Puducheri Valartha Bharathiyar

No Mahakavi without Puduchery(in) R.Kalaivani, K.A. Arulsenghor, eds. Tamizh Nungu, ‘Aar’ Karuthranga Katturai Thokuppu, Chennai, 2014, pp. 266-273 by J.B.P.More (This article is based on my Tamil book ‘Puducheri Valartha Bharathiyar, published by Leon Prouchandy Memorial Sangam, Pondicherry, 2011)

It is a recognized historical fact that Subramania Bharati of Thamizhnadu is one of the great nationalist poets, social reformers, writers and revolutionaries of modern India. His works were mostly in Tamil, his mother tongue. Besides Tamil, he has also produced some wonderful poems and prose in English. Bharati was recognized as a Mahakavi i.e. Great Poet, only several years after his death. But scholars hitherto have not done adequate research on how he became a Mahakavi and what was the special situation and circumstances in which he found himself that permitted him to emerge as a Mahakavi of modern India and Thamizhnadu. In this short paper I in...

275 247.5

Book Details











About The Author

J.B.Prashant More

J.B.Prashant More is a historian of international repute. He was born in Pondicherry on 28th August 1955. He studied at St.Joseph of Cluny school and Petit Seminaire, Pondicherry. After obtaining a bachelor's degree from Tagore Arts College, Pondicherry, he proceeded to France for higher studies. He obtained a Ph.D in History at the renowned Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He is member of the Institute for Research in Social Sciences and Humanities. After facing several setbacks in his scholarly pursuit, he took to writing history. Since 2001 Prashant More has authored more than fifteen books and several articles. He is a specialist of south Indian history, especially Muslim and Dravidian history as well as the colonial history of India. His book on the Partition of India remains unchallenged to this day. He writes in French, English and Tamil. Currently he teaches at Inseec, Paris. His mother tongue is Tamil. He holds French nationality. His father, Panjab Rao More is a Marathi Bhakti poet.His mother belongs to the ilustrious Prouchandy family of Pondicherry, whose members have played significant roles in the history of Pondicherry. One of them, Darmanathan Prouchandy was the first steam navigator from south India and the Tamil country. His grand father had played a martyr's role in India's freedom movement due to his association with the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's freedom struggle in south-east Asia (French Indochina, Saigon).

No Mahakavi without Puduchery(in) R.Kalaivani, K.A. Arulsenghor, eds. Tamizh Nungu, ‘Aar’ Karuthranga Katturai Thokuppu, Chennai, 2014, pp. 266-273 by J.B.P.More (This article is based on my Tamil book ‘Puducheri Valartha Bharathiyar, published by Leon Prouchandy Memorial Sangam, Pondicherry, 2011)

It is a recognized historical fact that Subramania Bharati of Thamizhnadu is one of the great nationalist poets, social reformers, writers and revolutionaries of modern India. His works were mostly in Tamil, his mother tongue. Besides Tamil, he has also produced some wonderful poems and prose in English. Bharati was recognized as a Mahakavi i.e. Great Poet, only several years after his death. But scholars hitherto have not done adequate research on how he became a Mahakavi and what was the special situation and circumstances in which he found himself that permitted him to emerge as a Mahakavi of modern India and Thamizhnadu. In this short paper I intend to adopt a step by step chronological approach in order to unravel the special feature or features in his life that allowed Bharati to emerge as the Mahakavi.

Pre-Puducherry Life of Bharati:
Subramaniam Subbiah Iyer was born on 11 December 1882 at Ettayapuram, in Tirunelveli district. His father, Chinnasamy Iyer was at the service of the zamindar of Ettayapuram. Subbiah studied at the English school at Tirunelveli. Recognising Subbiah’s poetic talent, the vidwans of Ettayapuram, conferred upon him the title ‘Bharati’ in the year 1893. He was just twelve years old then. This name stuck to him thenceforth and he came to be known as Subramania Bharati.

After his marriage and his father’s death, Bharati was sent to Banaras to pursue his high school studies. 7 Banaras shaped him as a nationalist. He also read a lot of western literature during his stay there. It seems that of all the western poets, Shelley alone captivated him the most. He did not just admire his poetical genius, but also his ideas and fascination for the French revolution and its slogans of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’.

Cutting short his higher studies in 1902, he returned to Ettayapuram where he took up service as librarian under the Rajah of Ettayapuram, for a meagre salary of Rs. 12.. In 1904, Bharati published his first Tamil poem ‘Thanimai Irakkam’in the Tamil journal Vivekabhanu of Madurai, edited by Pulavar Kandasamy Kavirayar. He then joined the Sethupati School of Madurai as a Tamil teacher from 1st August 1904, on a monthly salary of Rs.17.50. Bharati joined as sub-editor of Sudesamitran, a Tamil newspaper of Madras city towards November 1904. In the year 1905, Bharati also became the editor of a monthly journal for women called Chakravartini, owned by P.Vaidyanatha Iyer.

