“मानिस ठूलो दिलले हुन्छ जातले हुँदैन “, which means, “Men become great with a great heart; not with great caste, creed nor birth”.
This epic line was written by Laxmi Prasad Devkota, a Nepali poet and novelist of the 20th century, who was honoured with the title ‘Mahakavi’ (The Great Poet). In my belief, most of his writings reflect his close observation, understanding and experiences of humans in society. His writings describe how society and societal norms become indifferent towards the underprivileged and marginalised sections of people. He also spoke for the rights of these people and tried to draw the attention of majoritarian people by his writings. In this article, I just want to share how I have found that Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota is not just a poet, but also a narrator of humanism and civilisation.
Laxmi Prasad Devkota was born on 12 November 1909, ( 1966 Kartik 27BS) on the night of Laxmi Pujan in Thatunati (now Dhobidhara), Kathmandu, to Teel Madhav Devkota and Amar Rajya Lakshmi Devi. He got basic education thanks to his father and later, started formal education in Kathmandu; where he studied both Sanskrit grammar and English. At the age of 17 years, he moved to Patna after his matriculation exam, where he pursued the Bachelor of Arts, along with the Bachelor of Laws at Tri Chandra College, and graduated from Patna University as a private examinee. But he was unable to complete his master’s degree due to his family’s financial conditions. Right after graduating from college, he started working in Nepal Bhasaanuwad Parishad and later, he was also worked as a lecturer at Tri-Chandra College and Padma Kanya College.
Devkota had contributed to Nepali literature by bringing the Sanskrit tradition to its end and by starting the modern Romantic Movement in the field of literature. Devkota was the first to begin writing epics in Nepali literature. Nepali poetry grew to new heights with Devkota’s pioneering and innovative use of language. However, in 1958, he was diagnosed with cancer, and a year later, in 1959 he passed away.
In my view, Laxmi Prasad Devkota was primarily a humanist narrator, who occasionally wrote from an atheistic point of view too. For this way of writing, some critics remarked that he was influenced by Marxism or the Leftist ideologies. But, humanitarian feelings are well explored in many of his poems through which the poet has advocated a fairer society, free from poverty, hunger, class and creed. He also talks about justice, gender equality and rights of the people, throughout his writing. In his belief, there is no class other than a human being and no creed other than serving a human being, which is very visible in his writings.
As I have explored Devkota’s poetry in its original language in Nepali, I love the “Muna-Madan” very much, not only for its romanticism but also for the moral messages it has delivered to the readers. I also loved poems such as ‘Pagal’ (mad) and ‘Badal’ (The Cloud), among many others. The masterpiece which gives him the tallest position in Nepali Literature is his “Muna Madan” in which he tried to highlight the economic condition of Nepal, via the most celebrated characters of two youths Muna- a Nepali village girl and Madan- a Nepali peasant. This short epic can be compared to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ of William Shakespeare, in the context of love and emotion that a reader can casually feel by reading this. Muna-Madan is perhaps the most popular of all Devkota’s works. The simplicity of language, folk and rhythmic expression made this book popular among the all.
In his epic “Muna Madan”, the story follows the life of Madan who leaves his wife, Muna, and goes to Lhasa to make money, and while returning he feels sick on the way. His friends leave him halfway alone and come back home and say that he is no more. Afterwards, the story also shows the life of a poor woman who suffered a lot without her husband and later dies because of sorrow. Devkota has written about the biggest problems in Nepalese society at the time and tried to portray how the life of a woman is dependent on a man. Finally, Madan is rescued by a man who is considered to be of a lower caste and the story continues. That is why he stated that a man is said to be great not by caste or race but by a heart full of love and humanity.
Many of his poems focus on social elements of the human and the natural world. The titles of his poems like “वन” (“Woods”), “किसान” (“The Peasant”) and “बादल” (“Clouds”) shared his poetic inspiration in ordinary life and other aspects that are close to human society and the world, as well. For example, in the poem “Woods,” the speaker goes through a series of questions and rejects all forms of comfort and satisfaction that one could ask as an individual. Instead of this, he accepts his responsibility and concern for his friends by seeking a good life for all.
To conclude, Mahakavi started writing during the Rana period, when free-thinking and creative writing was deflated. He broke this chain of the traditional style of writing and aimed to bring a new genre and approach in writing poems and other forms of literature. Devkota’s literary works are marked by flow, variety of style, and the existence of the subject matter, critical and relevant thought, powerful imagination and compassion for the living. He was a rich writer who experimented and observed with every form and genre of literature.
He wrote not just endless poems, but also epics, long narrative or descriptive poetry called “खण्डकाव्य”(‘khandakavyas’) in Nepali, plays, one-act plays, essays, short stories, and even a novel. Furthermore, his contribution to children’s literature is also commendable. He has translated many of his own works, as well as those of his contemporaries into English. He is the first Nepali writer to produce a significant bulk of poems, essays, and plays written originally in English. In short, he brought the Nepali literature into the new axis, with the moderation of writings and thoughtful contents, which introduced new ideas to society; he was a path breaker in the Nepali literature, especially in poetic works.
Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota is not just a poet for one nation or one language; his writings are universal which flourish humanistic views and ideas shared for the upliftment of the human society.
(The article was earlier published in “Lohitputra”, Vol XXII, 2018)