Mahadevi Verma was a leading female Hindi poet, who was known as a poetess of Chhayavaadi genre, which was a literary movement of romanticism in modern Hindi poetry, which became popular during 1914–1938. For this, she was also known as the Modern Meera. She also met her presence felt in Kavi sammelans.
She was also the Principal, and then the Vice-Chancellor of Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth; which is a woman’s residential college in Allahabad. Besides being a illustrious poet, she is remembered also as a freedom fighter, woman’s rights activist and an educationist.
Early Life: Childhood and Education
Mahadevi Verma was born on 26 March 1907 in Farukhabad in the then United Provinces of British India. Her family was a very orthodox Hindu family. In 1916, when she was just nine years old, her marriage was arranged at a very early age. Although her marriage was performed, as per the prevailing custom she continued to stay at her parent’s home.
She continued her school education at Crossthwaite Girls’ School in Allahabad. At the school, she befriended a student Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, who later became a Very renowned Hindi writer and poet. While Mahadevi Verma was staying at her parental home, her husband studied in Lucknow.
After her school education, Mahadevi Verma did her B.A. in 1929, from Allahabad University. She followed it up with an M.A. in Sanskrit in 1933.
Mahadevi Verma learnt a lot of life’s lessons at the hostel at Crosthwaite. The students belonged to different religions and lived together in harmony. Mahadevi started to write poems secretly; but her hidden stash of poems was found by her roommate and senior Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. She encouraged Mahadevi to write and both of them wrote poems as their favourite pastime. Both of them wrote poems in “Khariboli” and wrote poems everyday on a regular basis.
They would send their poems for publication to magazines and got a few of them published. They would also attend Kavi Sammelans where eminent poets read their poems and they also got a chance to read their poems to large gatherings. This friendship with Subhadra Kumari Chauhan continued till she graduated and left Crosthwaite.
Despite being born in an orthodox family and getting married at the age of nine as a child-bride; her parents were liberal and wanted her to become a scholar. Her mother, a very religious lady who excelled in Sanskrit and Hindi, inspired and encouraged her to take interest in Hindi literature and write poems.
After completing her graduation in 1929, Mahadevi Verma wanted to remain single and become a scholar. She tried to convince her husband, Dr. Swarup Narain Verma, to re-marry with someone else. However her efforts did not meet with success. She even tried to become a Buddhist nun as she had also studied the Buddhist religious texts in Pali and Prakirit, as part of her M.A. curriculum.
Professional and Literary Life
From 1930 onwards, Verma also began teaching at village schools in Allahabad. She was also very much influenced by the Gandhian philosophy and began wearing Khadi, and gave up speaking in English.
In 1933, after completing her M.A. she was selected as the first headmistress of Allahabad (Prayag) Mahila Vidyapeeth. This private institution was meant for girls to impart education through Hindi medium.
Later, she was promoted as the chancellor of the institute. She organised several Kavi Sammelans and Galpa Sammelan, to encourage new talents in poem and short story writing.
She also became a prolific writer herself. She also edited a Hindi magazine ‘Chand’. In her editorials, she reviewed and encouraged literature by women. In 1942, her editorials were collected and published as ‘Shrinkhala ki Kadiyan’ or The Links of Chains.
In 1966, her husband died. She then moved to Allahabad and lived there till her death.
Her Works and Contributions to Indian Literature
Mahadevi Verma was one of the most important and the only female poet of the Chhayavaadi school of the Hindi literature.
She was also a good illustrator and drew illustrations for the magazine she edited, Chand; and also for her poetic works like 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.
Her language was original and lyrical.
Awards and Accolades
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.
Some of the prominent awards are listed below:
- Padma Bhushan (1956)
- Sahitya Akademi Fellowship (1979)
- Jnanpith Award (1982)
- Padma Vibhushan (1988)
Quotes by Mahadevi Verma
“A lie that saves a life is better than a truth that endangers the life.”
“The life of a housewife is no less creative, if the role has been accepted willingly.”
“In every science there is a trace of creativity.”
“It is difficult to talk about oneself, because to see one’s fault is unpleasant and to ignore them is unpleasant for others.”
“Every householder is the king of his home and his wife the queen. If any spy, even if he is the king of the country, discloses their privacy to the public; it is a condemnable misconduct.”
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah