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Introduction to the Poet

Laxmi Prasad Devkota was born on the 12th. of November1909 at Dhobidhara (then known as Thatunati) in Kathmandu as the third son of Tila Madhav Devkota and his second wife, Amar Rajyalaxmi. After graduating from Durbar High School, he decided to study Science. He passed the I.Sc. exam in 1928. Then, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Patna University in 1929. Having completed his Bachelor of Law in 1934, he wanted to pursue a Master's degree in English Literature. However, he did not get the opportunity to do so.

Devkota married Mana Devi Chalise (1912-2000) in 1924 and had five daughters and four sons. Of these, an infant daughter and two sons died during the poet's life time. He had a very loving relationship with his wife and chidren.

In April 1930, a group of young people with a scholarly bent of mind wanted to open a public library. Devkota too was asked to sign the minute of the meeting's decisions. The consequence was that the then ruling Rana government exiled some of these youths while they fined the poet and some of his friends a huge sum of Rs. 100 each and made them sign an agreement that they would never participate in such activities again. This was the beginning of Devkota's political life.

In 1948, Poet Devkota presided over the first national poetry festival of Nepal organized by Nepali Sahitya Parishad and delivered a famous speech. Immediately after this poetry festival, he exiled himself to Vanarasi, India, to editYugvani (The Voice of the Age), which was a mouthpiece of the Nepali Congres. In Nepal, his house and properties were confiscated by the government. In less than three months after his unanounced departure from the house, his second son Krishna died. His eldest son Prakash soon joined him in Varanasi.

Poet Devkota returned to Kathmandu shortly before the restoration of democracy in 1951. At this time, he was trying to sustain the family at Kavi-Kunja with a few tuition jobs. However, he also kept producing many excellent works. In March 1955, under the leadership of Purna Bahadur M.A., Poet Devkota, Balakrishna Sama, Siddhicharan Shrestha and others attended the Asian People's Conference in New Delhi.

From April 1956, a literary monthly titled Indreni was launched from Kavya-Prathisthan, of which Poet Devkota was the president. The Asian Writers' Confernce was held in New Delhi from Sunday, December 23-29, 1956. Poet Devkota led the delegation of Nepali writers to this conference. It was for such events that Devkota had translated many of his own works as well as those of his contemporaries into English and published them in the two bilingual issues (2nd and 7th.) of Indreni. The poems thus translated are highly representative of the age.

Later, Poet Devkota also led a delegation of Nepali writers to Tashkent to attend the Afro-Asian Writers' Conference, which was held from October 7-13, 1958. He impressed the audience with his excellent introduction to contemporary Nepali literature, made many friends, and was, in turn, impressed with the central message of peace and the need for justice that the conference highlighted. While he was in Russia and immediately after his return to Nepal, Devkota wrote several essays in English that discuss national and literary issues at home from a more global and comparative perspective.

On Friday, July 22, 1957, Royal Nepal Academy was established and Poet Devkota was its member from its inception. Next, from Friday, July 26 to November 14, 1957, he served as the Minister of Education under Dr. K.I. Singh's cabinet. As a minister, he promoted Nepali as a national language, he opened schools all over the country, and he also worked to establish Tribhuvan University.

Poet Devkota died of cancer of the duodenum on Monday, September 14, 1959. He was cremated at Aryaghat, Pashupati.

WORK

Devkota started writing from a very early time in life. At the age of ten, he wrote his first couplet in Nepali in which he voiced his understanding of the tribulations of the world: "Brother, this world's a great sea of tribulations./Be not arrogant. We all have to die" (Trans. PD). His early works were influenced by English romantic poets, essayists, and novelists such as William Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy Bysse Shelley, Charles Lamb, Hazlitt and Sir Walter Scott. Even Lord Tennyson's smooth and pleasing stanzas have touched the poet. However, literary influences on Devkota are not limited to those of the English Romantics only. An early song-drama, Savitri-Satyawan (1927), goes back to Sanskrit roots. Writing in the Sanskrit tradition, he appreciated works by Kalidas and others. Similarly, he appreciated Rabindra Nath Tagore and also other Indian romantic poets of his time.

Devkota's literary works are marked by flow, variety of style and subject matter, critical and relevant thought, powerful imagination and compassion for the living. He is a prolific writer who experimented with every form and genre of literature. He wrote not just innumerable poems, but also epics, long narrative and/or descriptive poetry called khandakavyas in Nepal, plays, one-act plays, essays, short stories, and even a novel. Furthermore, he has contributed significantly to Nepali children's literature, too. He has also 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.

Devkota grew as a writer throughout his career. One of his earliest achievements is the successful use of a popular folk meter called jhyaure in his yet best-selling long narrative poem: Muna-Madan. This work kicks against the Classical Sanskritic tradition of metrical poetry even as it depicts the life of ordinary people in a simple, native language. The poet, however, adopts the Sanskriic tradition inNepali Shakuntal, an epic he wrote in three months. This epic is rich in Sanskrit vocabulary, highly imaginative, and powerfully lyrical in many places. The context and characters of this story from the Mahabharat and the Padma Purana are given Nepali characteristics and context.

While the poet shows great mastery over the varnik form of Sanskrit meter inNepali Shakuntal, with "The Lunatic," he arrives at a very successful form of modern confessional poetry in free verse. According to his contemporary, Bala Krishna Sama, Devkota was born thrice into literature: first, with Muna-Madan; sencond, with Nepali Shakuntal; and, third, with "The Lunatic."

Devkota's literary oeuvre witnesses a consciousness that not only comprehends the cultural heritage of Bharat Varsha but also appreciates other cultures and civilizations as different. His works also exhibit a high realism where purified art encapsulates truth that transcends the local to universalize itself into a sort of ethos of the age. While Nepal remains at the core of his writing, Rome, Greece, the greater India, England, Russia, and many other literary and artistic arenas of the globe find a room in his writing. It is for this reason, too, that Devkota deserves a place among meritorious writers of the world. It is high time for him to be situated at the hub of South Asian literary discussions.

Devkota exhibits a great love for Nepal and its people in his works, which are simply extensions of his life and thought. He loved the country, its people, and his own mother tongue, Nepali, which he enriched and endowed with the expressional possibilities of a modern sensibility.

Today, he is lovingly known as Mahakavi or Great Poet for his great body of powerful poetry and significant writings in Nepali and English. He commands great respect in the world of Nepali letters. Nearly half a century after he left the literary scene, Devkota's contributions in diverse genres of literature and many areas of Nepalese social and cultural life remain deeply felt and appreciated.

PD