In the 1920s, a time when few Indian girls could dream of finishing school and being anything other than housewives and mothers, one-woman name Mahadevi Varma discovered a love of writing and went on to become one of the key figures in a new era of Hindi poetry.
Mahadevi Varma best known as an outstanding Hindi poet, 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 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 Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award, in 1988.
Mahadevi Varma was deeply affected by Buddhism and also contributed to the Indian freedom movement. She even tried to become a Buddhist bhikshuni. Mahadevi was appointed as the first headmistress of Allahabad (Prayag) Mahila Vidyapeeth, which was started with a view to imparting cultural and literary education to girls through Hindi medium.
Later, she became the chancellor of the institute. 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.
Many of her books are included in the syllabus for school children by CBSE. A few of these are; Neelkanth, which is about her experience with a peacock; Gaura, a story about a beautiful cow; Mere Bachpan Ke Din and Gillu, about her childhood memories; and also her poem Madhur Madhur Mere Deepak Jal. Mahadevi Varma studied the compositions of devout poets like Meera, Sur and Tulsi from childhood. This is the reason that these poets became his source of inspiration. Following are the major compositions of Mahadevi Varma – ‘Neehar’, ‘Neerja’, ‘Sandhyagit’, ‘Deepshikha’, ‘Yama’, ‘Movies of the past’, ‘Lines of Smriti’, ‘Links of series’ etc.
Mahadevi Verma received several awards for her poems which had a language that was original and lyrical, at the same time having profound meaning. She was able to paint a picture that was both colourful as well as had depths of philosophy in it.