C.SUBRAMANIA BHARATI
(S.VIJAYA BHARATI)

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A CIRCLE OF FRIENDS

PONDICHERRY Was a place of inspiration for the poet Bharati. There were many solitary haunts that created an atmosphere of close communion with Nature. There was a beautiful manga-grove to the west of the lovely city of Pondicherry where Bharati’s Kuyil Pattu was conceive and write. The manga-grove was the property of Vellachi Drishnasamy Chettiar. There Bharati used to go and spend hours at a time, oblivious to the world in his poetic frenzy. The song of the koel and the atmosphere of beauty and joy inspired him to express an experience of absolute beauty in poetry. Va. Ra. Speaks of Bharti’s effort in bringing out his experience in words and though rhythm:

Sariga-ga-gama - it should be known to the people around him that he is thinking of a new poem. He would shout in a high pitch of voice sa sa sa .. sa sa sa.. without a break in breathing. He would beat time with his right foot; if the time slipped he would kick the earth with his left foot. Silence for a moment …. He would shout praying for the gift of words, would sing on e of the musical stanzas of Thayamanavar…. Again, for the second time, Sariga-ga-gama.

This can only be compared to the labour pains of delivering a baby. It is a sight of privilege to see enthusiasm and weariness come out together. It could be seen that Bharati at that time ceased to relate to the ordinary human world. The force with which the new song appears seems almost to break his body. It is no exaggeration to say that Bharti’s poems are full of the element of blood and life-giving spirit.

Elsewhere Bharti has described the noises of a 10 o’clock in the morning as heard form his corner:

On all the four sides the voices of crows, interrupting are the noises of parrots and doves, in the street the noise of a kavadi carrier, the sound of the temple-conch at a distance, the proud crowing of a cock in the street, infrequently the chatter of women walking down the road, the cries of children in neigh boring houses, a beggar’s voice calling out ‘Narryayana, Gopala’…. The sounds of dogs barking, noises of doors being shut and opened, some figure on the street clearing the throat lightly…. The noise of a vegetable vendor at a distance, the noise of a rice vendor- all these kinds of noises seep into my ears gradually.

Bharati transformed all these noises into varied forms, in making his poetry, and was capable of preserving his inner harmony so that all these noises turned to become poetic elements, ceasing to be mere disturbances.

Though the poet perceives harmony in all noises of the world, nevertheless, he too is subject to inner conflict. He seeks the grand silence of nature in order to harmonies his inner faculties. The silence of nature draws both the inner and outer faculties of the poet to itself producing in the poet a state of harmony which may be roughly termed as a state of poetic frenzy.

Nature in all her manifestations was a source of inspiration to Bharati and he loved to be in an environment of natural beauty. There was a grove of cocoanut trees also, the property; of Krishnasamy Chettiar on which Bharati composed a poem. The solitude in these resorts offered solace to the poet.

On November 22, 1916, Pondicherry was hit by a violet storm; there was a great loss of life and property throughout the city. In Muthialpet, the cocoanut grove of Krishnasamy Chettiar alone stood undestroyed by the violet winds. Bharti found in this an act of compassion on the part of God Vayu, as indeed it was a poet’s abode and property of a poor but good many. Bharati had moved to a bigger house just a day before the storm shook Pondicherry. The house which he had occupied previously was totally destroyed in the storm. This again was an act of grace and God’s mercy benevolently shown to the pet’s humanity.

Bharatisaw the tempest as the expression of Nature’s wrath. In the tradition of the Vedic sages, Bharati regarded the tempest, rain, lighting and thunder as the physical manifestation of Lord Rudra, and so consluded that ‘Nature was expressing roudra rasa’. He recognized that rain and wind were but deeds of Shakti, and perceived the tempest as a force which destroyed the old and evil things inside man in order to create joy and liberty in his mind, rendering him a Deva, an immortal. The tradition of the Veda-rishis regarded th tempest as force which came to destroy falsehood, fear, worry, sorrow, desire and such other impurities of the mind. So too did Bharati, and in his joy of witnessing a great and divine sight, he composed the poem “Rain” which adequately represents the roudra (anger) rasa of Nature and the poet’s sense of wonder at witnessing this great sight.

Bharati, by nature, was too impatient to wait for good things to happen or evil things to be destroyed in their own time. He was in complete sympathy with Nature’s total devastation, by causing the storm, of the impurities of mind and the evil of the world. The “Rain” expresses, even through its rhythm, the violence of roundra rasa, and the wonder and joy of the poet’s perception of it.

The beach in Pondicherry was yet another source of inspiration to Bharati. He describes I Kuyil Pattu, the sight of the beautiful morning sun coming into contact with the blue sea, creating an atmosphere of beauty, harmony and union. Bharati used to walk on the sands, and on the iron bridge, enjoying the beauty of the dawn or the twilight, and listening to the chant of the sea, for ever praising Sahkti with the mantra ‘Om’. The sea sings with a blissful rhythm the theme of the Vedas, asserting the existence of Ultimate Reality.

