Gujarati poet, Rajendra Keshavlal Shah was chosen for the prestigious Bharatiya Jnanpith Award for 2001 by a selection board headed by Laxmi Mal Singhvi which included Mahashweta Devi, Vidya Niwas Mishra, C. T. Indira, Sitangshu Yashaschandra, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, U. R. Ananthamurthy, Ramakant Rath, Gopi Chand Narang, Ashok Bajpai and Prabhakar Shrotriya.
This is the third time that a writer in Gujarati has been chosen for the award after Uma Shankar Joshi and Pannalal Patel in 1967 and 1985 respectively. The award carries a citation plaque, a bronzic statue of Vagdevi and Rs 5 lakhs in cash.
When asked by a reporter whether the award wasn't a much belated recognition, Rajendra Shah said, "I never waited for it? So how's it late? I am happy. I am satisfied." His interest and meditations on Advaita [non-duality] may well account for this equanimity.
A pioneer of a new trend in Gujarati poetry in the post-Independence period, Rajendra Keshavlal Shah was born in 1913 at Kpaadvanaj in district Kaira, Gujarat. His father passed away at the age of two and his mother brought him up in the strict religious tradition of the family. He studied in his hometown upto matriculation and later joined Wilson College Bombay, finally graduating from the prestigious M.S.University, Baroda. Over time, he has worked as a teacher, grocer, partner in a business firm and owner of a printing press
His first poem was published in 1933, in Wilsonian, the magazine of Wilson College. Bombay, but it was his first collection of poems Dhvani published in 1951, which created quite a stir in Gujarati literary circles. He has 21 collections of poems to his credit, the important ones being Dhvani (1951), Andolan (1951), Shruti (1957), Morpinchh (1959), Shat Kolahal (1962), Chirantan (1967), Kshan je Chirantan (1968), Vishadne Sad (1966), Madhyama (1976), Udgiti (1979), Ikshana (1979), Patralekha (1981), Prasana Saptak (1982), Panch Parva (1983), Vibhavan (1983), Dwasuparna (1983), Chandan Bhini Anamik (1987), Aranyak (1992), Amblawya Mor (1988) and Rumzum (1969). He has also translated masters like Jayadeva (Geet Govinda), Vidyapati, Jeebanananda Das, Budha Dev Basu etc into Gujarati
His poems reveal his commitment to society at large, but it is the commitment of an artist. He is a seeker of beauty and his poetry reflects it in full measure. He is prominent as a lyrical poet, known for his songs on love, nature, God, death, myths and the simple beauty of rural life. Critic Niranjan Bhagat considers him Gujarat's best poet of the twentieth century. Many put the intensity of emotion and innovation in form and expression and the mystical tone of his poetry to the tradition of great medieval masters like Narasimha Mehta, Kabir and Akho.
First recognition came way back in 1947, when he received the 'Kumar Chandrak' award for the best contribution (poems) to the Kumar. His other awards include Rajitram Suvarna Chandrak(1956), Sahitya Akademi Award (1964), Mahakavi Nanalal Prize (1966), Narmnad Chandrak (1977), Aurobindo Suvarna Chandrak by Gujarati Sahitya Parishad (1980), Bharatlya Bhasha Parishad Award (1985), Dhanaji Kanaji Suvarna Chandrak (1986), Mardhanya Sahityakar Samman by Gujarat Sahitya Akademi (1993) and the Narasimba Mehta Award of Government ofGuJarat (1994).