Madan Mohan Malaviya: A biography of teacher of the Nation
The founder of Benares Hindu University. His boyhood was spent in utter poverty. By his scholarship, pure life and selflessness he won such respect that he collected more than thirteen million rupees for the University. He was the tireless exponent of the greatness of India and her culture.
It is the good fortune of the world that a great man is born in a country. Madan Mohan Malaviya was a rare genius. The families and the land of the birth of such geniuses and even the world feel a sense of fulfillment because of them.
There is a place called ‘Malva’ near Jhansi in North India. Malaviya’s ancestors lived in Malva.
It was the practice then to add to the name of a man the name of the town in which he was living.
When his ancestors migrated to Prayag, Malaviya changed the suffix from ‘ Vyasa’ to ‘Malaviya’.
Malaviya’s grandfather was Premdhar Malaviya.
He won much fame and was respected by one and all.
Against The Tide
In 1857, brave people like Nana Sahib, Tatia Tope and Lakshmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi, fought heroically to drive the British out of India.
Their efforts were in vain. India was made a part of the British Empire. Following this, there was a great change in the outlook of Indians. Educated people and people of the middle class imitated the people of the West. The change was striking in their clothes and manners and speech. They were proud of speaking in English, of dressing like Englishmen and of following the customs of the English. Malaviya’s ancestors had a deep faith in the moral principles of their forefathers; thus they were swimming against the tide.
Pandit Vrajanath, the revered father of Pandit Malaviya, managed to earn his livelihood only by reciting Srimad Bhagavatha (a collection of stores about Sri Krishna, and his devotees) and explaining the text. He had no other source of income. We can easily manage the difficulty of this devoted Brahmin in making both ends meet. But he believed in the kindness of God and had the firm faith that God would not let down those who trusted Him; so this Brahmin left his fortunes in the hands of God.
Pandit Premdhar Malaviya died. After completing the last rites of his father according to religious custom, Pandit Vrajanath went to the sacred Gaya to complete the religious ceremonies. After the ceremonies were over the priests said to Vrajanath, “Pray God to grant any wish you have; we shall bless that you may succeed.
Pandit Vrajanath faced the east, folded his hands and prayed: “God, grant me a son -the equal of whom has not been born and will never be born.”
A Fortunate Name
The day dawned when Pandit Vrajanath’s prayers were answered. On 25th December 1861, Pandit Madana Mohana Malaviya was born in Ahiyapura. (This suburb is now famous as Malaviyanagar). Moonadevi was blessed by giving birth to this son.
It was twilight. Lights were about to be lit in every house. All of a sudden the auspicious sound of metallic gongs was heard. So people learned of the birth of a son to Pandit Vrajanath. Vrajanath was not a rich man. But people respected him for his pure life, scholarship and his good nature.
They all loved him. In an instant, a happy crowd gathered in front of the house of Vrajanath, the beloved exponent of sacred books.
It was a small house of mud walls. It could not hold all the well wishes that called. Vrajanath was not rich to distribute sweets to them. With folded hands, he thanked the good wishes. They took leave of him. The child was to be given a name.
It was suggested that a name beginning with the first letter – ‘M’, would be most fortunate: so Vrajanath decided that ‘Madana Mohana’ was the most suitable name. The boy Madana Mohana was always cheerful and active.
By the time he was five, his education began.
There was no school at that time in Ahiyapura. A scholar, Pandit Haradeva, was running a school by the name ‘Dharmajnanopadesha Pathashala’.
One-day Madana Mohan’s father took the boy to Pandit Haradeva for admission to the educational institution. Pandit Haradeva looked at the boy and said: “Very well. Does the boy know any shloka (sacred verse)?”
The boy went up to the teacher and touched his feet. He then bowed to his father; he stood with folded hands and boldly recited a fine verse, which his father had taught him every day. The teacher was pleased and asked the boy to sing the verse. The boy sang the verse in a sweet voice.
