Birth: November 27, 1907
Birthplace: Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
Profession: Poet, Movie Song Lyricist
Family: Wife - Mrs. Teji Bachchan, Two sons - Amitabh and Ajitabh,
Daughter-in-law - Jaya Baduri Bachchan, Grandchildren - Abhishek and Shweta
"Madhushala" an eternal creation by Shri Harivansh Rai Bachchan
was a craze and whenever Mr. Harivansh Rai Bachchan presented it on Stage
the audience became so personally involved in it that the entire Hall
seemed to be swayed under the influence of the message in it.
Born in a middle-class family at Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh on 27 November
1907, Bachchan graduated from the Allahabad University in 1929, and very
soon he was drawn into the vortex of the freedom struggle. Having a short
stint as a journalist, he had joined as a teacher in the local Agarwal
Vidyalaya. Alongwith the teaching job he had pursued his studies and obtained
both M.A. and B.T.
He joined the Allahabad University as a Research Scholar and later in
1941 a Lecturer in English Literature. Taking a sabbatical from the University,
he went to Cambridge University for his doctoral work on "W.B. Yeats
and Occultism." He was the first Indian to acquire a Ph.D in English
Literature from Cambridge. Completing his research he joined to his alma
mater and after a short stint, Bachchan joined AIR, Allahabad, as Producer
for sometime. At the behest of Jawaharlal Nehru, he joined the Hindi Cell
in the Union Ministry of External Affairs as an OSD in 1955 to translate
official documents from English into Hindi which he had continued till
Undeterred by criticism and steeled by domestic difficulties like financial
worries, loneliness, which was compounded by the untimely death of his
first wife Shyama, Harivansh Rai continued to write, combining mature
subtlety with discretion. His marriage with Teji Suri changed the course
of his life and, by his own admission, his poetry. His creative career,
which began in 1932 and continued till 1995, was a 63-year literary journey.
Tera Har was his first collection lyrics. With the publication of Madhushala
(House of Mead, 1935), a literary masterpiece of Bachchan, a rhapsody
on wine and joy of living, his position as a major Hindi poet was firmly
established. He burst upon the horizon of Hindi poetry as a bright star
one evening in 1935 with his recitation of Madhushala, a cry straight
from the soul of a young man who had suffered much, to a huge audience,
unfolding to listeners an enchanting world with rings of Omar Khayyam.
Longing for an eternal union with his beautiful beloved, the poem employs
a range of symbols, especially that of wine, much as in the tradition
of Persian poetry. (The meaning of these symbols of operates at many levels.)
The influence of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyaat and its style he had written
two other long poems, completing a trilogy with Madhushala, Madhubala
(1936), and Madhukalash (1937).
The underlying message of these three collections was the meaninglessness
of the sordid worldly ambitions, greed acquisitiveness, bigotry and intolerance
in religion, morality and behavior. In a sad poetic irony, Harivansh Rai
boldly challenged sickening conventionalism and moralist and thus, gave
to Hindi poetry an entirely new dimension.
The death of Shyama had a profound effect on his psyche, shattering all
his hopes and dreams. His feelings of deep grief and pessimism were expressed
through Nisha Nimatran (Invitation to Night, 1938), collection of a hundred
lyrics. Harivansh had tried to evolve his own version of sonnet and in
harmony with its own poetic style. Instead of following the traditional
pattern of octave and sextet, his lyrics consisted of 13 lines suited
to Hindi language. Beginning with a cry of loneliness and ending with
an assurance, the basic imagery of these lyrics were linked with the darkness
and the light symbolizing his grief and hope.
The poet had expressed his inner feelings in terms of the outer world,
thus creating a universe of symbols. In the words of Mathur, "Nisha
Nimatran will remain a highly moving poetic document of tragedy and suffering.
In the entire modern Hindi poetry there is no work like Nisha Nimatran,
which has portrayed grief or the sense of a tragic void in life so profoundly."
Ekant Sangeet (Song of Loneliness, 1939), following Nisha Nimatran, was
written during the period of 1938-39 when he was passing through a mental
crisis. The lyrics reflect his sensitive mood and the grim phase of his
life. The collection marks the pinnacle of his poetic power and manifests
the destiny of lovelorn grief and the experience of extreme loneliness.
The poet had written that the darkness in which he had entered in Nisha
Nimatran had led him to listen to the Ekant Sangeet, the song of solitude,
and the music led him to Akul Antara (The Restless Heart, 1943). With
the publication of Akul Antara the first phase of his writing had come
to a close.
Moved by Bengal Famine
Satrangee (The Rainbow) was published in 1945. The Bengal Famine in 1943
caused Harivansh to move away from his earlier concerns. His new involvement
in the human predicament resulted in the collection Bangal ka Kal (The
Fate of Bengal, 1946). Bhupendranath Das translated the volume into Bengali
in 1948. Aware of human suffering and a sensibility sharpened by private
grief, in the same year (1946) he published Halahal.
