Mahadevi Verma was a Hindi poet, freedom fighter and educationist from India. She is widely regarded as the “modern Meera”.
She was a major poet of the “Chhayavaad”, a literary movement of romanticism in modern Hindi poetry ranging from 1914–1938 and a prominent poet in Hindi Kavi sammelans (Gatherings of poets).
Mahadevi Verma was born on 26 March 1907 in Farrukhabad.
Mahadevi was originally admitted to a Convent school, but upon protests and an unwilling attitude, she took admission in Crosthwaite Girls College in Allahabad.
At this school, she met fellow student Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, who would later go on to become a prominent Hindi writer and poet, like Verma herself.
According to Mahadevi, she learned 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 Subhadra now started to write poems together in their free time.
“While others used to play outside, me and Subhadra 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 Verma writes in Mere Bachpan Ke Din
She and Subhadra 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’s husband Dr. Swarup Narain Verma refused to live with her as she was not that good looking; 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 Verma 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 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.
Varma 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 drew a number of illustrations for her poetic works like 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.
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 curriculum (Hindi-B) for 10th grade.
From one of her memoir, Smriti ki Rekhayen, an account of her maid-friend, Bhaktin, is included in Class 12 Hindi Core syllabus of CBSE.
Her daughter-in-law, Abha Pandey, who is a Central Government Officer is carrying the lagacy of Mahadevi Verma forward.
“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.” – David Rubin, The Return of Sarasvati: Four Hindi Poets.
Awards and tributes
- 1956: Padma Bhushan
- 1979: Sahitya Akademi Fellowship
- 1982: Jnanpith Award for her poetry collection Yama.
- 1988: Padma Vibhushan
- 27 April 2018: Google commemorated Mahadevi Varma with a Doodle on its Indian homepage