Pondicherry’s many temples, especially, the Manakkula Vinayagar temple stimulated Bharati’s religious emotions and Vinayagar Nanmanimalai is the outcome of this experience of the ‘self’ and his abiding faith in God. Equally great was the inspiration of Muthumari and Chittantasami temples at Pondicherry, the subjects of may of Bharati’s poems.

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A poet’s ;inspiration comes out of many unknown sources. As many tiny streams unidentifiably merge into a river, so too the many experiences of life coverage in a pot’s consciousness to produce poetry. Besides these places which inspired Bharati, there were other things which had an influence on the poet, time and surroundings, people around him, books he read, the Tamil literary tradition to which he belonged, contemporary writes and their works-are a few of such influences.

ABharati had a large number of friends whose influence is marked enough to be noticeable. There were others who helped him, admired him, and some whose mere company delighted the poet. Bharati was fortunate to have Aurobindo’s friendship and company at this time. As it turned out, Aurobindo proved the greatest influence on his spiritual growth. Aurobindo too was involved in the freedom struggle, and came to Pondicherry in April 1910, seeking political asylum. Both Bharati and Srinivasachariar helped him to escape from Bengal, and, initially, Aurobindo stayed with kalavai Sankara Chettiar at Pondicherrry. Soon afterwards, V.V.S. Iyer arrived in Pondicherry. He had been to London to study for a degree in Law and became in involved in the freedom movement with Savarka and other patriots. When Madanlal Dhingrak, a young Indian shot Curzon Wyllie, a British officer, Savarkar was arrested in connection with case, and V.V.S. Iyer escaped to Pondicherry with a great deal of difficultly. V.V.S. Iyer, Aurobindo, Bharati and Strinivasachariar-all the four friends lived in Eswaran Darmaraja Koil street.

These friends spent most of their time in discussing literary and spiritual matters. V.V.S. Iyer wrote short stories, and was a fine and sensitive literary critic. Aurobindo was inclined towards spiritual matter. Bharati was a poet first of all, a great lover of misic and a singer himself, and expressed aspirations towards human perfection and spiritual freedom. Particularlly, Bharati and Aurobindo joined together in reading and doing extensive research on the Vedas. Bharati translated in Tamil some of the Veda-mantras, and Patanjali Yoga Sutra, with interpretation in Tamil. Both Aurobindo and Bharati read almost all the originals as well as all the available interpretations of the scriptures resulting in an extraordinary ; piece of work.

The experiences of the Vedic sages were born in the depth of the heart, in a state of awareness. The words of the Veda-mantas drawn from the depth of such awareness have a magical quality. To get behind the magical words, and perceive their experience, one requires skill in language, philosophical knowledge and the gift of experience. Bharati was equally proficient in Sanksrit and Tamil; he was conversant with the nuances of the Sanskrit language. His commentaries on patajali yoga Sutra and some of the Veda-mantras are highly original and they are quite distinctly brilliant and different from the previous interpretations of many commentators of the old school.

Bharati also translated the Bhagavad Gita and wrote a very long introduction which remains a good example of his lucid prose-style. It is said to have won the acclaim of the great Aurobindo. Aurobindo himself wrote late a commentary in great detail on each of the chapters of the Bhagavad Gita. Though Bharati has not written a chapter-by-chapter analysis, in his introduction he examines in detail the more important ideas of the Gita. Bharati’s philosophical poems wer inspired by his study of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the philosophies of Sankar, Ramanuja and Buddha as also his knowledge of the Bible and the Koran.

Bharati happened to earn the friendship of many sanyasis in pondicherry. There were Kullachami, Govindasamy, and the Swami from Jaffna of whom Bharati sings in his Bharati Arubattaru. The most influential among them was Kullachami, and Bharati nearly considered him his guru. Kullachami gave him knowledge of the self, and led him in the path to salvation. Bharati praised him as a mature philosopher, as one who had conquered death\h, as one who had cast off attachment, desires and fear, as a Deva, and as one who had performed the rites of kayakalpam:
He is the Jatabharata of Kali Yuga …. Great sage …. One
who has compassion for all living things.. With the power of yoga is capable of absolute control over breath.

Some call you a sage and some others regard you a lunatic.

Some praise you as one who has attained the eight ways of

worshipping and attaining yogic powers….

Who are you? And what is your power?

What do you know? Why do you go about clad in rags?

Why do you look like a Deva?

How do you play with children and stray dogs?

How do you go about as a lunatic in appearance?

How do you appear like Lord Siva?

How do you stand out without desires?

