Laxmi Prasad Devkota
|Laxmi Prasad Devkota
Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota
|Born||12 November 1909
|Died||14 September 1959
|Occupation||Poet and Scholar|
Laxmi Prasad Devkota (Nepali: लक्ष्मीप्रसाद देवकोटा (जन्म (बि.सं.): लक्ष्मीपूजा १९६६ , मृत्यु (बि. सं.): भाद्र २९ ,२०१६ ) November 12, 1909 – September 14, 1959), was a Nepali poet. Devkota is revered by many as the greatest poet of Nepal, and has been given the title of "Maha Kavi" ("The Great Poet"). Devkota was born on the night of Laxmi Puja in 1966 BS from the womb of Amar Rajya Laxmi Devi in Dillibazar, Kathmandu.
Devkota was born on the night of Gai Puja, when Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, is honored. Seeing this as an omen, Devkota’s parents named him after the goddess. It was an omen indeed, but of a different kind. In Nepal, Laxmi is seen as a bitter rival of Saraswati, the goddess of education and learning. Saraswati is displeased if a person is wealthy.On the other hand, Laxmi is not inclined to grant favors to those whose main pursuit is learning. As it turned out, the rivalry between the two goddesses was played out in Devkota’s life. He was known as Mahakabi, the great poet, and lived and died a poor man.
When Devkota was born in Dillibazaar, Kathmandu, in 1909, the country was ruled by the Rana oligarchy. The Rana administration was not enthusiastic about educating the masses, so the permit to study was a privilege. Devkota’s family went through a lot of trouble to enroll him at Durbar School, the only school in the Kathmandu Valley. Devkota wrote his first poems at school. He is said to be a quiet student who preferred reading and writing. He proved to be an excellent pupil and was married at the age of fifteen while at school.
After graduating from school with high marks, Devkota enrolled in the science program at Tri Chandra College in 1925 and began to read English poetry. Writers of the romantic era were a particularly strong influence on Devkota and he incorporated some of their themes in his work. Devkota completed his Intermediate of Science degree and switched to arts. He received his bachelor’s degree in arts in 1929 and went to Patna, India, and was impressed by the libraries he saw there. He and his friends then wrote a letter to the Rana prime minister requesting permission to open a library in Kathmandu. Since the administration took a dim view of providing uncensored information, Devkota and his friends were put in prison. They were released after paying heavy fines.
In 1931, Devkota went back to Patna on scholarship hoping to study English for his Master’s degree. But seats were not available so he studied for the Bachelor of Law degree instead.After he received the degree, he returned home and felt the first shocks of poverty that would trouble him for the rest of his life. Despite tutoring to supplement his earning, sometimes for fourteen hours a day, financial problems never left him. Muna Madan was among the creations of this time. The book challenged Sanskrit scholars who dominated the Nepalese literary scene. While these scholars determined good poetry as those following the Sanskrit form, Muna Madan was based on the jhaurey folk tune. The book received recognition from the Ranas and a significant purse of Rs. 100.
The mid-thirties were a terrible time for Devkota: his mother, father, and a two-month old daughter died within two years. Devkota was never a smoker at school or college, but when he learned to smoke, he became a chain smoker. He was exceedingly nervous and began to complain that everything hurt him. His brothers were worried enough to put him in a mental hospital in Ranchi, India, for five months in 1939.
In 1943 Devkota was selected to represent writers in the Nepal Bhasanuwad Parishad, a state organization that acted as a censorship board. He wrote a lot during this time and tutored for long hours. He complained that people asked him for a thirty-two hour day. He wrote his first epic, Shakuntala, in three months. It is said that Puskar Shumshere Rana challenged him to write another epic in thirty days and Devkota responded by handing him the manuscript of his second epic, Sulochana, in ten days. Both epics are considered among the best works of Nepalese literature. Most of his work was unconventional. He had a habit of inventing new words to suit his poetic requirements. At times his more conservative colleagues resented his taking so many liberties with the language. Devkota became a professor at Tri-Chandra College in 1946. He left Nepal without any obvious reason and worked in exile in Benaras, India. He was editor of Yugbani, an opposition paper. He also wrote Pahadi Pukar, a book that addressed people’s poverty in Nepal. The book was banned in Nepal.
