Chundi Ramgha, Tanahu District, Nepal
Bhanubhakta Acharya (Nepali: भानुभक्त आचार्य) (1814–1868) was a Nepali poet who translated the Ramayana from Sanskrit to Nepali. He was born in 1814 in Chundi Ramgha in the district of Tanahu, and was educated at home by his grandfather, Shri Krishna Acharya. His father Dhananjaya Acharya was a government official who worked for General Amar Singh Thapa, Governor of Palpa in western Nepal.
Bhanubhakta is considered the first poet writing in Nepali language. Poets before him in Nepal usually wrote in Sanskrit. One of his writings is well known for its colorful, flowing praise of Kathmandu valley and its inhabitants.
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 which evolved into present day Nepali was considered bastardized and limited to speech. Sanskrit dominated most of the written texts of South Asia and its influence was particularly strong in Nepal. 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.
Everyday I see kind authorities and they get rid of my worries. I am at peace and at night I watch dances for free. I do what my friends – mosquitoes, fleas, and bedbugs – say: the mosquitoes sing and the ticks dance, I watch their play. I was jobless, wealth-less, my hard-earned food came from the spade, I served those people so everyone would notice me and give me respect. Without wavering I served and they were pleased and they gave overflowing attention that is never, ever, taken away. I am 40, I have a son who is eight years old. The time for celebrating his manhood-ceremony is close. I am rotting inside these four walls, so what can I do, my Lord? How can I complete the ceremony in this darkness-filled world. The secret of success should be given by the father, the lessons of life should be given by the mother, my child has yet to study the Vedas and serve his teacher, therefore to you, my Owner, I repeat my prayer. Even while a great ruler like you own this earth, a Brahmin’s rituals of manhood are being delayed. Whose feet do I have to place my sorrow at except yours? Please take pity on me and decide my case for better or worse. My body is weak, it is made of grain and water. How shall I say what has befallen me here? I have suffered much sorrow, my body grows heavy, and I have been ill for many days. I was imprisoned for a long time at Kumarichowk, illness came upon me there and after much trouble I went home. When I became well they brought me here, now you, my Owner, you are my only hope. Whatever I explained to the authorities in writing is true. But others’ answers and written proofs, I am told, have proved wrong all that I have said. I told them I would pay their fines a thousand-fold. But they say they have signatures on papers and letters, they say their witnesses have many more tales. I said I would not plead, I would rather be false, I will say anything that gets me outside these walls. I have no wish to spend the rest of my life in this quarrel. I have no wish to become a millionaire and fill my house with treasures. Days pass by uselessly and I cannot comfort myself if you would decide my case it would be a great help. I have talked with the warden and he does not speak. Even if he does, his: “tomorrow, tomorrow,” sounds like a joke. What are these tomorrows? It would be better to know I won’t be freed. Many tomorrows passed. Please fill this empty bag of mine, I beg.
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 i
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