Chakrapani Chalise bridged the two eras of Nepali literature—the romantic period represented by Motiram Bhatta and modern age beginning with Lekhanath Poudyal’s emergence. Motiram Bhatta’s period was indeed a beginning of the renaissance in the Nepali literature. During this period several writers revived and enriched the Nepali language and literature for which Motiram’s role and contribution was colossal. After Motiram’s demise, there was a big void in the field of Nepali language and literature. Chakrapani Chalise came in to fill upthat void in Nepali literature to a large degree. It is for this reason why Chakrapani Chalise is regarded as an important figure in the Nepali language and literature.
Chalise was born in Katunje of Bhaktapur, in the Kathmandu Valley, to Prem Lal Chalise and Chandra Maya Chalise in 1940 BS. His father was a government clerk under Rana regime. When young Chakrapani Chalise was just three years old, a great misfortune fell upon him. His mother Chandra Maya passed away in 1943 BS. After mother’s demise, Chakrapani underwent many sufferings as his father wedded another woman. Although his father did his best for the son’s good bringing up, it was not possible in the absence of motherly love and care. However, her maternal grandmother came in to take custody of young Chalise. With grandmother’s love and care, Chalise grew up happily. Later when he came back to parents’ house, he had to suffer a lot due to his step mother’s ill treatment. Despite ill-treatment, Chalise always respected and took care of his step-mother. In 1952 BS, he enrolled on Tindhara Pathsala, a Sanskrit school, in Kathmandu. During Chalise’s time, early marriage was the established practice especially in Brahmin culture and as per the family tradition, Chalise got married at the tender age of 12 with Gayatri Devi. His wife was much younger than Chalise.
Although Tindhara Pathsala was in Nepal, the examinations used to be conducted in Benaras, India. Chalise, therefore, went to Benaras to sit for the examination of intermediate level in Sanskrit (Madhyama). During that time in Benaras, some Nepali youths had started a literary organization through which they used to carry out different activities. The organization had planned to bring out a literary magazine called ‘Sundari’. Chalise also took part in this initiative and joined the magazine as an assistant editor. This was the time when his writing career began.
As an assistant editor, his responsibilities were multiple—writing, editing, publishing and managing the magazine. He wrote several poems during the period he worked for the magazine. Most of his poems written during that period were published in the Sundari magazine. The rest were also published in ‘Madhavi’, another magazine published from Benaras.
Since then Chalise continued to write and his works were published in different newspapers and journals of that time both in Nepal and India. He returned to Kathmandu after a few years’ stay in Benaras. In Kathmandu, Chalise started working as a private tutor for survival. Gorkha Bhasa Prakashini Samiti (Gorkha Language Publication Committee) was set up in 1970 BS. Chalise got an opportunity to work in this newly founded literary organization. During that time Nepali language was more popularly known as Gorkha language. Chalise’s job in the committee was to write and edit. During the period, he worked for the Gorkha Language Publication Committee. He wrote and edited many essays and books. But he did not publish them in his name. The name of Gorkha Language Publication Committee was later renamed as the Nepali Bhasa Prakashini Samiti (Nepali Language Publication Committee) in the initiative of Chalise.
He joined Gorkhapatra Weekly (now daily) in 1998 BS but did not work in the newspaper for a long time.
His wife and son died almost in the same year and he developed depression for sometimes. The mental depression disrupted his writing. For some years, he did not write at all because of his mental disturbance. But he quickly recovered and again revived his writing genius. It is said that many works of Chalise were not published. Whatever works have been published are just a tip of an iceberg compared to the large volumes of works he wrote. It is said that some of his works were published in others’ name and some perished in course of time. In recognition to his contribution to Nepali language and literature, the Royal Nepal Academy (now Nepal Academy) posthumously honoured Chalise with prestigious Tribhuvan Academic Award.
