Allahabad and the Golden Age of Hindi Literature
The city of Allahabad occupies a special place in Hindu scriptures as the prayag (confluence) or Triveni Sangam, that is, the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the Saraswati. While the Ganga and Yamuna still flow here today, the Saraswati, named after the goddess of knowledge, rests here as an invisible force.
It was probably the influence of Goddess Saraswati that inspired Allahabad to become the cradle of the Hindi literary world, attracting writers, poets and scholars to celebrate knowledge and enlightenment through their work. Their contribution, among others, is acknowledged in modern times on 14th September, observed as Hindi Diwas or Hindi Day, which celebrates the adoption of Hindi as one of the two official languages of India, the other being English. The date was chosen as it was the birth anniversary of Beohar Rajendra Simha, a scholar, an artist and a Hindi activist, due to whose efforts the Constituent Assembly of India gave Hindi the status of an official language in 1949.
Our story, though, focuses on Allahabad, a city steeped in spirituality, history – and Hindi literature. While the city has produced many great Sanskrit and Urdu-Persian writers, among the first litterateurs of Khari Boli, the dialect spoken in and around Delhi in medieval times, Munshi Sadasukh Lal is most notable. Born in 1746 CE, in Delhi, Lal became the tehsildar (district administrator) of Chunar, a town in Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh. In 1811 CE, he settled in Allahabad and published the story of Srimad Bhagwat and Vishnu-Purana under his name 'Sukhsagar' in Hindi. Lal also initiated social reforms in Allahabad through the Hindi language and through literature.
Bharatendu Era & Balakrishna Bhatt
Once the capital of the Mughals and the British, Allahabad became the centre of Hindi literature in the late 19th and 20th centuries. This was a period when modern Hindi was taking shape. Born in Benaras, Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850 – 1885) laid the foundation of the first phase of the modern period of Hindi literature, which is known as the ‘Bharatendu Era’. He is therefore known as the ‘father of Hindi literature and Hindi theatre’.
In this era, the orthodox thinking of traditional literature was replaced by the nationalist thinking of modern India. In the Bharatendu era, Khari Boli experienced a revival and found a special place in Hindi literature.
It was during this time that Pandit Balakrishna Bhatt was born, in the Yahiyapur locality of Allahabad, in 1844 CE. His contribution to Hindi literature is invaluable. A famous Sanskrit teacher, he was inspired by Harishchandra and founded the Hindi Vardhini Sabha in Allahabad in 1876, and began to publish the famous monthly magazine Hindi Pradeep in 1877.
Bhatt, who remained the editor of the magazine till his death, laid the foundation of modern education, literature and journalism in Allahabad. He also wrote a number of essay collections, plays and novels, and translated Sanskrit and Bengali plays into Hindi.
Hindi Nationalism & Madan Mohan Malaviya
The foundation of Hindi nationalism in India was laid in Allahabad, and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya is notable among its pioneers. Born in Yahiyapur in Allahabad in 1861 CE, Malaviya enrolled in Muir Central College, Allahabad, after completing his elementary education from Sanskrit School and then graduated from Calcutta University.
He was associated with the Indian National Congress since its inception in 1885 CE and remained a staunch Congressman and nationalist till his death in 1946. Malaviya has also left an invaluable legacy to the Hindi language. It was due to his persistence that Hindi became the official language in court proceedings. Malaviya was elected chairman of the first session of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Benaras in 1910 and it was due to his efforts that it opened a branch in Allahabad. The early decades of the 20th century was a time when, thanks to the influence of the British, English was gaining ground in India and institutions like the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan played an important part in asserting the status of Hindi.
– Along with Motilal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and then Jawaharlal Nehru, Malaviya was an influential part of the freedom movement and was always devoted to the nation’s interest.
Malaviya went on to co-found the Banaras Hindu University along with Annie Besant in 1916 and also established several institutes in the service of Hindi in Allahabad, including the Bharati Bhavan Library. Located in Chowk-Loknath in Allahabad, this famous library of Hindi literature holds an important place in the freedom movement. It was founded by Malaviya along with Balakrishna Bhatt and Brijmohan Lal Bhalla.
Another individual who worked to promote the Hindi language and connect it with nationalism was Purushottam Das Tandon, a noted Congressman from Allahabad. Tandon was a lifetime member of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan and is still considered the 'soul of the institution'.
Sridhar Pathak was born in Agra in 1860 CE but owing to his interest in literature, he settled in the city that represented the heart of Hindi literature – Allahabad. He was a poet and his verse was themed on nationalism, social reform and even nature. Composing in Khari Boli, Pathak’s works include historical compositions like Bharatotthan, Bharat-Prashansa, George-Vandana and Baal-Vidhwa. He also translated famous works such as Kalidas’s Ritusanhar and Oliver Goldsmith's The Hermit and The Traveller into Hindi. Pathak was elected chairman of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in 1914.
