Kusumagraj Biography


Birthday: February 27, 1912 (Pisces)

Born In: Pune

Vishnu Vaman Shirwadkar, famously known by his sobriquet Kusumagraj, was a Marathi poet, novelist, short story writer, playwright, and also a humanist. His poems revolve around themes of personal freedom, independence, justice, equality, and liberation from oppression. His career began in pre-independent India, and over a period of five decades, he wrote 16 volumes of poems, published three novels and eight volumes of short stories, seven volumes of essays, 18 plays, and six one-act plays. Kusumagraj's most famous collection of lyrics, called the "Vishakha," resonated with the millions fighting in the Indian independence movement and is regarded as a masterpiece in Indian literature. His play "Natsamrat," an adaptation of ‘King Lear,’ has been critically acclaimed and holds a significant place in Marathi literature. Several state and national institutions have recognized him for his achievements in literature. He was awarded the coveted 'Sahitya Akademi Award in Marathi' for "Natsamrat." He was also presented with the 'Padma Bhushan' and 'Jnanapith Award.' He served as the president of several prestigious institutions like 'Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan.' The environment around him influenced his body of work. It reflected the continually evolving social structure and the national freedom struggle before India’s independence. His post-independence work emphasized on social consciousness, which in turn influenced other Marathi writers. It also ushered in the period of modern Dalit literature.
Quick Facts

Indian Celebrities Born In February

Also Known As: Vishnu Vāman Shirwādkar

Died At Age: 87


Spouse/Ex-: Gangubai Sonawni

father: Vishnu Waman Shirwadkar

Born Country: India

Poets Novelists

Height: 5'8" (173 cm), 5'8" Males

Died on: March 10, 1999

place of death: Nashik

More Facts

education: Savitribai Phule Pune University

awards: 1987 - Jnanpith Award
1987 - Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Theatre - Playwriting (Marathi)
1974 - Sahitya Akademi Award for Marathi Writers

Childhood & Early Life
Kusumagraj was born on February 27, 1912, in Pune, India. He was born into a Deshastha Brahmin family. He was named Gajanan Ranganath Shirwadkar by his biological parents, but later was adopted by his uncle who changed his name to Vishnu Vaman Shirwadkar.
He was initially educated in Pimpalgaon, and then was enrolled in the New English School, modern-day J.S. Rungtha High School. He went on to study at the H.P.T College in Nashik and graduated from modern-day Mumbai University.
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Kusumagraj's career began when he was still a student at the H. P. T. College. The ‘Ratnakar’ magazine published his collection of poems.
When he was 20 years old, he stood against the discrimination faced by the communities categorized as “untouchables.” In 1932, he participated in a nonviolent movement (Satyagraha) to support their right to enter the Kalaram Temple in Nashik.
In 1933, he started the "Dhruv Mandal" and also began writing for a newspaper called the "Nava Manu." His first collection of poems called "Jeevanlahari" was also published the same year.
In 1934, he graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in Marathi and English languages.
By 1936, he was working at Godavari Cinetone Ltd. He also wrote the screenplay for the movie "Sati Sulochana" and played the role of Lord Lakshmana. However, the film did not achieve much success.
He also worked as a journalist for several newspapers and periodicals like the ‘Dainik Prabhat,’ ‘Saarathi,’ ‘Navayug,’ ‘Saptahik Prabha,’ and ‘Dhanurdari.’
In 1942, a watershed moment changed the course of his life. His collection of poems known as "Vishakha" was published by Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar. He was impressed by his work and decided to print them at his own expense. He called Kusumagraj a humanist, and his work an apt depiction of the "social discontent" and also the "optimistic conviction" of a new world.
The “Quit India Movement” was in full swing when his poems were published. His poetry became a manifesto of sorts as it contained messages of freedom, encouraging the readers to stand up for themselves. It quickly became popular among young men and women, and eventually became one of his most famous works.
He was also influenced by playwrights, and by 1943, he had adapted several plays by Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Moliere, and Maurice Maeterlinck. He adapted Shakespearean tragedies into Marathi, which enriched the Marathi theatre scene.
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He was also a novelist, and in 1946, he wrote "Vaishnav," his first novel. Kusumagraj also worked as an editor for the periodical "Swadesh" from 1946 to 1948.
He had already established himself as a poet and writer and was well known among the literati. In 1954, he wrote the play "Rajmukut" or "The Royal Crown," which was inspired by Shakespeare's ‘Macbeth.’ Nanasaheb Phatak and Durga Khote were the lead actors in this production.
In the 1960s, he wrote a play adapted from ‘Othello,’ and also worked as a lyricist in the Marathi film industry.
In 1970, he wrote his masterpiece play, the "Natsamrat." Shakespeare's ‘King Lear’ was the inspiration behind the play, and actor Sriram Lagoo played the lead role.
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Social Work
Kusumagraj was actively involved in social work and believed in working towards the well-being of the less privileged. He was also a member of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement.
He worked towards uplifting the “Adivasi” (aborigines) communities. He believed that all sections of the society should be provided equal opportunities for their growth.
He established the "Kusumagraj Pratisthan," an organization involved in various activities like building libraries for children and supporting the Adivasi community. He also provided donations to the organization.
In 1950, he established the "Lokahitawādi Mandal" (organization for social good) in Nashik. He sometimes also edited academic textbooks for school children.
For the Adivasi community, he initiated the "Adivasi Karya Samiti" that focused on adult education and providing medical help. It often held sports and cultural camps as well.
He wanted to provide a platform to different sections of people not only in literature but also in painting, sculpting, dance, music, social work, science, drama, cinema, sports, and other art forms. Therefore in 1992, he helped establish the "Godavari Gaurav" to felicitate the work of many individuals involved in such fields.
Awards & Achievements
In honor of Kusumagraj's contribution to Marathi literature, his birthday, February 27, is celebrated as "Marathi Bhasha Din."
He was the president of the prestigious Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan of 1964, held in Margao, Goa.
He has been honored with numerous awards like the 'Sahitya Akademi Award' (1974), the 'Ram Ganesh Gadkari Award' from Akhil Bhartiya Natya Parishad (1985), 'Jnanpith Award' (1987), 'Sangeet Nātya Lekhan Award' (1988), and 'Padma Bhushan' (1991). There is also a star named after him in 1996.
Family & Personal Life
Not much is known about Kusumagraj's personal life. However, it is known that he got married to Manoramanée, also known as Gangubai Sonawni, in 1944.
He died on March 10, 1999, in his home, which also served as the 'Kusumāgraj Pratishthān' office in Nashik, at the age of 87.

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