Subramania Bharati lived only for 39 years. In this short span of exemplary life, he made tremendous contributions to the nation as a freedom fighter, poet, and social and spiritual reformer. His contribution to Indian ethos will be celebrated for generations to come. During his lifetime, when the freedom movement was at its pinnacle, he not only aroused patriotic fire but touched every aspect of human life through his poems and writings. That is why he is called “Mahakavi”, which means great poet.
“Mahakavi” Bharati was born on 11 December 1882, at Ettayapuram in Tuticorin District. His father’s name was Chinnaswamy Iyer, and his Mother’s name was Lakshmi Ammal. His parents named him Subramani. At the age of 5, Subramanian lost his mother. Subramanian was blessed with literary, poetic and debating skills at an early age itself. He started to develop poetic abilities at the age of 7. At the age of 11, Subramanian won a Debate contest which was held at the court of Maharaja of Ettayapuram. Seeing young Subramanian debating abilities with eminent scholars, the Maharaja of Ettayapuram conferred him the title “Bharati”. Henceforth he was known as Subramania Bharati. Bharati did schooling till 9th grade at Hindu School in Tirunelveli. He developed his poetic and literary capabilities while pursuing studies.
Many distinguished scholars were amazed to see how the young Bharathi was blessed with outstanding credentials at an early age. Bharati was married at the very early age of 15, which was the prevailing custom in those days. His wife’s name was Chellama. At the age of 16, Bharati’s father died, which propelled his poverty. At the age of 16, Bharati left to live with his Uncle in Varanasi. There he gained a fair knowledge of Sanskrit, Hindi and English. He also duly passed with credit the Entrance Examination of Allahabad University. The Banaras stay brought about a tremendous change in Bharathi’s personality. Outwardly, he sported a moustache and a Sikh turban and acquired a bold swing in his walk. After spending a few years in Varanasi, Bharati returned to Ettayapuram. The king of Ettayapuram requested Bharati to work as a poet in his court. Bharati, after a short stay at Kings Court, took a job as a Tamil teacher at Sethupathi High School in Madurai.
Journalist and freedom fighter
Bharati developed not only a love for poems and literature but also a nationalistic passion. Bharati’s thirst for the nation’s freedom from colonial rule took him to Madras to work as Journalist at Swadeshi Mitran. While working in Swadeshi Mitran Bharati developed a rapport with other freedom fighters such as V.O. Chidambaram Pillai and Subramania Siva. In the year 1906 Bharati was invited to attend the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress. There he had an opportunity to meet national leaders like Dhadhabahai Naoroji, Bala Gandadhar Tilak, and Lajpat Rai etc. At the same time, he met Swami Vivekananda and Sister Niveditha. Latter, Bharati accepted Sister Niveditha as his Guru. Bharati started to involve in the freedom movement more feverishly. He started two more magazines, “Bala Bharatham and India”, in which he outpoured his nationalistic emotions. His poems and writing were so simple that even a layman could also understand them. His simple poems and writings awakened the spirits of youth and every common man to participate in the freedom struggle. Apart from contributing for the freedom struggle through his writings, Bharati organized several meetings inviting revolutionary national leaders such as Balagandhar Tilak and many others. Bharati himself a freedom fighter, also created many through his writings and speeches. The noted ones were Neelkanda Brahmachari and Vanchinathan.
Life in Pondicherry
Bharati created an arousing response to the freedom struggle through his writings, this triggered anger among the British. They exiled him to the then-French territory of Pondicherry. Thereafter for many years Bharati lived at Pondicherry. He also started to publish his magazines from Pondicherry once the British banned his publications in their territory. Bharati’s years at Pondicherry were the best part of his life. Bharathi got acquainted with one of the greatest freedom fighters and spiritual reformers of India, Aurobindo Ghosh. Bharati produced the greatest literary and poetry works during his years at Pondicherry, we can say that time brought out real “Mahakavi” in him. Bharati was arrested by the British in the year 1918 from Cuddalore, which was in British India when he reached there to meet his ailing wife. He was released after spending 34 days in prison. Since his publications were banned, Bharati was again pushed into poverty. Bharati came back to Chennai and never stopped to pursue his passions.
Bharati used to visit Parthasarathy Temple at Tiruvellikeni in Madras and used to feed the temple elephant. On one unfortunate day, when Bharati went to feed, the elephant attacked him. Bharati sustained injuries on his legs and head. What affected his health is the sudden shock after the elephant attack, from which he never recovered. Mahakavi Subramania Bharati attained god’s lotus feet on September 11th 1921 at the age of 39.
Some of Bharati’s notable works are Panjali Sapatham, Kannan Pattu, Kuyil Pattu, translation of Patanjali Yoga sutra, translation of Bhagavad Gita, Chinnanchriu kiliye, Vinayagar Nanmanimalai, Viduthalai Padalgal, Gnana Padalgal and many more.
The Dravidian academicians and writers these days portray Bharati as someone who was against the Brahmin community and Hindu religion, which practised “caste evils”. But Bharati was actually only against discriminatory practices such as untouchability and discrimination against women. Bharati was a great devotee of the goddess Kali and composed many poems praising the goddess. In his days at Madras, he was a frequent visitor of the Parthasarathy temple dedicated to lord Vishnu. The Dravidian thinkers are now trying to misrepresent his original ideals to suit their propaganda.
Subramania Bharati is the father of modern Tamil poetry. His Poems and literary works were not restricted to thoughts on freedom moment alone but echoed his emotions as a social reformer speaking about all social evils prevailing at his times. As a spiritual philosopher, he translated Bhagavad Gita into Tamil and wrote many poems for children. As mentioned earlier, he touched every aspect of human life as a poet of all ages. His poems were visionary documents of how free India should be. That is why he is celebrated many years after his time and will be for generations to come.