Kunwar Narayan

(19 September 1927 - / Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh / India)

Biography of Kunwar Narayan

Kunwar Narayan poet

Kunwar Narain (कुँवर नारायण) is a poet and a presence in Indian literature, often regarded as the leading living poet in Hindi. He has read and traveled widely, written over the last six decades and is among the few intellectuals who combine an international modern sensibility with a grounding in their country’s cultural and imaginative history. Linked to the New Poetry movement, he publishes selectively and is characteristically polite. He read English literature and publishes in Hindi but also plays with English and Urdu. Earlier, he lived in Lucknow where his house was a centre of literary meets and classical performances. He now lives in Delhi with his wife and son. Influences on him have been diverse, from the Indian epics and Upanishads to Kabir and Amir Khusro, history and mythology to Buddhism and Marxism, Kafka and Cavafy to Khālib and Gandhi.


Born on 19 September 1927, in Faizabad district, Uttar Pradesh Kunwar Narayan passed his M.A. examination in English Literature from Lucknow University in 1951. Married to Bharati Goenka in 1966, he has a son Apurva, born in 1967.

Political leaders Narendra Deva and Acharya Kriplani were key literary influences and he gives formative importance to his first visit to Europe, Russia and China in 1955 and meetings with poets like Nazim Hikmet Ran, Anton Słonimskie and Pablo Neruda. Later, his translations of the French symbolist poets like Mallarmé and Valery, and then of poets like Cavafy and Borges, contributed to his poetic development. His work covers varied genres—poetry, epic poetry, short stories, literary criticism, translations, essays on world cinema, history and Indian classical music, and articles of versatile cultural and human interest. He has been translated nationally and internationally, and his many honours include the Jnanpith Award, Sahitya Akademi Award, Kabir Samman, Vyasa Samman, Lohia Samman, Shalaka Samman, Warsaw University’s honorary medal and Italy’s Premio Feronia for distinguished international author (a prestigious honour given for the first time to an Indian writer and previously awarded to authors like Germany’s Günther Grass, South Africa’s JM Coetzee, China’s Gao Xingjian, Syria’s Adonis, Cuba’s Roberto F Retamar, Palestine’s Mahmoud Darwish, Iraq’s Saadi Youssef, France’s Michel Butor and Albania’s Ismail Kadaré).


His oeuvre began with Chakravyūh, his first poetry collection published in 1956, a landmark in Hindi literature. About the same time, he co-edited Yug-Chétnā, an avant-garde literary magazine. A little later in 1959, he was one of the poets in Tīsrā Saptak edited by Agyeya. In 1961, his second poetry collection Parivésh: Hum-Tum came. Ātmajayee, published in 1965, a short epic based on the Upanishadic character of Nachiketā, expresses some of the most fundamental metaphysical concerns and is widely recognised as a classic of Hindi literature.

His short story collection Ākāron Ke Ās-Pās came in 1971 and is a lasting example of a poetic mind exploring the genre of fiction. In the poems of Apné Sāmné (1979), contemporary political and social ironies found a more pronounced place. After a long hiatus, his much-awarded collection of poems Koī Dūsrā Nahīn was published in 1993. Āj Aur Āj Sé Pahlé, a collection of literary criticism (1999), Méré Sākshātkār, a collection of interviews (2000) and Sāhitya Ké Kuchh Antar-Vishayak Sandarbh (2003), as also journals like Yug Chétna, Naya Pratik and Chhayanat that he co-edited, and writings on cinema, art and history, reveal yet other aspects of his literary repertoire. In 2002, the poetry collection In Dino was published and, in 2008, his latest work, an epic poem Vājashravā Ké Bahāné, has appeared, which while recalling the contextual memory of Ātmajayī published forty years ago, is a chain of independent island-like poems. A selection of his poems in English translation, No Other World, by his son Apurva has appeared in 2010 from Rupa.

