Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayan (7 March 1911 – 4 April 1987), popularly known by his pen nameAgyeya (also transliterated Ajneya, meaning 'the unknowable'), was an Indian writer, poet, novelist, literary critic, journalist, translator and revolutionary in Hindi language. He pioneered modern trends in Hindi poetry, as well as in fiction, criticism and journalism. He is regarded as the pioneer of the Prayogavaad (experimentalism) movement in modern Hindi literature.
Son of a renowned archaeologist Hiranand Sastri, Agyeya was born in Kasia, a small town near Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh. He took active part in the Indian freedom struggle and spent several years in prison for his revolutionary activities against British colonial rule.
He edited the Saptak series which gave rise a new trends in Hindi poetry, known as Nayi Kavita. He edited several literary journals, and launched his own Hindi language weekly Dinaman, which set new standard and trends in Hindi journalism. Agyeya translated some of his own works, as well as works of some other Indian authors to English. He also translated some books of world literature into Hindi.
Agyeya was born as Sachchidananda Vatsyayan in PunjabiBrahmin family on 7 March 1911 in an archaeological camp near Kasia, Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh, where his father, Hiranand Sastri, an archaeologist, was positioned for an excavation. His mother was Vyantidevi (d. 1924) who was not much educated. Hiranand Sastri and Vyantidevi had 10 children, of whom Agyeya was the fourth. Agyeya spent his early childhood in Lucknow (1911–1915). Due to his father's professional appointment at various places, he had to shift to various places including Srinagar and Jammu (1915–1919), Patna (1920), Nalanda (1921) and the Ootacamund and Kotagiri (1921–1925). Due to this peripatetic lifestyle, Agyeya came into contact with different Indian languages and cultures. His father, and who was a scholar in Sanskrit, encouraged him to study Hindi and taught him some basic English. He was taught Sanskrit and Persian by Pandit and Maulavi in Jammu.
After passing his matriculation in 1925 from the University of Punjab, Agyeya moved to Madras, joined the Madras Christian College, and did Intermediate in Science in 1927, studying mathematics, physics and chemistry. In the same year, he joined the Forman Christian College in Lahore, where he studied Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and English, and received a Bachelor of Science in 1929, standing first in a class. Thereafter he enrolled for an M.A. in English, but dropped out, and joined the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA), a revolutionary organisation, with a view to fight for Indian independence movement, and participated in rebellious activities against the British colonial government. In November 1930, he was arrested on account of his involvement in the attempt to help Bhagat Singh, a socialist revolutionary and leader of HSRA, to escape from jail in 1929. He was then sentenced on charge of sedition against British rule in India. He spent the next four years in jail in Lahore, Delhi and Amritsar. During these prison days, he started writing short stories, poems and the first draft of his novel Shekhar: Ek Jivani.
He was associated with the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) and, in 1942, he organised the All India Anti-Fascist Convention. During World War II in 1942, he joined the Indian army and was sent to the Kohima Front as a combatant officer. He left the army in 1946. He stayed at Meerut (Uttar Pradesh) for sometime and remained active in local literary groups. During this period, he published several translations into English of other writers, and a collection of his own poems, Prison Days and Other Poems.
Agyeya edited Sainik from Agra (1936–37), Vishal Bharat from Calcutta (1937–39), Prateek (1947) and Naya Prateek (1973) respectively from Allahabad and New Delhi. In English. he edited Vak (1951). He served as an editor of Jayprakash Narayan's Everyman's Weekly (1973–74) and editor-in-chief of Hindi daily Navbharat Times (1977–80) of the Times of India Group.
He travelled to Japan in 1957–58, where he learned about Zen Buddhism which influenced him and his writing style. In 1961, he joined the University of California, Berkeley as a visiting lecturer in Indian Literature and Civilization, and remained there until June 1964.
In 1965, he returned to India and became Founder Editor of the newsweekly Dinaman of the Times of India Group. When the members of the Hungry generation or Bhookhi Peerhi movement were arrested and prosecuted for their anti-establishment writings, Agyeya through Dinmaan relentlessly supported the young literary group of Culcutta till they were exonerated. His dispatches on Bihar's famous famine are considered milestones in pro-people reporting.
He remained in India till 1968, before embarking on a trip to Europe. In 1969 he returned to Berkeley as Regents Professor, and continued there until June 1970. In 1976, he had an 8-month stint at Heidelberg University, as a visiting professor. Later he joined University of Jodhpur, Rajasthan as Professor and Head of the Department of Comparative Literature.
During the four years in prison, Agyeya started writing short stories and published them in Hans, edited by Premchand. He also started writing the first draft of his autobiographical novel Shekhar: Ek Jivani, followed by its second and third draft. His first collection of poems, Bhagnadutta, appeared in 1933. After his release from the jail, he published his first short story collection, Vipathga, in 1937, and in 1941, he published the first volume of Shekhar: Ek Jivani, followed by the second volume in 1944. Its third volume, though announced, was never published.
In 1943, he edited and published Tar Saptak, a collection of poems by seven young writers, whose poems were not published before. Considered the first anthology of modern Hindi poetry and a milestone in the history of Hindi literature, Tar Saptak gave rise to the Prayogvad (Experimentalism) in Hindi poetry, and established a new trends Hindi poetry, known as Nayi Kavita (New Poetry).
Hari ghaas par kshan-bhar (1949)
Baawra aheri (1954)
Indradhanu raunde hue ye (1957)
Ari o karuna prabhamaya (1959)
Angan Ke Par Dwar (1961)
Sunahale Shaivaal (1965)
Kitni naavon mein kitni baar (1967)
Kyonki main usei jaanta hoon (1969)
Pahle main sannata bunta hoon (1973)
Mahavriksha ke neeche (1977)
Nadi ki baank par chhaya (1982)
Aisa koi ghar aapne dekha hai (1986)
Sarjana ke kshan (Selection)
Thaur thikaane (Handwritten, circulated xeroxed)
Karaawas ke din (Trans. from English by Uday Shankar Shrivastava)
Kavishri ( Ed. Shiyaram Sharan Gupt)
Aaj ke lokpriy kavi (Ed. Vidya Niwas Mishra)
Kaavya-stabak ( Ed by Vidya Niwas Mishra & Ramesh Chandra Shah)
Agyeya was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1964 for his collection of poems Angan Ke Par Dwar, and the Jnanpith Award in 1978 for Kitni Naavon Mein Kitni Baar. He was also awarded the Bharatbharati Award and the Golden Wreath Award for poetry in 1983.
Agyeya is considered to be one of the most influential Hindi writers of the 20th-century and is seen as the founder of ādhuniktā (modernism) in Hindi literature. He is considered 'the most westernised' among the Hindi writers between the 1940s and the 1960s. He was often criticised for his excessive use of intellectualism and individualism in his writings.
The scholar Sushil Kumar Phull calls Agyeya an 'intellectual giant' and 'pundit of language' (master of language), and compares him with English poet Robert Browning for his obscure and condense language which he used in his poetry.
His verse play Uttar Priyadarshi, about the redemption of King Ashoka was first staged in 1966 at Triveni open-air theatre in Delhi in presence of the writer. Later it was adapted to Manipuri, by theatre director, Ratan Thiyam in 1996, and since been performed by his group, in various parts of the world.