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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings - N.Nandhivarman

Bharathiar - Greatest Bard of Tamil

18  December 2008

[see also Subramaniya Bharathi - the Poet of Tamil Nationalism & Indian Freedom]

The 126th birth anniversary of Mahakavi Subramania Bharathiar was celebrated on December 11 of 2008 . The Bharathiar Memorial Museum was set up by the Government of Pondicherry in 1972. In 1984 it was converted into a research center to which from all over the world people have come. The Government of Pondicherry headed by then Chief Minister D.Ramachandiran had brought out a beautiful book in French in 1982, which contains translations of Bharathiar's poems, prose and English articles. Such laudable exercises must be continued by successive governments to foster French and Tamil cultural exchanges by translating literatures belonging to both languages. But during his lifetime Bharathiar had struggled to bring out his works in print.

The ordeals of Poets in the colonial era to see their masterpieces in print could be easily understood by a letter through which Mahakavi Bharathiar sought financial support from his well wishers. In an open appeal written in 1921, the Great Bard of Tamil Renaissance states,

"All of my manuscripts, accumulated labour of my 12 year exile have arrived here from Pondicherry. They are to be divided into 40 separate books. Most of my works which I have selected for publication are prose, stories, sensational at the same time classical, very easy, lucid, clear, luminous and all but too popular in style and diction and at the same time chaste, pure, correct, epic and time defying."

By this appeal the Poet not only exudes confidence in his creative literature and its contents but also is convinced that he is standing at the cross roads of critical times and is destined to play a crucial role. His words further down in the same appeal will be enough to portray the missionary zeal that burnt in him.

"The historic necessity of my works for the uplift of the Tamil Land which again is a sheer necessity of the inevitable, imminent and heaven-ordained revival of the East", says Mahakavi. These words  firmly reflects the inner feelings of the most enlightened Tamil mind of our times, which was destined to leave an everlasting impact on the Tamil society.

The Poet's vision was clear and he pursued his life's mission with all his inherent strength, doing what was destined to be done. He wrote a satirical story " The Fox with a Golden Tail", which was published in 1914.

It should also be mentioned that Aurobindo Ghosh lauded the flowery language of Bharathiar in that story. Dr.Nanjunda Rao of Chennai who was immensely pleased ordered for 500 copies and many letters of appreciation poured in from all quarters. Kuvalai Kannan read those letters to Bharathiar hoping he would be pleased. But Bharathiar stated as follows:

" Using my brain to its fullest capacity while I write in my mother tongue Panchali Sabadam, you alone read it, whereas if it is in English our men who are slaves to English colonial culture order for copies after copies", the poet retorted with contempt records R.A.Padmanabhan in Chitra Bharathi, a compilations of pictures and historical notes on Bharathiar.

Tamil Medium 

At that point of time when all men of letters under colonial rule were crazy over the proficiency in the tongue of the ruling classes, Bharathiar stands apart as a champion of the Tamil cause. In his book Essays and Other Prose Fragments published in 1937 writing under the title " Vernaculars" Bharathiar extends support to the Tamil medium of instruction in the schools of Education.

Let me reproduce his views in verbatim: 

" I do not blame the Madras Council of Indian education for their anxiety to have Professor Geddes' views on the subject of employing Indian languages as media of instruction in Indian schools. For I am aware those men's thoughts are ordinarily moulded by their environments. Nor do I blame the good and learned Professor Geddes for his innocent comparison of the revival of Indian languages with the Gaelic revival in Wales and in Ireland. I do not know if Gaelic has any extensive and living literature. But I feel it is high time to remind all parties concerned, in the discussions like this, that most of the Indian languages have great, historic and living literatures. Of course their luster has been slightly dimmed by economic conditions during these later days. The English educated minority in this country can be pardoned for being frightfully ignorant of the higher phases of our national literatures, but they will well do to drop that annoying attitude of patronage and condescension when writing and talking about our languages. The Tamil language for instance has a living philosophical and poetical literature that is far grander, to my mind, than that of the vernacular of England. For the matter of that, I do not think that any modern vernacular of Europe can boast of works like Kural of Valluvar�"

so goes on the Great Bard. This quality and courage of conviction is rare among the educated of his times and even today the ignorance of the educated towards the grandeur of the Tamil language and their wild goose chase of the foreign language continues unabated even after the wise counsel by Bharathiar.

The themes

His book Essays and Prose Fragments contains the following topics

1) To the being of the Universe
2) The Service of God
3) The Siddha and the Superman
4) Immortality
5) Fatalism
6) The Dawn
7) Rasa- The Keyword of Indian Culture
8) Blunting the Imagination
9) The Crime of Caste
10) The Place of Women
11) Women's Freedom
12) Love and Marriage
13) Patriotism and Religious Differences
14) The National Congress
15) New Birth
16) Matri Puja
17) India and the World
18) In Memoriam
19) The Coming Age
20) Reflections
21) Some Political Maxims
22) Free Speech
23) India and war
24) Nammalvar
25) Andal
26) Rights and Duties
27) Vernaculars
28) The occult element in Tamil speech.

The list of the essays will reveal the subjects that were near and dear to his heart.


Of particular mention is his voice for the cause of feminism. Speaking about the greatness of womanhood the Poet stands apart with no sign of male chauvinism, a characteristic flaw that causes even today gender bias and female infanticide. Let me quote him

" But if woman has always been the civiliser and, therefore, the spiritual superior of man, why did she get enslaved at all? For it is not only among Indians but also among the European and the Chinese and the Japanese and the Hottentots as, indeed all brutes and birds and insects, that the female has been content, till now, to occupy an enslaved, or if you please, a subordinate place to the male."

There cannot be a champion of the cause of feminism than Mahakavi Bharathiar in that point of time in the history of Tamils. A forerunner for the cause of feminism he had left his imprint by way of many articles and poems.

Crusader against Caste

Bharathi describes caste as a crime against humanity and let us know his feelings well expressed in his own style

" You sometimes quote ethnology, eugenics, hydrostatics and what not, to support these four thousand castes! But, alas, the ignorant masses of our country have been made to believe that this caste chaos is a special divine gift to our country and whoever transgresses it has to go to Hell. It is this belief more than anything else that makes people insensible to the injurious results of caste. If you really have your justification in ethnology or hydrostatics, then you have been cheating people during all these centuries by telling them a different story. No science can justify cheating".

The scientific temper, which the poet possesses, is what anyone who cares for fellow beings will want to inculcate in a caste- ridden society. The Poets are conscience keepers of their culture and the society in which they hail, and in unmistaken terms Bharathiar registers his voice of protest against the caste-infected society.

 Spreading his message globally

Bharathiar's Tamil poems translated in many languages have established his greatness beyond an iota of doubt, at the same time very few attention is shown towards his writings in English, and it is high time his scholarly opinion on contemporary issues be understood. The Hindu in its sub-editorial dated 12th September 1921 records the demise of this great poet thus:

" We regret to learn the death of Varakavi Subramanya Bharathi at his residence in Triplicane last night. The deceased was an ardent nationalist, a great thinker, a shining speaker and a powerful writer. He is the author of number of Tamil works including National songs. His recitation of the national songs infused genuine patriotism in the hearts of his listeners. He, like many other patriots of India, was an exile in Pondicherry for some years, because his patriotic speeches did not please the Gods in power. He has for some time past been ailing and by his premature death the country has lost a born poet and a sincere patriot'.

Swadesamithran too paid tributes in its editorial. But it is a sad fact that only handfuls were present when his body was cremated. Let us learn to respect great men when they are alive and be grateful for the great bards who uphold our culture universally.


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