The Happy Mood
Harivansh Rai expressed a happy mood after a long time, in 1950s, after
publishing Milan Yamini (1950) and Pranav Patrika (1955), named after
Tulsidas's Vinay Patrika. The poems of these two volumes had transcended
the sensuousness of his early poems. Ghar ke Idhar Udhar (1957) was a
work of transition in which the poet was gradually returning to share
the glory of his clan and family. In the next collection, Arati Aur Angare
(1958), he celebrated his return to one's own heritage. However, with
the publication of these poems his first phase of writing, in real sense,
In his later works he charts his path from loneliness and futility of
existence to the emerging joys of life. The element of irony returns in
another form in his poems after 1958, the first manifestation being in
Buddha aur Nachghar (Buddha and the Dance Hall). In his own opinion Buddha
aur Nachghar was the turning point of his poetic career, as he was able
to express the seen and anger of the society around him. In Tribhangima,
Char Kheme Chaunsath Khoonte, Roop aur Awaz, and Bahut Din Beete he had
experimented with the language of folklore. Bachchan moved on to social
satire in these volumes. This time he was more concerned with contemporary
life, the hollowness and villainy in society and politics. His desire
was to live a full-blooded life on this earth, which is quite evident
in his poems. This quality of the poet had made his the most liked and
loved poet of Hindi.
Harivansh Rai's Do Chattanen (Two Rocks, 1965), contains fifty-three
poems. Written between 1962-64, this collection of poems received the
Sahitya Akademi Award in 1968. Alongwith a number of other poems, the
most important is the title poem 'Do Chattanen or Sisyphus vs Hanuman'.
The poet presents two points of view of life by using Sisyphus, the symbolic
character from the Greek mythology, and Hanuman as symbols. Both Sisyphus
and Hanuman aspire to become immortal, but their means are different.
The former symbolizes the faithless western man of 20th century and the
latter immortality through devotion, absolute faith and humanity.
Besides this long poem, the poet reacts to so many things during his
seventh decade such as the Chinese aggression, Nehru's death, anger of
youth, his old age, contemporary literary scene, academics, etc., in the
rest of the work. "For its vigour of expression and maturity of outlook,
the book has been hailed as an outstanding contribution to contemporary
Hindi literature", says the Award citation. However, the poems of
Do Chattanen represent clarity of meaning and lucidity of expression of
All the experimental poems, including 76 poems chosen from a poetic career
of 50 years, Kavitai ki Adhisadi, was published in 1981.
The influence of Mahatma Gandhi on Hindi writers has been distinctly
profound during the decades following the Satyagraha (1921) and before
the end of the Second World War. And Bachchan too has not escaped from
it. He had brought out his collection on Gandhi, called Khadi Ke Phool
(1948), in collaboration with Sumitranandan Pant, which contains 93 poems
of Bachchan and 15 of Pant. Both the poets had paid homage to Gandhi.
Besides, he himself had written a collection of poetic tribute to the
Mahatma in Soot ki Mala, mourning the death of Gandhi. Both these books
on Gandhian themes are of great poetic value.
However, the poetry of Harivansh Rai had brought range, delicacy of feeling,
ruggedness, ease and strength to the romantic lyric. Being born in a family
known for its scholarship in Persian and its devotion to Vaishnav faith,
his poetry combines the best of Sanskrit and Persio-Arabiv poetic traditions.
He had set a model of lyricism in Hindi and his contribution in changing
the temper, approach and style of poetry during the 30s has been very
The varied influences of Kabir, Keats, Tagore and Omar Khayyam were evident
throughout his poetry, as also a deep appreciation of Shakespeare. He
had also translated Shakespeare's Macbeth and Othello, sixty-four Russian
poems into Hindi entitled Chaunsath Rusi Kavitayen and 101 poems of W.B.
Yeats. For his Hindi translation of Russian poems he was honored with
Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1966.
Bachchan had also translated the Bhagvadgeeta in Awadhi entitled Janageeta
(1958) and also in modern Hindi, Nagargeeta (1966). Some of his selected
poems have been translated into many Indian and foreign languages. Besides,
he had written essays, travelogues, and edited several volumes of his
own poetry and that of his contemporaries. He has contributed to the Indian
film Industry with his songs 'Rang barse' from Yash Chopra's 'Silsila'
(1981) and 'Koi gata main so jata' for the movie 'Aalap' (1977).
The great achievement of Harivansh Rai in prose writing was his autobiography
in four volumes Naye Purane Jharokhe (Windows New and Old) beginning with
Kya Bhoolon Kya Yaad Karoon (What to Forget and What to Remember). Considered
as a seminal work which was to carve out another niche for himself, the
work is distinguished by its graceful confession and intimate account
of his innermost feelings in situations of great tragic dimensions.
The Soviet Land Nehru Award
Padma Bhushan (1976)
The (first) Saraswati Samman winner (K. K. Birla Foundation)
Afro-Asian Writers' Conference Lotus prize
Nominated member by the President of India to the Rajya Sabha, 1966
Member of the Advisory Board for Hindi, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi (1963-67)
India lost this great poet of the Hindi language on 18th January 2003.
He died of respiratory problems at the ripe age of 96. The funeral procession
in Bombay was attended by thousands of people, among which many Bollywood
stars, top industrialists and politicians, the BBC reports. His eldest
son, Amitabh Bachchan, performed the last rites.
Text taken from: http://www.hindilyrix.com/lyricists/lyricist-harivanshrai-bachchan.html