SUBRAMANIA Bharati (1882-1921), who lived during the most eventful period in Indian Mutiny with his contemporaries being Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and VVS Aiyer, inspired thousands of Tamilians to rise in revolt against the British.
Bharati was born on December 11, 1882 to Chinnasami Subramania Iyer and Elakkumi Lakshmi Ammal at Ettayapuram in Tamil Nadu. Even as a child he was very fond of music and at the age of 11, he was invited by court poets and musicians to present his compositions. Here he was conferred the title ‘Bharati or ‘One blessed by Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning’.
Bharati had an unhappy childhood as he lost his mother at a very young age. He was brought up by a strict father who wanted his son to become an engineer, but Bharati was given to daydreaming in school and could not concentrate on his studies. Hoping to improve him in his studies, Bharati’s father married him off at the age of 14 so that he would become more responsible but Bharati left home a year later to go to Benaras. While travelling from south to north, he was exposed to Hindu spirituality and nationalism. His outlook broadened and after meeting Sister Nivedita and Swami Vivekananda, Bharati became a nationalist. He dedicated his first composition of patriotic songs – Swadesha Geetanjali – to Sister Nivedita who became his spiritual preceptor. He realised the importance of women and began to advocate greater freedom and respect for women.
He fought for the downtrodden and against the caste system, as he said, “There are only two castes in the world – one who is educated and one who is not.” Despite coming from an orthodox Brahmin family, he performed the upanayanam of a young Harijan boy.
He joined the daily Swadeshamitram as Assistant Editor and this daily was brought out in Tamil. He also edited the Tamil weekly India and English daily Bala Bharatham. Here he could give voice to his creative impulses and contributed religious hymns, poems on nationalism, relationship with God and so on. He considered Tamil as the ‘sweetest language’ and introduced a new style in Tamil poetry, known as puthukkavithai.
He openly supported armed resistance against the British as he was distressed to see his nation suffer slavery and political subjugation. He wrote nationalistic poems, exhorting his people to rise and revolt against foreign domination. He believed in shakti worship and warned against the designs of Christian missionaries who were converting Harijans to their religion.
Bharati wrote songs and poems in Tamil which became very popular and he spread the knowledge of the Vedas and message of Sri Krishna. His patriotic spirit comes to the fore in this poem on India:
“Rich with hurrying streams, springs and cool breeze,
This is a prosperous land, not only in material wealth,
But she is rich in spiritual wealth too.
This is the land that produced
Great thoughts in thousands.”
Sarojini Naidu, who was known as the ‘Nightingale of India’ said about Bharati, “Poets like Bharati cannot be counted as the treasure of any province. He is entitled by his work to rank among those who have transcended limitations of race, language and continent and become the universal possession of mankind.”