Shri Jaishankar Prasad (1889–1937), fondly called Prasad Ji, is not merely a great poet but a phenomenon with no parallel in Indian literary history.
He was born on 30 January 1890, in an aristocratic family of Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. He was admitted to a pathshala, a small school, run by Master Mohini Lal. But his parents’ early passing away cut short his formal education to eight years of school. At home, eminent teachers were hired to teach him Hindi, English, Sanskrit and Persian. He gained deep knowledge by studying Indian history, Sanskrit, literature, philosophy and the Hindu scriptures by himself.
Prasad Ji drew inspiration from Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, Puranas and Upanishads, to create the epic poem Kamayani, which has inspired many generations of scholars and intellectuals. He is one of the most eminent four pillars of the Chhayavad movement, which emphasised spiritualism, humanism and romanticism, in Hindi literature. His contributions to Chaayavad have a spiritual base and universalism that touches the human heart. Prasad Ji’s literary output straddled the genres of poetry, drama and fiction. He pioneered historical drama set in ancient India.
When Prasad Ji’s glory was at its peak, he developed tuberculosis, which had no remedy at that time. Chanting the name of Lord Shiva, he breathed his last on 15 November 1937. The moment of his death occurred during Brahma Mahurta, an auspicious period of forty-eight minutes that ends forty-eight minutes before sunrise and is considered the most auspicious period for meditation in Hindu thought. He was an ardent devotee of Shiva.
Legions of Prasad Ji’s fans believe that he had attained enlightenment. There is a divine element in his thought, which has a spiritually uplifting effect on the reader.
About the Translators
Pratibha Vinod Kumar is the penname of a husband-and-wife team. Pratibha Kumar passed away in 2020, and her husband Vinod Kumar continues to bring their collaborative work to fruit.
Pratibha Kumar (1941–2020) obtained an M.A. in English Literature with a Gold Medal from Rajasthan University, Jaipur. She taught English at Banasthali University (then Banasthali Vidyapith, Rajasthan) during 1963–1966, at St Michael’s School (Durgapur, West Bengal) from 1966 to 1985 and at Rotary Public School (Gurgaon, Haryana) from 1985 to 1991. Her translation into English of Jai Shankar Prasad’s epic poem Kamayani was published in Hindi in 2013. This translation won the Samman Patra award from the Shri Jaishankar Prasad foundation. The Dancer, Her Lover and the Yogi, her translation of Bhagwati Charan Verma’s landmark novel Chitralekha was published in 2015. Bride of the City, her translation of Acharya Chatursen’s epic Vaishali Ki Nagarvadhu, was released in 2021.
Vinod Kumar (born 1941) graduated in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, in 1963, where he studied with a scholarship. He worked with ACC Babcock Limited at Durgapur, West Bengal, from 1963 to 1984. In 1975, he was sponsored for advanced management training at Glasgow, UK, for six months. During this period, he visited eight countries. He moved to Gurgaon, Haryana, in 1984 and held senior positions in two companies. In 1991, he became an entrepreneur and ran a filter manufacturing unit until 2017. Since 2017, he has focused on literary work. Prasad Ji has had a deep influence on him since childhood. Vinod formed the Kamayani Vibhuti trust in 2008 to promote the understanding of literature in general and Prasad Ji’s works in particular. He collaborated with his wife Pratibha on her translations. In 2021, Vinod translated and published the only available Hindi translation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of Baskervilles. He is currently working on a Hindi translation of Around the World in Eighty Days, among other projects. He has sponsored small libraries in primary schools in Gurgaon and near Baltigarh to promote the habit of reading among children. This is an ongoing effort.