Just as with so many other facets of Indian life, British rule in India was instrumental in affecting and shaping the course of Indian literature. Vernacular as well as English writings of the nationalists displayed an acute awareness of Indian nationalism during and after the British period. The insights in the modern nationalist writings were distinct from the past in a sense that ideas which were being presented were more cohesive and structured. This was due to the benefit of added exposure and also as a measure of challenge from hostile and competing ideologies.

The genesis of nationalism in modern Hindi literature is a story which has Navyug (new age) poetry and poets at its centre. Some of these poets also produced marvellous plays, novels and short stories. With navjagaran (renaissance) as the mission, these litterateurs sought to bring a reawakening through consciousness about national identity and India’s glorious heritage. They invoked the valour of native heroes, lofty ideals which the nation had collectively cherished and above all the dharmic traditions. If there was a particular genre which could be called the language of navjagaran, it was chhayawad (romanticism).

Hindi literature, just like its other vernacular counterparts saw some of the finest writings expounding Indian nationalism through poetry, essays, novels, stories and plays. A large number of authors who expounded nationalism in Hindi literature also adhered to tatsama and Tadbhava (a vocabulary drawing from Sanskrit or root words from Sanskrit). This was also a return to a genre marked by pure and pristine Hindi, different from Hindustani or Hindi affected by Persian loan words. However some others deliberately kept the language simple to make the appeal popular.

Here we attempt to chart the course of modern Hindi nationalist writing through the works of six great authors whose literature centres on nationalism and cultural consciousness. We try to chart the entire course of modern Hindi literature by choosing a writer from different eras referred to as yugs.

1. Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850-1885, Bharatendu Yug)

Bharatendu was born in 1850 in Kashi, the culture capital of north India. He is considered the Father of modern Hindi literature. For someone who died very young, at the age of thirty five, Bharatendu’s contribution to literature is amazing. His prolificacy is matched by quality and eclectic forays into different genres and styles. From affective (bhaavatmak) to satirical (vyangya) to awakening (udbodhan) to metaphoric– his style was varied. With his wide range of writings concerning social, cultural and political issues he is rightly considered the harbinger of navjagaran (renaissance).

It was however his articles on history in Harishchandra, a periodical he edited, that his nationalist thoughts found proper articulation. He emphasized the need for history writing which highlighted a glorious, intellectual, courageous and virtuous Indian past. Controversially, Bharatendu considered India’s Aryan history to be its true past. He was critical of the attempts at negating the barbarity of Muslim rulers by historians.

In his book ‘Kashmir Kusum’ he wrote about the oppression of Hindu subjects in Kashmir by Muslim rulers. In ‘Badshahdarpan’ he wrote of the invading Muslim rulers trampling upon a thriving, happy and prosperous Hindu nation. While criticising Muslim invaders from Mahmud Ghazni to Aurangzeb he did not spare even Akbar. He called Akbar a wise enemy but an enemy nonetheless. He picked many an intellectual battle including the famous Hindi versus Urdu battle with Sir Syed where he argued Hindi’s case over Urdu as the more suitable for the country.

Bharatendu was gifted with a unique talent to put out his distilled wisdom in a simple but hard hitting language. The couplet below is a representation:

Bheetar bheetar sab ras choosai, baahar se tan man dhan moosai,
Zahir baatan main ati tej, Kyon sakhi saajan, nahin Angrez?

From inside he sucks all the vigour and from outside devours body,
soul and wealth; O dear friend how cunning is he- the British!

2. Shridhar Pathak (1858-1928, Dwivedi Yug)

Pathak was born in a village named Jaunwri which fell in the undivided Agra district of that time. Even before Mahaveer Prasad Dwivedi’s usage of khari boli (a hallmark of the Dwivedi yug) in his magazine Saraswati, Pathak had started using it in his poetry. All the features of Dwivedi yug poetry – nationalism and patriotism, rebellion against orthodoxy, women’s empowerment, humanitarianism, idealism, love for nature, and surreal, descriptive language were to be found in Pathak’s poetry.

