Subramania Bharati

Subramania Bharati



Subramania Bharati is considered the greatest Tamil poet of the twentieth century. He wrote one of the best patriotic poems in the Tamil language, besides other poetry. His poems created an immense wave of nationalism in Tamil Nadu and inspired people to join the freedom movement.

subramania bharti
Subramania (Subbiah to his family and friends) was born on 11 December 1882 to Chinnaswami Iyer and Lakshmi Ammal at Ettayapuram in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. Theirs was a middle-class family. His father, a learned Brahmin, was attached to the Ettayapuram Zamin. He was also interested in industry and had installed the first textile mill at Ettayapuram in 1880. Subramania’s mother, Lakshmi Ammal, died when he was hardly five years old. His father married a second time, but his step-mother treated him well, just like her own son.
Subramania started his primary education at Tirunelveli. He was a precocious child in a limited sense. While he loved and mastered the Tamil language at an early age, he did not like other subjects, especially mathematics. He started composing poetry while still in primary school. He would skip classes and wander about, admiring manure and writing simple, short poems in Tamil. Thus, he had become a Tamil scholar very early in life, though without much of a formal education. When he was eleven years old, he was invited to the court of the Raja Ettayapuram to recite his poems. The noted poets present at the court were amazed at the quality of the lyrics which he recited. They started calling him ‘Bharati’.
In 1897, Subramania was married to a seven-year-old girl, Chellammal, who later shared the agonies and ecstacies of his life. The following year, his father died and he went to Banaras to live with his aunt Kuppammal. He passed the entrance examination of the Allahabad University. During his stay at Banaras, he learnt Hindi, Sanskrit and English. His stay there brought a change in his appearance too. He began to sport a thick moustache on the lines of' a warrior and an ample turban on his head, tied in a distinct and unorthodox style. Banaras also brought about a change in his outlook, and he began to write patriotic poetry and about the pathetic condition of India under unsympathetic foreign rule. After four years, he went back to his home town Ettayapuram but he was disheartened by the caste ridden and orthodox society. To get away from the suffocating atmosphere he took up a temporary teaching post as a teacher of Tamil at Madurai Setupati High School. He soon left for Madras and took up the job of an assistant editor of a popular Tamil daily, Swadesamitram, which was founded by G. Subramania Iyer in 1882. There he was responsible for translating into Tamil, news appearing in English dailies. Besides brushing up his English, this job gave him a better idea of the political and social developments in the country. He began to write political poems urging people to wake up from their slumber and to take their destiny in their own hands. He was moving more and more towards writing about the political regeneration of the country. His passion filled patriotic poems enthralled the people of Tamil Nadu and they started taking active part in the freedom movement. During those days he met Sister Nivedita, a disciple of Vivekananda, and a great nationalist. She blessed him and exhorted him to devote his poetic talents for the emancipation of the country. As a gesture of gratitude, Subramania dedicated two of his poetry books to her.
In 1907, Bharati attended the Congress session at Surat. He was openly with the Extremists led by Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lajpat Rai. He believed that the situation called for a revolutionary approach and the policy of appeals and representations would not lead the country to freedom. His poems and writings started becoming more and more volatile and no publisher was prepared to publish his books- Even the editor of Swadesamitram stopped publishing his extremist views. Bharati resigned from the paper and started publishing his own weekly, India, in 1907. In that he began publishing his poems and stories, some of them satirical. The Swadeshi movement in Bengal, and to a lesser extent in other parts of the country, started as a reaction to the partition of Bengal, was gathering momentum. The government had unleashed repressive measures and hundreds of revolutionaries and freedom fighters had been arrested and imprisoned. Even national leaders like Lajpat Rai, Tilak and Aurobindo had not been spared. Fearing arrest, Bharati fled to Pondicherry, a French enclave, in 1908. Here he spent ten years in extreme poverty and isolation and was harassed by British spies. Once his house was ransacked and some valuable manuscripts were stolen. He was forced to discontinue the publication of India. But still, he was able to write some brilliant prose and poetry in the beautiful surroundings of Pondicherry. Most of his devotional songs and nature poetry belong to this period. tired of long stretch of an exile`s life, he returned to British India. The British administration was prompt in arresting him but released him after a few days unconditionally. Bharati first went to his hometown but was out of place in an Orthodox society, as was his experience on an earlier occasion. He came to Madras and Once again joined the editorial staff Of the Swadesamitram. After a long time, Bharati began to live on regular, though meagre income. But not for long. He used to visit a temple in Triplicates and Offer a coconut to the temple elephant. One day the elephant was in run and hit him with its trunk, while Bharati was offering a coconut. Bharati was badly injured and died after a few days on 12 September 1921.
