Subramanya Bharathi ( December 11, 1882 – September 11, 1921 ) was a Tamil Poet from Tamil Nadu, India, an independence fighter and iconoclastic reformer. Known as Mahakavi Bharathi ( the laudatory epithet Maha Kavi meaning Great Poet in many Indian Languages ), he is celebrated as one of India’s greatest poets.
Subramanya Bharathi was prolific and adept in both the prose and poetry forms. His compositions helped rally the masses to support the Indian independence movement in South India.
Bharathi lived during an eventful period of Indian history, his contemporaries including prominent leaders of the Indian Independence Movement such as Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and V.V.S. Aiyar.
Early Life of Subramanya Bharathi
Bharathi was born to Chinnasami Subramanya Iyer and Elakkumi ( Lakshmi ) Ammaal as “Subbayya” on December 11, 1882 in the Tamil Village of Ettayapuram. Subramanya Bharathi was educated at a local high school called “The M.D.T. Hindu College” in Tirunelveli.
From a very young age he learnt music and at 11, Subramanya Bharathi was invited to a conference of Ettayapuram Court Poets and Musicians for Composing Poems and Songs. It was here that he was conferred the title of “Bharathi” ( one blessed by Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning ).
Subramanya Bharathi lost his mother at the age of 5 and his father at the age of 16. He was brought up by his disciplinarian father who wanted him to learn English, excel in arithmetic, become an engineer and lead a comfortable life. However, Subramanya Bharathi was given to day dreaming and could not concentrate on his studies. In 1897, perhaps to instill a sense of responsibility in him, his father had the 14 Year old Pharathi married to his seven year younger cousin, Chellamal.
After this early marriage, Subramanya Bharathi, curious to see the outside world, left for Benares in 1898. The next four years of his life served as a passage of discovery. During this time he discovered a country in tumult outside his small hamlet. Bharathi worked as a teacher in Madurai Sethupathy High School ( now a higher secondary school ) and as a journal editor at various times in his life.
Subramanya Bharathi Views
During his stay in Benares ( also known as Kashi and Varanasi ), Bharathi was exposed to Hindu Spirituality and Nationalism. This broadened his outlook and Subramanya Bharathi learned Sanskrit, Hindi and English. In addition, Bharathi changed his outward appearance.
It is likely that Bharathi was impressed by the turbans worn by members of Hindu Society ( being a tradition in Indian society, turbans represented the crowns worn by kings ) and started wearing one himself. Bharathi also grew a beard and started walking with a straight back.
Soon, Bharathi started looking beyond the social taboos and superstitions of orthodox South Indian society. In December 1905, Bharathi attended the All India Congress session held in Benaras. On his journey back home, he met Sister Nivedita, Vivekananda’s spiritual daughter. From her arose another of Bharathi’s iconoclasm, his stand to recognise the privileges of women.
The emancipation of women exercised Bharathi’s mind greatly. Bharathi visualised the ‘new woman’ as an emanation of Shakti, a willing helpmate of man to build a new earth through co – operative endeavour.
During this period, Bharathi understood the need to be well – informed of the world outside and took interest in the world of journalism and the print media of the West. Bharathi joined as Assistant Editor of the Swadeshamitran, a Tamil daily in 1904.
By April 1907, Bharathi started editing the Tamil weekly India and the English newspaper Bala Bharatham with M.P.T. Acharya. These newspapers were also a means of expressing Bharathi’s creativity, which began to peak during this period. Bharathi started to publish his poems regularly in these editions.
From religious hymns to nationalist anthems, from contemplations on the relationship between God and Man to songs on the Russian and French revolutions, Bharathi’s subjects were diverse. Bharathi was simultaneously up against society for its mistreatment of the downtrodden people and the British for occupying India.
Bharathi participated in the historic Surat Congress in 1907, which deepened the divisions within the Indian National Congress between the militant wing led by Tilak and Aurobindo and the moderate wing. Bharathi supported Tilak and Aurobindo together with V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Kanchi Varathaachariyar. Tilak openly supported armed resistance against the British.
