The individual in the nation : locating identity at the transition from didactic nationalism to the lyrical in early twentieth-century Hindi poetry

Green, Sarah Virginia Houston
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The Chāyāvād Era of Modern Standard Hindi (Khari Boli) poetry appeared around 1920 as a contradiction to the poetic idiom of the previous Dvivedī Era (named for Mahāvīr Prasād Dvivedī, 1864-1938, editor of the influential journal, Sarasvatī). Through Sarasvatī, Dvivedī oversaw the standardization of Khari Boli Hindi as a national poetic medium. Whereas the didactic, grammatically standardized poetry of the Dvivedī Era emphasizes social reformist and nationalist themes, the poetic idiom developed by the four major Chāyāvād poets—Jayśankar Prasād (1889-1937), Sumitrānandan Pant (1900-1977), Sūryakānt Tripāthī (“Nirālā,” 1899?-1961) and Mahādevī Varmā (1902- 1987)—focuses on the interior feelings of the individual and freely transgresses grammatical rules. This shift in the popular poetic idiom raises the dissertation’s leading question: why did the individualistic, introverted Chāyāvād idiom appear at a moment of social consolidation and intense nationalist activity? My query is broadly contextualized within three theoretical areas: modernity and nationalism as Chāyāvād’s primary discursive contexts; identity studies; and the concept of the cultural product as a semiotic system involving complex social reverberations. The Chāyāvād idiom’s manifestation as a cultural product constitutes the dissertation’s major area of concern. I argue that Chāyāvād transmitted new configurations of Indian identity primarily through two means: the reformulation of culturally significant themes and the manipulation of grammatical rules. I identify four semiotically potent themes, the ‘transmissional modes,’ which served as sites of identity reformulation: dharma, in the senses of conscience and social duty; nature; the individual in relation to society; and desire with its corollary, suffering. On the basis that grammatical forms transmit social messages, I argue that grammatical developments relating to the Chāyāvād idiom were integral components in the construction of new modern-nationalist Indian identity models. Chāyāvād utilized shifts in grammar to address issues—such as power—that are closely connected to identity. Thus the work of Chāyāvād, carried out in relation to the processes of modernity and nationalism through the transmissional modes and grammatical shifts, was to transform the terms of discourse that served as the basis for modern-nationalist identities in India.