Harivansh Rai Bachchan

8 minute read
Harivansh Rai Bachchan

“Never live like a flower, for you shall be shattered as soon as you bloom; live like a stone if you so wish, for one day you shall turn into a god”, was a quote given by one of the stalwarts of Hindi literature, Harivansh Rai Bachchan. Celebrated as the pioneer of the Chhayavad movement or the romantic upsurge movement in the 20th century, Harivansh Rai Bachchan has a collection of 30 poems to his name. His writings traversed various themes such as man’s need for freedom, tussle with the orthodoxy of religion, love and dependence as well as unequal societal power structures. Rich in its imageries, lyrical beauty and doused in a streak of rebellion; his poetry is a testimony to his unmatched talent. Regarded as the “romantic rebel”, he evoked passionate and wild enthusiasm from his audience, through his renditions. This blog covers the life story of Harivansh Rai Bachchan, the man who truly had his way with words.

Childhood and Early Life

Born in Allahabad in 1907, Harivansh Rai Bachchan was the eldest son of Pratap Narayan Srivastava and Saraswati Devi Srivastava. His father worked as a clerk in the office of the Pioneer newspaper. He was fondly referred to as “Bachchan” – a sobriquet that would stick by him for a lifetime. His childhood was wrought with financial troubles which instilled in him a desire to rise above his situation. Very early on, the young Harivansh Rai developed a penchant for reading and spent long hours in the library, voraciously reading all the books that were at his disposal. 

Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s adolescence was a particularly tumultuous period, marked by a series of unfortunate events. The early death of his closest friends, one of them being Karkal and his wife, followed by the death of his wife of 10 years, Shyama. The slate of misfortunes served as the catalyst to Harivanshrai Bachchan career as a poet. He was also deeply influenced by the political ethos of his times which shaped his poetic style and its numerous themes.

“Tu na thakega kabhi, tu na thamega kabhi, tu na mudega kabhi. Kar shapath! Kar shapath! Kar shapath! Agneepath! Agneepath! Agneepath!”

Education of Harivansh Rai Bachchan

Harivanshrai Bachchan started his education in a Municipality school in Uttar Pradesh and simultaneously studied Urdu from Kayastha Pathshala. After completing his primary education Harivanshrai Bachchan completed his BA from Allahabad University in 1927 and enrolled for MA which he completed in 1937-28. During his college days, he participated in the non – cooperation movement by taking a brief hiatus from his education in the early1930’s. While he is renowned as a Hindi writer, little do people know about his proficiency in the English language. In 1941, he was offered the position of a lecturer in the English literature department of Allahabad University. Later on in his life, he went to Cambridge University, Catherine college to pursue his doctoral studies. In the due course, he became the first Indian to receive a doctorate from Cambridge University

Works and Career

Harivansh Rai Bachchan
Courtesy: Mumbai Mirror

A grieving Harivansh Rai Bachchan took up various ill-suited jobs until he was offered a lectureship at the English department in Allahabad university. This opportunity proved favourable to develop his craft in poetry. While he is widely regarded as a poet, he was also a gifted translator, demystifying the writings of WB Keats, William Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam for the Indian audience. He based his PhD thesis on the works of WB Keats and occultism. additionally, he also wrote extensively on politics, love and philosophy. Harivansh Rai Bachchan also worked at the All India Radio Station and later at the Ministry of External Affairs, translating documents in Hindi.

His career as a poet rose to fame after the publication of his renowned 146 verse poem “Madhushala”. Creating a fan-frenzy, Madhushala would always be demanded by the audience during his poetry recitals. He also published his 4-part autobiography, which was well-received and later translated into English by Rupert Snell. In the collection of his 30 poems, the last poem titled “Ek November 1984” was based on the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Chahe jitna tu pee pyala, chahe jitna tu ban matwala, sun bhed batati hun antim, yeh shaant nahi hoga jwala, main madhushala ki madhubala.”

Personal Life of Harivansh Rai Bachchan

After the demise of his first wife in 1936, Harivansh Rai Bachchan married Teji Suri in 1942. As per his own admission, his marriage to Teji changed the course of his life and his poetry. His literary career thrived, resulting in a 63-year-old literary journey. Harivansh Rai Bachchan fathered 2 renowned sons; Amitabh Bachchan who became a renowned Bollywood actor and Ajitabh Bachchan, a businessman. During his stint in Delhi, Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Teji Bachchan developed a close friendship with Indira Gandhi and blended into the social intellectual circles of Delhi. The husband-wife duo, throughout their career, sought to promote Hindi as the national, official language of India and represented India on various international and cultural forums.

