Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi: A Phenomenon


Passion. Intensity. Freedom. Revolutionary. These are some of the one words that come to mind in association with Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi. If one were to do a word cloud to explain him to the general populace, these words, I am sure, would feature prominently. 

Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi, also known as Bharathiyar and Bharathi, was a phenomenon. Mahakavi literally means great poet. Even today it is hard to describe him in words. Within a short lifespan of 39 years of age, he achieved so much that it can give goosebumps to any onlooker. He was a scholar par excellence, champion of social justice, youth icon, journalist, poet, writer, and more; net net, he was all in one. Tamil Nadu and India are indeed proud owners of his rich legacy. As Gopalakrishna Gandhi mentioned in one of his columns, ‘He was passionate about a Tamil Nadu that belonged to India and an India to which Tamil Nadu belonged.’ 

He redefined history and there are no two views about it. 

Reading and understanding his achievements will give a ringside view to the multidisciplinary mind that Bharathi was and is. He possessed a unique power, that is the ‘power of attraction’ that, to this day, he continues to attract laymen, scholars, practitioners, policy makers, academics and researchers alike to understand the phenomenon that is Bharathi. In pursuit of this, some tend to restrict Bharathi to just poetry. I think that would be a great disservice to the man in my opinion. He was beyond just poetry, although his poems did have a resonating impact, without any doubts. 

In Tamil Nadu, there is no movie, contemporary performing artist’s performance or literary event today that can go without at least a passing reference to Bharathi. I cannot but recall any other poet’s works which have been nationalized in this way. Such has been his impact and not just in India. It has transcended boundaries, cultures and peoples. Speaking purely from a Tamil Nadu perspective, Bharathi is present and accepted, cutting across political ideologies and lines. 

Bharathi had seen it all in life; poverty and imposition of colonial rule courtesy the British, and fought both uniquely in his own inimitable way, including spiritual living. He was quick to foresee the future too. Bharathi was a nationalist who thought globally. He interpreted global affairs and yet had the concerns of the most marginalized in whatever he did, be it in his writings or through cartoons. 

Bharathi gave Tamil its depth, meaning and import in contemporary times. But he was never bound by it and was inquisitive to always learn new languages. That is how he picked up and was proficient in Hindi and Sanskrit. Not just this, as per research the Mahakavi knew 14 languages in total. There was thus no singularity in the way he led his life; he was open minded, allowed thoughts to come from anywhere and armed himself accordingly with them. Such was his clarity. 

An important lesson we can all keep in mind from Bharathi’s short-lived but inspiring life is that he never wanted to be ‘chained’, he loved freedom in thought, word and deed and this reflected in whatever he did. We can arm ourselves with this important takeaway. To understand this, I think it essential to look at the times in which he lived, when the Indian independence movement was ongoing. 

Philosopher J. Krishnamurthy in one of his famous talks has opined, “continue to always explore the ‘why’ in whatever you do.” There was always a reason for whatever Bharathi did. Bharathi’s raison d’etre and focus was the common man. He resorted to innovative and imaginative ways in speaking to the common man with his words. 

At no point in time did Bharathi agonize vis-a-vis the dire situation that he was confronted with in his life nor did he convey his displeasure at the situations of his life. He truly epitomized the saying, ‘It does not matter how many times you get knocked down. All that matters is that you get up one more time than you were knocked down.’ 

There was a sense of detachment also in whatever Bharathi did, especially after meeting Sister Nivedita. She had a great impact through her candid dialogue with him. The approach of oneness that he brought forth in all his transactions was discernible. 

September 11 marks the 99th death anniversary of the Mahakavi. He died in poverty and few know that only 14 people were at his funeral. I see it as incumbent upon us to celebrate the vision of Bharathiyar as we progress towards his 100th death anniversary year on September 11, 2021. 

It is not enough that we aspire to just have school textbooks including lessons on him. There has to be a concerted effort in ‘living Bharathi’. 99-100 years after his moving on, the search is on for the next Bharathi. In fact we need hundreds of Bharathi who will have an open and inclusive mind to consistently push the envelope, innovate in their approach to cater to mankind and be spiritually rooted in the idea of oneness. 

Today there is also a need to contemporize Bharathi from various angles and to see how he envisaged a paradigm shift in understanding social cohesion, women-led empowerment, international relations and nationalism to name a few. 

Can he be an inspiration to the way that the media can model itself in India today; that is, to speak truth to power?

Purely from an individual perspective, his life inspires me to look within and enquire; if he could do so much within the age span of 39, what am I doing and what have I done thus far? Is it enough at all? Can I do more? I have resolved to make these questions an integral part and parcel of my daily thinking and conversation. 

In the 21st century, mere word speak will not be enough. Only sustained action will sow the right seeds. Bharathi personified this. 

On this solemn occasion it is also important that we take a moment to pause and introspect on Bharathi’s writings and works while in pursuit of self-unfoldment. 

It is to this dynamic life, vision and mission that this 25th blog of mine is dedicated, in memorium. 

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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