Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathi was born on 11
December 1882. He died on 11 September 1921. In a relatively short life span
of 39 years, Bharathi left an indelible mark as the poet of Tamil
nationalism and Indian freedom.
mother died in 1887 and two years later, his father also died. At the age of
11, in 1893 his prowess as a poet was recognized and
he was accorded the title of 'Bharathi' at Ettiyapuram. He was a student at
Nellai Hindu School and in 1897 he married Sellamal. Thereafter, from 1898
to 1902, he lived in Kasi.
worked as a schoolteacher and as a journal editor at various times in his
life. As a Tamil poet he ranked with Ilanko, Thiruvalluvar and Kamban. His
writings gave new life to the Tamil language - and to Tamil national
consciousness. He involved himself actively in the Indian freedom struggle.
It is sometimes said of Bharathi that he was first an Indian and then a
Tamil. Perhaps, it would be more correct to say that he was a Tamil and
because he was a Tamil he was also an Indian. For him it was not either or
but both - it was not possible for him to be one without also being the
often referred to Tamil as his 'mother'. At the same time, he was fluent in
many languages including Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit, Kuuch, and English and
frequently translated works from other languages into Tamil. His said “among
all the languages I have known, I do not see any of them”, any as
sweet as Tamil, was his moving tribute to his mother tongue. That many a
Tamil web site carries the words of that song on its home page in cyber
space today is a reflection of the hold that those words continue to have on
Tamil minds and Tamil hearts.
was a Hindu. But his spirituality was not limited. He sang to the Hindu
deities, and at the same time he wrote songs of devotion to Jesus Christ and
Allah. Bharathi was a vigorous campaigner against casteism. He wrote in 'Vande
not look at caste or religion; all human beings in this land
- whether they be those who preach the vedas or who belong to other castes -
lived during an eventful period of Indian history. Gandhi, Tilak, Aurbindo
and V.V.S.Aiyar were his contemporaries. He involved himself with passion in
the Indian freedom struggle. His 'Viduthalai, Viduthalai' was a clarion call
for freedom from alien rule. He saw a great India. He saw an India of
skilled workers and an educated people. He saw an India where women would be
free. He expressed the depth of his love and the breadth of his vision for
participated in the 1906 All India Congress meeting in Calcutta (chaired by
Dadabhai Naoroji) where the demand for 'Swaraj' was raised for the first
time. Bharathi supported the demand wholeheartedly and found himself in the
militant wing of the Indian National Congress together with Tilak and
Aurobindo. Aurobindo writing on the historic 1906 Congress had this to say:
were prepared to give the old weakness of the congress plenty of time to die
out if we could get realities recognized. Only in one particular have we
been disappointed and that is the President's address. But even here the
closing address, with which Mr.Naoroji dissolved the Congress, has made
amends for the deficiencies of his opening speech.
more declared Self-Government, Swaraj, as in an inspired moment he termed
it, to be our one ideal and called upon the young men to achieve it. The
work of the older men had been done in preparing a generation which were
determined to have this great ideal and nothing else; the work of making the
ideal a reality lies lies with us. We accept Mr.Naoroji's call and to carry
out his last injunctions will devote our lives and, if necessary, sacrifice
them." (Bande Mataram, 31 December 1906)
served as Assistant Editor of the Swadeshamitran in 1904. In April 1907, he
became the editor of the Tamil weekly 'India'. At the sametime he also
edited the English newspaper 'Bala Bharatham'. He participated in the
historic Surat Congress in 1907, which saw a sharpening of the divisions
within the Indian National Congress between the militant wing led by Tilak
and Aurobindo and the 'moderates'. Subramanya Bharathi supported Tilak and
Aurobindo together with 'Kapal Otiya Thamilan' V.O.Chidambarampillai and
Kanchi Varathaachariyar. Tilak openly supported armed resistance and the
were the years when Bharathi immersed himself in writing and in political
activity. In Madras, in 1908, he organised a mammoth public meeting to
celebrate 'Swaraj Day'. His poems 'Vanthe Matharam', 'Enthayum Thayum', 'Jaya
Bharath' were printed and distributed free to the Tamil people.
1908, he gave evidence in the case which had been instituted by the British
against 'Kappal Otiya Thamizhan', V.O.Chidambarampillai. In the same year,
the proprietor of the 'India' was arrested in Madras. Faced with the
prospect of arrest, Bharathi escaped to Pondicherry which was under French
there Bharathi edited and published the 'India' weekly. He also edited and
published 'Vijaya', a Tamil daily, Bala Bharatha, an English monthly, and 'Suryothayam'
a local weekly of Pondicherry. Under his leadership the Bala Bharatha Sangam
was also started. The British waylaid and stopped remittances and letters to
the papers. Both 'India' and 'Vijaya' were banned in British India in 1909.
British suppression of the militancy was systematic and thorough. Tilak was
exiled to Burma. Aurobindo escaped to Pondicherry in 1910. Bharathi met with
Aurobindo in Pondicherry and the discussions often turned to religion and
philosophy. He assisted Aurobindo in the 'Arya' journal and later 'Karma
Yogi' in Pondicherry. In November 1910, Bharathi released an 'Anthology of
Poems' which included 'Kanavu'.
Aiyar also arrived in Pondicherry in 1910 and the British Indian patriots,
who were called 'Swadeshis' would meet often. They included Bharathi,
Aurobindo and V.V.S.Aiyar. R.S.Padmanabhan in his Biography of V.V.S.Aiyar
of them, whether there was any warrant against them or not, were constantly
being watched by British agents in Pondicherry. Bharathi was a convinced
believer in constitutional agitation. Aurobindo had given up politics
altogether... and Aiyar had arrived in their midst with all the halo of a
dedicated revolutionary who believed in the cult of the bomb and in
1912, Bharathy published the Bhavad Gita in Tamil as well as Kannan Paatu,
Kuyil and Panjali Sabatham.
the end of World War I, Bharathi entered British India near Cuddalore in
November 1918. He was arrested. He was released after three weeks in
custody. These were years of hardship and poverty. (Eventually, the General
Amnesty Order of 1920 removed all restrictions on his movement). Bharathy
met with Mahatma Gandhi in 1919 and in 1920, Bharathy resumed editorship of
the Swadeshamitran in Madras.
was one year before his death in 1921. Today, more than seventy five years
later, Subaramanya Bharathy stands as an undying symbol not only of a
vibrant Tamil nationalism but also of the unity that is India.