Harivansh Rai Bachchan
Courtesy: Times of India

Best Works of Harivansh Rai Bachchan

Harivanshrai Bachchan’s writings are considered as the landmark of Hindi literature. His matchless penmanship manages to evoke an enchanting feeling even years after his death. Let us dive into some of the best works that earned him the title of ‘literary maestro’:


Madiralaya jane ko ghar se
Chalta hai peene wala
Kis path se jaun?
Asmanjas mein hai who bhola-bhala
Alag-alag path batlate sab,
Par main ya batlata hun-
Raah pakad tu ek chala chal,
Paa jayega madhushala

Credits – Poetica

Ruke Na Tu

Dhanush utha, prahaar kar
Tu sabse pehli vaar kar
Agni si dhadak-dhadak
Hiran si sajag-sajag
Singh si dahaad kar
Shankh se pukar kar
Ruke na tu, thake na tu
Jhuke na tu, thame na tu

Credits – Poems & Stories for kids

Vishwa Sara So Raha Hai

Hain vicharte swaon sunder,
Kintu inka sang tajkar,
Vyom-vyaapi shoonyata ka
Kaun saathi ho raha hai?
Vishwa saara so raha hai

Credits – Poetica

Kya Karun Samvedna Lekar Tumhari

Mein dukhi jab jab hua, 
samvedna tumne dikhai
Mein kritagya hua hua hamesha,
Reet dono ne nibhai
Kintu is aabhar ka ho chuka ka ab,
Ho chuka bhoj bhaari,
Kya karun Samvedna Lekar tumhari
Kya karun

Credits – Dr. Arun Chandra Dwivedi

Himmat Karne Waalon Ki Haar Nahi Hoti

Himmat karne walon ki haar nhi hoti,
Lehron se dar kar nauka paar nahi hoti,
Nanhi cheenti jab daana lekar chalti hai,
Chadti deewaron par sau baar philsalti hai
Mann ka vishwaas ragon mein saahas bharta hai,
Chad kar girna , gir kar chadna akharta hai,
Aakhir uski mehnat bekaar nahi hoti
Koshish karne walon ki haar nahi hoti

Credits – the Indian Motivation Channel

Best Books of  Harivansh Rai Bachchan

Here is a list of books and poems written by Harivanshrai Bachchan.

Published Title 
1997Meri shreshtha kavitayen
1938Nisha Nimantran
1945Do chattanein
1950Milan yamini
1969Kya Bhulu Kya Yaad Karu
1970Neerh ka Nirman Phir
1977Basere Se Door
1977Dashdwaar se Sopaan tak

Awards and Recognitions

In 1966, Harivansh Rai Bachchan was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha. The following year, Bachchan was awarded the ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’ for his poetry “Do Chattanen“. In 1961, Harivansh Rai Bachchan was bestowed with the highest civilian honour of Padma Bhushan by the government of India. He was also awarded various international accolades like the Soviet Land Nehru Award, the Lotus Award of the Afro-Asian Writers’ conference etc. in 1994, the state government of Uttar Pradesh conferred on him the “Yash Bharati ” Samman. A postage stamp was also released in 2003, commemorating his legacy.

Harivansh Rai Bachchan breathed his last on 18 January 2003, aged 95 and lived his last years under the protective shadow of his son Amitabh. 

Courtesy: Wikipedia

“Mitti ka tan, masti ka man, kshan-bhar jivan — mera parichay.”

Important Lessons to Learn From Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s Life

  1. Bounce back after every set back

Harivanshrai Bachchan’s early life was nothing short of a tragedy. His circumstances were riddled with untimely familial deaths and a political unrest. However he chose to not define themselves through his tragedies. While his difficult situation was not entirely conducive for his career to grow, he made the best out of his condition. He channeled all his grief into his poetry and tried to hone his craft in the midst of chaos. Thus Harivanshrai Bachchan’s life is a classic example of how it is possible to rise up, regardless of how difficult the situation might be.

  1. If things go as per your plan, then good. But if they don’t, then even better

The above line were the wise words Harivanshrai Bachchan had given to his son Amitabh but is definitely a piece of advice we all can use. When Amitabh was going through a particularly difficult phase in his life his father assured that at first things might seem like they are not going your way but there is always a greater meaning to each one’s situation. What was not your plan is perhaps a part of god’s plan. In hindsight, Amitabh Bachchan admits that he saw meaning in his fathers words after many other opportunities sprung up.

  1. So long as there is life, there is struggle

Harivanshrai Bachchan believes that life is inherently difficult. He says there are no excuses in life and there is no one to blame. Every morning is a new challenge. One must either pick up a fight or surrender themself to the tide. As long as there’s life will be struggle. 

  1. To not get bogged down by haters

Harivanshrai Bachchan has the repute for being one of the earliest Indians to receive Phd from Cambridge University. He went to Lonndon after taking a brief break from his teaching at Allahabad University. However things were not as rosy as one imagines after he returned. He was met with a lot of negativity, jealousy from his colleagues at Allahabad University. Harivanshrai Bachchan was married to Teji Suri at the time and he admits that after he left for London his family had to endure all kinds of rumors and unsavoury talks. But Harivanshrai Bachchan paid no heed to all the negativity that came his way. He says that if one has faith in their purpose, then everything else is immaterial.

  1. Remain content in times of sorrow

Harivanshrai Bachchan was an ardent believer of the fact that every dark cloud has a silver lining. This belief of his is reflected in one of his poems when he says “mein jala hriday mein agani, daha karta hoon. Sukh dukh dono mein magan karta hoon. Jag – bhav sagar tarne ko naav banae, mein bhav – maujon par mast beh karta hoon.” He teaches us that we may not be able to control our situation at all times. So the best course of action is to make peace with the circumstance and search for happiness wherever one can. 

Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s death left a void that cannot be filled. 18 years after his death, Bachchan’s legacy continues to be fondly remembered by the young and old alike. Hopefully, this blog gave you an insight into the illustrious life of Harivansh Rai Bachchan. To find articles on more such inspirational personalities, stay tuned to Leverage Edu and follow us on LinkedIn, Youtube, Facebook, Quora, and Instagram!

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *