Mahadevi Varma

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Mahadevi Varma
Stamp of India - 1991 - Colnect 164196 - Mahadevi Verma Poetess and - Varsha.jpeg
Born March 26 1907(1907-03-26)
Farrukhabad, United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, British India
Died September 11 1987 (aged 80)
Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
Occupation Poet, essayist, and sketch story writer
Literary movement Chhayavaad
Notable work(s) Yama, Mera Parivaar
Signature Hastaksharmahadevi.jpg

Mahadevi Verma (March 26, 1907 – September 11, 1987) was an Indian Hindi-language poet, essayist, sketch story writer, and an eminent personality of Hindi literature. She is considered one of the four major pillars of the Chhayawadi era in Hindi literature. A revered poet, she had the distinction of receiving all the important awards in Hindi literature.

She developed a soft vocabulary in the Hindi poetry of Khadi Boli, which before her was considered possible only in Braj bhasha. For this, she chose the soft words of Sanskrit and Bangla and adapted them to Hindi. She was well-versed in music. She was also a skilled painter and creative translator.

Varma started her career in teaching, serving as the Principal of Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth. She was also known for her work for the welfare and development among women which was also reflected in her writings. Varma witnessed India both before and after independence.

Life and education

Early life

Varma was born on March 26, 1907[1] in a Hindu Chitraguptavanshi Kayastha[2][3] family of Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh, India. Her father Govind Prasad Varma was a professor in a college in Bhagalpur. Her mother's name was Hem Rani Devi. Her mother was a vegetarian with a keen interest in music. [1] A religious woman, she would recite for many hours of Ramayana, Gita and Vinay Patrika. On the contrary, her father was a scholar, music lover, atheist, hunting enthusiast and cheerful person. Sumitranandan Pant and Suryakant Tripathi Nirala were close friends of Mahadevi Varma.[4] It is said that for 40 years Varma kept tying Rakhis (amulets) to Nirala.[5]


Varma was originally admitted to a Convent school, but she protested and ultimately received admission to Crosthwaite Girls College at Allahabad.[6] According to Varma, she learned the strength of unity while staying in the hostel at Crosthwaite, where students of different religions lived together. Varma started to write poems secretly, until her hidden stash of poems were discovered by her roommate and senior Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, who was known in the school for writing poems. [7]

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... [8]

She and Subhadra also used to send poems to publications such as weekly magazines. They managed to get some of their poems published. Both the budding 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.[9]

In her childhood biography Mere Bachpan Ke Din (My Childhood Days),[10] Varma wrote that she was very fortunate to be born into a liberal family at a time when a girl was considered a burden upon the 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.[11] Her mother was fluent both in Sanskrit and Hindi, and was a very religious, pious lady. Mahadevi credits her mother for inspiring her to write poems and to take an interest in literature.[12]

She was married as a child, as was the custom, but following her graduation in 1929, she chose to live an ascetic life.[6] Mahadevi refused to go and live with her husband Swarup Narain Varma because she believed tht they were incompatible. Since she had been married as a child, she was expected to live with her husband only after completing her education, as was the custom, but when she finished her B.A. she refused.[7] She found his hunting and meat-eating offensive.[13] Her remorseful father offered to convert along with her if she wanted to divorce and remarry (as Hindus could not legally divorce at the time) but she refused, saying she wanted to remain single.[14] She even unsuccessfully tried to convince her husband to remarry.[11] Later, she was 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.

Professional career


Nihar (IPA: Nīhār) was her debut collection of poems in 1930[15]followed by Rashmi in 1932,[16] and Neerja in 1933.[17]. In 1935, her collection of poems called Sandhyageet[18] was published. In 1939, four poetic collections were published with artwork under the title Yama.[19] In addition, she wrote 18 novels and short stories, which include Mera Parivar (My Family), Smriti ki Rekhaye (Lines of Memory), Patha ke Sathi (Path's Companions), Srinkhala ke Kariye (Series of Links) and Atit ke Chalachrit (Past Movies).[20]

Women's advocacy


Varma's career encompassed writing and editing as well as teaching. She contributed significantly to the development of Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth College in Allahabad.[6] She also served as its Principal.[3] Playing such of role was considered a revolutionary step in the field of women's education during that time. In 1923, she took over the women's leading magazine Chand. In the year 1955, Varma established the Literary Parliament in Allahabad and with the help of Ilachandra Joshi, taking up the editorship of its publication. She laid the foundation for women's poets' conferences in India. Mahadevi was greatly influenced by Buddhism.