The teacher was pleased very much. He laid his hand on the boy’s head and exclaimed:
“You are indeed lucky! You will bring lasting fame to your family; your family will become great because of you.”
Madana Mohana’s education under Pandit Haradeva began. He was taught a work called ‘Laghu Kaumudi’ in Sanskrit. He got by heart several moral verses from the Bhagavadgita, the Manusmruti and many other works.
When he was eight – Madana Mohana was invested with the sacred thread. His respected father Vrajanath himself taught the sacred Gayathri verse to the son. (Investing a boy with the sacred thread marks the beginning of his serious studies and disciplined life. The Gayathri is a verse taught to the boy at this time.)
The Little Scholar
The little scholar Madana Mohana used to perform the religious rites in the morning and the evening. Looking at the boy in that role his mother used to wonder whether he would become a sannyasi (a religious ascetic). She feared that her eye might harm him by her constant and fond admiration, and observed religious rites to prevent it.
As a boy Madana Mohana was mischievous.
Games were the very breath of his life. While playing with sticks or with marbles he even forgot food and sleep. And he was regular in physical exercises.
Work began at Dharmajnanopadesha Pathashala, Madana Mohana’s school, at 6 in the morning. The school-bell would sound at 9-30 a.m. When the students gathered, a student of a higher claw would be asked by the teacher to read aloud a sacred verse. The other students repeated it. This was how all the students were taught the Manusmruti, the Bhagavadgita and other works. As the students sang these again and again together, they learned the poems by heart.
‘I Was Fortunate’
This is what Madana Mohana said about his food:
“I felt that even kings could not have the food I used to eat. Princes eat the food prepared by their cooks. Do the cooks prepare the food with affection? Certainly not. They do it only for their salary. But I did not eat food prepared so mechanically. From my boyhood, till I come of age I ate the food which my mother herself cooked and served with deep affection. Every day my mother cooked and served just the food, which I liked. This was how she brought me up.
In this matter, I was really fortunate and blessed.”
A New School
Some of the boys of Madana Mohan’s age used to attend schools where English was taught. He saw this and he also wanted to learn English. The English schools charged heavy fees. Could a poor family pay such heavy fees to send their boy to such a school? However, where there is a will, there is a way. Vrajanath understood the son’s wish. At the mention of the high fees to be paid to the school, Madana Mohana’s mother Moona Devi pledged her gold bangle with a rich man, Lala Gayaprasad and got the money. The father admitted the boy to the school.
‘Gordon Sahib’ was a teacher in the English school. He was very strict like in an army.
The pupils had to be in the school on time if they were not on time they were punished.
In Madana Mohan’s house, fresh food was never ready for him in time to attend the school.
He had, therefore, to eat food cooked the previous day and run to the school. So pathetic was the condition of his family at that time.
Although times were hard, the boy Madana Mohana did not lose heart. Within a few days, he stood out as the best boy of his class in the pronunciation and writing of English. So he became his teacher’s favorite student.
The boy did not even have a place at home where he could study comfortably. A classmate, Ganga Prasad by name, lived just a few paces from the house. Immediately after sunset, Madana Mohana used to walk with an oil lamp to the house of his classmate and study there. He would return in the morning. This was his daily routine in those days.
On his return from school, he would exercise without fail. He was the first where service and discipline were needed. He was devoted to the study of music. He learned to play on the flute and the sitar. In the morning and the evenings, his father taught him to sing the songs of Meera and Suradas. So, in spite of poverty, the boy spent happy days.
In 1881 Madana Mohana passed the FA Examination. He was then a student of the Muir Central College. As the young man had a thirst for knowledge he went to Agra to study for the BA Examination. But he failed in the examination because his attention and energy were diverted to many things. In 1884 he passed the BA Examination of Calcutta University. He wanted to take the MA Degree. However, he understood how hard his parents were struggling to run the family, so he decided to take up employment to assist them.