Allahabad: A Centre of Publishing
An important reason Allahabad became the centre of Hindi literature was because it was a publishing hub, taking over the mantle from Lucknow, and attracting Hindi and Urdu writers from all over the country. In the 19th century, Lucknow was a major publishing centre in North India and the most prominent publishing house then was the Naval Kishore Press. However, when the capital of the province of Allahabad was established in 1858 CE, the Government Press arrived in Allahabad. And, with that, the famous Pioneer Press was set up in 1864 CE. Celebrated English writer Rudyard Kipling also worked at this press for a while.
Soon, many small and big printing presses opened in the city, and this boosted Hindi literature. Among the publishing companies that were set up was the Indian Press established by Chintamani Ghosh in 1884 CE. Publishing in both English and Hindi, it printed all the works of Rabindranath Tagore from 1908 to 1914, including his Nobel Prize-winning Gitanjali.
Madan Mohan Malaviya's Leader Press and Abhyudaya are also notable among the publishing institutions in Allahabad. It was from the office of Abhyudaya that Maryada magazine was published, in which the first article of the inaugural issue was written by Purushottam Das Tandon in 1910. Magazines like Allahabad's Grihalakshmi and Chand also gained prominence in India as they were aimed at a female readership.
Sunderlal's controversial and much-talked-about book Bharat Mei Angrezi Raj (English Raj In India) was printed at Onkar Press in Allahabad and it created strong ripples in the British administration. Another famous publisher was Panini Office in Allahabad’s Bahadurganj locality.
The second phase of modern Hindi is known as the Dwivedi Era, named after Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi (1864 – 1938). Born into a family of a soldier in the English company Bahadur in Rai Bareilly, he studied Persian, Sanskrit and Hindi, while he worked in the railways in Jhansi for a few years. Many of his compositions were published and he was counted as a noted Hindi writer. After that, Dwivedi settled in Allahabad and was engrossed in the service of literature. He was the first Hindi writer to receive the title 'Acharya'.
In the year 1900, the Indian Press published India's first Hindi monthly magazine, Saraswati, whose popularity and prominence grew after Dwivedi took over as editor in 1903. By 1920, Saraswati occupied a lace of prestige.
Dwivedi gave the magazine a literary and nationalistic tone, and it contributed to the rise of writers such as Singh Upadhyay, 'Hari Oudh', Maithilisharan Gupta and even Nirala. Although Dwivedi was spreading nationalist sentiments through Saraswati, his main objective was to promote literature. His biggest contribution was to promote Khari Boli for prose and poetry.
Dhanpat Rai Srivastava 'Premchand' was born in Lamhi village in Benaras in 1880 CE. He did his elementary education in Urdu and Persian and started his life as a litterateur in 1901. His first famous Hindi story Saut was published in the December 1915 issue of Saraswati and the final story Kafan was published in 1936.
Premchand was given the title 'Upanyas Samrat’ or ‘King of Fiction’ by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the famous Bengali litterateur, and is to this day regarded as the ‘father of modern Hindi stories’. He laid the foundation of the ‘realistic tradition’ in Hindi literature, highlighting maladies in society and the troubles of the lower class. Premchand's Hindi-Urdu stories were indicative of changes in society and they served as a mirror to society.
Although Premchand lived in Benaras, Kanpur and Lucknow for a long time, Allahabad occupied a special place in his heart. Both his sons, Shripat Rai and Amrit Rai, who later established their own identities in Hindi literature, lived in Allahabad, and this is why Premchand would visit Allahabad frequently.
Premchand, who gave us classic compositions like Namak Ka Daroga, Godan and Gaban, used to say, “Banaras and Allahabad are the most prolific lands for creation. I will be at peace only when I get to take my last breath here. In Allahabad, not only do two rivers embrace, but there is also a shared experience of Hindi and Urdu. A successful creator must either be born in Allahabad or spend a large part of his life in Allahabad.” Alas, he did not breathe his last in Allahabad and he passed away in 1937, in Benaras.
Saraswati Press, which Premchand established in Allahabad, and his magazine Hans, were taken over by Premchand’s eldest son Shripat Rai, who helped them flourish and attain new heights. His second son, Amrit Rai, too was devoted to Hindi and emerged as a modern storyteller and a progressive writer.
Subhadra Kumari Chauhan
Famous poet and writer of Hindi literature Subhadra Kumari Chauhan (1904 – 1948) was born in Nihalpur in Allahabad. Her father was a zamindar or landlord and he placed a premium on education. Chauhan was married into a family in Jabalpur, in Madhya Pradesh, in 1919, and in 1921, she became the first woman to join the Non-Cooperation Movement of Mahatma Gandhi.
