“Sisters and brothers,
I am indeed honoured to be here with you to observe the Centenary of Mahakavi Subramania Bharati’s Punya Tithi.
One of India’s greatest literary geniuses, Mahakavi Subramania Bharati was a multi-faceted personality—a poet, journalist, freedom fighter and social reformer who deeply cared for the poor and downtrodden. His evocative poetry and writings played an important role in infusing the spirit of nationalism among the people of Tamil Nadu and India. Rightfully, he was conferred the title of ‘National Poet’ by the Government of India.
Born on 11th December 1882 in Ettayapuram village in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu, Subramania Bharati was a rare child prodigy. At the tender age of seven, he started writing poems in Tamil. When he was barely eleven, he left the scholars and court poets of the Ettayapuram Durbar dumbfounded with his chaste and spontaneous poetry and thereafter came to be known as Bharati.
Mahakavi Bharati’s poetry heralded a new era in Tamil literature. Drawing from the rich cultural heritage of India, he used new forms and expressions along with simple words, vernacular idiom and lyrical rhythms. During the dark days of colonial rule, Mahakavi rose like a Sun with his powerful message of nationalism to dispel the darkness that had engulfed our nation. “Kannan Pattu” “Nilavum Vanminum Katrum” “Panchali Sabatam” “Kuyil Pattu” are some of the best examples of Bharathi’s great poetry.
After the demise of his father, Mahakavi Bharati went to Kasi where he encountered an altogether new world. Apart from educating himself well academically, he plunged into English and Sanskrit poetry on the one hand and at the same time was drawn into the fiery stream of nationalism. He became a political disciple of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and worked closely with leaders like Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, Sri V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Sri Aurobindo.
When Lala Lajpat Rai was exiled to Mandalay in Burma in 1907, Bharati wrote two poems on this sorrowful event titled, ‘Lajpat Rai Tudi’ and ‘Lajpat Rai Pralabham’. In these poems, marked by stylistic elegance and intellectual intensity, Mahakavi Bharati says that the British could not succeed in sending Lajpat Rai away from the people as he lives in their hearts.
While returning from Calcutta Congress on his way back to Chennai, Bharati met the renowned disciple of Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita. This meeting proved to be a landmark event and turned him into an even stronger proponent of women’s freedom and empowerment. Bharati called Nivedita as his Gurumani, and dedicated his Swadesa Githangal to her, with these words-
“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”.
As the editor of Chakravartini magazine, Bharati announced that the goal of Chakravartini was the empowerment of women. 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.”
Sisters and brothers,
Ours is a culture that reveres women as the epitome of divinity. Sadly, we continue to see in society, widespread discrimination against women. On the centenary of Bharathiyar’s Punya Tithi, let us all commit ourselves to the great ideals espoused by the Mahakavi and work towards creating a safe and conducive environment for our daughters and sisters to grow and attain their full potential. We should eradicate all barriers and discriminations that divide society on the lines of caste, religion, region, language and gender. The great poet had himself wrote -
ஜாதிகள் இல்லையடி பாப்பா - குலத்
தாழ்ச்சி உயர்ச்சி சொலல் பாவம்
“O child! There is nothing called 'caste'. Calling anyone high or low is a sin.”
After returning to Chennai, Bharati organised a number of political meetings where he mesmerised people with his speeches. Inspired by his songs, people were fired by nationalism and patriotic zeal. For his songs and lyrics to touch the hearts and minds of the common man, Mahakavi Bharati relied on simplicity of composition, facile language and directness of expression.
Intensifying his untiring efforts towards the nation’s independence, he defied prohibitory orders, organised a procession and addressed a meeting at the Marina to celebrate the release of Bipin Chandra Pal as the ‘Swarajya Day’ in which about 20,000 people participated. Soon, he had to move to Puducherry which was a French territory, to escape being arrested by the British. Sri V. V. S. Iyer and Sri Aurobindo followed suit.
