Birthday: March 26, 1907
Died At Age: 80
Sun Sign: Aries
Born Country: India
Born in: Farrukhabad, United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, British India
Famous as: Poet
Spouse/Ex-: Dr Swarup Narain Varma
father: Govind prasad
mother: Hem rani
Died on: September 11, 1987
place of death: Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
education: University of Allahabad
awards: Padma Vibhushan
Mahadevi Varma was an Indian writer, women’s rights activist, freedom fighter, educator, and poet, best known for her contribution to the Chhayavad movement of Hindi literature. She was one of the four most prominent figures of the Chhayavad school, the other three being Suryakant Tripathi, Sumitranandan Pant, and Jaishankar Prasad. She became the first headmistress/principal of the ‘Allahabad (Prayag) Mahila Vidyapeeth,’ a Hindi-medium all-girl school, and later became its chancellor. Mahadevi’s works won her some of the most prestigious Indian literary awards and recognitions, such as the ‘Padma Bhushan,’ the ‘Sahitya Akademi Fellowship,’ and the ‘Padma Vibhushan.’ ‘Yama,’ her anthology of poems, won the ‘Jnanpith Award.’ A regular participant and organizer of “Kavi Sammelans,” Mahadevi was also a good friend of prominent Hindi author and poet Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, since they were schoolmates. Her poetry was known for its characteristic pathos and romanticism. Though married off at an early age, Mahadevi mostly stayed away from her husband, meeting him only occasionally. She died in Prayagraj (Allahabad) at the age of 80. Many of her works have been included in the Hindi school curriculum of India.
Childhood & Early Life
Mahadevi Verma was born on March 26, 1907, in Farrukhabad, United Provinces of Agra and Oudh (presently in Uttar Pradesh), into a family of lawyers.
She grew up in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, and studied there. She and her family moved to Allahabad later. She was initially enrolled at a convent school, but later studied at the ‘Crosthwaite Girls College’ in Allahabad.
At ‘Crosthwaite,’ students from various religions lived together. There, she began writing poems secretly. Her senior and roommate Subhadra Kumari Chauhan (who grew up to become a famous Hindi poet and writer) later found her hidden poems. They then began to write poems together. They would usually write in the Khariboli dialect.
They later sent their poems to various weekly magazines and got some of their poems published. They also attended poetry seminars, where they came across prominent Hindi poets and read out their own poems. This continued till Subhadra graduated school.
Mahadevi’s father was a professor of English. This explained her interest in languages. She received a master’s degree in Sanskrit from the ‘University of Allahabad.’
Hers was a liberal family, and her grandfather wanted to make her a scholar. Her mother was well-versed in Hindi and Sanskrit and was a major inspiration behind her interest in literature.
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In 1930, Mahadevi started teaching at village schools near Allahabad. Although she was active in politics, she believed in Gandhian ideals. She was soon reluctant to speak in English and mostly dressed in khadi.
In 1933, she became the first headmistress/principal of the ‘Allahabad (Prayag) Mahila Vidyapeeth.’ It was a private college for educating girls through the Hindi medium.
She soon became the chancellor of the institute. While at the institute, she organized poetry conferences, or “Kavi Sammelans.” She also organized a conference for short-story writers (“Galpa Sammelan”) in 1936, which was presided over by author Sudakshina Varma.
She continued to write consistently all through her teaching career. She wrote for the Hindi women’s magazine ‘Chand,’ and also contributed to it as an editor and an illustrator. These works were collected and published as ‘Srinkhala ke Kariyan’ (‘The Links of Our Chains’) in 1942.
Mahadevi is remembered as one of the four main poets of the Chhayavaad school of Hindi literature, the others being Suryakant Tripathi “Nirala,” Sumitranandan Pant, and Jaishankar Prasad. The Chhayavaad literary movement had its roots in the rise of pathos and romanticism in modern Hindi poetry, from 1914 to 1938.
She also illustrated for some of her poetic works, such as her collection ‘Yama’ (1940). ‘Yama’ included her poems ‘Nihaar’ (1930), ‘Rashmi’ (1932), ‘Niraja’ (1934), and ‘Sandhya Geet’ (1936). She also sketched for her poetic works ‘Deepshikha’ and ‘Yatra.’
‘Neelkanth,’ one of her other important works, narrated her experience with a peacock. It was part of the seventh-grade syllabus of ‘Central Board of Secondary Education’ (CBSE) in India.
Her work ‘Gaura’ was based on her own life and narrated the story of a cow. One of her best works is her childhood memoir, ‘Mere Bachpan Ke Din.’ Her work ‘Gillu’ has been part of the ninth-grade syllabus of India's ‘CBSE.’
Her poem ‘Madhur Madhur Mere Deepak Jal’ was part of the tenth-grade ‘CBSE’ curriculum (Hindi-B).
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Her memoir, ‘Smriti ki Rekhayen,’ contains an account of her friend, Bhaktin. This was part of the twelfth-grade Hindi syllabus of ‘CBSE.’
She supported the women’s rights movements of her time through most of her works, even in prose, many of which were published in ‘Chand.’
The 1941 book ‘Ateet ke Chalachitra’ (‘Sketches from My Past’) was an anthology of short stories based on her experiences with women who had inspired her during her tenure at the girls’ school where she had worked.
Some of her other major works are ‘Smriti ki Rekhaen’ (‘A Pilgrimage to the Himalayas, and Other Silhouettes from Memory,’ 1943), ‘Path ke Saathi’ (‘Companions in Travel,’ 1956), and ‘Mera Parivaar (‘My Family,’ 1971). Her works have earned her the nickname of “the modern Meera.”
Awards & Achievements
Her works have earned her numerous prestigious literary awards in India. In 1956, she was awarded the ‘Padma Bhushan’ by the Government of India. She won the ‘Sahitya Akademi Fellowship’ in 1979, thus becoming the first Indian woman to have received the award.
In 1982, her collection of poems ‘Yama’ won the ‘Jnanpith Award,’ India’s highest literary honor. She won the ‘Padma Vibhushan’ in 1988.
On April 27, 2018, ‘Google’ paid tribute to her with a “doodle” on its Indian homepage.
Family, Personal Life, & Death
In 1916, at the tender age of 9, she was married off to Dr. Swarup Narain Varma. Mahadevi lived with her parents till her husband finished his studies in Lucknow.
Later, Mahadevi moved to Allahabad. After her graduation in 1929, Swarup refused to live with her. Some sources claim the reason for this was the fact that Swarup thought Mahadevi was not too attractive.
She then asked him to remarry, which he did not. They continued to live separately and meet occasionally, till Swarup’s death in 1966. Following this, she moved to Allahabad permanently.Sources claim that Mahadevi had contemplated turning into a Buddhist nun (“bhikshuni”) but eventually decided not to. However, her interest in Buddhism became clear when she studied Buddhist Pali and Prakrit texts while pursuing her master's degree studies.
Sources claim that Mahadevi had contemplated turning into a Buddhist nun (“bhikshuni”) but eventually decided not to. However, her interest in Buddhism became clear when she studied Buddhist Pali and Prakrit texts while pursuing her master's degree studies.
Mahadevi breathed her last on September 11, 1987, in Allahabad (also known as Prayagraj), India. She was 80 years old at the time of her death.
Abha Pandey, Mahadevi’s daughter-in-law, now works as a central government officer.