Under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, she took up public service and worked in Jhansi alongside the Indian freedom struggle.[21] In 1937, Mahadevi Varma built a house in a village called Umagarh, Ramgarh, Uttarakhand, 25  km from Nainital. She named it Meera Temple. She started working with the village people, especially for women's education and their economic self-sufficiency. Today, this bungalow is known as Mahadevi Sahitya Museum.[22]Through her efforts, she was able to elevate the work for the liberation and development of women.[23] She attacked social stereotypes, advocating for social reform to promote the development and education of women.[24]

She is considered the pioneer of feminism in India.[25] Varma addresses women's issues in her writing as well. In Hindu Stree Ka Patnitva (The Wifehood of Hindu Women) marriage is compared to slavery. Not possessing any political or financial authority, she writes, women are assigned to lives as wives and mothers. Through poems like Cha, she explored themes and ideas of female sexuality, while her short stories such as Biblia, discuss the experience of women's physical and mental abuse.[7]


She spent most of her life in Allahabad (Prayagraj) of Uttar Pradesh. She died in Allahabad on September 11, 1987.[26]

Literary contributions

Mahadevi Varma (bottom row third from left) along with Hazari Prasad Dwivedi and others

The emergence of Mahadevi Varma in literature happened at a time when the shape of Khadi Boli, the current form of Hindi that was created by adding more Sanskrit words, was being refined. She introduced Braj bhasha, an older, more spiritual language to Hindi poetry. She created a repository of songs that embraced Indian philosophy. In this way, her work in the three fields of language, literature and philosophy influenced an entire generation. She created a unique rhythm and simplicity in the composition and language of her songs, as well as the natural use of symbols and images that draw a picture for the reader.

Her contribution to Chhayavadi poetry is very important. This movement is marked by an increase of romantic and humanist content, by a renewed sense of the self and personal expression. It is known for its leaning towards themes of love and nature, as well as an individualistic reappropriation of the Indian tradition in a new form of mysticism, expressed through a subjective voice. While Jaishankar Prasad gave naturalism to the Chhayavadi poetry, Suryakant Tripathi Nirala embodied the its liberation and Sumitranandan Pant brought the art of delicateness, Varma seemed to embody life in Chhayavadi poetry. The most prominent feature of her poetry is an intensity of feeling. Known for her lively yet subtle expressions of the heart, Varma is among the most highly regarded Chhayavadi poets.[27] She is remembered for her speeches in Hindi, which were full of compassion for the common man. At the 3rd World Hindi Conference, 1983, Delhi, she was the chief guest of the closing ceremony.[28]

In addition to her original creations, she was also a creative translator of works like Saptaparna (1980). With the help of her cultural awareness, she selected 39 important pieces of Hindi poetry in her work from the Vedas, Ramayana, Theragatha and the works of Ashwaghosh, Kalidas, Bhavabhuti and Jayadeva. In the 61-page Apna Baat, she shares this invaluable heritage of Indian wisdom and literature, not limited to female writing.[29]


Varma was a poet as well as a distinguished prose writer.


Several other poetic collections of Mahadevi Varma are also published, in which selected songs from the above compositions have been compiled.


List of selected prose works includes[20]

  • Ateet Ke Chalchitr (1961)
  • Smriti ki Rekhaye (1943)
  • Patha ke Sathi (1956)
  • Mera Parivar (1972)
  • Sansmaran (1943)
  • Sambhasan (1949)
  • Shrinkhala ki Kadiyan (1942)
  • Vivechamanak Gadya (1972)
  • Skandha (1956)
  • Himalaya (1973)


There are wo compilations of children's poems of Mahadevi Varma.

  • Thakurji Bhole Hai[35]
  • Aaj Kharidenge hum Jwala[35]

Critical analysis

Critics assess the poetry of Mahadevi as very personal. Some see her agony, anguish, and compassion, as artificial. Moral critics like Ramchandra Shukla have questioned her anguish and and depth of feeling.

Concerning this anguish, she has revealed such sensations of heart, which are extraterrestrial. As far as these sensations are concerned and how far the sensations are real, nothing can be said.[36]

Others, like Hazari Prasad Dwivedi consider her poetry to express a collective experience. He felt that the truth of her outlook is understood on a personal level. Prabhakar Shrotriya believes that those who consider her a poetess of anguish and despair do not know how much fire there is in that suffering which exposes the truth of life. He says:

In fact, the centre of Mahadevi's experience and creation is fire, not tears. What is visible is not the ultimate truth, what is invisible is the original or inspiring truth. These tears are not the tears of easy simple anguish, but how much fire goes behind them, the thunderstorm, the electric roar of the cloud, and the rebellion are hidden.[37]

Satyaprakash Mishra says about her philosophy of metaphysics related to cinematography

Mahadevi did not only differentiate and distinguish from the earlier poetry of the object craft of Shadowism and Mysticism under rationalism and examples but also showed in what sense it is human. There is a poetry of change of sensation and newness of expression. She did not accuse anyone of sentiment, adoration etc. but only described the nature, character, appearance and uniqueness of Chhayavad.[38]

American novelist David Rubin appreciates her originality.