Bharathi immersed himself in writing and in political activity. In Madras, in 1908, Bharathi organised a public meeting to celebrate Swaraj ( independence ) Day. His nationalistic poems Vanthe Matharam, Enthayum Thayum and Jaya Bharath were printed and distributed free to the audience. Bharathi is referred to as the National Poet of India.
In 1908, Bharathi gave evidence in the case which had been instituted by the British against V.O. Chidambaram Pillai. In the same year, the proprietor of the journal India was arrested in Madras. Faced with the prospect of arrest, Bharathi escaped to Pondicherry which was under French rule.
From there he edited and published the weekly journal India, Vijaya, a Tamil daily, Bala Bharatha, an English monthly, and Suryothayam, a local weekly of Pondicherry. The British tried to suppress Bharathi’s output by stopping remittances and letters to the papers. Both India and Vijaya were banned in British India in 1909.
During his exile, Bharathi had the opportunity to mix with many other leaders of the revolutionary wing of the Independence movement such as Aurobindo, Lajpat Rai and V.V.S. Aiyar, who had also sought asylum under the French. Bharathi assisted Aurobindo in the Arya journal and later Karma Yogi in Pondicherry.
Bharathi entered British India near Cuddalore in November 1918 and was promptly arrested. Bharathi was imprisoned in the Central prison in Cuddalore in custody for three weeks from 20 November to 14 December. The following year Bharathi met with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
His poetry expressed a progressive, reformist ideal. His imagery and the vigour of his verse symbolise Tamil culture in many respects. Bharathiyaar famously espoused greater freedom and respect for women :
“We will destroy the idiocy
Of denigrating womanhood”
Bharathi also fought against the caste system in Hindu society. Although born into an Orthodox Brahmin Family, he gave up his own caste identity. One of his great sayings meant, ‘There are only two castes in the world : one who is educated and one who is not.’
Bharathi considered all living beings as equal and to illustrate this he even performed upanayanam to a young harijan man and made him a Brahmin. Bharathi also scorned the divisive tendencies being imparted into the younger generations by their elderly tutors during his time.
Bharathi openly criticised the preachers for mixing their individual thoughts while teaching the Vedas and the Gita.
Subramanya Bharathi Language
Bharathi was devoted towards his mother tongue Tamil language and was proud of its heritage. Bharathi was fluent in many languages including Telugu, Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit, Kutchi, French and English and frequently translated works from other languages into Tamil. Bharathi had a voracious appetite for learning ancient and contemporary Tamil literature especially ancient poems.
Bharathi was a pioneer in introducing a new style of Tamil Poetry. Until then the poems had to follow the strict syntactic rules set down by the ancient Tamil grammatical treatise Tolkappiyam. Bharathi broke this syntactic bonds and created a prose – poetic style known as the puthukkavithai ( modern poems ).
Subramanya Bharathi Poetry Translations
Kuyil Paattu – Translated in Japanese by Shuzo Matsunaga ( 8 October 1983 ).
Subramanya Bharathi Death
Bharathi’s health was badly affected by the imprisonments and by 1920, when a General Amnesty Order finally removed restrictions on his movements, Bharathi was already struggling. Bharathi was struck by an elephant at Parthasarathy temple, Triplicane, Chennai, whom Bharathi used to feed regularly.
Although Bharathi survived the incident, a few months later his health deteriorated and Bharathi died on September 11, 1921. Though Bharathi was a people’s poet there were only fourteen people to attend his funeral.
Mahakavi has delivered his last speech at Karungalpalayam Library in Erode, which was about the topic Man is Immortal. The last years of his life were spent in a house in Triplicane, Chennai. This house was bought and renovated by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 1993 and named ‘Bharathiyar Illam’ ( Home of Bharathiyar ).
A Tamil Movie was made a few years ago on the life of the national poet, titled, Bharathy. This classic film was directed by Gnana Rajasekeran. The main character of Subramanya Bharati is played by a Marathi actor, Sayaji Shinde.
Subramanya Bharathi Family
[[ Nepolean Bharathi ] ( actor )] son of Dr. Rajkumar Bharathi and great grand son of Subramanya Bharathi has penned a song for his childhood friend Venkat Prabhu’s Tamil film Mankatha.