Chauhan’s poems were ripe with patriotism, among which is one titled Jhansi Ki Rani, which has immortalized her name. She was also an inspiration to other women writers, among whom was Mahadevi Varma, another famous Hindi poet, and showed her the path to feminism. Chauhan’s biography, titled Mila Tej Se Tej and written by her daughter Sudha Chauhan, was published by Hans Prakashan of Allahabad.
Chhayawaad (Neo-Romanticism) and Allahabad
The modern period of Hindi literature, which follows the Dwivedi Era, brought the era of Chhayawaad or Neo-Romanticism. Just like the romantic era in English literature, where human sentiment and love of nature were given prominence, Neo-Romanticism in Hindi literature developed around the love of nature, female love, humanisation, cultural awakening and imagination.
The four pillars of Chhayawaad were Jaishankar Prasad, Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala', Sumitranandan Pant and Mahadevi Verma. Three of these four poets, Nirala, Pant and Verma gained their literary popularity from Allahabad.
Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’
Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala' was born in 1899 CE in Medinipur, Bengal. His name tops the list of leading poets of Neo-Romanticism in Hindi literature. After working as an editor in Calcutta and Lucknow for a few years, Nirala lived in Allahabad from 1942 until his death in 1971, as an independent writer and engaging in translation work. He was an excellent storyteller, essayist, novelist, translator and a poet, but his fame came mainly from his poetry, which were imbued with philosophical depth.
His first essay, Bang Bhasha Ka Uchchaaran (the Accent of the Bangla Language), was published in 1920 in Saraswati magazine in Allahabad, and first collection of poems titled Anamika was published in 1923. Parimal, Geetika, Bela and Geet-Kunj were his major published poetry collections. His most renowned novels include titles like Apsara, Alka, Nirupama and Jasmine. His complete published and unpublished works were published in four volumes in 1963 and was titled Nirala Rachnavali.
Nirala considered Mahadevi Verma a younger sister and was very fond of her. Even today, in literary meetings in Allahabad, anecdotes of these two literary giants are narrated.
Sumitra Nandan Pant
Sumitra Nandan Pant is another prominent name among the major Chhayawaad poets. He was born in Kausani village in Almora district, in present-day Uttarakhand, in 1900. Around 1920, He attended Muir Central College in Allahabad and continued to live in that city for the rest of his life.
After taking part in the Non-Cooperation Movement of Mahatma Gandhi, Pant along with Raghupati Sahai 'Firaq' joined the Progressive Writers' Association, and in 1936, brought out a progressive monthly journal called Rupabha. From 1950 to 1957, he was associated with All India Radio as its chief advisor.
Pant was a humanist. He composed progressive poetry and never bowed to his critics. His major collections of poems include popular titles such as Pallava, Yuganta and Lokayatan. Pant was a dear friend of Harivansh Rai Bachchan. They even jointly published a collection of poems titled Khadi Ke Phool. Pant earned the moniker ‘Sukumar (tender-hearted) poet of nature’. He was also the first Hindi poet to receive the Jnanpith, Sahitya Akademi and Soviet Land Nehru awards and is remembered as the ‘Wordsworth of Hindi Literature’.
Mahadevi Verma is another popular and prominent poet of Neo-Romanticism in Hindi literature. She was born in Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh in 1908. She was married at a very young age when she had just begun her education, and she always remained a solitudinarian. That’s why she is known in Hindi literature as the ‘Meera of the modern era’.
Verma studied in Allahabad and it was here that she befriended Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, who inspired her to write. Later, Verma acquired a Master’s degree in Sanskrit from the University of Allahabad and went on to make a significant contribution to the development of the Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth. Verma was also the principal of this school.
As a leading Chhayawaad poet, she had a deep understanding of human emotions and the complexity of life. Along with her commitment to promoting Hindi literature, she was also inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and the social reforms brought about by the freedom movement and continued working in that direction.
Verma began to edit the reputed Hindi magazine Chand from 1923. She also laid the foundation of the feminist movement in Hindi literature. The result of her efforts was that for the first time in India, the Mahila Kavi Sammelan or Women Poets' Conference (15th April 1933) was held at the Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth, under the chairmanship of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan.
A glimpse into the famous literary soul of Allahabad can be seen in Verma's famous poem Atripta. Among her major poetic works are collections such as Nihar, Rashmi, Deepshikha, Sandhya-geet and Agni Rekha. Verma's prose, essays, speeches and memoir are read even today. She was the brightest ray in the golden age of Hindi literature in Allahabad, and it is almost impossible to find a poet like her in the contemporary age of Hindi Literature.
Ram Kumar Verma
Dr Ram Kumar Verma was a famous Hindi writer, satirist and comic poet who was born in 1905. He is also considered the father of single-act playwriting in Hindi literature. He acquired a Master’s degree in Hindi from the University of Allahabad and completed research work in Hindi from Nagpur University. He was connected with many Hindi committees of the time and also his writing style was unique which ushered a new age of simplistic writing in Hindi literature. After that, he took up the post of lecturer in the Hindi Department of the University of Allahabad and also headed the Department of Hindi for many years.
