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Mahadevi Verma (1907-1987) is a well-known poet of the Chhayavaad generation, a period of romanticism in Modern Hindi poetry.
Mahadevi Verma (1907-1987) is a well-known poet of the Chhayavaad generation, a period of romanticism in Modern Hindi poetry. Born in a middle class family, she was exposed to religious poetry of saint poets from early childhood. Married at nine years of age, she nevertheless continued her studies and in 1956 went on to earn an MA in Sanskrit from renowned Allahabad University. Disenchanted with marriage and tradition, she chose writing and feminist activism as her life's work. Her creative talents and sharp intellect soon earned her a prominent place in Hindi Literary world. She is considered among the four pillars of the Chaayavad movement. Her poetry collection Yama (1940) received Gyanpeeth, the highest Indian literary award. In 1956, Indian Government bestowed her with the title of Padma Bhushan. She was the first woman to be made a Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi, in 1979.
Mahadevi Verma's works of poetry span sixty years beginning from 1930, starting with, Neehar (Mist), then Rashmi (1932), Neeraja (1934), Sandhyageet (1936), Yama (1940); leading to Deepashikha (1942). In 1963, after a 21-year gap, she came out with Himalaya, then Saptparna (1966), Pratham Ayaam (1982), and Agnirekha (1990 - posthumous).
Her non-fiction prose works are, Ateet ke Kalchitra (pictures from the past) (1941), Shrunkhla ki kadiyan (Links of the Chain) (1942), Smruti ki Rekhain (Lines of Memory) (1943), Path ke Sathi (Companions in Travel) (1956), Mera Parivar (My Family) (1971), etc.
The principle theme of her poetry is pain, the pain of separation from the beloved Supreme Being. Many critics compare her to Meerabai, the 16th century Saint Poet. Like Meera, Mahadevi also decided at an early age of fifteen to turn her back on the traditional married life and devote herself to writing. In spite of these two overwhelming similarities, there are striking differences between these two poets. Mahadevi moved Chhayavaad movement one step further by introducing the elements of mysticism in her poetry. This mysticism sets her apart from Meera. Mahadevi's poem Main Neerbhari dukh ki badli (I am a nimbus cloud of sorrow) best describes her poetic identity.
Mahadevi's prose works show no signs of this painstricken personality. She was a social reformer, a women's advocate, a cultural and political leader. Her prose reflects her strength in all these areas. The original editor of Mahadevi Sahitya Samagra, Omkar Sharad remarks about her in the introduction: "...being close to Mahadevi, I have also seen the images of Lakshmibai and Meerabai together in one form." Lakshmibai was the eighteenth century queen of Jhansi, who is well known for her fierce fighting spirit, who struggled against British to save her empire. This dual personality is the key to the meld of mysticism and optimism in her poetry. This becomes evident as we follow her poetic journey. Having rebelled against the tradition and having devoted her life to the quest for learning, eventually this quest became a form of abstract worship for her.
"Truth is the ultimate goal of poetry and beauty is the vehicle," remarks Mahadevi Verma about poetry in the introduction to DeepShikha. She says:
"My songs are raised on the Earth of folk-songs, under the sky of abstract spirituality."
The central image of this collection DeepShikha is a lamp as a source of light. In the poem titled My Lamp she writes,
Boundary only limits the trifle,
You are eternal, do not count the hours.
She sees Nature as an ally, and an infinite resource. She uses an eternal burning lamp as a metaphor for human spirit. Her poem Adhikar (Right) ends with these lines,
Will this eternal world be
the kind gift from you?
Never mind oh God, let me keep my
right to annihilate myself.
This may suggest a defiant soul. On the other hand, is the poet called as Meera of Modern World declaring her healthy optimism in the mortal world through these lines? In I am a nimbus cloud of sorrow she talks about the ethereal nature of the world. Yet, there is no despair, only a serene acceptance, which is a precursor to hope.