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 metaphorical ones involving weeping, walking the road, playing the Veena, etc.[11]

Varma's poetic world is part of the neo-Romantic world of Chhayavaad, but to see her poetry completely unconnected to her era, one would be doing injustice to her. Mahadevi was also a conscious writer, addressing social issues. During the Bengal famine in 1973, she published a poetry collection and also wrote a poem called "Banga Bhu Shanth Vandana" related to Bengal.[39] Similarly, in response to the invasion of China, she had edited a collection of poems called Himalaya.[40]


Varma is considered one of the four major pillars of the Chhayawadi era in Hindi literature, along with Jaishankar Prasad, Suryakant Tripathi Nirala, and Sumitranandan Pant. [41] She has been also addressed as the Modern Meera.[42] Poet Nirala had once called her "Saraswati in the vast temple of Hindi Literature." As the most popular female litterateur of the last century, she remained revered throughout her life.[43] The year 2007 was celebrated as her birth centenary. Later, Google also celebrated the day through its Google Doodle.[10]

Honors and awards

  • 1956: Padma Bhushan[44]
  • 1979: Sahitya Akademi Fellowship[45]
  • 1982: Jnanpith Award for her poetry collection Yama.[45]
  • 1988: Padma Vibhushan[44][11]

Besides these, in 1979, the famous Indian filmmaker Mrinal Sen produced a Bengali film on her memoir Woh Chini Bhai[46] titled Neel Akasher Neechey.[47] On September 14, 1991, the Postal Department of the Government of India, issued a doubles stamp of Template:INR2 along with Jaishankar Prasad, in her honor.[48]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Rajkumar Singh, विचार विमर्श — महादेवी वर्मा: जन्म, शैशवावस्था एवं बाल्यावस्था (Mathura Anita, IN: Sagar Publications, 2007), 39-40,
  2. Anita Anantharam (ed.), Mahadevi Varma (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1621968801). Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Karine Schomer, Mahadevi Varma and the chhayavad age of modern Hindi poetry (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983, ISBN 978-0520042551). Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  4. जो रेखाएँ कह न सकेंगी- महादेवी वर्मा Abhivyakti. (in hi). (in hi). Retrieved October 30, 2023.
  5. Gangaprasad Pandeya, Mahapran Nirala (New Delhi, IN: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2020, ISBN 978-8126730995), 10. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Fiza Jha, "Poet Mahadevi Verma and her undiscovered feminist legacy," The Print, September 11, 2019. Retrieved October 25, 2023.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Anita Anantharam, Mahadevi Varma - Political Essays on Women, Culture and Nation (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1621968801), 4-8, 20. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  8. Mahādevī Varmā, Smr̥ti citra (New Delhi, IN: Rājakamala Prakāśana, 1973). Retrieved October 28, 2023.
  9. "Mahadevi Varma: The woman who began the era of romanticism in Hindi literature," India Today, March 26, 2016. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Richa Teneja (ed.), "Mahadevi Varma Is Today's Google Doodle: Know All About The Celebrated Hindi Poet,", April 27, 2018. Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 David Rubin, The Return of Sarasvati: Four Hindi Poets (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 978-0195663495), 152-153. Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  12. "Mahadevi Varma, renowned Indian poet, honoured with Google doodle," The Indian Express, April 27, 2018. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  13. Shivchandra Nagar, Mahadevi: Vichar aur Vyaktitva (Allahabad, IN: Kitab Mahal, 1953), 92.
  14. Mahadevi Varma, My Family, trans. Ruth Vanita (Gurugram, IN: India Hamish Hamilton, 2021, ISBN 978-0670095902), xiii-xiv.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Mahādevī Varmā, Nīhāra (Agra, IN: Sāhitya Bhavana, 1962). Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  16. Mahādevī Varmā, (महादेवी वर्मा) रश्मि (Agra, IN: Sāhitya Bhavana, 1962).
  17. 17.0 17.1 Mahādevī Varmā, Nīrajā (New Delhi, IN: Bhāratī Bhaṇḍāra, 1966). Retrieved October 29, 2023.
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  19. Mahadevi Varma, Yama (Varanasi, IN: Lokbharti Prakashan, 2008, ISBN 978-8180313066). Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Books by Mahadevi Verma," Goodreads. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  21. U. Singh, "The Politics of Mass Mobilisation: Eastern Uttar Pradesh, c. 1920-1940," Social Scientist 43(5/6) (2015): 93–114.
