Madan Mohan Malaviya

Pandit Vrajanath, was a pious Brahmin who earned his living by reciting the Srimadh Bhagavata( a collection of tales on Krishna). It was his only source of income, and quite meager to support himself or his family. However like most other pious Brahmins, he never complained about his misery, and left his fate in the hands of God. Soon, Vrajnath’s father, Premdhar passed away, and he went to Gaya to do the sacred ceremonies necessary.  The priests then asked him to pray to God to grant any wish of his.  Facing east, Vrajnath, folded his hands

Grant me a son, the equal of whom has not been born, nor shall be born.

Vrajanath’s ancestors, had migrated long back from the Malwa region in Madhya Pradesh. Their real surname was Chaturvedi, but due to their region of origin, they adopted the surname of Malaviya.  It was 1861, 4 years earlier, India had been through the Great Mutiny, that shook the British empire, before it was suppressed. The British conquest of India was not just political, it operated at another level too.  Many ordinary Indians were led to believe that only by adopting Western mores and habits, one could progress in life. A new breed of Englishmen were being created, who were Indian outside, but British inside, the children of Macaulay. So named after Thomas Macaulay,  the British Secretary of War, who introduced English education into India, and had downgraded the importance of Sanskrit language. In a milieu, where many felt that adopting Western mores, speaking English was the only means of salvation,  Premdhar Malviya, still had faith in the belief systems of his forefathers and it was passed on to his son Vrajanath.

1861 was significant, the Great Indian revolt was crushed 4 years back, English education was spreading at a rapid rate in India. On the other side of the world in the United States of America, a bitter Civil War had broken out on the issue of slavery.  Near the city of Allahabad, on a date when one half of the world, was celebrating the arrival of Jesus Christ, was born the son, whom Vrajanath, had fervently wished for.  Being a poor man, Vrajanath could not afford to distribute sweets on a large extent, he could just manage to thank those well wishers, who came to meet him. And the boy was named as Madan Mohan. Who in due course of time, would become one of the tallest stalwarts in modern Indian history. The son whom Vrajanath, always hoped for would exceed even his father’s expectations.

Madan Mohan began his education at a Sanskrit Pathasala, called Dharmagnanopadesa, run by Pandit Haradeva. It is said that Haradeva was impressed by Madan Mohan’s recital and skills. He learnt the Laghu Kaumudi in Sanskrit, and many verses from the Bhagavad Gita.  The Gayatri Mantra was taught to him during his thread ceremony. While a good student, Madan Mohan was also an equally mischievous child, loved to play games, used to exercise regularly. Like most others Madan Mohan, wanted to study in an English school, however his family’s rather modest financial background was an impediment. It was then that his mother Moona Devi, pledged her gold bangles to raise money.  Madan Mohan got admitted into the Allahabad District School,  where his teacher Gordon Sahib was known for his strictness.  However Madan soon became his teacher’s favorite student,  with the way he managed to master English.  Inspite of the financial difficulties,  his parents ensured, he would never suffer from lack of learning. Apart from his studies, Madan Mohan was also good at music, learnt to play the flute and sitar too. He also learnt the songs of Meera and Surdas too.

He passed the FA examination from Muir College(now Allahabad University)  in 1881, and later in 1884, he passed the BA examination of Kolkata University. Madan Mohan wanted to study MA in Sanskrit, however knowing his parent’s financial condition, he decided to take up a job to assist them. And so he took up a job as an assistant master at the Government High School in Allahabad.  Earlier Madan had proved himself to be an equally good poet,at school, where he published poems under the pseudonym of Makarand.  When he was 15, he impressed an audience of scholars at Mirzapur, where his grasp of Sanskrit, his knowledge was highly appreciated. One of the scholars, Pandit Nanda Roy, was so impressed by Madan Mohan, that he gave his daughter Kundana Devi in marriage to him. In the coming years Kundana would be a source of support to him, standing by him throughout his life .


His political career began in 1880, when he attended the 2nd session of the Indian National Congress under Dadabai Naoroji at Kolkata.  He impressed every one there, with his short speech. Being a good orator himself, Madan had a natural fluency in his words,  and he received a huge applause.  A.O.Hume, the founder of the Indian National Congress, called Malaviya’s speech as unforgettable.  Raja Rampal Singh, the ruler of Kalakankar estate near Allahabad, was so impressed by Malaviya, that he offered him the role of an editor for the magazine Hindustan, owned by him.  Malaviya, worked for 2 years with Hindustan,  and he later did his LLB from Allahabad. In 1892, Malaviya became an advocate at the Allahabad High Court. In due course of time, Malaviya impressed every one with his arguments, analysis and wisdom. Vrajanath’s prayers had come true, his son’s name was indeed spreading all over. Malaviya never used his knowledge in the wrong way, he fought for justice, for the poor and innocent people. He would never take up a wrong case just for money.

In the meantime, Malaviya was also involved with the freedom struggle, and was twice President of Indian National Congress in 1909 and 1918. A devout follower of Mahatma Gandhi, the latter conferred the title of Mahamana on him. Plunging into the nationalist movement, he renounced his law practice.  However when 177 freedom fighters were to be hanged in the Chauri Chaura case, he was the one who took up their case, and got them acquitted. While a devout follower of Mahatma Gandhi, he was nevertheless against participation in the Khilafat movement. In 1928, he took active part along with Lala Lajpat Rai in the protests against the Simon Commission, and also actively boycotted British made goods. He was arrested in 1932, during the Civil Disobedience Movement, and once again served as President during 1932-33, making him the only person to have been President, for 4 terms, before independence. He however left the Congress due to the Communal Award that sought to provide separate electorates to the minorities.

