Subramanya Bharathi

Subramanya Bharathi
Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathiyar
Born Subbayya
December 11, 1882(1882-12-11)
Ettayapuram, Madras Presidency, India
Died September 11, 1921(1921-09-11) (aged 38)
Madras, India
Residence Triplicane
Nationality Indian
Other names Bharathiyar, Sakthi Dasan[1]
Occupation Poet, Freedom Fighter
Known for
  • His poems
  • His role in Indian independence movement
Notable works Panjali Sapatham, pappa pattu, Kannan Pattu, Kuyil Pattu etc
Influenced Bharathidasan and many tamil revolutionist
Political movement Indian independence movement
Religion Hinduism
Spouse Chellamal
Parents Chinnasami Subramanya Iyer and Elakkumi (Lakshmi) Ammaal
Awards Title BHARATHI, Mahakavi

Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathiyar (Tamil: சுப்பிரமணிய பாரதி) (December 11, 1882 – September 11, 1921) was a Tamil poet from Tamil Nadu, India, an independence fighter and iconoclastic reformer. Known as Mahakavi Bharathiyar (the laudatory epithet Maha Kavi meaning Great Poet in many Indian languages), he is celebrated as one of South India's greatest poets. Bharathi was prolific and adept in both the prose and poetry forms. He was one of the early Independent poets and played a vital role in pioneering the Independence movement in its infancy stages in Tamil Nadu. He is well-known for his simple yet stirring use of the language.


Early life

Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathiyar was born to Chinnasami Subramanya Iyer and Elakkumi (Lakshmi) Ammaal as "Subbayya" on December 11, 1882 in the Tamil village of Ettayapuram. He was educated at a local high school called "The M.D.T. Hindu College" in Tirunelveli. From a very young age he learnt music and at 11, he was invited to a conference of Ettayapuram court poets and musicians for composing poems and songs. It was here that he was conferred the title of "Bharathi" ("one blessed by Saraswati, the goddess of learning).

Bharathi lost his mother at the age of 5 and his father at the age of 16. He was brought up by his disciplinarian father who wanted him to learn English, excel in arithmetic, become an engineer and lead a comfortable life. However, Bharathi was given to day dreaming and could not concentrate on his studies. In 1897, perhaps to instill a sense of responsibility in him, his father had the 14 year old Bharathi, married to his seven year younger cousin, Chellamal.

After this early marriage, Bharathi, curious to see the outside world, left for Benares in 1898. The next four years of his life served as a passage of discovery. During this time he discovered a country in tumult outside his small hamlet. Bharathi worked as a teacher in Madurai Sethupathy High School (now a higher secondary school) and as a journal editor at various times in his life.


During his stay in Benares (also known as Kashi and Varanasi), Bharathi was exposed to Hindu spirituality and nationalism. This broadened his outlook and he learned Sanskrit, Hindi and English. In addition, he changed his outward appearance. It is likely that Bharathi was impressed by the turbans worn by Ayyavazhi people (being a tradition in Ayyavazhi society, turbans represented the crowns worn by kings) and started wearing one himself. He also grew a beard and started walking with a straight back.[2]

Soon, Bharathi saw beyond the social taboos and superstitions of orthodox South Indian society. In December 1905, he attended the All India Congress session held in Benaras. On his journey back home, he met Sister Nivedita, Vivekananda’s spiritual daughter. From her arose another of Bharathi’s iconoclasm, his stand to recognise the privileges of women. The emancipation of women exercised Bharathi’s mind greatly. He visualised the 'new woman' as an emanation of Shakti, a willing helpmate of man to build a new earth through co-operative endeavour.

During this period, Bharathi understood the need to be well-informed of the world outside and took interest in the world of journalism and the print media of the West. Bharathi joined as Assistant Editor of the Swadeshamitran, a Tamil daily in 1904. By April 1907, he started editing the Tamil weekly India and the English newspaper Bala Bharatham with M.P.T. Acharya. These newspapers were also a means of expressing Bharathi's creativity, which began to peak during this period. Bharathi started to publish his poems regularly in these editions. From religious hymns to nationalistic writings, from contemplations on the relationship between God and Man to songs on the Russian and French revolutions, Bharathi's subjects were diverse.