As sub-editor, Bharati was at a vantage point to reflect upon the various happenings in the country and the world. He incessantly expressed his love for the mother country through poems and essays, which attracted the attention of a wide cross section of the Tamil-reading public. ‘Vangamai Vazhiyavay’ was his first nationalist poem. In 1907-08, Bharati’s 16 poems were published under the title, ‘Swadesa Gitangal’.

Due to differences of opinion with G. Subramania Iyer, Bharati quit his job in the Sudesamitran, and joined hands with the Mandayam brothers in April 1906, and started a journal called ‘India’. Bharati who was just 24 then became its undeclared editor. Bharati became a radical nationalist writer and poet thenceforth.

During the swadeshi movement, Bharati produced patriotic songs, much loved by the Madras public. Due to the Tirunelveli riots, his colleague Chidambaram was sent to prison. Fearing arrest, Bharati fled to Pondicherry in September 1908, a French colony about 100 miles south of Madras.

Bharati had become a nationalist poet before he stepped into Pondicherry. Since the time of the publication of his first poem in 1904, Bharati CONTINUOUSLY resided in Madras and Thamizhnadu only for about four years. He produced several poems and wrote many articles during this period. Generally his writings during this period had nationalism as the dominant theme. Off and on he wrote about France too. Bharati’s intention was to CONTINUE with his swadeshi nationalist ACTIVITIES in Pondicherry, under what he considered as the benevolent rule of the French.

Bharati in Puducherry:
In Puducherry Bharati had the opportunity to familiarise himself DIRECTLY with French culture and civilisation. He learnt the French language. He read the works produced by French revolutionary thinkers and writers, poets and philosophers like Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Diderot, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu and Proudhon. He thus imbibed very deeply their thoughts and ideas. Very soon Bharati restarted India in Pondicherry. The French slogan ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ appeared in the title page of the journal. He also edited a few other journals in which he wrote extensively. Bharati was very much fascinated by France and its values which shaped his thought and writings in Pondicherry. He considered the French nation as the birth place of the mother of freedom and representative democracy. The French values found expression in his works more and more. Puducherry paved the way for it. After Bharati came to Puducherry, a second volume of the Swadesa Gitangal under the title ‘Janma Bhoomi’ was published in 1909. It contained 17 poems. The very next year a third volume of 15 songs titled ‘Matha Vasagam’ saw the light. They were essentially autobiographical and patriotic in nature. In the same year Bharati’s philosophical story titled Gnanaratham (Chariot of Knowledge) was published.

Before Bharati came to Pondicherry or even after his coming, most of his prose works too were highly patriotic and political in nature. This situation seems to have persisted till at least the end of 1911, when Bharati had to wind up one by one the journals he was editing in Pondicherry. It was at this stage that one could say that Bharati had opened a new page in his life. Instead of taking entirely to religion and spirituality like Aravindha Ghose, Bharati’s attention turned more towards social reforms and literature. Tamil literature stood to gain because of this new orientation in Bharati’s life in Puducherry. Though Bharati cultivated friendship with philosophers and spiritualists like Paul Richard, Aravinda Ghose and V.V.S.Iyer in Puducherry, he never accepted any of them as his spiritual guru. There is no evidence forthcoming in this respect.

In a short story titled ‘Aaril Oru Pangu’ (One-sixth), written in Puducherry in the year 1910, Bharati admitted that the Hindus had ill-treated and relegated the depressed castes that formed one-sixth of the total Hindu population to an extremely pathetic and downtrodden condition since a very long time. He stated frankly that what the Hindus had done to the Pallars and the Parayars, was being repeated against them by the foreigners. Bharati was even bold enough to admit while in Puducherry that the main reason for the prevalence of such a situation, was because of the members of his own Brahmin caste.

Bharati had winded up his journalistic pursuits around the year 1911 for various reasons. Thenceforth he did not have any regular income. So he and his family were gradually sinking into poverty. In 1912, Bharati translated the Bhagavad Gita, from Sanskrit and even wrote an interpretation of it. Even before 1910, he had translated from Sanskrit, parts of the Vedas and the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali into Tamil. This shows that Bharati was extremely well versed in Sanskrit too. Bharati never stood for the purification of Tamil like Maraimalai Adigal, but he was for the enrichment of Tamil through Sanskrit.

