Muna-Madan narrates the story of every Nepali house from which a male character leaves for a foreign country with the dream of making enough money to satisfy the needs and aspirations of the family. Madan, the protagonist of this narrative written in jhyaure folk meter, decides to try his luck in Lhasa from where he does not make it back home on time to avoid a family tragedy.
About the Author
Maha kavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota (1909-1959) is one of the most eminent poets of modern Nepal. He has composed epics like Shakuntala and Sulochana, and several long narrative poems such as Muna-Madan, Maina, Mayavini Sarsi and others. Besides poetry, he also excelled at personal essays that have been collected in Laxmi Nibandba Sangraha and Dadimko Rukhanera. In addition to this, he has also written several plays, mostly lyrical ones, and one-act plays besides a novel titled Champa. Many of his short-stories have been collected under the title Laxmi Katha Sangraha. He started the tradition of writing originally in English and of translating Nepali works into English. His vision, imagination and mastery over the language lift him to unsurpassed literary eminence.
Note on Nepali Literature
Laxmi Prasad Devkota (1909-1959) wrote Muna-Madan in 1936. From its first appearance, this long narrative poem gradually gripped a large audience and has remained one of the best-sellers ever since. An attempt to explain how it was able to do so will reveal to us one of the best moments in Nepali literature.
Before Devkota, Nepali literary writing dwelt on eulogies of heroes and rulers (1744-1815), sang the glory of gods (1816-1882) and delighted in descriptions of erotic love (1883-1917) before it started speaking more particularly of the society and its daily problems and issues (1918-1950). Briefly, each of these above practices is labelled the Heroic Age, the Age of Devotional Poetry, the Age of Amorous or Erotic Poetry and the Pre-Modern Age, respectively. This nomenclature broadly describes the dominant theme of writing at the time but tells us nothing about the quality or characteristic features of literature of the day. Similarly, critics like to place the Modern Age of Nepali literature close to the political upheaval of 1951. On February 18 of this year, at the end of a long people's movement, the Rana rule (1846-1951) came to an end and the Shah dynasty was restored to the throne of Nepal. Proud of their achievement, people hailed February 18 as Democracy Day and, since this was the beginning of new dreams of the Nepali people, literary critics too found it convenient to accept it as the beginning of a literary modernity although attitudes had crossed the demarcation between tradition and modernity long before this date. Without going into the historical details, let us look briefly at the literary scene to better understand what Devkota has generally accomplished as a poet and more particularly in this very popular long narrative poem.
At this point, we will, however, do well to remember that Nepali language derives from Pali but continues borrowing heavily from Sanskrit, which has greatly influenced it, especially its syntax and vocabulary. In the days when Sanskrit education was the norm, it was the language of the elite class and of literary creations. The less educated lower classes spoke Nepali, which the elite class looked down upon as being inadequate for finer cultural expressions. This partly explains why poets of the Heroic Age contributed to the formation of Nepali as a medium of literary expression by the mere act of writing in the vernacular. They helped the language grow from seed to sapling. Although they mostly wrote eulogies of rulers and great warriors, they used Nepali as a medium of literary expression. However, one of the most important works of this age remains Divya Upadesh (or Divine Counsel) by King Prithivinarayan Shah (1723-1775), the unifier of modern Nepal. This work centres on the principles of governance, national security and prosperity. It remains not just one of the earliest influential works in Nepali writing but a major corner-stone of the nation-building act.
In a sense, Nepali literature immediately before Devkota had focused on the deities whose influence on human life and conditions was accepted as a given fact beyond any need for rational explanation. Humans did not understand divine logic. So, death, misery, natural calamities and everything that Fate decreed was deemed inevitable and for the general good of humanity, as Krishna also suggests in the Gita. In keeping with this logic, a group of unquestioning poets wrote devotional songs of Krishna. A different group found their ideal person in Rama, another avatar of Vishnu, and wrote devotional lyrics in his praise. The Nepali vernacular, preparing its first literary delicacies, spiced it abundantly with Sanskrit terms and expressions. It was at this point in Nepali literary history that Bhanubhakta Acharya (1814-1868) appeared on the scene. He wrote profusely in the vernacular not only about the gods but also about people in general, about his own experience in the prison as well as of bureaucratic hassles. Remaining very devotional, he made a great leap in language. He wrote wonderful Nepali poetry in classical Sanskrit meters, proving once and for all that the vernacular was as powerful a medium of literary expression as any. His Nepali rendition of the Ramayana brought the vernacular to its first fruition and was received very well by a God-fearing people who memorized large portions of this epic text and chanted them aloud during wedding ceremonies and other public events. Bhanubhakta's Ramayana attested to the plasticity of the vernacular at a time when the language of the elite class was still Sanskrit. Nepali syntax and vocabulary fit perfectly well into the Sanskrit classical meters of the Ramayana. Though he was among the last singers of the Age of Devotional Poetry, Bhanubhakta is today regarded as Adikavi or the first major poet of Nepali literature.
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