Laxmi Prasad Devkota is known among us as the Mahakabi or Poet the Great— the title given by the state for his unmatchable contribution to Nepali literature. He deserves that title as he had done so much in this field through his genre of writing that has earned a greatest honour and respect in the heart of Nepali speaking population both at home and abroad.
Devkota was born on the night of Laxmi Puja in 1966 BS in Dillibazar, Kathmandu. As he was born at a time when the entire Hindus including his family were worshiping Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth, his parents took his birth as the greatest gift of Goddess Laxmi. Accordingly, his name was given Laxmi Prasad. However, he turned out to be the gift of Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge’.
His father Tilmadhav Devkota was a scholar in Sanskrit language. Laxmi Prasad Devkota attained his basic education at home under the custodianship of his father. His was a middle class family and financial status of the family was not very sound. He completed Bachelor’s Degree in liberal arts and law. But his desire to complete Masters’ Degree could not be accomplished in the absence of sound financial position of the family.
Right after graduating from college, he started working as a personal tutor. It is said that he used to teach more than 13 hours a day. He had to do that to support his family. During Devkota’s time, the country had been under Rana’s dictatorial regime. Young Devkota knew the importance of education and he vowed to do something to help educate the masses—the idea was not well received by the then Rana rulers.
Devkota was a brilliant student and did well in school. He was good in both Nepali and English language and could write in both the languages. Right from the early age, he was keen in Nepali literature. At the early age of ten, he wrote a poem when he was studying in Drubar High School—the school set up for the education of the ruling Rana children. The ordinary people had to seek special permission to study in this school. Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s father also had to run from pillar and post to ensure admission for his son in the Durbar High School.
Devkota and his friends were keen on generating awareness among the people and educating them. They decided to establish a library to generate public awareness. They had to seek permission from the government even to establish a library during those days. Devkota and his friends, thus, were put behind bars for trying to establish a library. As a result, poet Devkota had to undergo a great suffering. He was later fined and released. Devkota then went to Benaras, India, where he used to sell his poems for his survival. He also worked as an editor of Yugbani magazine in Benaras and gave continuity to his writing.
After he returned to Kathmandu, he wrote Muna Madan—an epic poem based on folk verses. Although, Devkota has written many books including some of his masterpieces, he loved Muna Madan the best. It is said that Devkota, when he was in death bed, had asked his friends and relatives to preserve Muna Madan even if all other works were to be burnt.
Muna Madan is perhaps the most popular of all works of Devkota. The simplicity of language, folk and lyrical verses and rhythmic expression made this book popular among the all including ordinary folks. Muna Madan’s popularity also made Ranas to appoint Devkota a member of the Nepal Bhasanuwad Parishad. During this period, Devkota wrote the epic, Shakuntala, in three months. It is said that Puskar Shumshere Rana challenged him to write another epic in a period of one month. Accepting the challenge, Devkota wrote another epic Sulochana in ten days. Both Shakuntal and Sulochana are Devkota’s masterpieces. For sometimes, he worked as a lecturer in Trichandra College. He also served as Education Minister for three months.
Although Devkota started writing during the Rana period when the free thinking and creative writing used to be discouraged, he broke the traditional and conventional style and introduced a new genre and approach in writing poems and other forms of literature. Devkota is a versatile writer and has written pomes, epics, prose, essays, plays and fictions. But he is basically a poet. He was influenced by western poets like William Wordsworth, John Keats and PB Shelley. As a lover of nature and romantic poet, we find Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats in Devkota’s poetic works. The way Devkota’s Charu and Wordsworth’s Lucy Gray appear similar in expression and theme, it is said that Devkota wrote Charu as a dedication to Wordsworth.
What spiritualism is to Lekhanath, nature is to Devkota. The theme of much of his works is nature and human sensitivity, feelings and love. In this way, Devkota is a master in romantic poetic work in Nepali literature. Although the romantic era in writing began during the period of Motiram Bhatta, it was still immature and imperfect. Devkota is the one who both professed and practiced and gave a new dimension to romantic poetic works in Nepal. While Motiram fantasised the romantic style with conservative tone, Devkota unified it with sense and reality. Devkota had a deep passion for nature and has perfectly practiced it through his aesthetic use of nature’s image in his poetic works. He tries to instill beauty and fragrance of nature in his poems through his craft of words and sentences and eloquent expression.