In the year 1912, another of his masterpiece called Panchali Sabatham saw the light. Its first part was published in 1912, while the second part was released after Bharati’s death. Bharati modified a part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata and created this work. It demonstrated the slave condition of India and compared the shameful undressing of Draupadi in the Mahabharata to the spoliation of Bharatha Mata or Mother India of his days by foreigners. He depicts how Mother India was struggling in the hands of the Europeans. He accused India’s politicians and religious leaders of quarrelling and fighting with one another, instead of trying to SAVE Mother India from the clutches of the whites.

Though the prime objective of Panchali Sabatham was to liberate Mother India, yet it had other objectives too. One of them was the development of the Tamils and the Tamil language. Bharati sincerely yearned that not only him but also other Tamils contribute to this development. This becomes QUITE apparent when one goes through the Preface written by him for the Panchali Sabatham. He tells in it that those who write in ordinary Tamil, with a simple style, which the people can appreciate, will be giving a new life to the Tamil language. He however admitted that the task was immense and that his talents were limited and so he wrote in order that others might follow his guidance. He also affirmed that it was Parashakti herself who had inspired him to work for a rejuvenated life for the Tamil race. It is QUITE obvious from the above that Bharati considered himself as a sort of precursor and guide to the revival of Tamil language and literature. His love for the Tamil language increased by leaps and bounds while he was in Puducherry. Bharati was always a protagonist of Tamil. He wanted to implement Tamil everywhere and in everything. He criticised the south Indian political leaders of his time, who shunned speaking in Tamil. He declared that only foolish people believed that Tamil will die and all Indian languages will be replaced by English.15 He was in favour of Tamil as MEDIUM of instruction in schools and colleges.16 From Puducherry, Bharati wrote in the Sudesamitran of 3 April 1916:

I know at this moment that the intelligence and greatness of the Tamil race has not spread in the world. I know that in the past the light of Tamil intelligence was a bit dull. But the past is gone. There is no truth at present. Truth will dawn tomorrow. If the effulgence of Tamil does not spread in the whole world, do change my name.

Among Bharati’s long poems ‘Kuyil Paatu’ occupies a pride of place. Some hold that it was published in 1912, while others claim it came out in 1914-15. Whatever it is, we know from it that Bharati spent a great deal of time in the mango and coconut groves situated outside Pondicherry town. It seems that Bharati specially frequented the mango grove, situated to the north of Pondicherry in Muthialpet. Hunters used to come to the mango grove to shoot down the birds. One day when he was on one of his usual stroll, he saw a cuckoo singing nonchalantly, perched on a tree branch. Bharati was simply subjugated not only by the melody of the cuckoo, but also by its beauty and the beauty of the nature that surrounded it. The result of the interaction of Bharati with the cuckoo and the nature around it was the creation of Kuyil Paatu. Through this poem Bharati sought to demonstrate the essential unity of life and nature. Pondicherry provided the backdrop to this masterpiece. Through Kuyil Paatu Bharati emerges as a nature poet too.

In 1913, Bharati’s friend, Subramania Siva, after his release from prison, had started a Tamil journal called Gnanabhanu, in Madras. It was Subramania Siva who started republishing Bharati’s works and poems in Tamil. Thus Bharati’s Pondicherry works like Yoga Siddhi, Oliyum Irulum, Kannan en Thai, Paapa Paatu and Puthiya Athisudi were published in Gnanabhanu. The last two were written for children. Some hold that the manuscript of Bharati’s story Chinna Sankaran Kathai was lost during the police raids of his house in Puducherry. But parts of the same had appeared in Gnanabhanu. For some unknown reason, the story remained incomplete. Bharati did not tell anything about it.

From 1914-15, he seems to have started to contribute articles to journals and newspapers in Madras once again. He even wrote in English he wrote for the common man. His works in English appeared in journals like New India and Commonweal of Madras of Annie Besant and Arya of Pondicherry. In the year 1914 or sometime before that, a funny fable called ‘A Fox with a Golden Tail’ was authored by Bharati. It seems that Bharati received several letters of felicitation appreciating his English work. Aravinda Ghose also CONGRATULATED him. But Bharati regretted that he never received such felicitations for his works in Tamil like Panchali Sabatham, written in his mother tongue.