The Ranas invited him back to the country. After the democratic movement was successful, he helped publish Indreni, a bilingual journal, and was a part of the influential Royal Nepal Academy. Financial troubles followed him throughout these years. Part of the problem was his generous nature. He gave money to people who came to him with hard luck stories. One cold winter day he gave the coat he was wearing to a beggar shivering at the roadside.
Even as he was having financial worries, he was getting high appreciation and by 1957, he had become minister of education though he was an active politician. At this time he suffered from what doctors at first thought was gastric ulcer. By 1958, cancer was diagnosed and since Devkota did not have enough money (his salary was held back by the Royal Nepal Academy for visiting the former USSR as a representative of writers without informing the king), King Mahendra gave him Rs. 5,000 after complaints in the local papers and the Indian Embassy provided air transportation for him to go to India for treatment. Three inches of cancerous color was removed.
Devkota knew before his death that the end was approaching and stayed up late into the night to continue his writing. He wrote to a friend while he was in Santa Bhawan Hospital, “Death stands before me. I search for constellations in the sky but can find none. I cannot give peace to myself. If I could rise, I would kill myself and my children.”
There was much pain towards the end of his life and perhaps this explains his bitterness. So that was how, even though everyone appreciated him, Devkota died in 1959 in sorrow, thinking that he achieved nothing. He asked that Muna Madan be preserved even if all his other works faded away. Muna Madan is the most popular of Nepalese works today and though Devkota felt himself a beggar towards the end of his life, he is revered by his country people as a god of Nepalese literature.
Devkota contributed to Nepali literature by bringing the Sanskrit tradition to its end and by starting a modern romantic movement in the country. Devkota was the first to begin writing epic poems in Nepali literature. Nepali poetry soared to new heights with Devkota's groundbreaking and innovative use of language. Departing from the Sanskrit tradition that dominated the Nepali literary scene, he wrote Muna Madan (1930), a long narrative poem in popular "jyaure" folk meter. The work received immediate recognition from the Ranas who ruled Nepal at that time. It tells the story of Madan who departs from his wife Muna to Tibet to make money. The poem deals with the themes of the hardships of journey away from home, the grief of separation, longing and death. The following couplet which is among the most famous and most frequently quoted lines from the poem celebrates the triumph of humanity and compassion over any artificial hierarchies created by caste and culture:
क्षेत्रीको छोरो यो पाउ छुन्छ, घिनले छुँदैन
A Kshatriya touches your feet not with hatred but with love.
Devkota had the ability to compose long epic poems with literary complexity and philosophical density in very short period of time. He wrote Shakuntala, his first epic poem and also the first "Mahakavya" (epic poem) written in the Nepali language, in a mere three months. Published in 1945, Shakuntala is a voluminous work in 24 cantos based on Kālidāsa's famous Sanskrit play Abhijñānaśākuntalam. Shakuntala demonstrates Devkota's mastery of Sanskrit meter and diction which he incorporated heavily while working primarily in Nepali.
