•      Fri Sep 29 2023

Phalahari Baba, the Priest of Triphala National Library

Chandra Kala Bhandari

Jhapa, Aug 28: Prem Prakash Pokharel, 74, of Mechinagar-10 in Jhapa, who wears a long beard and walks barefoot in ocher robes, is a spiritual thinker and a yoga practitioner. As he stays away from eating food, he prefers to write ‘Phalahari’ after his name instead of his surname. General people call him ‘Phalahari Baba’.

The identity of Phalahari Baba with qualities of a saintly person is not only connected with conducting rituals, but also with a library. He is so much interested in books that he has established a library named ‘Triphala National Library’, reportedly the biggest one in the country, in Dhulabari of Mechinagar, Jhapa. Established on his initiatives, the library has now over 50,000 books of various genres. A four-storey building has been constructed housing the library with donation from people.

“Every day in the morning, I carry out regular puja at the Saraswati Temple after waking up at 4 am and practicing yoga,” said Phalahari Baba who stays in a room of the building housing the library, adding, “I complete moping and sweeping the floor of the library building after blowing a conch shell at 6 am. Sometimes, I feel I was born to establish and run a library.”

He is engaged in the library from morning till night. Phalahari Baba, whose house is only one km away, is so much invested in the library that he does not undertake household affairs at his home as his son and daughter-in-law are looking after affairs of the house following death of his spouse last year.

Inspiration from Yogi Narahari Nath

Phalahari Baba, who has acquired education of Shashtri level from Pindeshwor Sanskrit Vidyapeeth in Dharan, was religious and ascetic since childhood.

Having been angry with his parents for fixing his marriage with a girl, whom he even did not know when he was a school-going age child, he ran away even before enjoying their first wedding night to quench his thirst for studies. Later he was enrolled in the Vidhyapeeth. His life took a turn to knowledge and meditation when he met with Yogi Narahari Nath in 2042 BS when they migrated to Jhapa.

From 2045 BS to 2050 BS, he toured barefoot then all 75 districts of the country launching a campaign against drug abuse. After shutting the shop of agriculture materials in Dhulabari, from which he was making a living for himself and his family, he dedicated himself for a social and religious campaign.

“I got an opportunity to learn about knowledge, meditation and sacrifice from the Yogi ji. I learnt about history, religion, poetry and literature from him. After that, when I was pondering what to do, the idea of opening a library hit me,” he recollected his past.

He has been able to establish the library with the support of notable people including Dr Swami Prapannacharya, a renowned scholar of eastern philosophy, Prof Dr Gobinda Raj Bhattarai, former Chief District Officer Tikaram Aryal, former District Education Officer Uddhav Bista, former Pracharya of Arjundhara Jaleshwordham late Pushpa Lal Acharya, social worker late Chhatra Bahadur Basnet and litterateur Tika Dhungel from Sikkim in India.

When Phalahari Baba opened a library from a wooden shop by a roadside leading to Jyamirgadhi in 2053 BS, many called him a lunatic. This took many locals by surprise as he switched to a library after closing his shop. Many would reach his library to buy books thinking he ran a stationery store.

“I opened a library with the aim of making books easily available and making people get into the habit of reading books,” he said recalling the moments 27 years ago, adding, “People started thronging the library after coming to know that it was not a stationery store but a library.”

He committed to construct a building for a library when a philanthropist Debendra Bikram Nembang of Dhulabari donated 10 dhurs of land. He constructed the building in 2060 BS with donations from people. He also purchased additional 10 dhurs of land from Nembang as well.
He went to various districts of Nepal and as far as Sikkim and Darjeeling of India and reached out to various scholars and intellectuals searching for books for the library.

“First of all, I went to the Keshar Library in Kathmandu. But the library is available only for reading books, people are not allowed to take books. I got only an essay book. Thereafter, I asked Swami Prapannacharya for books. He handed me many religious books including the Veda and the Puranas. I also reached out to litterateurs and intellectuals for books and brought loads of books.”

There are now so many books in the library that there is a lack of space, he said. Cataloguing and binding the books through a scientific method is ongoing with financial help of the Koshi provincial government. The province government has also provided a steel bookshelf, he said.

Books have been stored on the ground and third floors of the four-storey building. Second floor is used for an assembly hall and his bedroom. In that room, Phalahari Baba teaches yoga every day. Discussions and seminars on literature, culture and reading habit are organised in the afternoon. Construction work is ongoing on the fourth floor which will be used for a guest room, he said. He has given each floor a unique name like Kathmandu, Chitwan, Assam and Sikkim.

Intellectuals visit library

Towards 2059 BS, Tikaram Aryal was appointed the Chief District Officer, Jhapa. He was a library lover. Coincidently, Prem Prakash Phalahari reached the airport to welcome Aryal when he reached Jhapa to assume office after being appointed the CDO. One day managing time, Aryal reached Dhulabari searching for Phalahari Baba. When he saw the books scattering in a congested wooden shop, he had a desire to help Phalahari Baba manage the library.

“I asked him this is the library you run. He nodded and told me that there were books in other places, and took me inside a dark room where there were valuable handwritten scriptures. When I told that the books should be preserved, he told that Sir, we had nothing to manage them. I left asking him to visit the district administration office with a plan,” said Aryal recalling that moment.

Seeing the library being in a sorry state, Aryal managed Rs 100,000 through a non-governmental organisation. Besides, he helped collect additional donation for the library, said Phalahari Baba.

Phalahari Baba and Aryal knew each other since 2054 BS when Aryal was the CDO, Sunsari.

Recalling that Phalahari Baba would reach and visit him barefoot in his office in Jhapa, Aryal calls him a diamond whom the society is unable to recognise. “We must come together to preserve such a big property made with the dedication of a person. We must provide financial assistances to help him (Phalahari Baba) manage the library,” said Aryal. Former District Education Officer, Jhapa Uddhav Bista praised Phalahari Baba for his dedication and labour and efforts for setting up the library. The library has become like a pilgrimage site where people from various parts of Nepal, and as far as Sikkim, Darjeeling and surrounding areas in India come and get together, he said. RSS