October 23, 2014


[The honorary title 'Mahākavi'  here for Devakotā is not the government official entitlement or office. As of today, Nepal Government has not officially announced or honoured him  as any Mahākavi - the great poet of the country. Rather, it was Ishwor Baral, one of the best-known literary critics of Nepal, that honoured the poet with this title in 1947 and thereafter Nepalese people also began honouring Devakotā as ‘Mahākavi’ of the country. (Regmi: 2014).]

By B. K. Rana
This year today, October 23, 2014, is Nepal’s Mahākavi Laxmi Prasād Devakotā’s  106th birth anniversary and Nepali communities around the world are celebrating his anniversary organizing some elaborate literary programs in the public. While in college, we would also celebrate this great poet’s birth anniversaries. It is with great pleasure, I am here today, writing few words in honour of a literary genius of Nepal – that is to say – of South Asia  as well - Mahākavi Laxmi Prasād Devakotā.

The word Mahākavi literally  means : ‘the great poet’  which would therefore imply, a poet of great genius and creative excellence  or the most celebrated poet of a country ! Truly so, Devakotā is  the most celebrated poet of Nepal. His Munāmadan – a lyrical ballad, which he himself told ‘to save from rest others’  is the best among his creations. It is a great literary work against the backdrop of Tibeto-Nepal socio-economic ties and cultural life also some 200 years  ago, when the country had no outer world contacts at all. 

The honorary title 'Mahākavi'  here for Devakotā is not the government official entitlement or office. As of today,  Nepal Government has not officially announced or honoured him  as any Mahākavi - the great poet of the country. Rather, it was Ishwor Baral, one of the best-known literary critics of Nepal, that honoured the poet with this title in 1947 and thereafter Nepalese people also began honouring Devakoṭā as ‘Maḥākavi’ of the country. (Regmi: 2014).

The ancient Greeks crowned the most celebrated poets of the country with laurels. England followed the Greek tradition and began appointing Poets Laureate since 1790 - to write odes to mark national occasions such as: birthdays, weddings and funerals etc. of the country’s monarchs. The United States also has a tradition of appointing Poets Laureate and the Library of Congress annually appoints such poets laureate.  The poet  laureate here serves as the nation’s official poet. On June 12, 2014, Poet Charles Wright, 79 was appointed as the United States’ poet laureate . The Himalayan country, Nepal has no tradition, as of today, of appointing a poet laureate as far as I know.

It wouldn’t be appropriate therefore, to address here Mahākavi Laxmi Prasād Devakotā, as one of the Poets Laureate  of Nepal either, nevertheless, he is the most celebrated poet of the country. Nepal does not appoint any poets laureate but  there is certainly a tradition of honouring poets with titles such as: Ādikavi , Āśukavi, Janakavi, Yugkavi, Yuvākavi etc. Whether these are any official titles offered, I am unable to write anything here for sure. There is, in Kathmandu,  a Nepal Academy that should better tell it to the general people.

Critiquing on Mahākavi Devakotā’s works is absolutely a difficult job, if not impossible frankly.  Below I would briefly discuss Wordworth’s The Solitary Reaper and  Devakotā’s  Tinko  Ghasiyā Gīt on whether there  are any commonalities in between them.

The British Poet Laureate and father of English Romanticism, William Wordsworth's (1770 - 1850)  The Solitary Reaper and Mahākavi Laxmi Prasād Devakotā’s Ek Akelī Ghasiyā  or a solitary reaper both  individuals are young women and sing beautiful songs. Wordsworth’s  solitary reaper probably seems to have sung in Gallic because the poet could not understand the language she was singing in. Also according to Dorothy, the poet’s sister, who has also  written in her Recollections of a tour in Scotland that the idea for the poem was suggested with an excerpt from Thomas Wilkin’s Tour in Scotland. The melody of the song was so powerful, he could bear it in his heart for a longtime. The poet has a series of five Lucy poems and Lucy Gray is one of them about actual human beings and their sufferings.  Whereas, Devakotā’s Ek Akelī Ghasiyā  or a solitary reaper, from Sundarijal at the north east corner of Kathmandu Valley,  also appears, actually cutting grass or fodder for her cattle. Nepal is a agricultural country and 'grass cutting' or collecting fodder in the jungle is a day to day routine job. 

Sundarijal is a small but beautiful place with some springs, inhabited by mostly ethnic Tāmāṅg peoples and it is not that difficult to reach there either.  The Tāmāṅgs of Nepal have their own distinct language and culture which Maḥākavi Devakotā understood very well. His Mheṅdu and Lhunī  are other two lyrical ballads, also seem to be written in series against these backdrops : Mheṅdu was composed after the poet’s Gosāikuṇḍ  visit and  Lhunī   on the other hand, was composed describing some festivals, it seems so, in Helambu. These areas are the homelands of Tāmāṅg people whose songs are quite popular in Nepal.

So, Wordsworth’s reaper is all alone, single and solitary and sings melancholy song which, the poet fails to understand totally. He does not know for what was she singing about, after all ?

Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again? (The Solitary Reaper)

Whereas Devakotā’s Ghasiyā or the reaper, sings in a valley of  Sundarijal.  But seemingly, the poet understood what she was singing about in Tāmāṅg language. That was probably not a melancholy song about  anything of the past or sorrow, loss or pain.

Ek akelī, nayan-ujyaḷī,
Badan hasilī, gālā lāl,
Halukā ghuṅgur ghanā manmohan
Cumbit, saras, subhāl  (Tinko Ghaṣiyā Gīt)

The reaper here also is young and all alone, has bright eyes, charming reddish-cheeked smiling face, beautifully black little curly hair that the wind seemed caressing. The poet does not have any melancholic and distressful experience for the readers here. It appears, she sang a beautiful song:

Sundarijalmā, śītal  thalmā
Gāin tinle  ghasiyā gīt (Tinko  Ghasiyā Gīṭ)

In a shady Sundarijal  valley, the reaper sang a ghasiyā gīt, that is a local song, which probably was beautiful, profound and perhaps of some  young hearts' love song.

Both Wordsworth  and Devakoṭā have natural settings within which is a place for an individual always. What Wordsworth believes in is that a poetry is the "spontaneous overflow of emotions" and which Devakotā also seems to have agreed completely. 

The Longfellow House and Devakotā Kavikūj

The Longfellow House in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
There is a  house at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge here called - Longfellow House. I have visited this house a few times already. It  was  a home of a noted US poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882). He stayed there for almost fifty years. While in the early teens, in my school, Shree Shakti Vidyalaya High School, Gorkha (it was so named while I was a student there), I had to study Longfellow’s poem A Psalm of Life  also and I had some respect for the poet. When I came here  and saw this house in front of me, named after him, I was amazed. I can still remember our Head Teacher  Mohan Narayan Shrestha, who taught us English, reciting the last stanza  of the poem here:

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.  (A Psalm of Life)

The house is now recognized as  a historic site and protected accordingly by The Longfellow Trust which was created in 1913. This house was owned previously by General George Washington, the first President of United States of America. So it is a historic monument now. On Sundays, I can see many people lining up here in front of this house. 

But, I have not been able to hear anything about preserving  Devakotā’s Kavikuj   in  Kathmandu’s Dillibazar which I think, I have also visited or seen many times from a distance.  Should concerned people wait Nepal Government for doing any preservation works of the Kavikuj  - that is to say the great poet’s house ?  Can’t we do anything about preserving Kavikuj? If we so did, that would also be a solemn tribute to the poet while we celebrate his birth anniversaries annually all over the world .