Elangbam Nilakanta
The Poet and critic

Oinam Anand*

The life of Shree E. Nilakanta was a fruitful one and he was a man remarkable for his influence in Manipuri literature both as a poet and as a critic.

His friends and acquaintances who have given their own impression of him are unanimous on the point of his being immaculately dressed gentleman, soft spoken, self-composed and at the same time a man of immense erudition.

To him, the poets and critics of today look as the pioneer of the modern Manipur poetry, who revolutionized the literary taste of the post world period in Manipur.

Shri Nilakanta Singh was born on the 4th October 1927 at Keisamthong Elangbam Leikai, Imphal. He was the eldest of three sons and five daughters of Elangbam Bokul Singh and Lakhi Devi. His father was a teacher in a lower Primary school and was posted at Churachandpur.

Nilakanta began his first schooling in a school in Churachandpur. Thus at the very outset of his student life he began to mix with the beautiful surroundings of nature.

He then continued his study at Johnston School Imphal and passed the matriculation examination in 1945. He passed I.A. from Murarichand College Sylhet (now in Bangladesh), passed B.A, M.A, and LLB from Gauhati University.

After passing M.A. in 1952, he joined D.M. College as a lecturer in Philosophy. He retired as a Director of Social Welfare, Art and Culture Govt. of Manipur in 1986.

After that he worked in different capacities such as consultant of Manipur University (1989) Senior fellow of Govt. of India (1989), Faculty member of Philosophy in M.U.(1996-97). He was associated wioth many literary, and social and cultural organisations.

To name a few, General Secretary of Manipuri Sahitya Parishad((1958, 1964-68) President (1993-94). He was an executive member of the Parishad till his death.

He was also associated with The Cultural Forum manipur, Naharol Sahitya Premi Samity, Arvindo Society, Geeta Mandal, ISKCON, Mutua Museum, Divine life Society, I.N. Dance acadamy, etc.

Two dominant trail in Nilakanta's personality were, his literary sensibility as a poet and his deep philosophic contemplation of aesthetics. He was a great poet, writer and thinker.

His published works include

  1. Achaiba lei (poetry 1957)
  2. Manipuri Kabitagi Chhanda Neinaba (1968)
  3. Chatlaseene Kadaidano Ebani (poetry 1971)
  4. Matamgi Wakhal (poetry 1973)
  5. Tritha Yatra (poetry 1985)
  6. Sankrit Ki Salon (prose 1991)
  7. Houjiki Sahitya Amasung Sanskriti (prose 1998)
  8. Frangments of Manipuri Culture
  9. Aspect of Indian Culture (1997)
  10. Manipur Dance (1997)
  11. Monograph on Bhadra
  12. Monograph on Pandit Atombapu Sharma (1998)
His travelogue 'America Ga Unaba' (link here) and Collection of poem 'America Gi Esai' was published after his death. He received the Sahitya Academy Award on his poem 'Tritha Yatra' in 1987. He was conferred with 'Padmashree' in 1999.

The poem, 'Manipur' of Nilakanta makes an appeal beyond its own time. The poem was written in 1948, a period of change for a new order in the social set up of Manipur.

The post second world war, particularly in the late 40's when India got independence and Manipur merged to India, uncertainty prevailed in the sky of Manipur.

Consequently values and attitudes to life and social and political question of the time acquired a new dimension. And that is what the poem 'Manipur' tells about, socialism, of the new kind divert from idealism.

It has the ring of being more immediately contemporary to us than that of many poets of the younger generation of today. It is because that the revolution in the poetic craft and expression that Nilakanta had quietly set in motion is still continuing with us. His diagnosis of the eighties as are even relevant to this beginning of this 21st century Manipur also.

Nilakanta vastly read in Philosophy, metaphysics, theology and world literature, specially works of Tagore in literature and that of Shri Arbindo in spiritualism. He, in course of his development as a poet, Philosopher and a thinker imbibed influences from a large variety of men, philosophers, thinkers and of course poets and assimilated them so completely into his own sensibility.

So, in this sense, therefore he was one of the most conscious and critically alert poets in the history of Manipuri Literature, in whom one can see critical intelligence or looking or thinking at the work of art added to his poetic faculty.

A few peculiar facts about Nilakanta, the critic should be noted at the outset, first, Nilakanta has not written a single book of criticism. Most of his critical writings were found originally written in the form of reviews of books poetry, short stories etc. in the form of reviews of books, written for various literary and semi-literary journals, and seminar papers.

Such type of writings demanded hasty writing and offered no scope for any close and detailed analysis of literary works which enables a reader to know more about Nilakanta as a literary critic.

But his general statement on the given topic is a result of vast reading, sharp response to the literary trend of the time and the good deal of thought applied to them that each general statement is gnomic, a marvel of compression and precision, which eventually account for the deep and lasting impact on the literary sensibility of Manipur Literature.

What was however vitally alive in Nilakanta was his sensibility with which he sensed the deeper issues of life and absorbed the shocks both of personal and impersonal life.

(On the 11th of February 2000, Padmashree Elangbam Nilakanta Singh left this temporal world of birth and death for his eternal adobe in heaven. This article is written in his memory on his death Anniversary)

* Oinam Anand wrote regularly for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on April 30, 2008.

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