Subramania Bharathi was a Tamil writer, poet, journalist, Indian independence campaigner, social reformer, and polyglot who lived from 11 December 1882 to 11 September 1921. He was a pioneer of contemporary Tamil poetry and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Tamil literary figures of all time, known as “Mahakavi Bharathi” (“Great Poet Bharathi”). During the Indian Independence Movement, he wrote a number of impassioned songs that sparked patriotism. He battled for women’s freedom, opposed child marriage, and advocated for the reformation of Brahminism and religion. He also stood in support of Dalits and Muslims.
Bharathi was born in 1882 in Ettayapuram, Tirunelveli district (modern-day Thoothukudi), and received his early schooling in Tirunelveli and Varanasi. He worked as a journalist for a number of publications, including The Hindu, Bala Bharata, Vijaya, Chakravarthini, Swadesamitran, and India. After the government of British India issued an arrest notice for Bharathi in 1908, he relocated to Pondicherry, where he remained until 1918.
His impact on Tamil writing has been enormous. He was claimed to be fluent in roughly 14 languages, including three non-Indian languages. Tamil was his preferred language. He produced a lot of work. He spoke about politics, social issues, and spiritual matters. Bharathi’s songs and lyrics are frequently featured in Tamil films and have become standards in the literary and musical repertoires of Tamil performers all over the world. He was a pioneer in the development of modern blank verse. He wrote a number of books and poetry about how beautiful Tamil is in nature.
Subramania Bharathi – Biography
Bharati was born in the village of Ettayapuram on December 11, 1882, to Chinnaswami Subramania Iyer and Lakshmi Ammal. Subramania, as he was known, attended Tirunelveli’s M.D.T. Hindu College. He was musically and poetically interested from a young age. Subramania Bharathi’s mother died when he was five years old, and he was raised by his father, who encouraged him to learn English, excel in arithmetic, and pursue a career as an engineer. He was a skilled linguist who spoke Sanskrit, Hindi, Telugu, English, French, and a smattering of Arabic. The Raja of Ettayapuram bestowed upon him the title of “Bharathi,” the one blessed by Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, when he was 11 years old, in recognition of his poetic talent. He lost his father when he was sixteen, but he married Chellamma, who was seven years old, when he was fifteen.
Subramania Bharathi was exposed to Hindu spirituality and nationalism during his time in Varanasi. He studied Sanskrit, Hindi, and English as a result of this broadening of his horizons. He also transformed his physical look. Due to his enthusiasm for Sikhs and the influence of a Sikh buddy, he also grew a beard and wore a turban. Despite passing a job entrance exam, he returned to Ettayapuram in 1901 and began working as the court poet of Raja of Ettayapuram for a few years. From August to November 1904, he taught Tamil at Madurai’s Sethupathy High School. During this time, Bharathi realized the importance of staying informed about the outside world and developed an interest in journalism and print media.
In 1904, Subramania Bharathi began working as an Assistant Editor for the Swadesamitran, a Tamil newspaper. He attended the All India Congress session in Benaras in December 1905. He saw Sister Nivedita, Swami Vivekananda’s spiritual heir, on his way home. Bharathi was inspired to recognize women’s rights, and the emancipation of women occupied Bharathi’s thoughts. He imagined the new woman as an emanation of Shakti, a willing co-worker with a man in the construction of a new earth. He regarded Nivedita as his Guru, alongside other greats such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and authored verses in her honor. He attended a meeting of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta, which advocated Swaraj and a boycott of British products, and was led by Dadabhai Naoiroji.
With M.P.T. Acharya, he began editing the Tamil weekly India and the English newspaper Bala Bharatham in April 1906. These journals also served as a vehicle for Bharathi’s inventiveness, which was at its peak during this time. In these publications, Subramania Bharathi began to publish his poems on a regular basis. Bharathi’s subjects ranged from hymns to nationalistic compositions, from contemplations on the relationship between God and Man to songs about the Russian and French revolutions.
Subramania Bharathi, along with V.O. Chidambaram Pillai and Mandayam Srinivachariar, took part in the historic Surat Congress in 1907, which widened the schisms within the Indian National Congress, with a section favoring armed resistance, led by Tilak, over the more moderate approach preferred by other sections. With V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Kanchi Varathachariyar, Bharathi backed Tilak. Tilak was an outspoken supporter of violent resistance to the British.
The British filed a case against V.O. Chidambaram Pillai in 1908. The proprietor of the newspaper India was arrested in Madras the same year. In order to avoid arrest, Subramania Bharathi fled to Pondicherry, which was then under French authority. From then, he edited and published the weekly newspaper India, the Tamil daily Vijaya, the English monthly Bala Bharatham, and the local weekly Suryodayam in Pondicherry. By prohibiting remittances and letters to the press, the British attempted to stifle Bharathi’s productivity. In 1909, India and Vijaya were both outlawed in India.
Subramania Bharathi met many other leaders of the revolutionary wing of the Independence movement during his exile, including Aurobindo, Lajpat Rai, and V.V.S. Aiyar, who had also sought refuge under the French. Bharathi worked with Aurobindo in the Arya magazine and afterwards in Pondicherry with Karma Yogi. During this time, he also began studying Vedic literature. In 1912, he created three of his greatest works: Kuyil Pattu, Panchali Sapatham, and Kannan Pattu. He also wrote Tamil translations of Vedic hymns, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, and the Bhagavat Gita. In November 1918, Bharathi arrived in India at Cuddalore and was promptly captured. From November 20 to December 14, he was held in captivity at the Central Prison in Cuddalore for three weeks before being released thanks to Annie Besant and C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar’s assistance. During this time, he was impoverished, which led to his poor health. Bharathi met Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi the following year, in 1919. In Madras, he resumed editing Swadesimeitran in 1920. (modern-day Chennai).
