Laxmi Prasad Devkota: Nepal’s Greatest Poet
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on October 12, 2011
Bhuwan Thapaliya (Bhuwan)
The jewel of Nepali literature, poet laureate Laxmi Prasad Devkota, who began to show poetic genius from a very tender age, is regarded as the creator of romanticism — a progressive trend in Nepali literature. With his literary radiance, he has elevated the literary stature of Nepal in the eyes of the world and was perhaps the first writer in Nepal who rose to majestic heights, where no others had ever been before.
But perhaps his greatest possession was his heart — for it is said that on one cold winter day he gave the coat he was wearing to a beggar shivering at the roadside. Devkota’s poetry, in its simplest definition, is his heartbeat expressed in the form of verse.
Devkota was a versatile and voluminous writer, who left no branch of literature untouched in the course of his brief career. He has numerous epics, long narrative poems, essays, stories, plays, novels, songs, criticisms and short poems in his stocks of literature. At the same time, he was a great prose writer and is regarded as the founder of the modern prose style.
Moreover, he was the first to begin writing epics in Nepali literature and his magnum opus “Muna-Madan” remains the highest selling book ever in the history of Nepal. There are several famous lines in “Muna-Madan,” which have become catchphrases in the literary world. For instance, “A man is great by his heart, not by his caste.” Today, many years after he said this, the truth of these words cannot be denied.
Devkota had the ability to write poems very quickly — he wrote the Shakuntal in three months, the Sulochana epic in 10 days and Kunjini in a single day. Nepali poetry soared to new heights with Devkota’s groundbreaking poetry. “Muna-Madan,” challenged Sanskrit scholars who dominated the Nepalese literary scene before Devkota burst onto the mainstream scene.
He had command of Nepali, Sanskrit, Hindi, and English languages and volumes of Devkota’s poems are written with sophisticated language, which precisely describes the diverse moods of life. Often to give life to his poetry, he did not even mind borrowing words from other languages including Sanskrit and Hindi. It is said that Devkota’s poetry is a torrent of emotions that does not rain, but pours.
Laxmi Prasad Devkota was born into a middle class Brahmin family at Dhobi Dhara in 1909 on the auspicious day of Laxmi Puja, when Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, is honored. That’s why he was named Laxmi Prasad Devkota. Though his name “Laxmi” stands for wealth, he remained a pauper throughout his life. Instead, goddess Saraswati (a deity of wisdom) blessed him and he was known as Mahakabi, the great poet.
When Devkota was born in 1909, the country was ruled by the Rana oligarchy. The Rana administration was against mass education, so 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 poem at this school, and it is said that he used to recite his poems before his friends and teachers. Many times his friends did not believe he had written such excellent poems, but all his teachers were greatly impressed with the young prodigy.
He is said to be a bright student. After passing out from school with high marks, Devkota enrolled in the science program at Tri Chandra College in 1925. He 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, in 1931 on a scholarship hoping to study English for his Master’s degree. But seats were not available, so he studied for a Bachelor of Law, instead.
After he received the degree, he returned home and felt a series of shocks, one after another. His mother, father, and a two-month old daughter died within two years. Those tragic events shattered him completely and he became a chain smoker.
In later years, with the premature death of his two young sons, Prakash Devkota and Krishna Devkota, Laxmi broke down completely.
To add further misery, by 1958, Devkota was diagnosed with cancer and three inches of cancerous colon was removed in India, but he knew death was approaching him, so he 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.”
Terrible pain left him emaciated and completely bedridden, and eventually Laxmi Prasad Devkota died in 1959 at the quite early age of 50. There was much pain towards the end of his life and he felt himself a beggar and died thinking that he achieved nothing. However, they say that if his works had been translated into English he might have received the Nobel Prize for literature.
But ironically, the truest spirit of his poetry has often been under expressed in contemporary Nepal. A great poem in itself isn’t great. It owes its gleaming prominence to the greatness of the personality, which gave it life; for what we call a great poem is only the concrete cadence of his heart in the form of verse. Hence, we have to get to know his poems as an offering and value the socio-economic metaphors portrayed by him for the way forward.