Subramaniya Bharathi was born on 11 December 1882 in Ettayapuram in Tamil Nadu. He died on 11 September 1921.
Bharathi’s 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 recognised and he was accorded the title of ‘bharathi’. He was a student at Tirunelveli(Tamilnadu) Hindu School and in 1897 he married Sellamal. Thererafter, from 1898 to 1902, he lived in Kasi.
Bharathi worked as a school teacher and as a journal editor at various times in his life. He involved himself actively in the Indian freedom struggle At the sametime, he was fluent in many languages including Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit, Kuuch, and English and frequently translated works from other languages into Tamil. Bharathi 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. Bharathi served as Assistant Editor of the Swadeshamitran in 1904.He 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.
In April 1907, he became the editor of the Tamil weekly ‘India’. At the same time he also edited the English newspaper ‘Bala Bharatham’. 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.
In 1908, he gave evidence in the case, which had been instituted by the British against, 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 rule. From 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.
In 1912, Bharathy published his Commentaries on the Bhavat Gita in Tamil as well as Kannan Paatu, Kuyil Paatu and Panjali Sabatham.
Bharathi was struck by an elephant at Parthasarathy temple, Thiruvallikeni, Chennai. He however survived the mishap. A few months later his health deteriorated and he died on September 11, 1921, not yet forty years of age. His funeral was attended by only seven people.
Looking at his literary works in retrospect Bharathiyar did appear to have had the vision of a prophet, the religious equanimity of a saint, the dreams of a patriot and the noble aspirations of a social reformer. Most of his predictions regarding his country and community and all his warnings regarding the malaise afflicting his society have materialized already. Others are gradually manifesting themselves overtly in recent years. He loved Thamizh and India with a passion and was proud of his cultural heritage. At the same time he was fully cognizant of the social repercussions of caste differences and how superstitions and blind faith in the old traditions have lead to stagnation.
More important is the fact that he had the courage and tenacity to stand up before a ruthless imperial power and was prepared to face all the personal consequences. The only weapon he had at his disposal to achieve his cherished goal was not wealth or physical ability but only his literary skill. Experience in other parts of the world has shown that the pen is mightier than the sword. Recognizing this, Bharathiyar did exploit his literary capacity and communication skills to exhort people to become masters of their own destiny and expel the foreign rulers out of their soil. However he did not hesitate to point out the social evils, which were gradually corroding the fabrics of the society. Upto this point in the history of Thamizh literature, the language was used for moral, religious, philosophical or spiritual purposes, for praising the patrons for their gifts, and for sheer literary pleasure. All references to social problems were either secondary or indirect. Now for the first time, a Thamizh poet has taken it upon himself to use the language to free his people from the clutches of a foreign power and open the eyes of the people to the bad elements, which were weakening their society.
Thus he set in motion not only a new and diffferent literary style which is aptly described as the Thamizh renaissance but also used the medium of the language to crusade against the suppression and oppression of the weaker sections of the society, the poor, the untouchables and women.
The short, crisp but simple style of his poems, his easy flowing prose-poetry formats with a specific social theme and his ability to set up folk type music understandable by everyone made a tremendous impact on people.
One can therefore appreciate the differences in the literary policy of Bharathi and that of other Thamizh scholars of the distant past.
*Mahakavi- Great Poet
(Edited with the Thanks from the articles of Mr.Nadesan Satyendra and Professor.C.R.Krishnamurthy.)