Patriots > Cultural Inspiration and Nationalism > Bharati Subramania
Bharati Subramania ( 1882-1921)

Subramania Bharati was born on 11 December 1882 at Ettayapuram in the Tirunelveli District. His father Chinnaswamy Iyer was a learned Brahmin attached to the Ettayapuram Zamin. He was also interested in Western technology and managed to install the first textile mill at Ettayapuram in 1880. Bharati lost his mother when he was hardly five but found in his stepmother affection and love. He was a precocious child and became a Tamil scholar at a very early age. He was awarded the title of ‘Bharati’ for successfully taking part in literary contest sponsored by the Raja of Ettayapuram.

After a few years of reluctant schooling in Tirunelveli, he joined the Zamin service in 1897.The same year he was married to Chellammal. The sudden death of Iyer in 1898 left him rudderless; he went to Banaras where his aunt Kuppammal gave him shelter. He passed the Entrance examination of the Allahabad University. Though he returned to Ettayapuram, Bharati was not happy in the decadent, strife-ridden society of the Raja’s palace. He took up a temporary teaching post in Tamil at Madurai Setupati High School and later joined theTamil daily Swadesa Mithram.

The new job took him to Madras. His major work in the office was to translate into Tamil news appearing in English dailies. This job gave him a taste for politics and social reform. His passion-swathed patriotic poems thrilled the entire Tamil Nadu and enthused the people to take part in direct action. During these days,he met Sister Nivedita who blessed his political involvement and zeal for the emancipation of women.

Bharati was closely associated with the Extremist movement in the Congress.To escape police persecution he retired to Pondicherry in1908.`. Here he spent ten years writing brilliant poetry and prose. Tired with an exile’s life, he returned to British India. He was promptly arrested but released at the instant of his well wishers . He rejoined his desk at the Swadesa Mithran office but died in 1921 after being hit by the temple elephant at Triplicane.

Though Bharati was involved in active policies throughout his life and spent his time in spirit-consuming journalism, he has left behind considerable body of brilliant poetry. His poems can be divided into four categories: Patriotic Poems, Devotional Songs ; Miscellaneous Poems ; Three Great Poems.

Patriotic Poems : Bharati who loved Shelley’s tireless search for individual liberty was influenced by him while writing patriotic poetry. He caught the breathless attention of the Tamil people with his powerful lyric, the bulk of which are to be found in ‘ Swadesa Gitangal ‘ (1908) and ‘ Janma Bhumi ‘ (1909). Significantly he dedicated both the books to Sisters Nivedita.

Abjuring mere political propaganda he gave a spiritual dimension to the Indian thirst for freedom. He approached his task from three directions ; an incantatory review of India, detailing its physical and spiritual rareness ; an injection of the ideal of ‘ freedom ‘ into every person so as to banish fear ; an evocation of the lives of the great men of India as living examples for emulation.

Devotional Songs: Bharati was a deeply religious man but had no patience with obscurantism. The prayer songs dedicated to the embodied manifestations of the University Deity are very popular today. His knowledge hymns repeat the Vedantic search for universality. His autobiographical fragments too come under this category. They are ‘ A Dream ‘ and ‘ Bharati : Sixty-Six ‘. The most significant group is formed by his poems on Shakti. Bharti’s ishta devta was Shakti, the primordial power that makes and unmakes the whole universe

The Kali worship he witnessed at Banaras his meeting with Sister Nivedita, the powerful poem ‘ Vande Mataram ‘ indicated by Bankim -all influence his Shakti songs. His approach is personal and approximates to the Mother -Child relationship. Her many aspects are caught within the area 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 arresed by the advent of Shiva in his auspicious form, and they unite to recreate the worlds once again.

Miscellaneous Poems: The subject matter of these lyrics is social reform. Even “ Puthia Athisoodi ” which is apparently meant for children has commitments such as ‘ Curse Astrology’, ‘Learn Astronomy’ and ‘ Modernise ancient scriptures ‘. Many of the poems deal with nature, education and the dignity of labour. Much of his nature poetry is contain in ‘Vachana Kavithai ‘. The emancipation of women excercised Bharati's mind greatly. He visualised The ‘ New Woman ‘ as an emanation of Shakti. A willing helpmate of man to build a new earth through co-operative endeavour.

Three Great Poems : ( 1 ) ‘ Kannan Pattu ‘ Consists of twenty-three lyrics published in 1917.Bharati ecstatically sang of Krishna as a friend , mother , servant , teacher , student ,king ,child, prankish boy ,lover ,lady-love and deity. The nayaka-nayaki bhava of Indian ecstatics is given a novel twist by Bharati whose intense absorption in Krishna gives this superb collection a unique place in Tamil literature.

(2) The first part of ‘Panchali Sapatham 'appeared in 1912 and the second part twelve years later. Bharati’s epic concentrates on the critical movement when Duhshasana rises to disorobe Draupadi. By choosing this moment and linking it to the earlier motivation of Duryodhana and the later series of ‘vows’ by the Pandavas that seal his fate, Bharati created an architecturally perfect poem that has both the epic sweep and the intensity of tragic drama. The epic consists of five cantos. For the first time a long Tamil poem was written with “simple phrases, simple style, easily understood prosody, rhythms liked by the common man”.

Bharati’s ideas on social reform, anxiety to rid India of its foreign rulers and devotion to Mahashakti also find a place in the movement of the epic. The insulted and injured Queen, womanhood fighting for her due place in the world of men, Mother India struggling to be free, and Mahashakti in the plenitude of her splendour: these four attributes merge in that immortal character turning from men to God at the centre of the Kuru court.

(3) “Kuyil Pattu’ is a narrative poem and tells a fable about an Indian nightingale, a bull and a monkey. The human characters are a prince and a poet. The story came to the poet in a dream, a kind of vision of Beauty and love. The fable could be interpreted in many ways. Chiefly, the poem seems to point out the impossibility of a divine love on earth. Inevitably the mundane earth tarnishes and kills such true love. The poem initiated a new trend in Tamil poetry.

Bharati wrote short stories and an unfinished novel, ‘Chandrikayin Kathai’. His ‘wisdom tales’, in imitation of ‘Panchatantra’ and ‘Hitopadesa’ stories, are still popular in Tamil Nadu. Bharati also wrote in English and these writings have been collected in ‘Agni and Other Poems and Translations’ (1937) and ‘Essays and other Prose Fragments’ (1937).

Subramania Bharati is now fully acknowledged as the father of modern Tamil style. He showed the Tamilians that that the spoken rhythms of the language can be easily transferred to the written page. It would be no exaggeration to say that creative writing in Tamil during the last five decades owes its existence to Bharati. Above everything else, he was one of the earliest to speak of India as an entity. In his poems and prose writing he stressed the need for an integrated India as an entity. In his poems and prose writings he stressed the need for an integrated India and exhorted the Indians to eschew regional rivalries and think in terms of an ‘Indian’.

Poem after poem describes the best in each region and how these should be brought together to build a glorious future for India. He was sure that when the call came, India’s millions would answer with one voice. So he sang of Mother Bharat at the dawn of our Independence Movement:
“She has thirty crores of faces,
But her heart is one;
She speaks eighteen languages,
Yet her mind is one”.

His message for national unity is still relevant for our life times.

Author : Prema Nandakumar