C.SUBRAMANIA BHARATI
(S.VIJAYA BHARATI)

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A POET IS BORN

A MAN’S personality is formed by the qualities of his ancestors, his birth-place and the surroundings in which he is brought up. Bharathi was born in Ettayapuram, in South India, a place well-known for the great arts of poetry and music. Its fame had spread through the southern part of India, and Tamil scholars and musicians lined up to seek patronage in the court of Ettayapuram.

Bharati’s father, Chinnasamy Iyer, was an erudite Tamil Scholar and skilled in modern engineering and mathermatics. He had tremendous influence in the court of the Maharaja, and so Bharati was able to mingle with the scholars at the court. Bharati has described in his Chinna Sankaran Kathai, how he was influenced by the Ettayapuram court. Though Bharati was a born-poet and gifted with the qualities of a genius, he learnt the nuances of Tamil language and poetry through his association with Tamil scholars of the court of Ettayapuram. The title ‘Bharati’, a name of the Goddess of Knowledge, was conferred upon him at the age of eleven by the court, in approval of his ability to compose poems on any subject, at any moment. He surprised even older poets of his generation with his readiness to compose.

Bhrati’s biographies point out that he wrote poetry at an early age. His father wanted him to train in engineering and mathematics, and tried to give him an English education. He put him in the Anglo-vernacular School at Ettayapuram; but Bharati hated English school! Education and was for ever day-dreaming and writing poetry in Tamil. A genius by birth contradicts common opinions of what a regular education is. Bharati sings of Saraswati as keeping him company in his youth and bringing poetry to him in the caresses of the breeze. It is but natural that his mind was distracted from bookish learning. Bharati’s wife, Chellammal, relates how fond he was of ‘dreaming enchanting day-dreams’:

Bharati could not concentrate on his studies. Even when he was seven or eight years old he had dreams of an enchanting nature and started writing poems of love and romance… Even as a chills he used to sit with many older men and discuss philosophical matters.

And:

At the age of seven, poetry sprang from his voice. When he was eleven he wrote in such a way that even learned men praised him/ The title then conferred on him as Bharati adds luster to his name. Bharati was not educated in a scholastic tradition,

Says poet Suddhananda Bharati. Somasundara Bharati, a friend of Bharati, notes:

I happen to know very well how Bharati’s father was greatly complimented on his son’s talents in poetry. I have been with Bharati in his eighth and ninth years when he could sing on a given proposition with careless ease, and surprise many older scholars and poets. I had laughed at the tales about Kali writing on Kalidasa’s tongue, of Kamban’s power of writing and of the tales narrating how Kumaraguruparar composed poetry when he was hardly five years old. But when I saw Bharati writing effortlessly at the age of seven, I realised that these stories must be true, and that the gift of writing poetry comes to a person not through scholarship but through some power at birth. When at the age of eleven he composed poems on lines given by various Tamil scholars in an assembly of learned men, he was awarded the title of ‘Bharati’ by the admiring scholars.

Further :

The experience that belongs to very much older men was revealed in the nature of young Bharati. He was a member of the society of scholars when they gave out inaugural readings of their works. He gave his opinions without flinching. In his youth he enjoyed the friendship of great scholars and the patronage of the State and lived very happily,

Says Va. Ra (V.Ramaswamy), one of the poet’s close friends, of Bharati’s early life.

Bharathi was mature in mind, proficient in the language and had great talent for poetry. He had the poet’s love of solitude and nature, pleasure in composing poetry, sweet sense of rhythm and love of learning. Bharati’s passion for wisdom and desire for learning are indicated in his poem on saraswati :

I was bewitched by her womanhood when I was merely a boy; though the mind could no longer dwell on studies at school, her face blossomed before me as she sat on white flowers carrying a veena. I looked at her, and perceived the secret of all learning and lost my heart to her.

Later, on the river-bank, as he sat in a solitary dome and enjoyed the southerly breeze, she brought to him virgin poetry. His youth was gifted with Nature’s silence, the joyous experience of the southerly breeze, and filled with day-dreams. This lasted till he became twenty two and his attention was turned later towards other things which he considered as important as learning and poetry.

Bharathi developed a fear for death later in his life. H had seen two deaths in his immediate family, one at the age of five when his mother died, and the other at the age of sixteen when his father passed away. He used to yearn for the love of his mother, and later he treated all women with filial affection and considered them the embodiment of Mother Shakti. He loved to use the word ‘mother’ quite often in his poems. Though he had enough of maternal love from his stem-mother, it never really substituted for him the love of his mother that might have been. Bharati had a large number of relatives both on his paternal and maternal sides, and enjoyed the company of the scholars in the State, and so he spent his youth quite happily writing poetry. Naturally, most of his early poetry reflects this contentment with life.

The father influenced the son in more ways than one. Though Chinnasamy Iyer wanted his son to be English-educated, he was very proud of his son’s ability as a poet and Tamil scholar. He never encouraged him directly in this direction, but Bharati knew that his father loved Tamil poetry. He sent his son to the Hindu College High School at Thirunelvelly for studies which cost a fortuned in those days. Bharati refers to this in his autobiography saying that, in spite of spending a thousand rupees for his studies, he achieved nothing except evil attendant on an English education.

Most of Bharati’s qualities were developed from his father, his straight-forwardness and strong belief in truth, for example. H developed his father’s anger as well. The son also inherited the father’s intelligence and innocence. In addition to these qualities, Chinnasamyh Iyer’s experience of life influenced Bharati a great deal. Bharati never relised the importance of money until his father lost all his money in the cotton industry, and died.

