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PERSONALITIES - Nationalist and Poet - Mahakavi Bharathiar

11 Sep 2021

Tamil Nadu chief minister M K Stalin made an announcement to commemorate poet Subramania Bharati’s 100th death anniversary. The government will observe the centenary that falls on Sept 11 as "Mahakavi Day."

C. Subramania Bharati was born in Ettayapuram, South India, in 1882, and died in Madras, in 1921. Deceased at the early age of thirty-eight, Bharati left behind a remarkable legacy of poetry and prose writings. Bharati’s writings sparked a Renaissance in Tamil literature. While Bharati drew his inspiration from ancient sources of Indian culture, his works were truly innovative in both form and expression.

Bharati was an ardent Indian nationalist, an impassioned advocate of social reform, a visionary poet, and a mystic. He visualized the imminent liberation of Indians that would free them both from imperial rule by the British – at a time when Britain was the most powerful nation on earth – and from oppressive social customs in India.

Unfortunately, Bharati was persecuted for his convictions both by the British and by the orthodox elements of his own society, who treated him as an outcast. He was exiled from British India in 1908 and went to live in Pondicherry, a French colony in South India. He spent ten years in exile there and eventually returned to Madras, where he died.

After Indian independence, Bharati’s contribution to Indian culture was widely recognized. There is no major city in India that does not have a street named after him, or a statue erected in his honour. Though much remains to be done in the area of translation, a sample f Bharati’s works has been translated into every major Indian language, as well as European languages including English, French, German, Russian, and Czech. A postage stamp has been issued in his honour.

In recognition of Bharati’s exceptional contribution to Indian culture, the government of India ultimately conferred upon him the title of Indian “National Poet.”

: (Mira is the great-granddaughter of C. Subramania Bharati. Her mother is Dr. S. Vijaya Bharati, daughter of Thangammal Bharati, the elder of the poet’s two daughters)

Excerpts from an annotated biography of Bharati, available at, a blog maintained by Dr. S. Vijaya Bharati, a granddaughter of Mahakavi Bharati; she is a daughter of Thangammal Bharati, Bharati’s eldest daughter.
(PDF file available for download)

In 1893, at the age of eleven, the title “Bharati” was conferred upon him at the Court of the Maharajah of Ettayapuram. He started reading Tamil literature from young age, wrote
poetry at the age of seven. As a young boy, he would discuss Tamil literature with the elderly scholars of the Samastana, challenge in writing poetry, as and when requested by the scholars.

In 1897, married to Chellamma from the village of Kadayam, Tirunelveli Dist. Bharati was 14 and Chellamma was 7. Bharati writes about this “child” marriage in his autobiogrohical poem called Kanavu (Dream). He was against the marriage, but could not do anything to stop it. In any case, he was happy to participate in the function and enjoyed it, says Chellamma in her book, Bharatiyar Charitiram (Biography of Bharati).

When the Maharajah of Ettayapuram visited Benares, on his way back from the Delhi Durbar (conducted by Lord Curzon) he invited Bharati to come back to Ettayapuram and work for him in his Samastana. Bharati agreed and came to his birth place to work for the Maharajah. His job was to read newspapers, magazines, and poetry and to spend time with the Maharajah. Eventually, he was displeased with the “authoritative” environment at the palace, had a disagreement with the Maharajah, and left the Samastana.

Bharati joined Swadesamitran, as its sub-editor. G. Subramania Iyer, a staunch member of the Indian national Congress, published Swadesamitran from Chennai. He was a founder of “The Hindu,” the English newspaper in Chennai originally.

When P. Vaidyanatha Iyer asked Bharati to join Chakravartini, a Tamil monthly as its editor, Bharati was holding a job as Sub-Editor of Swadesamitran; in spite of that he decided to join Chakravartini as he thought that he could handle both
magazines at the same time. The magzine was dedicated to women especially, and
Bharati announced in his magazine that the goal of Chakravartini was to “improve” the situation of women in Tamilnadu. He wrote a two-line poem (Kural) under the
title of the magazine: “when knowledge of women is raised, womanhood becomes great; when this happens, the country becomes great”.