Chalise has contributed to different genres of literature. His works are mainly divided into four categories. They are poems, translated works mainly from Sanskrit to Nepali, Nepali dictionaries and others. His main published works are: Machchhindranath Ko Katha (Story of Machchhindranath), Niti Ratna Manjusa, Nepali Samchhipta Ramayana, Nepali Samchhipta Mahabharat, Meghdoot Chhaya, Ishabasyopanishad, Nepali Bagalikosh, Sahitya Mimamsa, Manusmriti, Chakra Kabita Tarangini, Jaimaniya Bharat and Bhagawatibhola Bhajanmala.
Chalise is a multi-dimensional personality. His is a poet, prose writer, translator, linguist and dictionary composer. As a good poet he has written several poems with social and moral themes. As he studied Sanskrit, clear influence of Sanskrit could be seen in his poems. He has followed the rules of Sanskrit verses and his poems are written in meters. His poems carry oriental values as the poet was highly influenced by oriental philosophy of life and literature. He in a way carried the legacy of Bhanubhakta Acharya’s poetic writing.
In the branch of poetry, Chalise mainly focused on the devotional, historical and moral education. This was because of the time and situation. Although Chalise’s period was a height of intellectual rebirth in Europe, Nepal was under the Rana’s autocratic rule which had summarily denied all kinds of creative works and free writing. Moreover, Chalise was educated and trained to serve the government. He studied Sanskrit which often likened the kings and rulers as the divine representatives to rule over the subjects. He was devout Hindu who believed that kings were the savior of the people and it was a kind of sin to criticize the kings and the rulers. The Ranas who were the virtual rulers in Nepal had declared themselves as the representatives of the kings. Chalise was influenced by this belief and he often eulogized the kings and rulers. Chalise composed a song that highly eulogized the king. His poem " Shree Man Ghambira Nepali Prachanda Pratapi Bhupati ………." which was treated as a national anthem of Nepal during the Panchayat regime and continued even after the political change that ushered in democratic system in 1990 until it was cancelled after Nepal was declared a republic.
Chalise, who had tremendous literary potentials, often misused this genius by eulogizing the rulers and dictators. His entire life was devoted to the service of the rulers, which some of his poems and works have reflected. But many of his poems have the strong sense of patriotism, moral education and a message of devotion to duty. The words he chose are often borrowed from Sanskrit. In other words, Chalise’s poems are not for the ordinary people. He is thus called a poet of the elites.
Although Chalise is a poet, his contribution is more significant in translation than creative writing. It is not because he lacked talent in creative writing or producing works out of his own imagination. He chose this branch of translation of religious epics because of the time when the creative writing was not often appreciated by the rulers. Moreover, Chalise did not want to annoy and antagonize the rulers. He wrote Ramayana and Mahabharat in Nepali language in a summarized manner. Ramayana had already been translated into Nepali by Bhanubhakta Acharya—the pioneer poet of Nepali language. Chalise’s contribution to write Mahabharata in Nepali language was indeed a laudable work. One had to read Mahabharat either in Sanskrit or Hindi and most of the ordinary Nepali people did understand neither Sanskrit nor Hindi. Chalise’s work to write the Mahabharata in Nepali language not only helped the ordinary Nepali to read and recite this great Hindu epic but also made Mahabharata popular among the Nepalese readers. The popularity of his Mahabharat was high during that time because of lucidity and simplicity in language.
Similarly, he chose to write stories based on legends like story of Machchhindranath alike. At a time when there were a very few reading materials in Nepali language, whatever Chalise produced –whether original writing or translation—were definitely a big contribution to the Nepalese community. The other aspect that one must note with high respect is his works concerning writing Nepali dictionary. During those days, Nepali dictionary was not available and Chalise felt its dire need. This inspired him to write a Nepali dictionary. However, Chalise’s potentials were not fully realized. Instead, his talent and genius were often misused by the rulers of that time. Some critics are of the view that Chalise eulogized the rulers—both Ranas and Shahs— because he was ignorant of the feelings of the people. However, this is a lame excuse. A writer of that stature must understand the feelings of the people. Moreover, writers must represent and project people’s feelings and sentiments. This is Chalise’s weak points. Despite eulogizing the rulers and making such a huge contribution to Nepali language and literature, his life was always full of misery and want. He never took undue advantage from the rulers even if he eulogized them. The legendary writer of Nepali language and literature passed away in 2015 BS.