Subramania Bharathi – Death
The imprisonments had a significant impact on him, and by 1920, when a General Amnesty Order finally lifted limitations on his movements, Subramania Bharathi was already in trouble. He was smitten by an elephant named Lavanya, whom he used to feed every day at Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane, Chennai. When he gave Lavanya (the elephant) a coconut, the elephant became enraged and attacked Bharathi. He survived the incident, but his health deteriorated a few months later, and he died about 1 a.m. on September 12, 1921. Despite the fact that Bharathi was regarded as a people’s poet, a brilliant nationalist, an excellent freedom warrior, and a social visionary, his funeral was attended by only 14 people. He gave his final address at Erode’s Karungalpalayam Library on the topic of Man’s Immortality. He spent the final years of his life in a bungalow in Triplicane, Chennai. In 1993, the Tamil Nadu government purchased and refurbished the home, which was given the name Bharathi Illam (Home of Bharathi).
Subramania Bharathi – Work
Bharathi is regarded as a forerunner in the field of modern Tamil literature. Unlike his previous century Tamil works, which had a rich vocabulary, Bharathi used simple words and rhythms. In his religious poetry, he also experimented with new ideas and styles. In the majority of his works, he employed a metre called Nondi Chindu, which was popularised by Gopalakrisnha Bharathiar.
Subramania Bharathi’s poems reflected a reformist, progressive ethos. In some ways, his imagery and the intensity of his writing were forerunners to current Tamil poetry. He was a pioneer of a powerful style of poetry that fused classical and contemporary themes. He wrote hundreds of lyrics on topics as diverse as Indian nationalism, love songs, children’s songs, nature songs, the splendour of the Tamil language, and odes to notable Indian liberation warriors such as Tilak, Gandhi, and Lajpat Rai. He even wrote an ode to Belgium and New Russia. His poetry features Hindu deities such as Shakti, Kali, Vinayagar, Murugan, Sivan, and Kannan (Krishna), as well as other religious gods such as Allah and Jesus. Millions of Tamil readers have benefited from his clever similes. He was a multilingual man who translated speeches by Indian national reformers such as Sri Aurobindo, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Swami Vivekananda.
In the following words, he describes Shakthi’s dance (in Oozhi koothu, Dance of Destiny):
சக்திப் பேய் தான் தலையொடு தலைகள் முட்டிச்
சட்டச் சட சட சடவென்றுடைபடு தாளம் கொட்டி அங்கே
எத்திகினிலும் நின்விழி அனல் போய் எட்டித்
தானே எரியும் கோலம் கண்டே சாகும் காலம்
ஆடுங்கூத்தை நாடச் செய்தாய் என்னை
Some literary critics believe that Bharathiar’s Panchali Sapatham, which is based on the storey of Panchali (Draupadi), is also a tribute to Bharat Mata. The Pandavas are Indians, the Kauravas are British, and the Mahabharat’s Kurukshetra conflict symbolises the Indian freedom movement. It is unmistakably linked to the emergence of women in society.
பட்டினில் உடையும் பஞ்சினில் ஆடையும்
பண்ணி மலைகளென வீதி குவிப்போம்
கட்டித் திரவியங்கள் கொண்டு வருவார்
காசினி வணிகருக்கு அவை கொடுப்போம்
[Translation into English]
We create outfits out of silk and cotton in mountains of amounts that bring a lot of profit to the traders we give them to all over the world (dresses)
“Even if Indians are split, they are children of one Mother, where is the need for foreigners to interfere?” he is believed to have added. He wrote about a new and free India, free of castes, between 1910 and 1920. He speaks of strengthening India’s defence, her ships sailing the vast seas, manufacturing success, and universal education. With beautiful imagery like the transfer of excess water from the Bengal delta to needy regions and a bridge to Sri Lanka, he advocates for sharing among states.
Subramania Bharathi also wished to put an end to hunger. “Thani oru manithanakku unavu illayenil intha jagaththinai azhithiduvom,” he sang, “We shall ruin the entire earth if one single man dies of starvation.”
Jayanthasri Balakrishnan has translated several of his poetry into English on her blog, but they have not been published.
Even though he has strong feelings for Gods, he is opposed to false stories being promoted in epics and other parts of Tamil Nadu’s social fabric.
He writes in Kuyil paattu (Song of the Nightingale) (குயில் பாட்டு ).
Subramania Bharathi – on caste system
In Hindu civilization, Subramania Bharathi also battled against the caste system. Subramania Bharathi was born into an orthodox Brahmin family, but he believed that all living beings were equal, and to demonstrate this, he conducted the upanayanam and made a young Dalit man a Brahmin. During his period, he also despised the dividing tendencies instilled in the younger generations by their senior professors. He openly chastised preachers for combining their personal beliefs with the Vedas, Upanishads, and Gita when teaching them. He was a major proponent of integrating Dalits into Hindu society.
“சாதிகள் இல்லையடி பாப்பா!-குலத்
தாழ்ச்சி உயர்ச்சி சொல்லல் பாவம்;
நீதி உயர்ந்த மதி, கல்வி-அன்பு
நிறைய உடையவர்கள் மேலோர்.”
[Translation into English]
There is no such thing as a caste system.
Dividing people based on caste is a sin.
Those that excel in being just, knowledgeable, educated, and loving are those who are truly of a superior class.
Subramania Bharathi portrays human love in this scene, where a man should not see a woman’s caste. They need to perceive them as people. They should consider them as brothers and sisters, not just as human beings. This means that a well-educated individual understands how to treat people regardless of their caste.