An assembly of Scholars
When yet a boy of fifteen years Madana Mohana had an opportunity to go to Mirzapur with his uncle. Many scholars had assembled there, and some of them were too learned discourses. When the boy heard the discussion, he also wished to speak. Once or twice he wanted to get up. At last, he got a chance. He stood up.
He looked at assembly and began his speech in a dignified manner. The sweet deliver in Sanskrit, the extraordinarily close logic and the rare scholarship surprised the mighty scholars assembled there. They showered praise on him.
Pandit Nanda Roy, himself a scholar, presided over the assembly. Madana Mohan’s appearance, scholarship, humility, dignified bearing oratory held him as if by magic. He was speechless. He decided to give his third daughter Kundana Devi in marriage to the young man. Well, the fifteen – year – old Madana Mohana was married with great pomp to Kundana Devi.
The Perfect Wife
Kundana Devi was the worthy wife of a worthy husband. Kundana Devi came from a rich family; when she came to her husband’s house, his family was living in utter poverty; Kundana Devi could not get food to her liking; nor could she get even a good dress to wear. But the gracious lady did not complain even once either to her husband or to her parents.
Once Madana Mohana was touched by his wife’s unusual patience, generosity, and other graces and said,
“You have never at any time said a word about our life of poverty. And you have never complained to your parents about these matters.”
Replied Kundana Devi:
“What is the use of complaining? My parents will feel sorry and shed tears. How does that help me? This is my permanent home. You are my God: This house is a heaven for me because you are affectionate to me. Nothing else do I desire in this world.”
Madam Mohana wanted to attain fame by mastering and interpreting the Bhagavatha as his father and his grandfather had done. When he informed his mother about it Moona Devi said, “You know our present plight. Do what you think is best.”Madam Mohana understood his mother. He took up employment as a teacher on a salary of forty rupees a month.
Madana Mohana was a born poet. When he was fifteen or sixteen years of age he had begun composing poems. Within a short time, he was not only considered as an accomplished poet but also became famous as a poet. His nom de plume (the name he used as a writer) was ‘Makaranda’. His first composition was ‘Radhika Rani’.
The second meeting of the Indian National Congress was held in Calcutta. Dadabhai Naoroji, the great leader, was the distinguished president of the session. There was a huge gathering. At that colorful gathering, advised by his teacher, a young man went up the rostrum. Well, he began his speech. The youth’s words, charged with deep patriotism, flowed steadily and majestically like the Ganga. The hearers were glad. They were there to listen to him when the lecture over the entire audience cheered. The founder of the Congress, Hume, later described Madana Mohan Malaviya’s speech as ‘unforgettable’.
It was at this session that Maharaja Shri Ram Pal Singh met Malaviya. He was the proprietor of a daily ‘The Hindusthan’. He requested Madana Mohana to accept the editorship of the daily and made over its management entirely to him.
Even as he was engaged in public life, Malaviya became an advocate of the Allahabad High Court in 1892. Within a short time, he became a very famous advocate. His charming and persuasive speech, simple and clear analysis and arguments and profound scholarship shone not only in courts of law but also at public meetings and conferences. Over time, Malaviya began to win an enduring place in public life.
Malaviya was endowed with extraordinary intelligence, eloquence, patience and the capacity for hard work; he could have easily earned pots of money as a lawyer. But throughout his life, he never accepted a false or a hollow case.
He likes to argue for and win cases in which innocent and poor people were involved.
‘The Teacher Of the Nation’
Malaviya does not stand out in the mansion of Indian independence as do Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose. But he was like the invisible foundation. As Gandhiji is the ‘Father of the Nation’ so is Malaviya the ‘Teacher of the Nation’.
The Government of India established Universities in Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras in 1857.
These universities followed the model of the English Universities.
