Neo-criticism, Chhayavaad and Sumitranandan Pant
By Ayushi Nagalia
Literature, be it the product of any nation, language or culture, is the mirror of the society and the people’s psyche. It is through Literature, the written word, that we see the world for the way it is. The neo-romanticism movement defines the importance of literature as an indirect mirror of the society, as something that represents people, but not in such a realistic way that literature in itself loses the divine position in people’s lives. It is because of literature’s social richness, literature and art in general, go through several evolutionary eras such as the classical age, renaissance, romanticism, neo-classicism and neo-romanticism.
Neo-romanticism was a worldwide artistical phenomenon that was prominent in Europe during the late 19th century and early 20th century and was an amalgamation of various movements in art, literature, music, philosophy and architecture. Neo-romantic artists identified themselves as detainers of realism, naturalism and materialism. The major concern of neo-romantic artists was to give meaning to life and fill the ‘void’ of modern exitance and modern education. In a wide sense, even though renaissance was a period of artistic and economical boom for the world, neo-criticism was a humanistic boom to the world’s literature.
The neo-romantic movement hit India a little later than it hit Europe. In the beginning of the 1920s did we first start to see the impacts of neo-romanticism, with Hindi authors showing signs of influence from British writers like W.B. Yeats and Rudyard Kipling. Neo-romantic characteristics filled up Indian culture entirely during the 1920s when Hindi poet Sumitranandan Pant published his legendry collection of poems, Pallav in 1926. Not only did Pallav become one of the first Hindi poem collection that demonstrated neo-romantic elements such as humanism and love for nature poetry, but also became a stepping stone for Hindi literature, because it marks the end of the Dwivedi yug and the beginning of Chhaayavaad.
The Chhayavaad movement was distinctive and different from its preceding and following movements because of its unusually strict rhyming schemes, use of Iambic or Trochaic meter in the form of Quantitative verse i.e. classical mātrāvṛtta verse, unusual diction and central themes. Chhayavaadi poets chose to dismiss Romantic views of using rural or ordinary words and followed the neo-romantic trend of using simple yet strict or crude words. Khadi Bhaasha was common between the works of the four pillars of Chhayavaad, i.e., Mahadevi Varma, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Sumitranandan Pant and Jaishankar Prasad. In a variety of poems, Sumitranandan Pant abandoned the use of soft ending words like ‘hai’ and ‘tha’.
This abandonment made his poems get a cruder yet sublime diction and tone. The use of elaborate metaphors or lakshanvaad also sets neo-romantic poetry apart. The poet would be talking about the joys and melancholy of human exitance (Sumitranandan Pant’s Sukh Dukh), but would in actuality be comparing nature with humanity. How nature can give a soul the satisfaction it needs and how humanity can be corrupted, yet beautiful.
If there is something strikingly common between romanticism and neo-romanticism, it is the artists’ love for nature. Neo-romanticism took nature poetry to yet another level. Poetry, which used to be a distraction to the readers from the problems pertaining in the society with the help of nature imagery, began to question the meaning of life with the help of personification of nature. Up till the romantic era or the Dwivedi Yug, nature was a character or an element in poems, however, in the neo-romantic era or in Chhayavaad, nature became poetry.
Those who used to read about a flower’s exterior beauty began to read about the existential crisis faced by the flower.
Sumitranandan Pant is known as the William Wordsworth of Hindi poetry. He was the most romantic neo-romantic Indian poet. Often, in his poems he personified and romanced with nature. He would compare nature to a beautiful young woman and ask her questions life,
“छोड़ द्रुमों की मृदु-छाया,
तोड़ प्रकृति से भी माया,
बाले! तेरे बाल-जाल में कैसे उलझा दूँ लोचन?
भूल अभी से इस जग को!”
Pant lost his mother at birth and took to nature for solace, he cried and laughed with nature, and reflected his lonely childhood spent with no one but nature in his poems in the most sublime way possible. The influence of nature on his childhood can be clearly seen in his poems and is the reason for him to turn into a semi-romantic, neo-romantic nature poet. His exquisite social awareness and awakening along woven together with a comparison between naturalism and humanism made him the foremost Chhayavaadi poet.
As said by Mahadevi Varma, “Vishwa ke athva prakriti ke sabhi upkarno me chetana ka aarop chhayavaad ki pehli sedhi hai”. Chhayavaad is the name of humanism and personification of nature. Chhayavaad says that nature should not be treated as a lifeless entity, but should be given as much respect as we give to any living, talking being. The Chhayavaad movement arose in Indian when there was a feeling of resentment among Indians for their colonizers. When Gandhi ji’s uprisings spread across the poor and uneducated, Chhayavaad took birth, because the essence of neo-romanticism lies in a sense of national pride.
Chhayavaadi poets didn’t just want independence from the British rule, but also from humanity, life and the restraints of modern education. Chhayavaadi poets dismissed materialism and classicism and aimed at questioning and bettering the society in the most peaceful way possible. Sumitranandan Pant left college in 1921 when he got influenced by Gandhi ji’s non-corporation movement. During this time, he read the contemporary romantic works and got greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. A sense of nationalism and humanism raised in him, which lead him to write splendid poems like Bharatmata Gramvasini.
Sumitranandan Pant believed in humanism, naturalism, imagination and salvation. In his work Moh aur manavras, the first thing the poet does is question the relationship between human and nature.
“सुन्दर हैं विहग, सुमन सुन्दर,
मानव! तुम सबसे सुन्दरतम,
निर्मित सबकी तिल-सुषमा से
तुम निखिल सृष्टि में चिर निरुपम! “
Sumitranandan Pant compares nature and humans so subtly that his works become the most genius and heartfelt poetry witnessed by Hindi Literature. His primal wish with poetry was to let his readers gain a perspective on life and existentialism. Chhayavaad paved the path towards Dalit literature and existentialism. Sumitranandan Pant showed how Chhayavaad was about pain and the pained. But instead of sympathizing with the hurt, he showed how poetry has the power to heal, inspire and redeem them. In his poems, Sumitranandan Pant shows how the human heart is constantly fixed in a conundrum between his heart and brain. With his indirect speech and metaphors, he shows the difference between reality and beliefs
Not only was Sumitranandan Pant a trendsetter in Hindi literature, but also a movement leader. For his marvelous contribution to Hindi Literature, Sumitranandan Pant was awarded the Sahitya Akademy award, Gyan Peeth Award and Padma Bhushan. It was Sumitranandan Pant who gave way to Chhayavaad and its various characteristics with the help of Mahadevi Varma, Jaishankar Prasad and Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’.