As a path breaker in the Nepali literature in general and poetic works in particular, Devkota is an atheist and a radical egalitarian. He challenged the tradition of attributing everything to God’s willingness. If there is, at all, any God, it is within human being and the best way to attain godliness is to serve the less privileged fellow humans. He has, thus, strongly and explicitly expressed this feeling in his much acclaimed poem " Yatri" (Traveler or Pilgrim), he has opined that God dwells within a human and not in any temple and has called upon the pilgrims not to wander about in search of God but to go back home and devote to the service of mankind—the downtrodden ones who have undergone sufferings. However, towards the end of his life, he suddenly turned religious, thus, writing " Akhir Shri Krishna Rahechha Eka (After all there is the God –Lord Krishna)
Straightforwardness, lucidity and honesty are some of the characteristics of Devkota’s poetic works. His feelings, sensibility and expressions have been blended perfectly and brilliantly with words and meanings that have created an explosion of thoughts and ideas in his writings. We find spontaneous expression in Devkota’s poems and there is no artificial sense. He had the habit of not revising his writings. Once written, it was final. He has given less prominence to grammar. His poems are like flowers grown and blossomed in the forests. This is the reason why the language in Devkota’s poems and prose is rough and less polished.
Humanitarian feelings are well entrenched in many of his poems through which the poet has advocated egalitarian society free from poverty, hunger, class and creed. For him, there is no class other than human being and no creed other than serving to human being. In Muna Madan he has, thus, said "Manisa Thulo Dilale Huncha Jatale Hudaina" ( a man attains greatness not by caste but because of his heart or feelings).
Devkota has also written essays, one act plays and plays and novel. Devkota is the first modern essayist in Nepal. Laxmi Nibanda Sangraha (Collection of Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s essays) is the example of the modern essays in Nepali language, which have clarity in meaning, expressive in feelings and eloquent in terms of language. In this, Devkota broke the traditional style of essay writing and popularized the personal and expressive style of essays writing instead of descriptive and narrative approach. The Laxmi Nibanda Sangraha is perhaps the most brilliant book of essays ever produced in Nepali literature.
As a versatile and multi-dimensional writer, Devkota has made contribution in the field of plays, fiction and short stories. Sabitri Satyaban is Devkota’s acclaimed play, which has earned equally high fame for Devkota. Champa is the only fiction Devkota has ever written.
Despite holding some important and high-ranking positions, his financial status was always precarious and he had to struggle a lot for survival. But the difficulties he suffered never deterred him from writing and making contribution to Nepali literature. The contribution Devkota made to enrich the Nepali literature would always be written down with golden letter. We cannot imagine the state of Nepali literature without Laxmi Prasad Devkota. Thus, Laxmi Prasad Devkota has earned a greatest respect in the heart of Nepalese people both in Nepal and abroad.
Recognizing his unprecedented contribution in the field of literature, he was honoured as a life member of the Nepal Academy. Devkota was also conferred with the title of Mahakabi (Poet the Great). He died at the age of 50 due to cancer in 2016 BS. With his demise Nepal lost a brilliant icon of Nepali literature.
Devkota’s contribution to Nepali literature is as follows-
Poetic works: Muna Madan, Raj Kumar Prabhakar, Kunjini, Shakuntal, Sulochana, Basanti, Putali, Bhikhari, Mhendu, Ravana-Jatayu Yuddha, Chhahara, Chilla Patharu, Luni, Mayabini Sashi, Maharana Pratap, Manoranjan, Nabras, Sitaharan, Dushyanta Shakuntala Bhet, Aakash Blochha, Balkusum, Chhayasanga Kura, Katak, Gaine Geet, Sunko Bihan, Bhavana Gangeya, Sundari Jarpini, Aashu, Prathimas, Prithiviraj Chauhan, Maina, Pahadi Pukar, Muthuka Thopa, Laxmi Kabita Sangraha and Laxmi Giti Sangraha.
Essay: Laxmi Nibandha Sangraha
Plays: Sabitri Satyaban, Rajpur Ramani, Basanti, Maina and Krishibala and Bharatmilap.
Laxmi Katha Sangraha (anthology of Devkota’s short stories)
Devkota translated William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth into Nepali