Since Bharathiyar’s birthday is approaching, we thought of doing our due diligence to felicitate this Tamil iconoclast who’s birthday falls on 11th December. We strongly feel that Bharathiyar’s birthday has been overlooked by the birthday of Rajinikanth. In the past years, not even Astro, Minnal FM and THR Raaga bothers to remember Bharathiyar’s birthday and commemorate it by airing his songs and his movie, Bharathi. But, the birthdays of Kollywood actors are celebrated full swing. This leaves much to be desired. We are slowly forgetting iconic men and women who have brought forth social reformations, without which, the progression towards human rights would not have been possible. Yesterday night and this morning though, Bharathiyar was mentioned in both Astro and Minnal FM. I don’t know about THR Raaga.
Okayh, wut’s so great about Bharathiyar deyh? Namma Thalaiva Superstar vide periya aala?
When Bharathiyar died, there were only 14 people at his funeral, including Sister Nivedita from which Bharathiyar derived women liberation ideals from. Sister Nivedita was a disciple of Swami Vivekananda and her influence on Bharathiyar was immense.
The iconic Bharathiyar attribute is his turban. For that reason, he is known as Mundaasu Kavinyar. Other monikers accorded to him are Bharathiyar, Subbaiya, Sakthi Dasan and Mahakavi Bharathiyar.
To those of you Indians who love to give excuses to learn English, love to ridicule fellow Indians speaking/writing in English and believe that learning English is at the disposal of Tamil, well, I will let Bharathiyar put you to shame. First of all, Bharathiyar’s dad wanted him to learn English, excel in math and become an engineer. But, Bharathiyar ended up becoming a Tamil teacher then a journalist because he understood the need to be well-informed of the world outside and through great effort mastered 32 languages, 3 of which are foreign in his lifetime of 38 years. Yet, he managed to write Tamil songs/poems that sound like this:
So, what’s your excuse? You have internet. Bharathiyar didn’t. I’ve always said, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Impressed yet? If yes, read on.
Bharathiyar’s private life
Bharathiyar was born into an orthodox Brahmin family. His mother died when he was 5 and he lost his father when he was 16. He was married to Chellama when he was 14 and his bride 7. It was a child marriage arranged by family. Back then, girls were married off young except for the social reformer and women’s rights activist, Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy who married Dr Sundara Reddy when she was 28 on the condition that he never restrict her and cross her wishes. Other iconic Indian women like Dr Anandibai Joshi and Savitribai Phule married young but pursued education with their husbands’ support. Back then, if girls wanted to go to school, they were disallowed – it still happens now but teen Malaysian Indian girls tie thali and upload that on Facebook and we’re still reeling from the news of a 14 year old girl forced to film her 35 year old husband raping her 11 year old sister. Well, in the words of Malala Yousafzai, “You don’t know the value of something until it is snatched from you.”
Speaking of education, Bharathiyar was schooled at a local high school called The M.D.T. Hindu College in Tirunelveli. From a very young age he learnt music and at eleven, he learnt poetry. It was during this time that he was conferred the title of “Bharathi”, the one blessed by Saraswati, the goddess of learning.
Bharathiyar’s poetic acumen is unrivalled and so is his writing dexterity which makes me his ardent fan. His topics of interest are diverse, just like Robert J Oppenheimer. He used his editorial job at The Tamil Weekly India and English newspaper Bala Bharatham to put forth his creativity, publishing his poems frequently in these editions. His creativity was at peak at this time and his writings varied from hymns to nationalistic writings, from contemplations on the relationship between God and Man to songs on the Russian and French revolutions.
Bharathiyar had 2 daughters whom he did not consider a liability – he loved both of his girls very, very much. His granddaughter, Dr Vijaya Bharathi has this to say about her grandfather she never met but loved and told by her grandmother and mother.
Bharathiyar was never rich and by the end of his life, he was poverty stricken. Imprisonment and an attack by a temple elephant took their toll on Bharathiyar. Several months after the elephant struck Bharathiyar, he passed away on 11th September 1921.
Bharathiyar and his repertoire
I would say that Bharathiyar is the Indian version of Alexander the Great because he didn’t live very long but accomplished so much in his lifetime.
Bharathiyar worked on Indian independence activism, poetry and social reforms. His ideas were ahead of his time and he was a feminist although in the beginning he too was prejudiced towards women.
Bharathiyar worked as a journalist for many papers and he introduced Indian independence activism into those papers as well as the poetry he wrote. For that, he was a wanted man by the colonial British. In 1908, an arrest warrant was issued against Bharathiyar by the government of India for his revolutionary activities forcing him to flee to Puducherry where he lived until 1918.
Bharathiyar also wrote his anger and thoughts towards Feminism, Caste System, Child Marriage, Hunger and other Social Evils. He invited untouchables into his house and put on poonool (a Brahmin string worn by men) on them, much to the disenchantment of fellow Brahmins. Barathiyar’s ideals on women were ahead of his time. Far before the Suffragette and women’s lib movement happened in the west, Bharathiyar forwarded the concepts of penn viduthalai (women emancipation) and Bharathi kande puthumai penn (modern women which Barathi dreams of)
What sets Bharathiyar apart is the usage of simple and understandable words and rhythms in the Tamil literature he wrote rather than complex vocabulary Tamil used in previous centuries’ works.
According to Wikipedia:
Bharati's poetry expressed a progressive, reformist ideal. His imagery and the vigour of his verse were a forerunner to modern Tamil poetry in different aspects. 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, 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 Shakti, Kali, Vinayagar, Murugan, Sivan, Kannan(Krishna), but also on other religious gods like Allah and Jesus. His insightful similies have been read by millions of Tamil readers. He was well-versed in various languages and translated speeches of Indian National reform leaders like Aurabindo, Bala Gangadar Tilak and Swami Vivekananda
It’s a pity that we are slowly forgetting the Tamil iconoclast Mahakavi Subramania Bharathiyar in our pursuit of Kollywood filmi culture. We no longer acknowledge Bharathiyar’s birthday despite learning his songs for children in Tamil school. We no longer remember this great man on his birthday. His contributions are immense and he should serve as an inspiration for us. Bharathiyar is a better role model than Kollywood heroes, that’s for sure.