Subramanya Bharathy

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Mahakavi Bharathi 1882-1921

Subramanya Bharathi (December 11, 1882 - September 11, 1921) better known as Mahakavi Bharathiar (Maha Kavi meaning Great Poet) in Tamil, is deemed one of the greatest poets of twentieth-century India. A prolific writer, philosopher and a great visionary of immense genius and perspicacity, Bharathiar was also one of the most prominent leaders of the Indian independence movement in South India.

The house in  where he was born
The house in Ettayapuram where he was born

Born on December 11, 1882 in the Tamil village of Ettayapuram, Bharathy was educated at a local high school where his talents as a poet were recognized even at the age of 11. After an early marriage, Bharathy, curious to see the outside world, left for Kashi in 1898. The next four years of his life, served as a passage of discovery, where Bharathy discovered a country in tumult, outside his small hamlet.

He had an exceptional love and devotion towards his mother tongue Tamil language, which he considered as the sweetest of all the languages known to him. He was fluent in many languages including Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit, Kuuch, French and English and frequently translated works from other languages into Tamil. He had a voracious apetite for learning ancient and contemporary Tamil literature and had a gifted intellect to derive astonishing truths from ancient poems.

Immersing himself in Hindu spirituality and nationalism, Bharathy returned to his Southern home, an iconoclast who shattered without hesitation, every meaningless social taboo and rule that held sway amidst the orthodox South Indians. By the early 1900s Bharathy had become completely involved in the nationalist movement and took active part in the Congress meets through out the country.

During this period, Bharathy understood the need to be well-informed of the world outside and took avid interest in the world of journalism and the print media of the West. Bharathy joined as Assistant Editor of the Swadeshamitran, a Tamil daily in 1904. By April 1907, he had started and become the editor of the Tamil weekly India. and the English newspaper Bala Bharatham.

These papers not only served the purpose of enlightening the masses on the affairs of the nation and the world outside, but also as a means of expressing Bharathy's stupendous creativity, which began to peak at this time. Bharathy started to publish his poems regularly in these editions. From complex religious hymns to rousing nationalist anthems, from contemplations on the relationship between God and Man to Songs on the Russian and French revolutions, Bharathy's subjects were truly diverse.

This period produced such masterpieces as Kannan Paattu (The Song of Krishna), where Bharathy sought to portray The Divine as the source of all of humanity's passions in the most accessible of forms including in the roles of a love-lorn lover, of a mischievous child, of an innocent child, and of a wise teacher.

The poetry and imagination of Bharathy, of this era, has rarely been surpassed in any literature that followed. Bharathy also published two of his most widely read epics during this period Panchali Sapatham (Draupadi's Vow) a poetic semi-political reflection on greed, pride and righteousness derived from the Indian epic Mahabharata and Kuyil Paatu (Song of The Cuckoo) an ode and a tribute to the poet's favorite Shelley.

As a journalist, Bharathy was the first in India to introduce caricatures and political cartoons to his newspapers; they were satirical and angry hand drawn illustrations of the poet that improvised heavily on the works of his inspiration Thomas Nast.

By 1912 Bharathy was already a legend in South India and his political meetings in Pondicherry, where he lived since 1908, were attracting multitudes of young patriots, ready to join the non-violent constitutional agitation against the British rule.

This led to a systematic British suppression of what was dubbed as the "militancy". Several arrests and bans on his newspapers followed. The poet's health was badly affected by the imprisonments and by 1920, when a General Amnesty Order finally removed restrictions on his movemnet, Bharathy was struggling in penury and failing health resulting in his tragic premature death.

Bharathy died as a result of trampling by an elephant at Parthasarathy temple, Thiruvallikeni on September 11, 1921, not yet forty years of age. The legacy of the poet however endures.



  • Desiya Geethangal (Songs of the Nation)
  • Desiya Iyakka Paadal (Anthems for the Indian Congress)
  • Kaaviyangal (Epics)
    • Kuyil Paattu (Song of the Cuckoo)
    • Kannan Paattu (The Song of Krishna)
    • Paanjaali Sabatham (Draupadi's Vow)
  • Stothirangal (Hymns)


Bharathi fought against the caste system which was widely in vogue during his times. He also gave up his own casteistic identity. He was with an in-depth knowledge of the vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. He considered all living beings as equal and performed upanayanam to a harijan boy and made him an Iyer. He also scorned the divisive tendencies being imparted into the younger generations by their elderly tutors during his time. He openly criticized the preachers for mixing their individual thoughts while teaching the vedas and the Gita. He has written a preface to the Bhagavad Gita in Tamil.


Bharathi's life as a tragic poet is often stereotyped in biographical sketches and literature. The following are the recurring images of Barathi - as often portrayed in dramatic depictions of his life.

  • A passionate poet, who often displayed his anger at the social system and his arrogance rising out of conviction in the ideas he believed in.
  • An honest poet who often faced starvation.
  • Highly principled and conscientious.
  • A poet who was forgotten by the world. His funeral was attended by only 7 people.

Conspiracy theories

These conspiracy theories may be offensive to a few Tamilians

  • Bharathi was addict to Ganja, a narcotic drug and was somewhat mentally ill
  • Though he publicly espoused the cause of freedom to women, he didn't provide enough freedom to even his wife
  • Though his poems and words were against casteism, in reality he was living as a typical Iyer
  • He was running a cotton mill and the product price was much higher than the one by British. This situation make the people to go for British products; which affected Bharathi's business and he started fighting against the British for his business than for Indians

Some popular mistakes

  • It is sometimes wrongly attributed that Bharathi had foreseen the invention of telephone because of the following verse he wrote:
"காசி நகர் புலவர் பேசும் உரைதான் காஞ்சியில் கேட்பதற்கு கருவி செய்வோம் (Let us make equipment that could help us listen to the pedagogies of poets of Kasi, at Kanchi)" [1] ( However the telephone was invented much before Bharathi in 1860 itself.

See also


External links

ta:சுப்பிரமணிய பாரதி


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