The Dream Of A University
As was said earlier, many Indians were proud of the English language, customs, manners, and civilization. The feeling was growing that every-thing Indian was contemptible. Malaviya who was an eminent scholar and patriot was keen that Indian culture should receive due respect and educated men should understand this culture. For this purpose, he wanted to establish a University in Varanasi (Benares).
Is it an easy task to establish a University? It is difficult to start and run even a school. How difficult, then, should it be to start a University?
And that, when a single individual makes the attempt! But this devotee of the Goddess of Learning had once and for all made up his mind.
The twenty-first session of the Indian National Congress was held in Benares. Gopalakrishna Gokhale was the distinguished president. Pandit Malaviya took advantage of the occasion. He called together the senior leaders of the Congress; he spoke to them, about his strong desire to establish a Hindu University in Benares. All the leaders heartily welcomed the idea. Surrendranath Bannerjee, the famous leader, stood up and said: “I shall work free as a Professor of English at Benares Hindu University until it can find a suitable scholar”.
Malaviya was determined to obtain the sacred land on which Benares Hindu University stands today. That piece of land belonged to the Raja of Benares. The Raja said,
“I am prepared to pay you as much money as you want but please do not ask me for that land. I am deeply attached to it.”
But by God’s grace, Malaviya was able to secure the same land as a gift on an auspicious day Makara Sankranti.
The Converted Donor
Then arose the problem of funds. Malaviya undertook a tour of the country. He began soliciting funds for the Hindu University. As his tour progressed his coffers began to swell. In the course of this tour to collect funds, Malaviya reached Hyderabad; the Nizam was the ruler.
The Nizam came to know the purpose of his visit.
But being a Muslim, the Nizam was unwilling to donate any money to an institution which was to be called a Hindu University. He even conveyed his decision very clearly. Malaviya, however, did not want to return without a donation from the Nizam.
A rich Hindu died in Hyderabad on that day.
His body was being carried in an impressive procession. His admirers were showering money on his dead body. Observing this, Malaviya began to pick up the money and to put it in a bag. People who observed this was amazed. They joined him, picked up the coins and put them in Malaviya’s bag. The bag was full.
The Nizam heard this news. He felt a sense of shame. Then the Nizam donated generously and he was happy about it.
‘The Emperor of Beggars’
Malaviya traveled many times across the length and breadth of the country from Himachal to Kanyakumari and from Peshawar to Brahmas. Wherever he went, he solicited funds for the noble cause.
Once Malaviya gave a discourse on Shrimad Bhagavatha in Dharganga. The Maharaja attended on a concluding day. As he listened to Malaviya’s extraordinary discourse the Maharaja was spellbound. He not only donated twenty-five lakh rupees to Benares Hindu University but also pledged to work for the noble cause during the rest of his life. Malaviya was deeply moved and shed tears of joy. The Maharaja of Darbhanga kept his word. With Malaviya he visited many states and collected enormous funds for the University.
Pandit Malaviya toured the country and collected one crore and thirty-four lakh rupees and earned the title of ‘The Emperor of Beggars’. Once Gandhiji exclaimed that he learned the noble art of begging from his ‘elder brother’, Shri Malaviya.
Benares Hindu University The 4th of February 1916 was the auspicious day of Vasantha Panchami. Benares wore a festive appearance. On the bank of the holy Ganga the Viceroy and governor-general of India, Lord Hardinge, laid the foundation stone of Hindu University. The ceremony was attended by distinguished persons, national leaders, and leaders of every community – Hindus, Muslims, Parses and Christians. Rajas and Maharajas graced the occasion.
Malaviya was of the view that the study of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Holy books, and fostering of Indian culture and Sanskrit language were matters of importance. He established the University for the fulfillment of these ideals of his life. And it became the very breath of his life.
The Home Of Indian Culture
Every country must ensure that its citizens do not suffer from poverty. Everyone is indeed entitled to sufficient food to eat enough clothes to cover the body and keep it warm and a comfortable house to live in. But progress in the agricultural field does not ensure all-round progress.
