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MAHADEVI VARMA (1907-1987)

Mahadevi Varma was a Hindi poet. Along with Jai Shankar Prasad, Nirala, and Sumitranandan Pant, she was one of the big four of chhayavad, the Romantic Movement in Hindi poetry. She was born on the day of Holi in 1907 at Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh, to a simple orthodox mother and Arya Samajist father. She was educated at a missionary school, while at home she was tutored in Hindi, Urdu and the fine arts. She started composing poems at the age of seven, and discovered and used blank verse at the age of eight. Her parents encouraged her but they had to bow to prevailing custom and she was married at the age of nine to Dr Swarup Narain Varma, though she was allowed to stay and carry on her education at her parents’ home. In 1919 she joined Crossthwaite Girls School in Allahabad. Subhadra Kumari Chauhan was a few years her senior there. She did her BA in 1929, and in 1932 completed her MA in Sanskrit from Allahabad University. After graduation she refused to go to live with her husband. Instead, she became the principal of the Prayag Mahila Vidyapith and began editing the Hindi magazine Chand.

She had participated in poetry soirées even while in school, and when she was in college, critics and readers acknowledged her as a poet and writer of note. Most of the poems of Nihar, her first book of verse, were written before she passed her matriculation exam. Published in 1930, Nihar is perhaps the first book of modern Hindi verse, which embarks on a spiritual quest and expresses the pain of traversing this lonely path. Here nature is seen as a reflection of the soul and a manifestation of the mystery of God.

Then in 1932 Rashmi, in 1934 Neerja for which she received the Seksaria Award, and Sandhya Geet followed, which were all progressive steps culminating in Deepshikha. She was made a member of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly in 1952 in recognition of her part in the freedom struggle. In 1956 she received the Padma Bhushan. She was appointed Vice Chancellor of Prayag Mahila Vidyapith in 1960. Her husband died in 1966, and she decided to shift permanently to Allahabad. She was the first woman to be awarded the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 1979. Her poetry collection Yama (1940) received the Bhartiya Jnanpith Award in 1982. She was an equally well known writer of prose. Her work Srinkhala Ki Kariyan, Atit Ke Chalchitra is much esteemed.

Rita Dalmiya
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