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Chaayavaad: Neo-Romantic Poets of India

Neo-romanticism is described as an expression of an identification with nature. It was a call-back to romanticism with an intense and intimate formation of connection between humans and nature.

Chaayavaad in Devanagiri

In India, Hindi literature encountered neo-romanticism or Chaayavaad from 1914-1938. Chaayavaad emerged as a movement with a didacticism of romance, humanism, mysticism and suggested an unconventional experience and awareness of self and surroundings. Many describe it is conflation of romanticism and spiritualism. Its main theme were love and nature rendered by subjective stories and point of views. Although many writers emulated the idea these four writers and poets became the four pillars (Char Stambh) of the Chaayavaadi school in Hindi Literature.

Jaishankar Prasad

Born on 30th January, 1889 Jaishankar penned his initial poems in Braj, a dialect in Hindi with the pen name “Kaladhar”. He later shifted to Khadi Boli (or Sanskritized Hindi) and made conscious efforts to ignore the other influences and elements of Hindi Language. Then, in 1936, he crafted what is now called the magnum opus of Chaayavaadi Literature and one of the greatest literature of Hindi language– Kamayani. The epic poem is based on a mythological figure found in vedas, Manu who is a state where he is emotionless. He then encounters multifarious thoughts and emotions.

Mahadevi Varma, another important Chaayavaadi poet, said about Jaishankar Prasad, "Whenever I remember our great poet, Prasad a particular image comes to my mind. A fir tree stands on the slope of the Himalaya, straight and tall as the proud mountain peaks themselves. Its lofty head braves the assaults of the snow, the rain, and the blazing heat of the sun. Violent storms shake its spreading branches, while a thin stream of water plays hide-and-seek amongst its root. Even under the most heavy snowfall, the most fierce heat, and the torrential rain, the fir tree holds its head high. Even in the midst of the worst thunderstorm and blizzards, it remains steady and unflinching.”

Suryakant Tripathi Nirala

Although Nirala was born and bought up in Bengal, he was fascinated by Sanskrit. His wife encouraged him to learn Hindi. For Nirala, Hindi was his third-language, it is surprising that he managed to get a hold of it and make remarkable contributions. He experimented with his writings while writing novels, essays and poems. His poems and other works are widely acknowledged. Interestingly, once at a literature festival, Gandhi asked “Where is Hindi’s Tagore?” Nirala addressed this from the crowd and asked if he has read enough Hindi Literature. When Gandhi said he hasn’t, Nirala said he would send his and Tagore’s work to him.

Ramachandra Guha mentions in his essay, Nehru and Nirala, that upon returning from China when Nehru was addressing the public, he received garlands from the fans. He said, “I have come from China and heard there a story of a great king who had two sons. One was wise, the other stupid. When the boys reached adulthood, the king told the stupid one that he could have his throne, for he was fit only to be a ruler. But the wise one, he said, was destined for far greater things — he would be a poet.” He then took the garland off his head and placed it at Nirala’s feet as offerings.

Mahadevi Varma

“As soon as [women] are married, the dreams of a happy home life become handcuffs and chains and grip their hands and feet in such a way that the flow of the life-force stops within them.”

Varma isn’t just a poet of Chaayawaad. She is a figure of great importance in today’s feminism. Writer of the much-celebrated poem “Jhansi ki Rani”, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan was a senior to Varma in college. She taught Varma to write in Khadi Boli. They both continued to encourage each other and write together till Subhandra graduated. Varma then went on become one of the most admired poets of 20th century. In 1979, she became the first woman fellow at Sahitya Akademi. She was awarded by second-highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan.

She wrote, “If we can bear the harsh truth, we would have to accept it with humility: that society has given to woman the most debased means for building up her life. She must live, having been made a means for the exhibition and enjoyment of man’s wealth.”

Sumitrananda Pant

Veena was compiled by Pant, a collection of poems he wrote on nature since the age of seven. Most of his poems are on nature explaining why he is called “prakriti ke sukumaar kavi” (the poet of nature). He also wrote progressive left-wing poems and he was heavily influenced by both Gandhi and Marx. He dropped out of his college to join Satyagraha movement.

सुख-भोग खोजने आते सब, आये तुम करने सत्य खोज, जग की मिट्टी के पुतले जन, तुम आत्मा के, मन के मनोज! -- Bapu ke Prati, Sumitrananda Pant


All come to find happiness and enjoyment,

You have come to find the truth;

Others are the effigy of the earth,

You are the soul, the mind of the mind.]

Chaayavaad was a prominent movement in literature of Hindi. However, it didn’t last too long owing to the upsurge of patriotic spirit during the time of independence. All the acclaimed poets of Chaayavaad, including Harishvansh Rai Bachchan, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and many more inclined to nationalist literature to promote the idea of the same, which resulted in the replacement of Chaayavaad. But it still remains revolutionary idea for Hindi literature.


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