Bharati was a true nationalist and left behind a considerable body of brilliant poetry. His poems could be divided into three categories: patriotic poems, devotional songs and miscellaneous poems. Under the first category, come his collection of poems Swadesa Gitangal (1909) and janma Bhoomi (1909). Both these books were dedicated to Sister Nivedita, a source of inspiration for many Indians. In these poems, he describes the grandeur of India and her spiritual greatness. He exhorts Indians to work for freedom in true spirit, abjuring political propaganda, and to cast away fear and timidness. Some of the poems in this category describe the lives of great men of India and their great deeds as a source of inspiration for the present generation and the generations to come. His devotional songs are addressed to Lord Krishna, including poetry devoted to Goddess Shakti and poems expressing vividly the ideals of human oneness and universal love as preached by the Vedas. That Bharati was a deeply religious man is evident from these poems, in spite of his abhorrence of senseless rituals and customs. Thus the “most significant group is formed by his poems on Shakti, Bharati’s isht devata (personal god) the primordial power that makes and unmakes the whole universe”. The Kali worship witnessed in Banaras, his meeting with Sister Nivedita, the powerful poem Vande Matram of Bankim Chandra - all influenced his Shakti poems. His approach is personal and approximate the, mother-child relationship. Her many aspects are caught with in the art of his poetic creation. “Oozhi-k-Koothu is the most audaciously frenzied and most poetically articulate piece in the Bharati canon. It is a description of the Mother’s terrible dance of destruction which is at last arrested by the advent of Shiva in his auspicious form, and they unite to recreate the World once again”.
His miscellaneous poems include ones whose subject matter is social reform, scientific and rational thinking and the emancipation of women and so on. He also wrote poems for children. This was prompted by his younger daughter Sakuntala and her friends. He sang for them The Child’s Song. He set it to music and children love to sing ‘Odi vilaiyadu pappa’ even today. Written in very simple Tamil, Bharati’s poems budded with rhyme and rhythm, which even a non-Tamil speaking person could enjoy. His drum-beat song, also popular as a dance piece, proclaims vetri yettu thikkum yetta (all human beings are equal). His other important epic poems are Kannan Pattu (1917); Panchali Sapatham (1912 and 1924 in two parts) and Pattu. The last song composed by Bharati and sung by him at a public meeting at the beach in Madras, a few weeks before his death, is one of his most popular poems: Bharatha samudayam vazhgave (Long live Bharat Commonwealth).
Bharati also wrote short stories and an unfinished novel, Chandrikayin Kathai. His wisdom tales on the lines of Panchrantra and Hitopadesh are still popular in Tamil Nadu. Bharati also wrote English poetry and prose, which have been collected in Agni and Other Poems and translations (1937) and Essays and Other Prose Fragments (1937).
But today Bharati is remembered most for giving a simple and appealing style to Tamil poetry. He showed that the spoken rhythms in Tamil can be easily transferred to the written page. He was one of the first poets of any merit to speak of India as one entity and of her people sharing a common heritage. In poem after poem he describes the best in each region, the sum of which make India. He exhorts the Indians to eschew regionalism to make India great.
Subramania Bharati has inspired many poets and writers like Bharati Dasan (1891-1964) who absorbed the revolutionary zeal of Bharati and chose the pseudonym to underline his affinity with the great poet. In the memory of Subramania Bharati stands the Bharati Mandap at Ettayapuram, his native place. There is a statue of Bharati at the Madras seashore. “The rhythmic roar of the undying waves seems to recite and repeat his poems”. About Bharati, C. Rajagopalachari has said, “The body of national thought that he wove into song was that which preceded Gandhi; it was Vivekananda’s and Dadabhai Naoroji’s and Tilak’s India that forms the material of Bharati’s poetry”. Bharati is known as a national poet and his fame is not confined to Tamil Nadu. He has lived up to what his name depicts- ‘Bharati'.

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