He was born on 9 September 1850 in a traditional Agarwal family in Varanasi. His family was of rich and powerful traders who also served the Maharaja of Kashi. His mother died when he was 5 and his father died amidst his thread ceremony. He married at an age of 11.
Just after his marriage, he undertook a pilgrimage to Puri and this changed his entire worldview. He came back and started a school free for children in his own house. They were given free books as well. A public Muslim woman Ali Jan who had converted to Islam in dire circumstances met Bharatendu, he reconverted him to Hinduism, gave her the name Madhavi and kept her as a mistress.
Once he made fun of some elderly people, a friend of him remarked that his own character was not without blemish and it was like the spots on the moon. He called him Bharatendu and this name stuck with him. Being from a rich family he spent too much money on literature and arts, his friends and family called it wasteful expenditure, even the Maharaja of Kashi advised him on this. He said that the riches ate his ancestors and now he will eat the riches.
He was a devout Vaishnav and even set up a society for the promotion of Vaishnavism. He was in close contact with Radhacharan Goswami of Mathura, leader of the Vallabhacharya sect. He paid him huge amounts for pictures of great Vaishnavs. He made efforts to prevent meat-eating alcohol consumption. He drew up a petition to prevent cow slaughter in the name of all Hindus and along with 60 thousand signatures submitted it to Lord Lytton at Delhi Durbar in 1877.
In 1877 he wrote anonymously about a dream where a nishachar (ghost), which was sly on Brahmos, asks a Kshatriya to give up idol worship. The Kshatriya says that abandoning one`s religion and culture is a sign of ill judgment and he was proud of doing idol worship. During Deepawali of 1879, he wrote a poem where he asked Hindus how can they celebrate Govardhan Puja when there is still cow slaughter in this country.
In 1874 he published a poem that asked the sleeping Shri Krishna to wake up & help the Hindus, he invokes great kings of the past & asks whether all the Kshatriyas have died. When will they wake up when temples like Vishvanath & Somnath razed to the ground & they shout the name of Allah. He uses the sleeping Shri Krishna as a personification for Hindus, he asks Hindus to take action and not lose a moment after centuries of oppression, he wanted Hindus to kill the enemy which he thought were Muslims over British. Way before any Swadeshi movement began, he asked people to boycott foreign goods, he advocated for people traveling abroad and learning and devolving sciences so India could also progress scientifically.
He called Urdu a language of harlots, pimps, and whores in testimony to the Hunter commission in 1882. In his lifetime he saw Hindi displace Urdu as the sole official language of Bihar in 1881. He even sends Hindi books to royalty in Europe. He had close contacts with the Prince of Wales in London and with Russian orientalists. Finally, on 5 Jan 1885, the moon of India finally waned at the small age of 34. He died with 4 regrets: To set up a Hindi medium university, to install an image of Shri Krishna in his home, to set an Arts college in NW provinces, and to visit the USA, Britain, and France.