During the nineteenth century, many Tamils hailing from Pondicherry and Karaikal and also from Thamizhnadu had been taken as coolies by the whites, to work in the plantations in colonies like Fiji, Mauritius, Réunion, southern Africa and the Caribbean islands. Bharati was overwhelmed with compassion for them while in Puducherry. During this period, Gandhi had been waging a non-violent struggle against the racial discrimination practised by the white people in South Africa. From Pondicherry, Bharati watched this struggle and the sorrowful state of the Indians abroad. This prompted him to write his famous poem Karumbu Thotathilé (In the Sugarcane Plantations), in which he depicted the living conditions of the Tamils in the plantations and the several hardships and atrocities that the Tamil women had to undergo in the foreign LANDSat the hands of white masters.

When Bharati was plunged in poverty and want, the Russian revolution broke out in October 1917. Of all the poets of Thamizhnadu, Bharati alone welcomed the Russian Revolution. He produced a whole poem titled ‘New Russia’ (Puthiya Russia), praising the revolution, SUPPORTINGthe abolition of private property and the tyranny of the Tsar. Bharati knew about the writings of the French socialist Proudhon who was against private property. Bharati was always in agreement with Proudhon’s views. In the year 1917, a lengthy poem of Bharati’s called ‘Kannan Paatu’ was published. It appears that this was completed earlier in the year 1912. In the year 1918, Bharati translated five essays of Rabindranath Tagore, who had won the Nobel PRIZE for literature in 1913. Bharati frankly acknowledged the greatness of Tagore and regretted that Indian newspapers were not giving adequate importance to Tagore. At this time, he also produced a history of the Indian National Congress in Tamil, which was published later.

While in Puducherry he produced several other poems ranging from the devotional to songs in praise of nature. Some of them were Kavitha DEVI Arul Vendal(1908), Guru Govinda Simha Vijayam(1909), Thisai(1909), Annai Nee Seivathene(1909), Kadal(1909), Mahasakthikku Vinnappam(1910), Thelivu(1910), Sadharana Varusha Dhumakethu(1910), Oliyum Irulum(1913), Yoga Siddhi(1913), Veyankuzhal(1914), Iravanam Tayumanavar Vazhthu(1914) Gnanabhanu Surya Sthoman(1915) and Naatu Paatu(1917).

It is noteworthy that even in his devotional songs, Bharati had introduced his revolutionary ideas and social reforming thoughts. Bharati knew that the people of Thamizhnadu were God conscious. This seems to have prompted him to get across his social messages even through the MEDIUM of devotional songs.

Bharati who came to Puducherry, not knowing what was in store for him there, gradually developed a liking for Pondicherry. He loved Puducherry’s beach, its mango and coconut groves, its ponds and lakes and its fields. Those were Bharati’s favourite haunts. It was in the beach road that Bharati used to walk fearlessly with head held up and chest thrust forward, singing the French national song ‘La Marseillaise’, which he even translated into Tamil. He loved to call Pondicherry as sweet Tamil town or as ‘little lovely town’ and as Vedapuri or Vedapuram, due to the presence there of some old temples and the Tamil holy men, the siddhars.

Puducherry and its natural beauty seem to have instilled a lot of energy and enthusiasm into Bharati’s frail but handsome frame and KINDLEDhis creative spirit. As a result Puducherry had become inseparable from the life of Bharati. If one wants to think about Bharati, one cannot avoid thinking about Puducherry. In Bharati’s life Puducherry occupies a place more prestigious than Thamizhnadu. It will not be historically wrong if Puducherry Tamils feel proud about this. It will not be unreasonable to consider Bharati himself as a Puducherian as he had spent ten years of his prime adult life there and had produced a great majority of his works from there. Besides he learnt French like the Puducherians of those days and was influenced greatly by French civilisation, culture and values. This influence is visible in many of his works. Therefore Puducherians have a special right on him.

The First World War ended in November 1918. So Bharati and his family finally decided to leave Pondicherry on 30 November 1918. His health had deteriorated very much by then. From 15 November 1920, he was once again appointed as the sub-editor of Sudesamitran. He survived for one more year hardly. He finally passed away on 11 September 1921 in Madras, uncared and unsung by his countrymen.

However it is QUITE obvious that Puducherry became the most productive place for Bharati’s literary creations. It is highly doubtful if Bharati would have achieved the greatness that he achieved if he had not chosen to come to Puducherry and reside there for ten years. If Bharati had not written Kuyil Paatu, Panchali Sabatham and Kannan Paatu in Puducherry, he would never have become the Mahakavi that he became. It will not be an exaggeration to conclude that Puducherry paved the way for Bharati’s most productive literary creations and his emergence as the Mahakavi of Thamizhnadu.

*This article is based on my book titled ‘Puducheri Valartha Bharathiar’, published by Leon Prouchandy Memorial Sangam, Pondicherry in 2011. All authentic references related to every aspect mentioned in this article can be found in this book by the readers.