Bharati quit both Swadesamitran and Chakravartini in order to join India as its Editor.
1906 - Editor (unnamed) “India”
1908 - Tamil weekly, Chennai
1906 - Editor: The Bala Bharat, English weekly
Bala-Bharata (or)Young India, Editor (?), English monthly, Chennai
1905 - Bharati attended Congress at Benares
1906 - Attended Calcutta Congress; met Nivedita Devi who taught him the nature of dedication and service to this Bharata-Shakti through the medium of “silence,” as he puts it in his poem Nivedita Devi Thudi. Bharati called Nivedita as his Gurumani, and dedicated his Swadesa Githangal to her. “Like Sri Krishna showed his Visva Rupa to Arjuna, the guru has showed me the sampurna rupa of Bharata-Shakti, and taught me the nature of swadesa bhakti; I dedicate this book to Nivedita’s feet”.

Bharati’s 3 national poems were first published by V.Krishnasamy Iyer, the leader of the Moderate Party in the province of Madras.

Bharati published a collection of his National songs, Swadesa Githangal.

In the southeast part of Tamil Nadu, in Tuticorin, V.O.C., started the business of running ships between Tuticorin and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), against the British. Bharati helped V.O.C. in fund-raising for this great project. V.O.C. and his friend Subramania Siva were arrested for “sedition” for delivering speeches on the beaches of Tuticorin. Bharati was invited as a character witness in this case.

The India magazine in Chennai was stopped by the British Government and the legal editor M. Srinivasan was arrested.  As the result of M. Srinivasan’s arrest, Bharati decided to move to Pondicherry, the then territory of the French.
Bharati and his friends realized that under these circumstances, it would be impossible to publish India from Chennai, and therefore they took the magazine to
When Bharati was in Pondicherry, his second daughter Shakuntala was born

Janma Boomi (Swadesa Githangal - 2nd part) was published.

Bharati became the editor (unnamed) of India magazine (Tamil weekly) again, in Pondicherry. Also, he became the editor for the daily newspaper Vijaya, in Pondicherry.

Bharati dasan (Kanaga Subburathinam), the great Tamil poet met Bharati.

Editor for Karma Yogi, a Tamil monthly. This was Bharati’s own journal.
Proscription in British India for India and Vijaya.
Both India and Vijaya stopped publication from Pondicherry.

Bharati and Sri Aurobindo became good friends. They read Hindu scriptures together and did an extensive research on the “more than two and half millennia-old” Vedas.

Kanavu (Dream), Bharati’s autobiographical poem, was published. It was proscribed later in 1911, with his short story called Aril Oru Pangu.

Panchali Sabatham - Part 1, Bharati’s epic poem, was published.

Bharati performed the “sacred thread” ceremony to a harijan boy, named Kanakalingam. Bharati was determined to abolish the caste system in India.
He selected an untouchable boy, to prove his principle of “equality” to the society.

Maada Manivachagam, a collection of Bharati’s poems, was published in Durban, South Africa by Saraswati Printing Press.

Kannan Pattu 1st edition was published by Parali Su. Nellaiyappar, a friend of Bharati, Editor of Lokopakari.

Nattuppattu 1st edition was published by Parali Su. Nellaiyappar.

Bharati left Pondicherry, was arrested in Cuddalore, the Indian territory, and imprisoned. He was released from Cuddalore jail after twenty days, with the help of his friends. He went directly to the village of Kadayam, Tirunelveli Dist., the birth place of his wife Chellamma.

Kannan Pattu 2nd edition was published by Parali Su. Nellaiyappar.

Bharati’s meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in Chennai.

He wrote two poems called, Chittukkavigal and sent them to the Maharajah, Ettayapuram. Chittukkavi is a traditional form of poetry in Tamil in which the poet addresses the king. He praises the king first, and explains the quality and greatness of his own poetry, then, asks him for rewards.

Sub-Editor of “Swadesamitran,”Chennai. 1921 Bharati was living in Tripplicane, at Thulasinga Perumal Koil Street, near Parthasarathy temple. The temple elephant was disoriented and Bharati was hurt while trying to feed bananas to the elephant as was his custom.

Bharati was affected by a stomach ailment; he refused to take any medicine. Eventually, he became very weak and his bodily existence came to an end on Sep 11, 1921.