His collection of poems ‘Bharat Geet’ has literary gems such as ‘Bharat Vandana’, ‘Jai Jai Bharat’, ‘Bharat Prashansa’, ‘Hind Mahima’ and ‘Desh Geet’— all works of inspirational poetry in a simple language which portray Bharatvarsha as God incarnate. He has two poems dedicated to Gopal Krishna Gokhale – ‘Gokhale Prashasti’ and ‘Shri Gokhale Gunashtak’.

However his best on nationalism as a subject comes out in three translations of Oliver Goldsmith who was a great inspiration to him. In these three works ‘The Hermit– Ekantvaas Yogi’,’ Deserted Village- Oojad Gram’ and ‘The Traveller- Shraant Pathik’, Pathak highlights the ills of imperialism and its effect on common Indian lives.

3. Jaishankar Prasad (1889-1937, Chhayawad)

One of the four pillars of romanticism (chhayawad) in Hindi literature (Sumitra Nandan Pant, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ and Mahadevi Verma being the other three), Prasad needs no introduction to the world of Hindi readers. His epic ‘Kamayani’ occupies an exalted place in Hindi literature. The epic tells the story of Manu and Shraddha – Hindu mythological equivalents of Adam and Eve- traversing a myriad of fifteen cantos beginning with worry and ending in (spiritual) bliss. His last work of poetry, this epic took about seven years to materialise from the time of conception.

Nationalism in Prasad’s writings is perhaps the most truthful elucidation of Bharatiya Rashtrawad as it goes beyond the parochial confines usually associated with European nationalism and expresses itself as an idea for global welfare.

Similarly three of Prasad’s plays ‘Skandgupt’, ‘Chandragupt’ and ‘Dhruvswami’ are not merely reminders of India’s glorious past but a call for wider and more meaningful cultural awakening.  ‘Skandgupt’, undoubtedly his is a reminder of how internal strife and bickering affect the health of a nation making it vulnerable in the face of foreign invasions.

The play, as some of his other plays, was a pretty straight call to the nation to face British subjugation with unity and fervour. Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi of ‘Chanakya’ fame drew heavily from Prasad and in particular his play ‘Skandgupt’. ‘Lehar’, his collection of poems is one of the most understated yet profound collections of nationalistic poetry ever written. His two short stories ‘Puraskar’ and ‘Chhaya’ also deserve a special mention in his repertoire of nationalistic writings.

Prasad’s subliminal nationalism is best reflected in his beautiful lines:

Arun yeh madhumay desh hamara
Jehan pahunch anjaan kshitij ko milta ek sahara
Saral taamras garbh vibha par, naach rahee tarushikha manohar
Chhitka jeevan hariyali par, mangal kumkum saara

4. Ramdhari Singh Dinkar (1908-1974, Uttar Chhayawad)

Born in a village called Simariyaghat in Beguserai, Bihar, Dinkar is arguably the most revered poet of veer rasa (valour) in Hindi literature. His corpus of literature ranges from rebellious poetry in the British reign to deep insightful essays on Indian culture and civilizational evolution. He is best remembered for his firebrand poetry in collections such as ‘Hunkaar’, ‘Kurukshetra’ and ‘Rashmirathi’.

His lines Kshama shobahti us bhujang ko, jiske paas garal ho, Uska kya jo dant heen vish rahit vineet saral ho convey a pragmatism found over and over in Indian philosophy and epics–which is that virtues such as mercy or benevolence are meaningful only when backed by power and authority. Else it is simply an apology for cowardice.

His book of essays ‘Sanskriti Ke Chaar Adhyaay’, puts him in the category of great thinkers. This Sahitya Akademi award winning work categorises Indian civilization into four chapters as periods of Aryan/Dravidian influence, Mahaveer and Buddha’s influence, Islamic influence and European influence. Dinkar contends that Indian civilization is essentially a civilization born out of its first influence, that is, Aryan/Dravidian influence.

In his preface to the book, Dinkar says that despite the Persian, Turkic and Afghan Islamic influences, the commonality between Hindus and Muslims in India remains fundamentally that which is born out of its primary influence. He laments the reluctance to admit this fact and failure to comprehend the real basis for unity. It is significant that Dinkar thinks it is the duty of academicians and intellectuals to address the problem rather than politicians.

