Bharatendu Harishchandra

Bharatendu Harishchandra (9 September 1850 – 6 January 1885) is known as the father of modern Hindi Literature as well as Hindi theatre.  He is considered one of the greatest Hindi writers of modern India. A recognized poet, he was a trendsetter in Hindi prose-writing. He was an author of several dramas, life sketches and travel accounts; he used new media like reports, publications, letters to the editor, translations and literary works to shape public opinion. Writing under the pen name “Rasa”, Harishchandra represented the agonies of the people, country’s poverty, dependency, inhuman exploitation, the unrest of the middle class and the urge for the progress of the country. He was an influential Hindu “traditionalist”, using Vaishnava  devotionalism to define a coherent Hindu Religion.


Born in Banaras, Bharatendu Harishchandra’s father Gopal Chandra was a poet. He wrote under the pseudonym Girdhar Das. Bharatendu’s parents died when he was young but they seem to have had an influence on him. Acharya Ramchandra Shukla has described how Bharatendu went to the Jagannath temple in Puri, Orissa with his family in 1865, when he was merely 15 years of age. During this trip he was influenced by the Bengal Renaissance and decided to bring the genres of social, historical, and Pauranic plays and novels into Hindi. This influence reflected in his Hindi translation of the Bengali drama Vidyasundar, three years later, in 1868. Bharatendu devoted his life to the development of Hindi literature. In recognition of his services as a writer, patron and modernizer, the title of “Bharatendu” was conferred on him at a public meeting by scholars of Kashi in 1880. Reputed literary critic Ram Vilas Sharma refers to the “great literary awakening ushered in under Bharatendu’s leadership” as the “second storey of the edifice of renascent Hindi”, the first being the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Bharatendu Harishchandra made major contributions in the fields of journalism, drama, and poetry. He edited the magazines Kavi Vachan Sudha in 1868 into this magazine he requested Indian people first to use Indian made products or Swadeshi Apnao in March 1874, in 1873 Harishchandra Magazine Harishchandra Patrika and Bal Vodhini.  He was a member of the Chowdhury  family of Varanasi  belonging  to the Agrawal community and his home there is still in use. His ancestors were landlords in Bengal. He had one daughter. He wrote the widely mentioned history of the Agrawal community. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of India gives Bharatendu Harishchandra Awards since 1983 to promote original writings in Hindi mass communication.

Hindu traditionalism

According to Barbara and Thomas R. Metcalf, Bharatendu Harishchandra is considered an influential example of Hindu “traditionalist” in north India, typifying continuity with received tradition and self-conscious participation with the modern world. He was typical of those Indians who engaged with the Western institutions and learning: They refused to leave authority over religion to Brahmans who were traditionally educated. He used new media, especially publications to shape public opinion. Harishchandra was also typical of revivalists of Hindi Literature which were closely connected with Hindu revivalist movements. He “combined pleas for use of Swadeshi articles with demands for replacement of Urdu by Hindi in courts and a ban on cow slaughter“. He used Vaishnava devotionalism to define a coherent Hindu religion, with a base in the Kashi Dharma Sabha, started in the 1860s by the Maharaja of Benares as a response to more radical Hindu reformist movements. Harishchandra insisted on the value of image worship and interpreted Bhakti as devotion to a single god; this was in response to Orientalist and Christian critiques of Hinduism. The following two rhyming couplets are taken from his famous poem, मातृ-भाषा के प्रति (For the Sake of Mother-Tongue or Towards Mother-Tongue). It has ten couplets. The poet asserts the importance of using mother tongue as a medium of instruction—conversational and educational.

निज भाषा उन्नति अहै, सब उन्नति को मूल ।

बिन निज भाषा-ज्ञान के, मिटत न हिय को सूल ।।

विविध कला शिक्षा अमित, ज्ञान अनेक प्रकार।

सब देसन से लै करहू, भाषा माहि प्रचार ।।

Progress is made in one’s own language (the mother tongue), as it the foundation of all progress. Without the knowledge of the mother tongue, there is no cure for the pain of heart.

Many arts and education infinite, knowledge of various kinds. Should be taken from all countries, but be propagated in one’s mother tongue.