He was simultaneously up against society for its mistreatment of the downtrodden people and the British for occupying India.

Bharathi participated in the historic Surat Congress in 1907, which deepened the divisions within the Indian National Congress between the militant wing led by Tilak and Aurobindo and the moderate wing. Bharathi supported Tilak and Aurobindo together with V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Kanchi Varathaachariyar. Tilak openly supported armed resistance against the British.

In 1908, he gave evidence in the case which had been instituted by the British against V.O. Chidambaram Pillai. In the same year, the proprietor of the journal India was arrested in Madras. Faced with the prospect of arrest, Bharathi escaped to Pondicherry which was under French rule. From there he edited and published the weekly journal India, Vijaya, a Tamil daily, Bala Bharatha, an English monthly, and Suryothayam, a local weekly of Pondicherry. The British tried to suppress Bharathi's output by stopping remittances and letters to the papers. Both India and Vijaya were banned in British India in 1909.

During his exile, Bharathi had the opportunity to mix with many other leaders of the revolutionary wing of the Independence movement such as Aurobindo, Lajpat Rai and V.V.S. Aiyar, who had also sought asylum under the French. Bharathi assisted Aurobindo in the Arya journal and later Karma Yogi in Pondicherry.

Bharathi entered British India near Cuddalore in November 1918 and was promptly arrested. He was imprisoned in the Central prison in Cuddalore in custody for three weeks from 20 November to 14 December. The following year Bharathi met with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

His poetry expressed a progressive, reformist ideal. His imagery and the vigour of his verse symbolise Tamil culture in many respects. Bharathiyar advocated greater rights for women. His verse called for emanicipation for women and put a premium on their education. He visualised a modern Indian woman with distinctive features.

ஆணும் பெண்ணும் நிகரெனக் கொள்வதால் அறிவி லோங்கி இவ்வையம் தழைக்குமாம்

(The world will prosper in knowledge and intellect if both men and women are deemed equal.)

சாத்தி ரங்கள் பலபல கற்பராம்; சவுரி யங்கள் பலபல செய்வராம்; மூத்த பொய்மைகள் யாவும் அழிப்பராம்; மூடக் கட்டுக்கள் யாவுந் தகர்ப்பராம்; காத்து மானிடர் செய்கை யனைத்தையும் கடவு ளர்க்கினி தாகச் சமைப்பராம்; ஏத்தி ஆண்மக்கள் போற்றிட வாழ்வராம்;

(The new age women will learn many intellectual texts. They will set the base for many scientific discoveries that facilitate human life. They will expunge all backward superstitions in the society. They will, all the same, be devoted to God and present all achievements of mankind as a tribute to God. They will live to earn a good name from men.)

Bharathi also fought against the caste system in Hindu society. Although born into an orthodox Brahmin family, he gave up his own caste identity. One of his great sayings meant, 'There are only two castes in the world: one who is educated and one who is not.' He considered all living beings as equal and to illustrate this he even performed upanayanam to a young harijan man and made him a Brahmin. He also scorned the divisive tendencies being imparted into the younger generations by their elderly tutors during his time. He openly criticised the preachers for mixing their individual thoughts while teaching the Vedas and the Gita.

சாதிகள் இல்லையடி பாப்பா!-குலத் தாழ்ச்சி உயர்ச்சி சொல்லல் பாவம்; நீதி உயர்ந்த மதி,கல்வி-அன்பு நிறை உடையவர்கள் மேலோர்.

(There is no caste system. It is a sin to divide people on caste basis. The ones who are really of a superior class are the ones excelling in being just, intelligent, educated and loving.)

Bharathiar in Pondicherry

Pondicherry is a city of rich history. Bharathiar is one of them who makes it all the more interesting.

He moved to Pondicherry in the year 1908 to escape his arrest. He took a house in Pondicherry which has been turned into The Bharathiar Museum now. I visited this museum last Sunday.