Conduct is more important than economic progress. Every country must always be prepared to protect its religion. If our modern young men do not protect the Hindu Dharma (the Hindu Religion) which has been bequeathed to us, we will be surrounded by uneducated, useless, mean people or educated people who misuse their learning. The result is the total loss of religion.
We need not understand religion in a narrow sense. It is also not necessary to reject religion.
A proper understanding of the Hindu Religion will be a guiding light in one’s life. The younger generation of India should understand Indian culture. These were Malaviya’s views.
Accordingly, Benares Hindu University endeavored to give the education that is needed to protect values taught by the Hindu Religion.
Let our youths receive a liberal education. Side by side let them also try to learn how to evaluate the teachings of other religions. This was the wish Pandit Madana Mohana Malaviya cherished in his heart. It is no exaggeration to say that Benares Hindu University is the embodiment of that wish.
The Ideal Journalist
Malaviya served the country in many fields.
But in the educational field, his service was exceptional. This made him immortal. But his service to journalism was not insignificant.
When he took over as editor of the daily ‘The Hindusthan”, he had said to the owner of the newspaper Raja Rampal Singh,
“There should not be even a little interference in my work as the editor. I should have complete freedom”,
It was only because the Raja agreed to this condition and allowed Malaviya full freedom, that Malaviya undertook the heavy responsibility editorship. In those days Pandit Pratap Narayan Mishra and Shri Balmukund Gupta were considered as stalwarts in the field of journalism.
Malaviya gained the intimate friendship of these mighty journalists.
Malaviya was a guide to numerous small newspapers. ‘Gopala’ was a weekly published from Delhi; it was under his protection. Likewise, he was the moving spirit behind ‘Abhyudaya’, a paper edited by Babu Purushotthamdas Tandon.
He had all the good qualities that make a world-famous journalist. He made use of news-papers for the service of the country. At the same time, he enriched the journalistic world enriched by him.
This is what Malaviya used to say: a journalist should have ideals; he must have self-respect and a sense of honor; he must have dignity and a sense of responsibility. He must be a good man and a man of character and must follow the ideals of truth and justice. Malaviya himself was endowed with all the qualities that make a good journalist.
Malaviya purchased the newspaper ‘The Hindusthan Times’ of Delhi and ran it successfully for several years. He handed over the newspaper to an organization when his time was taken up with other work. ‘The Hindusthan Times’ and ‘The Hindusthan’ now being published from Delhi are the fruits of his inspiration.
At The Round Table Conference
In those days the British ruled India. The British Government was considering the question of giving India Swaraj (or ‘self-rule’). The Second Round Table Conference met in London in 1931.
Some leaders of India had to attend the Conference for discussions with the British Government. Mahatma Gandhi decided to take Malaviya with him.
Malaviya was highly religious. When he had to go to London he decided to take with him the water of the holy Ganga and prepared for the voyage.
His role at the Round Table Conference in London is remembered forever. In his book ‘Indian Dairy’, Montague has spoken appreciatively of Malaviya’s part in the Conference. Similarly, Tej Bahadur Sapru also has heartily praised the unequaled courage of Malaviya. Thus Malaviya won the hearts of eminent politicians in distant lands by his genius.
Malaviya used to work every day systematically. He would get up at dawn and exercise regularly. He used only India made soaps for his bath. After the bath, he would perform the morning’s religious rites. He would wear a ‘Tilak’ (a short vertical mark) on his forehead prominently. ‘After the morning’s prayers, he would drink some warm milk. He always wore white clothes and a turban. He spent an hour, from one to two in the afternoon, in a warm and informal conversation with visitors.
His meal was very frugal. He did not want food, which had been prepared with spices. After food, he would rest for a while. He had big oil paintings of his revered parents in his bedroom.
Every night he would bow to his parents’ pictures and God and then retire to bed.