I feel fortunate to have visited the memorial museum established at Bharati’s residence during my recent visit to Puducherry. I was overwhelmed by emotion as I stepped into the house where the revolutionary poet stayed for more than 11 years fighting for the freedom of his motherland from colonial rule. I urge the younger generation to take inspiration from the life of this great poet and dedicate themselves to the cause of nation-building. We have to create a developed India—an India free from poverty, illiteracy, hunger and discrimination. Mahakavi Bharati used to say, 'Nalla kalam varuguthu!’ – ‘the best of times lies ahead!’ Let’s move ahead with this spirit. I am sure that our youth, with their tremendous energy and enthusiasm, can power India’s progress and fast-track development.
Mahakavi Bharati was extremely well versed in English, French, Sanskrit, Hindi, Hindustani and Telugu and could translate many works across languages. From the time he moved to Chennai till his end, he lived the life of a tireless journalist, espousing the cause of free India through his prose and poetry. He was also a pioneering cartoonist in Tamil journalism.
Panchali Sabatam (which highlights the plight of our women and their emancipation) Kannan Pattu (an anthology of poems expatiating the glory of Krishna and seeking his blessings through different approaches) and Kuyil Pattu (which exposes the ills of extreme conservatism and mindless modernism) are among his major poetic works. His commentary on the Bhagwad Gita is a classic. He translated a few Upanishads also. Anything that happened in any part of the world caught his keen eye and immediately he wrote about it either as an article or as a song. The fall of Belgium, the Russian Revolution, the life of Mazzini, the plight of women in Fiji—all these momentous events were known to Tamil Nadu through him first.
स्वामी विवेकानन्द कीतरह महाकवि भारती भी केवल 39 साल की आयु में ही इस भौतिक संसार से चले गये। लेकिन उनकी कविता, उनके शब्द और उनके विचार सदा अमरहैं.... शाश्वतहैं । हमें आज भी प्रेरणा देतेहैं और हमेशा देते रहेंगे। मुझे यह सोचकर आश्चर्य होता है कि भारतीजी 32 भाषाओं के जानकार थे। ऐसे महापुरुष इतिहास में विरलेही होते हैं।
He was a citizen of the world, a true patriot and a social reformer – all rolled into his colossal personality at the core of which was a Mahakavi. He strove for a free India – not only liberated from foreign rule but free from the bane of casteism and religious squabbles. He wanted every individual to achieve spiritual freedom. Mahakavi Bharati had a thorough knowledge of India’s glorious past, an impartial outlook to blow away the chaff of superstition and injustice. Moreover, he had an open mind to blend anything new which was good for humanity.
‘Bharati’ was a title given to him when he was just eleven. Verily, it was the spirit of Bharata Mata which had entered him, justifying that title. After his release from prison, Bharati had lost his health but not hope, despite his poverty. He made a now-famous poetic appeal to the Zamindar of Ettayapuram which went unheard, in which he sought to be honoured with a tinkling palanquin, golden shawl, a purse and a retinue. .
I am touched to know that Vanavil Cultural Centre, every year on his birth anniversary, organizes a function to fulfil this unfulfilled wish of Mahakavi. On this occasion, the bust of Mahakavi Bharati is decorated with a golden shawl and a purse is placed alongside, and dignitaries cutting across their political affiliations carry the palanquin from the Parthasarathy Temple to the house where he lived.
This is a wonderful way of remembering the legacy of the great poet. I am happy that Vanavil Cultural Centre in association with Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts and Delhi Tamil Sangam is convening this function at the Parliament House. It is very important to commemorate the life events of such great souls so as to transmit their ideas and legacy to future generations. Let us all join hands to promote the life and works of Mahakavi Subramania Bharati to kindle the spark of nationalism, culture, spirituality, and social awareness among our fellow countrymen.
Address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President at the Mahakavi Subramania Bharati Memorial Day Centenary at Parliament House, New Delhi on September 18, 2021.
“Sisters and brothers,