Mahadevi Varma , best known as an outstanding Hindi poet, and 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 theChhayavaad 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 was born in Farukhabad in a family of lawyers. She was educated at Jabalpur- Madhya Pradesh. She was the eldest child of Govinda Prasad Varma and Hemaa rani and had two brothers, Jagmohan and Manmohan, and a sister, Shayama. She was married in 1914, at the age of 7, to Dr Swarup Narain Varma in Indore. She stayed with her parents while her husband studied in Lucknow to complete his education, during which time, she received her higher education at the Allahabad University and passed her B.A.examination in 1929 and completed her Master’s degree-M.A. in Sanskrit in 1933.
After the death of her husband in 1966, she moved permanently to Allahabad and lived there until her death.
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.
In her childhood biography Mere Bachpan Ke Din (My Childhood Days), Mahadevi Varma 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 had the ambition of making her a scholar; her mother was fluent in Sanskrit andHindi, and very religious. Mahadevi credits her mother for inspiring her to write poems, and to take an interest in literature.
Mahadevi was originally admitted to a Convent school, but upon protests and an unwilling attitude, she took admission in Crosthwaite Girls College in Allahabad. According to Mahadevi, she learnt 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 room-mate and seniorSubhadra Kumari Chauhan (known in the school for writing poems), her hidden talent was exposed. Mahadevi and Subhrada now started to write poems together in their free time.
She and Subhrada 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.
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. Her other works include short stories such as Gillu (गिल्लू) which talks about her experience with a squirrel and ‘Neelkanth’ which talks about her experience with a peacock,which is also included as a chapter into the syllabus of Central Board of Secondary Education for the 7th graders. She has also wrote Gaura which is based on her real life,in this story she wrote about a beautiful cow. Mahadevi Varma is also known for her childhood memoir , Mere Bachpan Ke Din and Gillu (गिल्लू)”, which was inducted into the syllabus of India’s Central Board of Secondary Education for the 9th grade.
Stories written by her on her pets are also famous.
Her poems have been published under a number of other titles as well, but they contain the poems from these collections only. They include:
Agnirekha (1990, published after her death)
Compilations from these collections have been published under various titles. Some of them include: (a) Yama (Neehar+ Rashmi+Neeraja+Saandhyageet) (b) Sandhini (c) Neelaambara (d) Aatmika (e) Deepgeet The additional feature in these collections is a new “Bhoomikas” or introdictory note written in the inimitable style of Mahadevi. Stories She has written many notable stories like (a) Ateet ke Chalchitra (b) Smriti ki Rekhyein (c) Shrinkhala ki Kariyan (d) Gheesa.
Mahadevi Varma’s creative talents and sharp intellect soon earned her a prominent place in the Hindi Literary world. She is considered among the four pillars of the Chaayavad movement. In 1934, she received Sekseriya Puraskar from the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan for her work, Niraja. Her poetry collection (Yama, यामा-1936) received the Jnanpith Award, one of the highest Indian literary awards.
She also Honored with “Proud Past Alumni” in the list of 42 members, from “Allahabad University Alumni Association”, NCR, Ghaziabad (Greater Noida) Chapter 2007–2008 registered under society act 1860 with registration no. 407/2000.
The Government of India bestowed her with Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award. She was the first woman to be awarded the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, in 1979. In 1988, Indian Government bestowed her with Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award