5.Subhadra Kumari Chauhan (1904-1948, Uttar Chhayawad)

Patriotism inspired by impassioned poetry in Hindi cannot be imagined without the mention of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. Every child in Hindi heartland, if he or she has had the privilege of attending a school, remembers and connects to veer ras with the lines Chamak uthi san sattavan main, wah talwaar puraani thi. The legend of Lakshmibai the queen of Jhansi is immortalised, thanks in great measure to Chauhan’s free flowing, breathtaking poetry. Born in a village near Allahabad, Chauhan migrated to Jabalpur after her marriage. One of the finest Hindi poets, Mahadevi Verma was her childhood friend.

Besides ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’, ‘Veeron Ka Vasant Kaisa Ho’ is her other immensely popular poem in the patriotic genre. She returns to her personal hero, icon and role model, Jhansi Ki Rani once again in another short poem titled ‘Jhansi Ki Rani Ki Samadhi Par’. ‘Jalianwala Bagh Main Basant’, ‘Senani Ka Swagat, Swadesh Ke Prati’, ‘Vidai’ and ‘Vijaydashmi’ are her other notable patriotic poems. She was also a very successful story writer. Some of her collections of stories saw three to four reprints during her short life span. Among her stories ‘Heengwala’, ‘Raahi’, ‘Taangewala’ and ‘Gulab Singh’ touch upon national issues and nationalistic concerns.

Six decades after her tragic death in a car accident Chauhan has had a ship commissioned in her name by Indian Coast Guard in 2006.

6. Narendra Kohli (1940- ) 

Long after Hazaari Prasad Dwivedi, a literary genre was revived by a group of novelists who started retelling the stories from Indian epics in a new idiom. Realism replaced mythological hyperbole. Some great writings came from Acharya Chatursen (‘Vayam Rakshamah’, ‘Vaishali ki Nagarvadhu’, ‘Somnath’), Amritlal Nagar (‘Maanas ka Hans’) and Shivaji Sawant (‘Mrityunjay’). But the most successful and perceptive of the lot has been Narendra Kohli.

Kohli was born in Sialkot (Now Pakistani Punjab) before Partition. His primary education was in Urdu. He got to study Hindi only after High School. After receiving a PhD from Delhi University, he taught there from 1963 to 1995. His corpus of work is unparalleled in Hindi literature. Besides teaching and writing books he has also contributed articles in almost all leading Hindi newspapers.

Among his massive body of work, three epics—‘Abhyudaya’ (published earlier in shorter forms as ‘Ramkatha’, ‘Deeksha’ and ‘Sangharsh ki Oar’), ‘Mahasamar’ (series of eight novels on Mahabharata) and ‘Todo Kara Todo’ (five volume series on the life of Swami Vivekanada) are of huge significance.

Rama in his works is a nation builder and a democrat. He stresses the importance of Ram as a crusader against evil and adharma, who takes the persona of a leader of ordinary people rather than the King of Ayodhya. This is important for Kohli because he thinks that fundamental change can come only with the participation and involvement of people in the process and not by a King trouncing another– however noble the motives.

‘Ramkatha’ according to Kohli is more than just the story of Rama defeating Ravana. It is about purging evil from whole of Jambudweepa with the enthusiastic participation of people including the hermits. Kohli’s Rama is compassionate yet unforgiving; supremely devoted to dharma but stern while dealing with adharma; at harmony with nature and as an equal to his people. The crux of ‘Mahasamar’ is again the victory of dharma over adharma which is considered imminent in Indian philosophy. In both his retellings of Ramayana and Mahabharata, Kohli stresses the importance of wars to uphold dharma and safeguard society from the forces of adharma.

To Hindi literature which had plunged into pessimism, frustration and self criticism under the inferiority ridden “progressivism” and “experimentalism”, Kohli has come as a breath of fresh air. He is often compared to Premchand for both his quality and quantity of literary output. He is, without doubt, the largest selling contemporary Hindi author. Most writers concede that Kohli has ushered in a period of cultural renaissance and that the current period of Hindi literature should fittingly be described as the ‘Kohli yug’.

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