Devkota also published several collections of short lyric poems set in various traditional and non-traditional forms and meters. Most of his poetry shows influence of English Romantic Poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge. The title poem in the collection "Bhikhari" ("Beggar") is a reminiscent of Wordsworth's "The Old Cumberland Beggar". In this poem, Devkota describes the beggar going about his ways in dire poverty and desolation deprived of human love and material comforts. On the other hand, the beggar is also seen as the source of compassion placed in the core of suffering and destitution. Devkota connects the beggar with the divine as the ultimate fount of kindness and empathy:
कालो बादलबाट खसेको
Fallen from the black clouds
Many of his poems focus on mundane elements of the human and the natural world. The titles of his poems like "Ban वन" ("Woods"), "Kisaan किसान" ("The Peasant"), "Baadal बादल" ("Clouds") show that he sought his poetic inspiration in the commonplace and proximal aspects of the world. What resonates throughout most of his poetry is his profound faith in humanity. For instance, in the poem "Woods," the speaker goes through a series of interrogations rejecting all forms of comfort and solace that could be offered solely to him as an individual. Instead he embraces his responsibility and concern for his fellow beings. The poem ends with the following quatrain that highlights his humanistic inclinations:
दोस्त कहाँ छन्? साथ छ को को? घर हो तिम्रो कुन देश?
Where are your friends? Who go with you? Which land is your home?
Besides poetry, Devkota also made significant contributions to the essay genre. He is considered the father of the modern Nepali essay. He defied the conventional form of essays by blatantly breaking the rules of grammar and syntax, and embracing a more fluid and colloquial style. His essays are generally satirical in tone and are characterized by their trenchant humor and ruthless criticism of the modernizing influences from the West in the Nepali society. An essay titled भलादमी (Bhaladmi) or "Dignitary" criticizes a decadent trend in Nepali society to respect people based on their outward appearances and outfit rather than their actual inner worth and personality. In another essay titled के नेपाल सानो छ? (Ke Nepal Sano Cha?) "Is Nepal insignificant (small)?", he expresses deeply nationalistic sentiments inveighing against the colonial forces from British India which, he felt, were encroaching all aspects of Nepali culture. His essays are published in the collection Laxmi Nibhandha Sanghraha (लक्ष्मी निबन्धसङ्ग्रह).
Mahākāvya महाकाव्य (Epics)
- Shakuntal (शाकुन्तल)
- Sulochana (सुलोचना)
- Bana Kusum (बनकुसुम)
- Maharana Pratap (महाराणा प्रताप)
- Prithvi Raj Chauhan (पृथ्वीराज चौहान)
- Prometheus (प्रमीथस)
Poetry / Short Novels / Essays
- Bal Jasto (बल जस्तो )
- Bhikhari - Poetry Collection (भिखारी-कवितासंग्रह )
- Kunjini - Short Epic (कुञ्जिनि - खण्डकाव्य)
- Gaine Geet (गाइने गीत)
- Putali - Children's Poetry Collection (पुतली- बालकवितासंग्रह )
- Krishibala - Musical Play (कृषिवाला - गीतिनाटक)
- Dushyant-Shakantula Bhet - Short Epic (दुष्यन्त-शकुन्तला भेट खण्डकाव्य)
- Munamadan - Short Epic (मुनामदन - खण्डकाव्य)
- Raavan-Jatayu Youdha (रावण-जटायु युद्ध)
- Luni (लुनि)
- Sun Ko Bihan - Children's Poem (सुनको बिहान- बालकविता)
- Raj Kumar Prabhakar (राजकुमार प्रभाकर)
- Sita Haran (सीता हरण)
- Mahendu (म्हेन्दु)
- Laxmi Nibandaha Sangraha - Essay Collection (लक्ष्मी निबन्धसङ्ग्रह)
- Ranjan, Pallav. "Laxmi Prasad Devkota". Spiny Babbler Museum. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
- Poems Of Laxmi Prasad Devkota In Nepali (From Laxmi Kavita Sangraha) Compiled By Sanjaal Corps
- Biography of Devkota at SpinyBabbler.org
- Laxmi Prasad Devkota: Nepal's Greatest Poet
- Maha Kabi: Laxmi Prasad Devkota
- Important Works of Devkota at Online Sahitya
- "Muna Mandan"
- Nepalicollections.com - Voice of Mahakabi
- Muna Madan, Assamese ebook at AssamKart ebookstore "AssamKart"