What an experience it has been!! Feels like I have been transported to a new land with new thoughts.

The house address is: No. 20, Easwaran Koil Street, Puducherry – 3

I could not believe that this museum is like a 15 minute walk from my house. I imagined Bharathiar walking on the same streets as I was. I wish I could know his thoughts when he was walking in the city.

The museum has a collection of his letters, family photographs and lot of books. I felt the museum could have been much better. Perhaps a guide who could explain things to us.

The sad part is the museum does not sell any items like his books or memoirs. I was really disappointed with that. They do have a great library which is open on Sundays from 10:00am to 5:00pm. The museum is closed on Mondays. The timings for the other days are 10:00am to 1:00pm and 2:00pm to 5:00pm.

I read some of his letters and observed two things:

1. He starts off a letter with the words “Om Shakthi“

2. He usually signed off the letter saying “May you gain immortality“

There was a postage stamp released on Barathiar which is framed in the museum.

There are around 20 photographs collected of his family, friends and relatives. Some names that I can recollect are his wife Chellama, two daughters (one is Thangamma, I can’t recollect the name of the other), V.V.S Iyer, Sri Aurobindo and many others.

While in Pondicherry he was involved with the following journals/magazines: India, Vijaya, Chakravarthini etc.

I especiall liked the front cover of the magazine Chakravarthini (the 1906 edition was displayed) which reads “A Tamil Monthly Devoted mainly to the Elevation of India Ladies” — I felt wow!!

The topics for that edition were interesting as well:

1. Women in Buddhism

2. Figures regarding female education in the Madras Presidency

3. Tulsi Rai

4. Infant marriage and female education

I think we indeed have come a long way since 1906.

When I stood inside the house and looked up to the sky, a tear dropped down my cheeks for no reason. A house where Bharathiar had spent his time. The front hall with an open roof. Wonder how many thoughts he must have had sitting there? It felt very nice. It was mentioned that he composed the poem “Crows and Birds are our clan” in this house.

Bharathiar was an expert in many languages: Tamil, Sanskrit, English, Telugu and French. They had mentioned that he wrote very beautifully in English.

I also found the Tamil version of the phrase “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” – “Swathanthiram, Sammathuvam, Sahotharathuvam“

I was reading a book there where it mentioned when Bharathiar, V.V.S Iyer and Sri Aurobindo used to talk and discuss it was a conversation filled with great patriotism, energy and out of the world. It is unfortunate that nobody could record these conversations.

I would like to end my visit with a paragraph from the book written by Dr. S. Ramakrishnan on Bharathiar which I truly agree and felt after the visit to his home:

Many of Bharathi’s lyrics are chicks of fire. They burn up the whole jungle of our vices – our apathy, our fear, our pettiness, our casteism, our religious sectarianism, our greed and all that.

Thus, purged of our ills, we become pure-hearted and fearless and consequently strong, nay, invincible


Bharathi's health was badly affected by the imprisonments and by 1920, when a General Amnesty Order finally removed restrictions on his movements, Bharathi was already struggling. He was struck by an elephant at Parthasarathy temple, Triplicane, Chennai, whom he used to feed regularly. Although he survived the incident, a few months later his health deteriorated and he died on September 12, 1921 early morning around 1 am. Though Bharathi was a people's poet and freedom fighter there were only fourteen people to attend his funeral.[3]

Mahakavi delivered his last speech at Karungalpalayam Library in Erode, which was about the topic Man is Immortal.[4]

The last years of his life were spent in a house in Triplicane, Chennai [1]. This house was bought and renovated by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 1993 and named 'Bharathiyar Illam' (Home of Bharathiyar). A Tamil Movie [2] was made a few years ago on the life of the poet, titled, Bharathy. This classic film was directed by Gnana Rajasekeran. The main character of Subramanya Bharati is played by a Marathi actor, Sayaji Shinde.


Niranjan Bharathi(Writer), son of Dr. Rajkumar Bharathi and great grand son of Subramanya Bharathi has penned a song for his childhood friend Venkat Prabhu's Tamil film Mankatha[5][6]


External links

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