in which my cousins, family members and friends are members. Our group took part in a faag (holi song) singing competition in which we won a trophy. It is an inspiration to other members, especially the children.

“As a president of the mandali, I continue to encourage my members and children to sing. I include everyone when we do group singing. “Our traditional folk songs such as bhajan, kirtan, lokgeet, faag etcetera will never die. We will die but our religion will continue long after we are gone.

“We learn a lot about our religion and tradition by singing our traditional religious songs. It has meanings and stories behind, from which we learn a lot. “It’s very important for our children to know the significance of our traditional songs and we should encourage them to sing.

“I do that. I involve everyone when we have kirtan and lokgeet. “I also urge the parents to encourage their children to know about their religion and their religious songs. “Involve your children in religious activities, especially in singing programs and allow them to develop their singing skills.”

Maharaj urged young singers to continue to get guidance from their gurus. “Gurus play a very important role in our lives. They guide us and show us the right path. So, to develop your singing talent, get guidance from gurus because they are experts. “Also never hide your talents, expose them, and keep developing them.

“Parents play a very big role here. They should identify their child’s talent and help the child develop their talent. If they have an interest in singing, they should be motivated.

“There are a lot of successful singers in the world. We should learn from their lives.”

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