| He has fallen
from the black clouds|
and is living in the shadows.
Do we see a god in
or do we see a beggar?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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