Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bharathi-- The Revolutionary & The Poet


After the First Indian War of Independence in 1857, probably the first national awakening of the entire country, with a cry for independence from the British, arose when Bengal was partitioned in 1905 during the regime of Lord Curzon as the Viceroy of India. The ill-conceived partition of Bengal provoked and embittered the entire nation. Patriots vied with each other and even risked their lives for the sake of the Motherland. One such great patriotic youth, a born poet, who rose to the occasion and devoted his entire life to take his share in the ardors, anxieties and perilous uncertainties of the Indian Independence Movement, was Subramanya Bharathi who hailed from a remote village called Ettayapuram in the Tirunalveli District of Madras

Bharathi was born on 11th December 1882 at Ettayapuram, a tiny village in Tamil Nadu, then ruled by an autocratic landlord [Zamindar] who was called ‘Maharaja’. His father Chinnaswamy Iyer was in the service of the Zamindar. Early in his infancy Bharathi lost his mother and his father got married to another lady. After the death of his mother, Bharathi spent most of his time with his maternal grand-father who was a poet of repute in Tamil. Bharathi himself was born with a gift of the muse. Even when he was in high school, he could compose Tamil poems extempore. With this rare gift of poesy he became a popular figure among the local elite. When there was some function in the local court, Bharathi delighted the audience with his impressive exhibition of poetic talent and was awarded the title “Bharathi” which is synonymous with ‘Saraswathi’, the Presiding Deity for Knowledge and Wisdom. With the acquisition of this title, the boy who was till then referred to as ‘Ettayapuram Subbiah’ overnight became popular as ‘Bharathiyar’ for the millions of Tamil lovers all over the world. At the age of 15, Bharathi got married to a child-bride by name Chellammal.

Soon after his marriage, Bharathi lost his father and the step-mother left for her native village. Bharathi then decided to go to Benares and spend sometime there with his aunt and uncle. He spent two years with them. During this period, he gained a fair knowledge of Sanskrit, English and Hindi and passed with credit the Entrance Examination of the Allahabad University. His stay in Benares brought a sea change in his personality and attitude towards life. He often used to attend the lectures delivered by Mrs. Annie Besant, one of the foremost National Leaders of the day and these lectures had a powerful impact which kindled his spirit of patriotism. Even his outlook on Tamil literature which was till then tradition-oriented got transformed into modern poetry with revolutionary ideas, thanks to his deep study of the English Romantic poets like Shelly. For sometime in Benares, Bharathi took up teaching but soon gave it up and returned to his native Ettayapuram in 1904.

Bharathi again joined the services of the Zamindar. Life was comfortable and ensured enough leisure which Bharathi utilized in developing his literary skill and dug deep into the poetic riches of Shelly, Kamban etc. Unhappy with this easy assignment, he left for Madurai and accidentally met the famous journalist Sri. G.Subramania Iyer who was then the editor of the leading Tamil Daily ’Swadeshamitran’ from Madras. .Bharathi joined this newspaper as its Sub-editor in November 1904. It was here as a journalist that that he came very close to the political scene of the country and got himself deeply involved in Indian politics. He soon became an ardent supporter of the Extremists section of the Indian National Congress led by eminent patriots like Tilak, Aurobindo, Lala Lajpat Rai etc. He also attended the A.I.C.C. Session of the Congress held at Calcutta in 1905.On his way back to Madras, he went to Calcutta and met Sister Nivedita. This meeting happened to be a turning point in Bharathi’s life. Bharathi now pledged himself to the triple task of
the political liberation of India, the eradication of casteism in the country and the emancipation of Indian women. Throughout his life Bharathi remembered Sister Nivedita with gratitude and considered her as his spiritual Guru.

Bharathi’s impetuous writings with his Extremist ideas could not be published in the Swadeshamitran with its ‘moderate’ editorial policy. He was feeling choked up with his ideas suppressed. To provide a free outlet to his flaming words, a new Tamil weekly by name ‘India’ was launched in 1906 by the patriotic Mandyam Brothers—Tirumalachar and Srinivasachar—who were ready to spend their large inherited fortune in the cause of Indian Independence. When Bharathi started writing in this weekly, it caught the attention of the British Government who came down heavily in due course on these strong petrels in national politics. The front line leaders like Tilak, Aurobindo, Lala Lajpat Rai were locked up in Jail and Tilak was deported to far off Mandalay Jail in Burma. Bharathi’s arrest became imminent. Fortunately some well-wishers of Bharathi advised him to go away to Pondichery, a French possession then, with a view to avoiding arrest and continue his patriotic work there. To help Bharathi, the Mandyam Brothers even shifted themselves to Pondichery, including shifting the office of their journal ‘India’. With the publication of ‘India’ from Pondichery its popularity increased. This made the British Government livid and made them take punitive action by banning the entry of the journal to British India. The Weekly was strangulated and had to close down its operations in March 1910. Bharathi thereafter shifted to Pondichery and spent sometime in the company of Aurobindo in his ashram. It is in Pondichery that Bharathi’s audacious political exuberance ripened into Vedantic humanism.. One day, unable to stand the voluntary exile any more, he decided to quit Pondichery and return to India. He was arrested on the border between Pondichery and India, detained for a day and released on the intervention of prominent personalities like Sir C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer, Mrs. Annie Besant etc. He went to Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu where he was given a rousing reception. The newspaper; Swadeshamitran’ again took him back in its fold. By the time he re-joined ‘Swadeshamitran’, his revolutionary extremism had mellowed down. When Mahatma Gandhi visited Madras, he met Mahatmaji which gravitated him towards the teachings of Gandhiji namely non-violence and the political strategy of non-cooperation.

One evening in August 1921 Bharathi went to the Sri Parthasarathi Temple in Triplicane, Madras and as usual. Offered a coconut to the temple elephant. Unfortunately the elephant was in rut and struck out at him with its trunk This shock did irreparable damage to his body to which he succumbed and passed away peacefully on 12th September 1921. Bharathi left behind him a legacy of glowing imperishable Tamil literature. Even today the songs composed by him remain the priceless heritage of the Tamil race.


ARTICLE NO.403---Subramanya Bharathi
Created: Friday, August 10, 2007 9:50 PM


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