Dr Verma was awarded the Dev Award for Hindi for his collection of poems, Chitrarekha. He worked hard for the development of Hindi literature in the country and abroad as well. He is counted among the famous poets of mysticism and Chhayawaad. He died in Allahabad in 1990.
Harivansh Rai Bachchan
Harivansh Rai Srivastava was born in 1907 into a simple Kayastha family, in a village called Babu Patti near Allahabad. ‘Bachchan’ was his nickname, which was a common local term used to refer to kids, and it stuck even after he became famous in the literary world. He acquired a Master’s degree in English from the University of Allahabad and completed his research on the poetry of WB Yeats at the University of Cambridge, England.
Bachchan was a professor of English literature at the University of Allahabad and also penned Hindi poetry that brought him fame during this time. He was most noted for his poetic composition Madhushala (1935), which is still read and heard in the Hindi world. He published many more poems, among are Madhubala (1937), Madhukalash (1937), Nisha Nimantran (1937) and Satarangini (1945).
A prominent poet of the post-Chhayawaad era, Bachchan’s love for Allahabad in his poetry as is his stirring depiction of the banks of the Ganges-Yamuna. His works are characterised by beauty, love of nature and a rustic undertone.
Bachchan was not only popular in Allahabad’s academic and literary circles but he also became a part of political meetings due to his proximity to the Nehru-Gandhi family. After India's Independence, he was chosen as an expert on Hindi by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. In 2003, Bachchan breathed his last in Mumbai, while living with his son, actor Amitabh Bachchan.
He wrote his autobiography in four volumes, with the last part being titled From Dashdwar to Sopan. In Allahabad, ‘Dashdwar’ was the name of the house where he lived after becoming a professor of English literature at the University of Allahabad. He stayed in this house after leaving his family homes in Chak and Katghar in Allahabad.
Upendra Nath ‘Ashk’
Upendra Nath 'Ashk' was a well-known Hindi fiction writer and novelist. Born in Jalandhar, Punjab, in 1910, Ashk emerged first as an Urdu writer but later started writing in Hindi at the behest of Munshi Premchand in 1932. He continued to write in Hindi and became popular as a Hindi writer.
Ashk emerged as a great Hindi writer in the post-Premchand era. Girti Deeware, Shaher Mein Ghoomta Aaina, Sitaro Ka Khel etc are his major novels. He self-published many collections of stories, dramas, memoirs, single-act play collections, criticism, etc. He passed away in Allahabad in 1996.
Born in the vicinity of Atarsuiya in Allahabad, in 1926, Dharmveer Bharti studied at the University of Allahabad and completed his research on Siddha literature under the supervision of renowned Hindi writer and historian, Dr Dhirendra Varma.
Bharti co-edited Sangam magazine with Ilachandra Joshi and was later appointed a teacher at the Hindustani Academy of Allahabad. In the last phase of his life, Bharti edited the famous weekly magazine Dharmayuga.
Bharti's novels Gunahon Ka Devta, Suraj Ka Saatva Ghoda, Prarambh Ka Samapan, etc are evergreen works. His play Andha Yuga is counted among the classical plays of Hindi literature. Bharti will always be remembered for keeping the tradition of Khari Boli alive in Hindi literature. Bharti breathed his last in Mumbai in 1997.
From the Dwivedi Era to the post-Neo-Romantic era, Allahabad was the centre of Hindi literature. It was, in fact, the cradle of growth of Hindi and ushered in the golden age of Hindi literature. The literary history of Allahabad is very complex and it is almost impossible to compile a list of litterateurs. Allahabad also has a very long list of Urdu literary giants, including celebrities like Akbar Allahabadi and Firaq Gorakhpuri, who shed new light on Urdu literature in India and also refined the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb (composite culture) of Allahabad.
The noted contemporary Hindi litterateurs of Allahabad include Amarkant, who was recently conferred the Jnanpith Award; Upendra Nath Ashk's son, Neelabh Ashk; poet Kailash Gautam; Dudhanath Singh; Nandal Hitashi, among others. Sadly, this glorious tradition is on the wane. Where literary stalwarts used to meet every evening in each other's homes, in a publishing house, or at the historic Indian Coffee House, and where landmark seminars in Hindi were organised at the university, there is now a lack of composite identity. Noted Hindi publishing houses have either closed down or are on the verge of shutting. Only a handful, like Lok Bharati Publications and Hindustani Academy, have survived.
The irony is hard to miss. While Allahabad was once a confluence or ‘prayag’ of literary minds, which powered the evolution of Hindi literature, this tradition is fast ebbing at a time when this great city has been renamed Prayagraj.