Early Life of Raghunath Choudhuri
Born at Laopara in the undivided Kamrup district in 1879, Raghunath Choudhury had his early schooling at Guwahati. He served as a teacher in a primary school and gave up the job after a few months. After relinquishing this teaching job, he did open a cabbage farm at Bondarkhat (near modern Noonmati where the oil refinery is established). He used to live in the sleepy hamlet surrounded by a lush green forest and from then, he devoted himself to poetry amidst the all pervading tranquillity of the surroundings, side by side with his ploughing of the land. The scenic excellence of Bondarkhat left an indelible imprint on the mind of the poet. Raghunath had a poetic bent of mind since his early days. His first poem, published in Jonaki, an Assamese monthly brought out from Kolkata, ushered his maiden appearance in the firmament of Assamese literature. He was the editor of a children's journal Moina (1923) and Jayanti (1936-38) and then Surabhi (1940-42-44). He also composed some poetical works. Mention may be made of Keteki (1918), Karbala (1923), Dahikatara (1931), Sadari (1940) and Navamallika (1958). He died on November 5, 1967.
Features of Raghunath Choudhuri's Poetry
Two different distinct trends in Choudhury's poems s generally found- one sensual and the other spiritual. While the love of physical beauty, human love and affection find their full expression in one; spiritualism, devotion to knowledge and renunciation is found in the other one. These two trends pervaded the poetic creations of Raghunath. Despite the glaring differences between these two - there seemed to be room for reconciliation, but it sometimes led to conflict of thoughts where deep passionate feelings of the poet found a fuller expression. One may refer to his various poems on birds and flowers in this context. He led a very solitary life amidst vast green stillness, where beautiful objects of Nature in brilliant colours quietened his poetic mind and in turn, Nature's lush beauty found beautiful expression in his poems. The panoramic beauty of the place brought the delicious aura of peace and calm to Raghunath, which helped him immensely in contributing considerably to the domain of Assamese literature as a bird-poet (Bihogi Kobi). His poetical works, such as Dahikatara, Keteki, Bohagir Biya, etc. are creations of superb beauty.
The second trend had brought a marked change in the feelings of the poet, which makes room for spiritual thought and meditation. The poem Phula Sayya shows the second trend which is tinged with the note of sadness. His observation of Nature was very keen and his insatiable attachment to Nature's hidden beauty defies comparison. To speak the truth, Raghunath's love of Nature is unique and uncommon in Assamese literature. A thorough and consummate study of Kalidasa's treatises enriched his language and poetic gifts. His very first collection of poems, Sadari (The Darling), shows a preference on the part of the poet for birds, flowers and gardens. This was followed by two long poems published separately viz., Keteki (The Indian Nightingale) and Dahikatara (The Wag-tail). In these two poems, the bird-theme, firmly established in the mind of the poet, is projected with admirable skill and penetrating vision. In Sadari poems like Bahagir Biya (Marriage of May), Govan heebarmor Priya Bihangini (Wilt thou sing but once, thou darling Bird?), and Keteki Carai give vivid and charming pictures of bird-life and the plant world. He finds sermons in stones and books in the running brooks. His nature poems fall into two categories- those that give objective descriptions of Nature and her objects, and those in which Nature is ornamental filigree for the human fabric. In the former, Nature luxuriates in her abundance and ecstasy, while in the latter she generates enthusiasm in man. His Bahagir Biya is a recreation of Nature's own festival. The bride, Bahagi (May), daughter of spring, is to be given in marriage.
On this auspicious occasion, plants and shrubs and trees have put forth new foliage and blossoms, while birds and insects are piping and dancing in overwhelming joy. The poet exploits this scheme to describe the beauties of Nature that -have appealed to him. The central idea of his Keteki is the renaissance of Nature with the return of the bird to earth. The song of the Keteki is some "unbodied joy", a delightful symphony of perfection incomprehensible to man. The poem begins in this attitude of wonder and mystery, and is sustained through five sections. After the wonder of the first section is over, the poet tries to grasp the inner truth of the bird's song. Through intuition the poet realises that in this world of cares and miseries, wherever there is any joy, that joy is nothing but an echo and effect of the bird's song. The second section contains many charming pictures of the love and joy that the bird's song generates in the world of nature and man. These pictures, by their fidelity to Assamese life and nature, easily captivate the mind.
In the third section the poet imaginatively visualises the flood of delight that the bird's song let loose in the legendary and mythical world of man. Sakuntala in Kanva's hermitage, Princess Damayanti of Vidarbha and Ushadevi of Sonitpur, the newly-wedded Yaksha of Alaka, and the Gopinis (milk-maids) of Gokula-all became engrossed in and overwhelmed with love by the bird-song. In the fourth section the poet finds that the bird's music has charmed not only people of the past nor only objects at all times, but has thrilled the life stream running tirelessly around, above, below, and flowing through everything. The bird's music it is that calls forth rumbles of clouds and sparks of lightning, the dance of milkmaids, and the ebb and tide of the Yamuna River. In the fifth section the structure raised by the poet's 'imagination topples down, the bird disappears, and the poet is again aware of sordid realities. The poem runs a full cycle returning finally to the bosom of Nature whence it first emanated. Campbell and others rightly observe that such 'cyclic poems', taxing the poet's highest technical skill, are very difficult to compose. The Dahikatara, composed in 1910, is a love lyric, singularly free from any sensuous taint. The poet imagines this bird as his beloved throughout the poem. It should be remembered that the poet is a life-long celibate. That Nature becomes endowed with beauty when the beloved comes in is, of course, an old poetic convention. Our poet adopts the same convention, but here a bird replaces the beloved of other poets. Besides, the bird brings to the poet's fancy a memory of the past, which, like a flower now past its springtide of beauty, has become faded and withered. Raghunath Chaudhari was largely influenced by Sanskrit literature. He has not only made the traditional use of nature for comparison and contrast but has also adopted numerous Sanskrit fables, anecdotes, allegories, episodes, similes and image. Of the Sanskrit works, again, those of Kalidasa cast a remarkable spell over him.