  22. Virendra Bisht, "चार धाम यात्रा पर आयीं महादेवी वर्मा को जब भा गया रामगढ़," News18 India, September 14, 2017. Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  23. Mahadevi Varma and Chandra Agrawal, "The Art of Living," Chicago Review 38(1/2) (1992): 98–102. Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  24. Maha Devi Varma, Sketches from My Past: Encounters with India's Oppressed translated by Neera Kuckreja Sohoni (Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 1994, ISBN 978-1555531980). Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  25. "Mahadevi Verma," South Asian Women Writers. Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  26. Nihdi Sethi (ed.), "30 Years After Her Death, Hindi Poet Mahadevi Varma Served Tax Notice," NDTV, February 8, 2018. Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  27. Shubhada Vanzpe, Pushpak (Semi-Annual Magazine) (6) (2006): 113.
  28. Mahavedi Varma, "Closing ceremony," Retrieved October 28, 2023.
  29. Rishabhdev Sharma, "भारतीय चिंतन परंपरा और 'सप्तपर्णा',"(Mahadevi Varma: Birth Centenary Reference) Sahitya Kunj. Retrieved October 28, 2023.
  30. Mahādevī Varmā, Raśmi (1932; Agra, IN: Sāhitya Bhavana, 1983). Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  31. Mahādevī Varmā, Prathama āyāma (1949; New Delhi, IN: Bhāratī Bhaṇḍāra, 1984). Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  32. Mahadevi Varma, Saptaparna (1959; Varanasi, IN: Lokbharti Prakashan, 2008, ISBN 978-8180313400). Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  33. Mahadevi Varma, Deepshikha (Varanasi, IN: Lokbharti Prakashan, ISBN 978-8180311192). Retrieved October 25, 2023.
  34. Mahādevī Varmā, Agnirekhā (1988; New Delhi, IN: Rājakamala Prakāśana, 1990, ISBN 978-8171781249). Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Prakash Manu, Hindi Bal Sahitya Ka Itihas: Tracing the History of Hindi Children's Literature (New Delhi, IN: Prabhat Prakashan, 2020, ISBN 978-9352666713). Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  36. "काव्यखंड (संवत् 1975) प्रकरण 4 नई धारा: तृतीय उत्थान: वर्तमान काव्यधाराएँ," (Kavyakhand (Samvat 1975)) Retrieved October 28, 2023.
  37. Hemant Kukreti, Navjagrankaleen Kaviyon Kee Pahchan (Literary Criticism) (New Delhi, IN: Vāṇī Prakāśana, 2017, ISBN 978-9387155008), 133. Retrieved October 28, 2023.
  38. Satya Prakash Mishra, "Mahadevi's Surgeon: Resistance and Compassion," Retrieved October 28, 2023.
  39. Mahadevi Verma, Agnirekha (New Delhi, IN: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2009, ISBN 978-8171789337), 48. Retrieved October 25, 2023.
  40. Kuldeep Kumar, "Rebel with a cause," The Hindu, April 6, 2018. Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  41. Dhirendra Varma, हिन्दी साहित्य कोश, 3rd. ed. (Varanasi, IN: Jñānamaṇḍala, 1985), 38-40. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  42. Anjali Ranu, "Mahadevi Verma: Modern Meera," Literary India. Retrieved October 25, 2023.
  43. R.K. Vasistha, Uttar Pradesh Monthly Magazine (7) (2002): 24.
  44. 44.0 44.1 "Padma Awards," Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, 2015. Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Shreya Thapliyal, "Poet, writer, educator, feminist — Mahadevi Varma continues to inspire," The Statesman, September 11, 2018. Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  46. "वह चीनी भाई - महादेवी वर्मा," (That Chinese Brother) Retrieved October 28, 2023.
  47. Mrinal Sen, "Neel Akasher Niche," (Under the Blue Sky) Retrieved October 28, 2023.
  48. "Postage Stamps: Commemorate section," Retrieved October 28, 2023.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

Further reading

  • Gupta, Indra. India's 50 Most Illustrious Women. London, U.K.: Icon Publications, 2003. ISBN 978-8188086030
  • Rosenstein, Ludmila L. New Poetry in Hindi: Nayi Kavita - An Anthology. London, U.K.: Anthem Press, 2004. ISBN 978-1843311256
  • Singh, Doodhnath. Mahadevi. New Delhi, IN: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2009. ISBN 978-8126717538
  • Varma, Mahadevi. महादेवी साहित्य (Complete Works of Mahadevi Varma), volume 3. edited by Nirmala Jain. Delhi, IN: Vani Prakashan, 2007. ISBN 978-8181436801

External links

All links retrieved October 26, 2023.


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