Benares Hindu University

The greatest achievement of Malaviya however would be setting up of the Benares Hindu University.  It was a time, when the feeling among most Indians was that only Western education could provide them a better life, and Indian culture was useless.  Malaviya wanted to create an institution which could inculcate respect for Indian culture, while at the same time, ensuring the students received  a modern education to. It was not an easy task, starting an University needed funds, and Malaviya took this up single handedly.When he first made this proposal at the Congress session in Benares, it was heartily welcomed. Surendranath Banerjee, proclaimed he was willing to work for free in such an institution.  The land for the Benares Hindu University, was given to him by the Raja, after much persuasion.  And now began the tougher task of raising funds for the University.

Malaviya began to tour the length and breadth of India,  and people began to contribute for the cause.  When he reached the Nizam of Hyderabad, the world’s richest individual,  the latter was reluctant to donate for what he deemed a Hindu university.  Malaviya however had no intentions of returning empty handed, and so he went around the streets of Hyderabad, asking for money for the cause. When ordinary people of Hyderabad, began to donate, the Nizam ashamed of his conduct,  donated generously.  From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Peshawar to Kolkata, Malaviya went about raising funds for the cause. The Maharaja of Darbangha in Bihar, was spell bound by his Bhagavad recital during his tours. He not only donated 25 lakh rupees for the cause, but also pledged to work for it during his lifetime.  The Maharaja, himself raised funds for Malaviya’s project, visiting other kings and rulers.  Malaviya collected a crore and 34 lakh rupees, earning him the title of Prince of Beggars, Gandhiji claimed, he often learnt about begging from Malaviya.

Feb 4th, 1916, the auspicious occasion of Basant Panchami, on the banks of the holy Ganga, the foundation was laid for Benares Hindu University. A great occasion like never before, an auspicious date, on the banks of India’s holiest river, history was being made.  Lord Hardinge, the Governor General of India, laid the foundation, the function was attended by Rajas, Maharajas,  Hindus, Muslims, Christians, just about every one.  Malaviya believed that Hindus should be made aware of their culture, and study of Gita,  the Mahabharat, Ramayan, Vedas and Upanishads was much needed. It was what drove him to establish the university. Let our youths receive liberal education. Side by side let them also try to learn how to evaluate the teachings of other religions.

 Let our youths receive liberal education. Side by side let them also try to learn how to evaluate the teachings of other religions.

This was the ethos behind the foundation of Benares Hindu University, which would later become one of India’s finest educational institutions. Malaviya believed that young men should protect the Hindu dharma, which constituted India’s very soul. He wished that people should understand religion in it’s true sense, a code of conduct that would drive them, not just some meaningless rituals.

The millions mired in poverty here can only get rid (of it) when science is used in their interest. Such maximum application of science is only possible when scientific knowledge is available to Indians in their own country.

Malaviya also got support from Annie Beasant for his dream project,  who was also seeking to expand her Hindu Central School.  The ruler of Kashi, Naresh Narayan Singh and the Darbhanga ruler Rameshwar Singh Bahadur also supported him financially. Benares Hindu University was the first in India, to be established due to an individual’s private efforts.

As a journalist too, Malaviya, contributed selflessly to the cause of the media. Apart from his stint at Hindustan as an editor,  he also guided smaller newspapers like Gopala and Abhyudaya, edited by P.D.Tandon.

“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. “

He campaigned against the Press Act in 1908, and along with Motilal Nehru, he started an English daily the Leader. In 1924, he acquired the then ailing Hindustan Times along with Lala Lajpat Rai, and G.D.Birla, and for 2 years as Chairman, turned it around financially, and in 1936 he also launched it’s Hindi edition, Hindustan.

 if you admit internal purity of human soul, you or your religion can never get impure or defiled in any way by touch or association with any man.

Malaviya was also strongly against untouchability, and founded the Harijan Sevak Sangh in 1933, for the Dalits. He worked for eradication of caste barriers, and took an active part in the entry of Dalits into temple. He was one of the main persons behind the entry of Dalits in Nashik’s famous Kala Ram’s temple.  A linguist, Malaviya was fluent and a scholar in English, Hindi and Urdu apart from Sanskrit. When Hindus were massacred at Noakhali, prior to independence, and forcibly reconverted into Islam, he took in those who fled. He reconverted many of the Hindus forcibly converted to Islam.  He also started the Ganga Arati at Haridwar, and there is a small island there named after him.He proposed the adoption of Satyameva Jayate taken from the Mundakopanishad as India’s national motto. Another achievement was the founding of All India Seva Samiti, a scouting organization to inculcate the spirit of social service.

On 12th November 1946, Madan Mohan Malaviya passed away, but his legacy would forever remain. In the form of the Benares Hindu University,  one of India’s finest educational institutions. When you witness the beauty of the Ganga Arti at Haridwar, you see the legacy of Mahamana there.   Vrajnath had claimed for a great son, he did not just have a great son. His son also left behind a great legacy.

About Ratnakar Sadasyula

Blogger with a passion in movies, music,books and history. A techie by profession, and a writer at heart. Author of City of Victory a book on Vijayanagar Empire
This entry was posted in Great Indians, Indian Freedom Struggle, Social Reformers. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Madan Mohan Malaviya

  1. bballamudi says:

    Pity I studied there without being aware of his greatness. Thank you for this compilation of the accounts distinguishing the honorable Mahamana.

  2. Ramgopal says:

    Sir, such a pathetic situation, our youngsters are kept away from great leaders and contributions. Thq for the detail information.

  3. Pingback: Madan Mohan Malaviya - Reformer and Nationalist Who Gave Benaras Hindu University -

  4. Thank You Sir. Thank you very very much 🙏

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