Awards and recognition

Hindustani Akademi Award (Atmajayee) 1971,
Prem Chand Award (Akaron Ke Aas-Pas) 1973,
Kumaran Asan Award (Apne Samne) 1982,
Tulsi Award (Apne Samne) 1982,
Hindi Sansthan Award (distinguished writing in Hindi) 1987,
Vyas Samman (Koi Doosra Naheen) 1995,
Bhavani Prasad Misra Award (Koi Doosra Naheen) 1995,
Shatdal Award (Koi Doosra Naheen) 1995,
Sahitya Akademi Award (Koi Doosra Naheen and overall literary contribution) 1995,
Lohia Award (overall contribution to Hindi literature) 2001,
Kabir Samman (highest all-India poetry award) 2001,
Honorary D.Litt, of Rajarshi Purushottam Tandan Mukt Vishvavidyalay, Allahabad, 2004,
Medal of Warsaw University, Poland (overall literary achievement) 2005,
Shalaka Samman (Hindi Academy’s highest honour), Delhi, 2006,
Premio Feronia, Italy (distinguished foreign author), 2006,
Jnanpith Award (considered as the highest literary award in India), for overall contribution in Hindi literature, 2005
Padma Bhushan the third highest civilian award in the Republic of India for 'Literature & Education', 2009
'Pune Pandit' Award (Scholar of Pune Award), by the Art & Music Foundation, India for outstanding contribution in Indian literature, 2011

Kunwar Narayan's Works:

Chakravyūh (Circular Siege), 1956. Radhakrishan, Delhi (first published by Rajkamal Prakashan).
Tīsrā Saptak (Third Heptad), seven poets, ed. Agyeya, 1959. Bharatiya Jnanpith, Delhi.
Parivésh: Hum-Tum (Surroundings: Us-You), 1961. Vani Prakashan, Delhi (first published by Bharti Bhandar, Allahabad).
Apné Sāmné (In Front of Us), 1979. Rajkamal Prakashan, Delhi.
Koī Dūsrā Nahīn (No One the Other), 1993. Rajkamal Prakashan, Delhi.
In Dino (These Days), 2002. Rajkamal Prakashan, Delhi.

Epic poems
Ātmajayī (Self-Conqueror), based on the Upanishadic episode of Nachikétā in Kathopnishad, 1965. Bharatiya Jnanpith, Delhi.
Vājashravā Ké Bahāné (On Vajashrava’s Pretext), independent poems linked to Ātmajayī’s context, 2008. Bharatiya Jnanpith.

Ākāron Ké Ās-Pās (Near-about Shapes), a collection of short stories, 1973. Radhakrishan Prakashan, Delhi.

Āj Aur Āj Sé Pahlé (Today and Before Today), 1998. Rajkamal Prakashan, Delhi.
Méré Sākshātkār (My Interviews), interviews given by Kunwar Narain, ed. Vinod Bhardwaj, 1999. Kitabghar Prakashan, Delhi.
Sāhitya Ké Kuchh Antar-Vishayak Sandarbh (Some Interdisciplinary Contexts of Literature), XIV Samvatsar Lecture, 2003. Sahitya Akademi.

Selected poems of and essay on Constantine Cavafy, ‘Tanāv’, 1986 and Jorge-Luis Borges, ‘Tanāv’, 1987.
Selected poems of Stéphane Mallarmé, Tadeusz Różewicz, Derek Walcott, Zbigniew Herbert, Anna Świrszczyńska, etc.

Kunwar Nārāin: Sansār-I (World: Select writings of Kunwar Narain), ed. Yatindra Mishra, 2002. Vani Prakashan, Delhi.
Kunwar Nārāin: Upasthiti-II (Presence: Select articles on Kunwar Narain and his writings), ed. Y Mishra, 2002. Vani Prakashan.
Kunwar Nārāin: Chunī Huī Kavitāyein (Selected Poems), ed. Suresh Salil, 2007. Medha Books, Delhi.
Kunwar Nārāin: Pratinidhī Kavitāyein (Representative Poems), ed. Purshottam Agarwal, 2008. Rajkamal Prakashan, Delhi.

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