Subramania Bharati also known as Bharathiyar was an Indian poet, writer, journalist, freedom fighter and social reformer from Tamil Nadu. He is popularly known as "Mahakavi Bharati" and was a pioneer of modern Tamil poetry. Bharati is considered to be one of the greatest Tamil literary figures of all time. Unlike previous century works in Tamil which had complex vocabulary, his poems used simple words and rhythms. Bharati's poetry expressed progressive and reformist ideas. He also employed novel ideas and techniques in his devotional poems. Bharati's works on varied themes covered religious, political and social aspects. His numerous works on patriotism and nationalism helped to rally the masses to support the Indian Independence Movement in Tamil Nadu.
Subramania Bharati was born on 11th December, 1882 in Ettayapuram, Thoothukudi district, India. He was born to Chinnaswami Subramania Iyer and Lakhsmi Ammal. He was educated at a local high school called ‘The M.D.T. Hindu College’. At the age of seven, he began to write poetry. When he was eleven, through his great writings the title of "Bharati" was conferred on him. He married Chellamma when he was fifteen years old. Soon Bharati left for Benaras. During his stay in Varanasi, Bharati was exposed to Hindu spirituality and nationalism. This broadened his outlook and he gained a fair knowledge of Sanskrit, Hindi and English. The Banaras stay brought a change in his outward appearance. He sported a beard and wore a turban due to his admiration of Sikhs.
Bharati began his career as an Assistant editor in “Swadesamitran” in November 1904. Through the job of an Assistant editor, Bharati become aware of the richness of the Tamil language. During this time, Bharti was very much involved in politics. Bharati called ‘patriotism’ a ‘new flame’ as it was capable of dispelling the darkness of slavery. Bharati was also an active member of the Indian National Congress. In December 1905, he attended the All India Congress session held in Benaras. On his journey back home, he met Sister Nivedita, the spiritual heir of Swami Vivekananda. She inspired Bharati to recognise the privileges of women. Sister Nivedita was considered as his Guru and Bharati penned a couple of lyrics praising her. The Indian National Congress session in Calcutta under Dadabhai Naoiroji was attended by him. This session demanded Swaraj and boycott of British goods. By April 1907, he started editing the Tamil weekly “India” and the English newspaper “Bala Bharatham”. In 1908, an arrest warrant was issued against Bharati by the British government for his revolutionary activities. Faced with the prospect of arrest, Bharati escaped to Pondicherry, which was under French rule. He lived there until
1918. During this period in exile, Bharati had the opportunity to meet many other leaders of the revolutionary wing of the Independence movement. Pondicherry was a place of inspiration
for Bharati. Three of his greatest works namely, "Kuyil Pattu", "Panchali Sapatham" and "Kannan Pattu" were composed during his time in exile.
Bharati as a poet and a Nationalist:
Bharati was a lyrical poet. He had a prodigious output penning thousands of verses on diverse topics like Indian nationalism, children's songs, nature, Tamil language, etc. He even penned an ode to Russia. His poetry not only includes works on Hindu deities like Kali, Vinayagar, Murugan, Krishna, Siva, etc. but also on other religious gods. In Bharati's “Panchali Sapatham”, he compares 'Panchali' or 'Draupadi' with Bharat Mata. He visualised Draupadi to Indian women who were held by slavery and social clutches of the society.
Bharati as a Journalist:
Bharati spent many years of his life in the field of journalism. He began his career as a sub-editor in “Swadesamitran” in 1904. By 1907, he started editing the Tamil weekly “India”. “India” was the first paper in Tamil Nadu to publish political cartoons. Soon an arrest warrant was issued against Bharati by the British government forcing him to go away to Pondicherry, a French territory at that time. There he continued to publish the “India” magazine. During this period, he edited and published the weekly journal “India”, a Tamil daily “Vijaya”, an English monthly “Bala Bharatham” and a local weekly in Pondicherry named “Suryodayam”. In Pondicherry, Bharati also assisted Aurobindo in “Arya” journal and later “Karma Yogi”. In 1919, Bharati met Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi at Rajaji’s home in Madras. In 1920, he resumed editing “Swadesamitran” in Madras. Bharathi had maintained good relations with some of the national leaders like Aurobindo, Lajpat Rai and V.V.S. Aiyar. He shared his thoughts and views on the nation and offered his suggestions to strengthen the nationalist movement. Bharathi played a pivotal role in the freedom of India.
Bharati as a social reformer:
Bharati was against caste system. He wrote about a new and free India. He believed that all Indians should have equal opportunities. He also declared that there were only two castes one of men and the other of women. He advocated temple entry of Dalits and also stated that not even a single person in the country should suffer from hunger. Bharati paved the way for modern day Tamil poetry and was an avid supporter of feminism. He believed in women’s rights, gender and equality. He recognized the privileges of women and the emancipation of women was his priority. He boldly declared that women will have equal rights with men and none will ill-treated, insulted or abused. He opposed child marriage, dowry and supported widow remarriage. He stated that girls must get an equal share in ancestral property, women like men, should be allowed the advantages of higher education, etc.
Life and Death of Bharati:
Bharati had a relatively short life. His death came about in an unusual manner. During his daily visits to the Parthasarathy Swamy temple, Triplicane, Chennai, he was in the habit of feeding fruits to the temple elephant there. On a fateful day, the elephant had a spell of rut. He was struck by the elephant named Lavanya at the temple. Although he survived the incident, he became weakened by the shock of this experience and was afflicted with a stomach ailment soon after. Bharati passed away on the night of September 11, 1921.
The Government of India in 1987 instituted a highest National “Subramanyam Bharti Award” which is a literary honour in India conferred annually by Ministry of Human Resource Development on writers of outstanding works in Hindi literature. There is a statue of Bharathiar at Marina Beach and also in the Indian Parliament. Bharathiar University which is a state university in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu is named after Subramania Bharathiar. The university was established in February 1982.
Bharati’s attitude towards life was optimistic. Poetry was the very essence of life to him. Bharathiyar was an Indian poet, writer, journalist, freedom fighter and social reformer who had made a great impact on the entire human society. Bharathi did not live for himself but for the people and nation.