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Mahadevi Verma (26 March 1907 – 11 September 1987) was best known as an outstanding Hindi poet, and was a freedom fighter, woman’s activist and educationist from India. She is widely regarded as the “modern Meera”. She was a major poet of the Chhayavaad generation, a period of romanticism in Modern Hindi poetry ranging from 1914–1938.With the passage of time, her limited but outstanding prose has been recognised as unique in Hindi literature. She was a prominent poet in Hindi Kavi sammelans(Gatherings of poets).
She was the Principal, and then the Vice-Chancellor of Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth, a woman’s residential college in Allahabad. She was awarded India’s highest literary award, for lifetime achievement, the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 1979, followed by the Jnanpith Award in 1982.She was the recipient of the Padma Bhushan in 1956 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1988, India’s third and second highest civilian awards respectively.
Mahadevi was born in Farukhabad in a “kayastha” family of lawyer.She was educated at Jabalpur-Madhya Pradesh her early studies included Sanskrit, Braj and painting. She was the eldest child of Govinda Prasad Verma and Hema Rani and had two brothers, Jagmohan and Manmohan, and a sister, Shyaama.
Her marriage was arranged and conducted when she was nine years old, in 1916 however, she remained at her parental home and continued her education at Crossthwaite Girls’ School in Allahabad. At this school, she also met fellow student Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, who would later go on to become a prominent Hindi writer and poet, like Verma herself. She stayed with her parents while her husband studied in Lucknow to complete his education, during which time, she received her higher education at the Allahabad University and passed her B.A.examination in 1929 and completed her master’s degree-M.A. in Sanskrit in 1933.
Mahadevi was originally admitted to a Convent school, but upon protests and an unwilling attitude, she took admission in Crosthwaite Girls College in Allahabad.According to Mahadevi, she learnt the strength of unity in the hostel at Crosthwaite, where students of different religions lived together and the mess was also according to the religious requirement.Mahadevi started to write poems secretly but upon discovery of her hidden stash of poems by her roommate and senior Subhadra Kumari Chauhan (known in the school for writing poems), her hidden talent was exposed. Mahadevi and Subhrada now started to write poems together in their free time.
While others used to play outside, me and Subhrada used to sit on a tree, and let our creative thoughts flow together. She used to write in Khariboli, and soon I also started to write in Khariboli. this way, we used to write one or two poems a day.
— Mahadevi Varma, Mere Bachpan Ke Din
She and Subhrada also used to send poems to publications such as weekly magazines, and managed to get some of their poems published. Both poets also attended poetry seminars, where they met eminent Hindi poets, and read out their poems to the audience. This partnership continued till Subhrada graduated from Crosthwaite.
In her childhood biography Mere Bachpan Ke Din (My Childhood Days), Mahadevi Verma has written that at a time when a girl child was considered a burden upon the family, she was very fortunate to be born into a liberal family. Her grandfather reportedly had the ambition of making her a scholar although he insisted that she comply with tradition and marry at the age of nine, her mother was fluent in Sanskrit and Hindi, and very religious.Mahadevi credits her mother for inspiring her to write poems, and to take an interest in literature.
Following her graduation in 1929, Mahadevi Verma refused to comply with tradition and live with her husband, Dr Swarup Narain Verma; she even unsuccessfully tried to convince him to remarry.She is reported to have considered becoming a Buddhist nun but eventually chose not to, although she studied Buddhist Pali and Prakrit texts as part of her master’s degree.
In 1930 Varma began teaching at village schools around Allahabad.Although she did not actively participate in political activities, particularly in Gandhian civil disobedience campaigns in Allahabad at this time, she adopted Gandhian ideals, including giving up speaking in English, and dressing primarily in khadi.She was appointed as the first headmistress of Allahabad (Prayag) Mahila Vidyapeeth in 1933, a private college which was started with a view to imparting cultural and literary education to girls through the Hindi medium.Later, she became the chancellor of this institute. During her time at the Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth, she organised several conferences of poets, or Kavi Sammelans, as well as a conference for writers of short stories (Galpa Sammelan) in 1936, that was presided over by writer Sudakshina Varma.
She also continued to write extensively while teaching, including editorials for the Hindi magazine Chand, which she contributed to, edited, and also illustrated. In her editorials she surveyed Hindi literature, especially literature by women, and argued for women writers to have greater confidence in the value of their literary contributions. These editorials were later collected and published in a volume titled Srinkhala ke Kariyan (The Links of Our Chains) in 1942.
After the death of her husband in 1966, she moved permanently to Allahabad and lived there until her death.
Mahadevi is considered to be one of the four major poets of the Chhayavaadi school of the Hindi literature, others being Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Jaishankar Prasad and Sumitranandan Pant. She was also a noted painter. She drew a number of illustrations for her poetic works like Hindi and Yama. One of her other works is Neelkanth which talks about her experience with a peacock, which is included as a chapter into the syllabus of Central Board of Secondary Education for 7th graders is a very good real story of two peacocks named radha and neelkanth . She has also written Gaura which is based on her real life, in this story she wrote about a beautiful cow. Mahadevi Verma is also known for her childhood memoir, Mere Bachpan Ke Din and Gillu, which was inducted into the syllabus of India’s Central Board of Secondary Education for the 9th grade.In addition, her poem “Madhur Madhur Mere Deepak Jal” is a part of CBSE curricullum(Hindi-B) for 10th grade.
The following are works of Mahadevi Verma’s that employ her pets as characters central to that respective work:
Compilations from these collections have been published under various titles. Some of them include:
The additional feature in these collections is a new “Bhoomikas” or introdictory note written in the inimitable style of Mahadevi. She has written many notable stories, such as:
The late scholar and translator, David Rubin, says of Varma’s writing, “What arrests us in Mahadevi’s work is the striking originality of the voice and the technical ingenuity which enabled her to create in her series of mostly quite short lyrics throughout her five volumes a consistently evolving representation of total subjectivity measured against the vastness of cosmic nature with nothing, as it were, intervening—no human social relationships, no human activities beyond those totally metaphorical ones involving weeping, walking the road, playing the vina, etc.” He later admits, “She demands of her readers both great patience and a near-ecstatic absorption.”
Mahadevi Verma’s creative talents and sharp intellect soon earned her a prominent place in the Hindi Literary world. She is considered among the four pillars of the Chaayavad movement. In 1934, she received Sekseriya Puraskar from the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan for her work, Niraja. Her poetry collection (Yama, -1936) received the Jnanpith Award, one of the highest Indian literary awards.
The Government of India bestowed her with Padma Bhushan,in 1956, India’s third-highest civilian award. She was the first woman to be awarded the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, in 1979. In 1988, Indian Government bestowed her with Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award.
Although she is frequently referred to as a ‘modern Meera’,critics and writers Susie Tharu and Ke. Lalita argue that this characterisation does a disservice to the breadth and scope of Mahadevi Varma’s works by focusing on personal, and devotional aspects of her writing, and ignoring her political and social commentary. This is in opposition to contemporary criticism, which often challenged Varma’s works as not being political or critical enough.