Bhrati was married at the age of fifteen to Chellammal, a beautiful girl of seven. The ceremony was big event and took place of four days. Bharati sang love songs of Annamala Reddiar at the wedding, admiring his wife’s beauty and asking her for her love. Chellammal, the shy and modest bride, knew even at that age that her husband was an extraordinary person and was indeed very proud of him.

Chellammal was a source of inspiration for Bharati later in life, and he sings adoring her in many poems which express the heights of his advitic experience. Though Chellammal was fortunate to have a husband like Bharati, many were her sufferings on account of his political life and his experimentation olf ideals in actual life. For example, when Bharati was concerned about freedom for women, he used to experiment them at home with his wife and daughters; his elder daughter, under his supervision, used to open the front door for his young friends asking them to come in, and fulfil functions of hospitality, offering them water to wash their feet, and so on. This was not normal social practice in any village in those days, and Bharati’s family encountered many difficulties on account of such uncommon behaviour.

The year after his marriage, Bharati’s father died, and this came as a great blow to him. He was greatly influenced by this sorrowful experience, as his father’s death was due to psychological reasons for his losing money in the cotton industry. Bharati sings and insists elsewhere that making money is the first duty for those who do not have money. But he would never let money overpower a man’s natural character. Later on in life, Bhararti was not attached to money, though he had the necessity to earn a lifing as much as anyone else. He was of a very generous nature, and gave of everything he had to the needy. This was a direct result of the experience of his father’s death.

Bharati studied in the Hindu college High School for three years till he completed the fifth form, and continued his education in Varanasi, living with his aunt. Krishna Sivan, Bharati’s uncle owned the Sivamadam in varanasi, and lived a peaceful life of hosting pilgrims who came to the city from various parts of the country.

Varanasi was a place which suited Bharati’s poetic personality and hie enjoyed his stay there very much. The river Ganges occupied Bharati’s poetic dreams, and he spent almost all his leisure out of school in gazing on her beauty.

Bharati used to lose himself in the beauth of the river. It was the greatest of natural sights and crated in him a glorious experience of spiritual beauty. At the same time, as a patriot, Ganges, besides being a poetical sight, became for hism a symbol of the age-long culture and civilization of India, an instrument bearing the weight of history and the form carrying the spiritual power of this country. Thus Ganes was the river of virtue, infused with extraordinary spiritual power:

The Ganges of the holy and sweet water is our river:
Is there anything to compare with her glory?

Bharati regards the Ganges, as one of the ten limbs of Bharata Devi any says that the holy water of the river adds strength like nectar to the soil, puts life into the earth and mixes the culture and dharma, born out of spirituality, with the soil:

The Ganges has come down from Heaven growing gold and dharma all along the path of her descent.

Bharati must have stayed in Varanasi for two or three years (from 1898 to 1901?). He had to learn both sanskrit and Hindi in addition to English to pass the Allahabad University entrance examination. Bharati spoke Hindid as fluently as a native speaker, and became conversant in manhy language later in life, such as French, Bengali, Urdu and the Dravidian languages, telugu and Malayalam. He ujsed to dress like a north-Indian, with a moustache, a short-cut hair, a long coat and a turban. This is the most popular of his portraits that have come down to us.

Bharati returned to Ettayapuram at the invitaition of the Maharaja, when the latter came to attend a meeting in Delhi. The Maharaja visited varanasi on his way back to Ettayapuram, and asked Bharati to come and server in his court. Bharati’s job entailed being with the Maharaja, entertaining him by reading newspapers and discussing literature with the patron. During this period, he read Tamil literature and formed a group of friends to enjoy the beauty of Shellye’s poetry. This was called the ‘Shelleyan Guild” and as a mark of his admiration for the English poet Bharati called himself ‘’Shelley Dasan,’’ and wrote under that pseudonym.

The free-spirited Bharati could nto continue in his sevice to the Maharaja as it was impossible for him to bear with some of the courtly customs. Bharati wrote about his experiences in the Maharaja’s court in Chinna Sankaran Kathai.

From August 1, 1904, Bharati took the job as a tamil pandit, with a monthly slary of 171/2 rupees in Sethupati High School, Madurai. This lasted till November 10, 1904, and his career as a journalist started after that in the ‘’Swadesamitran office in Madras. There is some controversy about how Bharati joined ‘’Swadesamitran””. When Bhrati was working as a Tamil teacher, G.Subramania Iyer, the editor of “Swadesamitran” came to Madurai; he reconginsed Bharati’s genius and asked him to come to mMadras. Bharati resigned his job and went to Madras. Another version of the incident is that Bharati wrote to Lakshmana Iyer who was a distant relative of Bhrarti and the vice-principal of the training college in Madras, as his temporary job as a Tamil pandit was coming to an end, and Lakshmana Iyer go him the job as sub-editor in “Swadesamitran.” Yet another versionis that Bharati asked a colleague, Ayyasamy Iyer, about the possibility of a job, as his present job then was temporary, and Ayyasamy Iyer’s uncle Rajarama Iyer who was a correspondent for the “Hindu” recommended Bharati to the sub-editor’s position in “Swadesamitran.” In any case, Bharati entered the field of journalism, the chosen career of the rest of his brilliant life.

Bharati assumed the sub-editorship of “Swadesamitran” towads the end of November 1904. This was the kind of work Bharati had always wanted to do; free, intellectual, suited to his character, a channel for his writing talent, and a service for the nation, at this critical time in the nation’s history.

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