12:23 am - Tuesday March 26, 2019



December 11, 1882 –

September 11, 1921) was an Indian writer, poet,

journalist, Indian independence activist and social

reformer from Tamil Nadu. Popularly known as

Mahakavi Bharathiyar  he

is a pioneer of modern Tamil poetry.

Born in Ettayapuram of the then Tirunelveli

district(presently Tuticorin district) in 1882, Subramania

Bharati studied in Tirunelveli and worked as a journalist

with many newspapers, notable among them being the

Swadesamitran and India. Bharathi was also an active

member of the Indian National Congress. In 1908, an

arrest warrant was issued against Bharathi by the

government of British India for his revolutionary activities

forcing him to flee to Pondicherry where he lived until


Bharathi is considered to be one of the greatest Tamil

poets of the modern era. Most of his works were on

religious, political and social themes. Songs penned by

Bharathi have been widely used in Tamil films and

Carnatic Music concert platforms.


Mahakavi Subramania Bharatiyar was born to

Chinnasami Subramanya Iyer and Lakhsmiammaal as

“Subbayya” on December 11, 1882 in the 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 11th, he learnt

poetry. It was here that he was conferred the title of

“Bharati” (one blessed by Saraswati, the goddess of



Bharati 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, Bharati 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 Bharati, married to his cousin younger to him

by seven years, Chellamal.


During his stay in Benares (also known as Kashi and

Varanasi), Bharati 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. He also grew a beard and wore a


Soon, Bharati 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, Swami 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 co­operative



During this period, Bharati understood the need to be well­informed 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 Bharati’s creativity, which began to peak during this period. Bharathi started to

publish his poems regularly in these editions. From 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.

Bharati 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. Bharati

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, Bharati 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 in 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, Bharati 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. Bharati assisted Aurobindo in the Arya journal and later Karma Yogi in Pondicherry.

Bharati 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 Bharati met with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Later years and death

He was badly affected by the imprisonments and by 1920, when a General Amnesty Order finally removed

restrictions on his movements, Bharati was already struggling. He was struck by an elepant(lavanya) 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 11, 1921.

Bharati’s Poetry

His poetry expressed a progressive, reformist ideal. His imagery and the vigour of his verse were a forerunner

to modern Tamil poetry in many respects. He was the forerunner of a forceful kind of poetry that combined

classical and contemporary elements. He had a prodigious output penning thousands of verses on diverse

topics like Indian Nationalism, the National Flag, the Mahabharat, love songs, children’s songs, songs of

nature, glory of the Tamil language, and odes to prominent freedom fighters of India like Tilak, Gandhi and

Lajpat Rai. He even penned an ode to New Russia and Belgium. His poetry not only includes works on

Hindu deities like Sakthi, Kaali, Vinayagar, Murugan, Sivan, Kannan(Krishna), but also includes works on

Allah and Jesus. His insightful similies have been read by millions of Tamil readers.His poems are brimming with a vigour which is unmatched by his contemporaries in Tamil Nadu. If it is love

that oozes through his Kannamma songs or valour which breaks through the lines in his patriotic songs he

managed to capture the imagination of generations of Tamilians. Like a fire that lights up anything which

comes in touch with it, his poems aroused the passions of Tamilians and gave them the impetus to participate

in the national freedom struggle with gusto. His poems stand out for beauty in both the form and content.



The holocaust of the dance of destruction that happens at the end of the world, life and everything that human mind knows or can imagine comes through in the vivid lines.


Bharathiyaar’s Paanchali Sapatham is the zenith of imagery, where he compares Paanchaali(Draupadi) with Bharata matha, the Paandavaas with the Indians, the Kauravas with the Britishers and the Kurukshetra war of Mahabharat to that of the Indian freedom struggle.


His poetry stands out for many facets of his love for his motherland. His love for his motherland knew no bounds. He passionately dreamt of the day his country would lead the world in culture, trade, literature and every other aspect of life and penned those dreams in living words.





He berates his countrymen for many social evils. He chastises them for a fearful and pusillanimous attitude  towards the rulers. He sound a clarion call for national unity, removal of casteism and the removal of

oppression of women. He calls for the British to leave the motherland in forceful ways at one point saying

“Even if Indians are divided, they are children of One Mother, where is the need for foreigners to interfere?”

Even in the period 1910–1920, when freedom was far away and with Mahatma Gandhi as just an emerging

force, with a tremendous sense of positive expectation, he talks of a new and free India where there are no

castes. He eloquently imagines all ­round social and economic development. He talks of building up India’s

defence, her ships sailing the high seas, success in manufacturing and universal education. He calls for sharing

amongst states with wonderful imagery like the diversion of excess water of the Bengal delta to needyregions. He talks of a bridge to Sri Lanka . He even desired greater co­operation between India

and her neighbours a vision realised more than 60 years after his death through the SAARC agreement. Truly a visionary.

Bharati on Feminism

Bharathiyar advocated greater rights for women.

their education. He visualised a modern Indian woman at the vanguard of society. He was of the strong

opinion that the world will prosper in knowledge and intellect if both men and women are deemed equal.


Poetic extract  “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.”


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”

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.


Bharati on Caste System


Bharati also fought against the caste system in Hindu society. Although born into an orthodox Brahmin

family, he gave up his own caste identity. 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.



“ 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, wise, educated and loving.”

Suffice it to say that his poetry did for Tamil and the freedom movement what Bankim Chandra Chatterjee did for Bengali and the freedom movement



When will this thirst for freedom slake?

When will our love of slavery die?

When will our Mother’s fetters break?

When will our tribulations cease?

Wasn’t there another Bharat

Reared by our noble Aryan race?

Lead us, Aryan, to victory!

Is’t right we remain slaves?

Are famine and disease alone our share?

For whom, then, are the laurels and fruits?

Will you abandon us, your suppliants?

Can the mother cast her child aside?

Brave warrior! Aryan Lord!

Thou destroyer of the demon-race,

Where is your dharma? Isn’t yours the duty

To revive us, and chase Fear away?



Filed in: Art


  1. Lakshmi
    January 14, 2015 at 6:01 pm #

    Can you also add Bharati’s poems and other articles. Please also suggest from where we can get books on him and his works? Thank you for writing about this wonderful human being who died so young.

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