When Malaviya was alive every year on Basanta Panchami day (the day of the birth of Benares Hindu University) members of the public could meet him. He then used to address them.
Thousands of students, teachers, and others would assemble to hear him. Malaviya would explain in simple language and a lucid manner, Indian Culture and religion and the goal of Benares Hindu University.
Master of Many Languages
Malaviya knew many languages. He was an extraordinary scholar in English, Hindi, Urdu, and Sanskrit. When he spoke in English he did not use a single word of any other language. And when he was speaking in Sanskrit it seemed as if his tongue was graced with the presence of Saraswathi, the Goddess of Learning.
His writing was as moving as his speech. His writings captured Madana Mohana Malaviya’s reader’s heart. In brief, his words were pearls and his writing golden.
Although at first glance Malaviya appeared to be an idealist clinging old attitude to life, he was a great revolutionary. On the 13th of April 1919, a great tragedy was enacted in Jalianwala Bagh of Amritsar (Punjab). Helpless audiences at a meeting were dead. The government’s army butchered the people-old and young, men and women alike. The slaughter was the work of an army commander name Colonel Dyer. The whole nation shocked and disturbed.
When the Central Legislature met at Simla, Malaviya spoke brilliantly and with deep emotion for six hours about the slaughter. Even Englishmen who were members of the legislature were full of admiration for his eloquence.
India attained independence in 1947. One year before that a grim tragedy – a tragedy which should never have taken place – shook the then Bengal Province. A large number of Hindus suffered terribly.
In a place called Naokhali, there was a gruesome slaughter. Innocent and helpless people had to endure great hardships. The provisional government watched the happenings in helplessness. When Malaviya heard about the happenings he was shocked. When he was asked how Hindus, who had been converted to Islam could be reconverted to Hinduism, he said, “Ram Nam and the holy water of the Ganga – these will do.” He toiled without rest to organize the Hindus.
At the same time, he worked for Hindu – Muslim unity. He proclaimed that if the lot of the ‘Harijans’ did not improve India could never progress.
He was always thinking of the ways to uplift the backward classes, the poor people, the young widows, and illiterate villagers. He was a great man whose dream was that India should grow stronger in every way.
The End Of The Journey
Malaviya wanted to live the full span of a hundred years. But God willed otherwise. The terrible events of Naokhali crushed his body, mind, and heart. He could not bear the terrible shock. It was in this state of deep mental anguish that Pandit Madana Malaviya passed away on 12th November 1946. The whole nation mourned his death.
The Way Of Malaviya
Have faith in the Supreme being kind to all animals. Pity the poor and the weak.
Always respect women. Sympathize with people who are in distress and give them all the help you can. Do not be cruel to anybody.
Lead a pure life. Protect the sacred cow. Do not desire another’s money. Good deeds beget good results and evil deeds bad results. Always have self-confidence. Do not speak ill of others.
When there is a difference of opinion respect the other man’s opinion.
Do not be afraid of anybody; do not make anybody afraid of you. India is our motherland.
This country is a blessed land and a Holy Land.
Act according to morality and justice.
Bharat, that is India, is also known as Hindusthan. Blessed are the people born in this country.
Hindu Dharma, the Hindu Religion, is a great religion. According to the Hindu philosophy, God laid down that man should aim at righteous conduct, riches, pleasure, and salvation. For a man to attain these goals god laid down four phases of life; bachelorhood, family life, life in the forest and ‘sannyasa’ (or detachment from worldly affairs).
By observing these, let all people be benefited and thereby protect and preserve moral values forever.
If a man lives for his pleasures he is no better than animals. He must live for his country, live for his religion and live for others. Vedas are the oldest moral treatises in the whole world. Even western scholars accept this view.
The Vedas say: before God created this world there was ignorance, utter ignorance. Then God appeared with his divine radiance. God loves light. Man must seek light and more light in his mind and his life.
This is the great Madana Mohan Malaviya’s deathless message.