“Bharati’s life is a sweet poem. It is a collection of the experiences of his personality, whose important aspects are love, happiness, strength, righteousness, novelty and attraction,” said S Vijaya Bharati, the granddaughter of the legendary Tamil icon Subramania Bharati.
September 11 marks the death anniversary of India’s firebrand poet and a revolutionary thinker from Tamil Nadu, Subramania Bharati. In a relatively short life span of 39 years, Bharati left an indelible mark in India’s history as not only a Tamil poet but also as a national icon. At the age of seven, Bharati started writing poems, and at 11, he began to engage with scholars in order to establish his credentials.
What is so special about Bharati? What is his relevance for today’s gen-next?
In fact, there are many facets that come to mind, on recalling some of Bharati’s epochal contributions.
Many years of Bharati’s life were spent in the field of journalism, Bharati, as a young man began his career as a journalist and as a sub-editor in “Swadesamitran” in November 1904. Bharati was proficient in Tamil, English, Hindi and Sanskrit.
He brought out a weekly, “India” in May 1906. It declared as its motto the three slogans of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. It blazed a new trail in Tamil journalism. In order to proclaim its revolutionary ardour, Bharati had the weekly printed on red paper. “India” was the first paper in Tamil Nadu to publish political cartoons.
He also published and edited a few other journals like “Vijaya”.
Cover page of the 1909 magazine Vijaya. By Fowler&fowler at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia by Sreejith K (talk)) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Bharati, who used his writings to exalt patriotism in youth, inspired many to join the independence struggle and to work vigorously for the liberation of the country. His writings also showed his wide interests and socio and geopolitical concerns. Some of his editorials included, "Tibet and the Indian Government", "The Sufferings of Indians in South Africa", "The Tax of Three Sovereigns on Indian Women in Natal", "Mrs Annie Besant”, “Conversations with Sri Aurobindo Ghosh", "Students and Politics" and "Historical Reasons for the Downfall of Indian Culture and Civilisation."
It is important to understand the context in which Bharati was bringing out these writings and poems. His granddaughter writes, “Bharati as a poet has to be studied primarily with the historical context in mind. Bharati’s times were troubled times. Everywhere in the country, there was during his times, unrest and rising upheaval against the British. Much of what Bharati wrote was inspired by the passion for freedom characterised in so many other patriots in so many different forms. To him freedom was the very breath of life. Bharati’s poetry is a product of his times.”
Strong willed social reformer
“Tamil Nadu earned sky high pride by giving Thiruvalluvar to the world,” is one of Bharati’s famous quotes. The same can be said for Bharati himself, as Tamil Nadu also takes tremendous pride in having given the world strong willed social reformers like him and Sri Ramanujacharya, to name a few.
Bharati was against casteism. He undertook several revolutionary measures challenging orthodoxy, by adorning many Dalits in Tamil Nadu with the upanayana (sacred thread). Bharati advocated and ensured entry of Dalits into temples. For these social reforms he faced a lot of opposition, but he was strong willed and strong minded that unless Indians unite to fight the evil of casteism, achieving freedom would be meaningless.
Champion of gender justice
One of Bharati’s transformative encounters was when he met Sister Nivedita, Swami Vivekananda’s disciple. He described the meeting in the following words: “As the mighty form of Lord Krishna silently explained the state of Atman to Arjuna, the Guru’s silence taught me the Bharata Devi and need for the love towards my country.” In many ways, this meeting enabled Bharati to strive towards equality of women in India and this was a milestone in Bharati’s life. He visualised ‘woman’ as Shakti or Power. Bharati also brought out a front cover for the magazine, "Chakravarthini", in 1906, which focussed mainly on the empowerment of Indian women. He also advocated and campaigned for women to participate in politics, their rights and education.
After his meeting with Sister Nivedita, Bharati reaffirmed his pledge to fight for the liberation of India from the British, eradication of casteism and emancipation of women.
Bharati with wife Chellamma.
Niranjan Bharati, Subramania Bharati’s great grandson, in one of his interviews has spoken about Bharati’s unmatched quality of being sensitive towards everyone. “Despite being amidst strife and agony, he never ceased to shower his ‘thaaimai’ (motherliness). Be it feeling for the plight of workers in the sugarcane fields of Fiji, feeding the sparrows even when his family was struggling for food, sharing the neem fruit with his shepherd friends, stroking the mane of a lion inside a cage and cuddling a donkey, he was just unstoppable. It is this quality — sensitivity towards everyone — that we should try to imbibe. The more insensitive a person is, the more vulnerable he or she becomes” said Niranjan.
After Indian independence, Bharati’s contribution to Indian culture was widely recognised. There is no major city in India that does not have a street named after him, or a statue erected in his honour. Bharati’s works have been translated into all major Indian languages, as well as a number of European languages, including French, German, Russian and Czech. The government of India has also issued a postage stamp in his honour. The government has also conferred upon him the title, “India’s National Poet”, in recognition of his contribution to Indian culture.
India salutes this Warrior of Words, Wisdom, Will and tireless Work.
The author is a Deputy Director at India Foundation, Views expressed are personal.