GORKHA LITERARY CULTURE: Bhanubhakta Acharya’s 196th Birth Anniversary – evolution from Sanskrit to Khas Kura, to Nepali, to Gorkhali ?!!
Bhanubhakta (1814-1868) was a Nepali poet who translated the great epic “Ramayana” from Sanskrit to Nepali. Born to a Brahmin family in 1814 in Tanahu, he received at home an excellent education with a strong leaning towards religion from his grandfather.
After the fall of the Khas Empire in the 15th century, its language, Khas Kura, which evolved into the present day Nepali and further into Indian Gorkhali, was considered changed from Khas kura and limited to speech. Sanskrit dominated most of the written texts of South Asia and its influence was particularly strong in Nepal and amongst the Indian Gorkhas.
Brahmins were the teachers, scholars and priests of the society by virtue of their caste. Their education was Sanskrit-oriented since most religious texts of the Hindu religion were in that language.
Many wrote poetry that was too heavily Sanskritized. Bhanubhakta was definitely “the” writer who gained the acceptance of a wide range of people and his creations played a key role in popularizing the written form of the Khas language.
Bhanubhakta’s contribution was unique. Children who received an education at the time began their studies with light epics such as the “Ramayan” and graduated to the more complex “Upanishads” and “Vedas.”
Ram’s heroic exploits were highly impressive to Bhanubhakta, so he decided to make the deity more accessible to the people who spoke Khas. (Since the social order did not encourage literacy, most country people did not understand anything when epics were read out to them in Sanskrit.)
When completed, his translation of the Ramayan was so lyrical that it was more like a song than a poem.
Bhanubhakta did not study Western literature. All his ideas and experiences were derived from his native land. This lent such a strong Nepali flavor to his writing that few poets have been able to equal his simple creations in terms of content: a sense of religion, a sense of simplicity, and the warmth of his country are the strongest features of his poetry. Those who read the first lines of the Bhanubhakta Ramayan can clearly feel Nepal in them.
Bhanubhakta was a young boy from a wealthy family and was leading an unremarkable life until he met a grass cutter who wanted to give something to society so that he could be remembered after death too. After listening to the grass cutter Bhanubhakta felt ashamed of himself. So by the inspiring words of the grass cutter, he wrote these lines:
He gives his life to cutting grass and earns little money, he hopes to make a well for his people so he will be remembered after death, this high thinking grass cutter lives in poverty, I have achieved nothing, though I have much wealth. I have neither made rest houses nor a well, all my riches are inside my house. This grass cutter has opened my eyes today, my life is worthless if the memory of my existence fades away.
Bhanubhakta wrote two masterpieces in his life.
One, obviously, is the “Bhanubhaktey Ramayan” and the other is a letter he wrote in verse form to the prime minister while in prison. Due to some misunderstanding in signing the papers, he was made a scapegoat and put into prison. His health became bad and he was given false hopes of being set free. For a long time his case was not even heard. So he wrote a petition to the all-powerful prime minister requesting his freedom.
Bhanubhakta not only won his freedom with his poem, but was given a bag of money as well. So passed the most dangerous and exciting time of his life. He died in 1868 as a simple man who did not know he would be among the most revered poets of Nepal. Perhaps, it is only he and Laxmi Prasad Devkota that have become literary gods in this country. The only difference between the two is that Devkota’s works continue to enjoy as much celebrity as the great poet himself, while Bhanubhakta’s fame tends to overshadow his writings.
However, his creation was not published and he was to die without receiving credit for his contribution. It was in 1887 that Moti Ram Bhatta found his manuscript and printed it in Benaras, India.