In an essay of two parts entitled “Summa” Bharati dwells on the powers of Kullachami. He describes how the 43/4 Feet Kullachami looked 7 ¾ feet, and became gigantic; how he then looked likeSiva, Ganapathi as he bent down and Vishnu when be raised his face. Bharati had his experiences of the ‘self’ with Kullachami’s help and was led by him in the path of wisdom. Bharati sings how Kullachami taught h im the rare and wondrous feat of attaining to Heaven from earth itself:

By the grace of the select preceptor we have attained to the level of Immortals… May the feet of the Guru be blessed who led way to reach out to the Heavens from this base earth.

Once Govindasamy showed Bharati his father’s image, and Bharati was greatly impressed by the extraordinary powers of the sanyasis. There is reason to believe that association with the sanyasis led Bharati to drug-addiction, and experiments with mind-expanding drugs during this period.

* * * * *


The realization of the self came to Bharati though his many relationships with friends and relatives. Kannan Songs, the most mature of Bharati’s philosophical poems resulted from his experiences with his many relatives. He considered them as different forms of Lord Krishna through whom He preaches realization. To regard God in terms of the relationships is different from beholding God in all the relationships around a person. Bharati experienced Lord Krishna’s presence as the inner truth in every relationship. On that basis, the kannan Songs describe the varied experiences of the poet. Bharati believed that through these experiences, God leads man gradually and by degrees to maturity of mind; He lives with man in various relationships in order to purify him and to lead him to wisdom.

Kuvala Krishnmachariar was one such relationship. Bharati visualizes the Lord in him, manifested as the master and the disciple, as partron as well as the servant, as friend philosopher and guide, and sings of the experience. Kuvalai himself memorized Bharati’s songs early in the morning, singing in his hoarse voice and causing much disharmony. He used to irritate Bharati most of the time with his inquisitive nature and seemingly witless but very wise questions. Such was Bharati’s generosity that he sings of Kavalali as Master who came to enlighten him in the guise of a disciple. The disciple, Bharti’s Kannan, pretended to be less wise, to be desirous of progressing on listening to Bharati’s language and teaching, and appeared to think his poems were glorious-only to augment the pride of his heart. It was with a view to final destruction of pride that the disciple praised Bharati and his learning and swelled his ego beyond limits. He praised Bharati on the one had, and disobeyed his commands on the other, and did exactly the opposite of whatever Bharati ordered. Finally, Bharati realizes that it is not his business to make or change or destroy other’s qualities; when he accepted his defeat in trying to change his disciple’s qualities, he perceived the ultimate truth of karma yoga, that he should perform all tasks without passion and desire, and this would be possible only when ego is destroyed. Paradoxically, the disciple preaches karma yoga to his guru. In conclusion about Bharati Kuvalai relationship, it may be noted that Kuvalai Kannan saved Bharati’s life when the poet was caught under the feet of an angry? Elephant in Parthasarathy temple Madras.


* * * * *

The poem entitled “Kannammavin Ninaippu”, and beginning ‘ I consider you along as Rati’ had in its original from Bharati’s wife’s name Chellamma. The four poems entitled “ Kannammavin Kdadal “,, “ Kannammavin Ninaippu ” , “ Mannappidam “, “ Kannammavin Ezhil “ ae included in editions under the title “ Devotional Songs “. But all the four songs are love poems addressed to his wife by the poets.

Bharati considered that all relationships and all experiences with them led him to the ultimate realization of the ‘ self ‘. His wife was no exception as an instrument though whom the poet could reach the heights of awareness gradually and by degrees. He regarded his wife as the form of Shakti, and treated her as his equal-in fact a little higher than himself :

Shakti is the beloved wife and

the state of divinity must be

attained though her.

On the earth when all life is divine

Is not the wife a goodness, too?

Bharati sang of the love of this wife as a powerful means by which his senses, mind and the spirit were drawn into unity. The love expressed though the senses is capable of releasing one from the sorrows of life, making him forget everything else, and thus becoming one with itself, to Bharati, the experience of the senses was the first sage in the great experience of love:

A body like that of gold

A manner like lightning.

The nectar of her body is sweet

even to thought …..

Her words are sweeter that the song,

Kannamma pours the nectar of her lips,

Writes Bharati of his beloved wife who draws his senses into unity by the power of her love which expressed through the beauty of her body; it was capable of unifying his wayward emotions, the medley oft thoughts, and making him forget the worldly sorrows of poverty and distress. Bharati places, in his experience of love, sensuous enjoyment as a preliminary step to the union of the spirits and the joy that follows. The beauty of the beloved is capable of leading one to the depth of joy, releasing one from the worries of the world. No other thought except that of the beloved absorbs him; she alone occupies his mind. As its is touched with the divine want of love, the beloved’s body is like gold, she is nectar, and she is sweet in thought. The love that is expressed thought the beauteous form of the beloved is capable of leading man to immortality:

Your lips are nectarine streams,
Your eyes are full of radiance,
Your body is like beaten gold,
As long as I live
You render it impossible for me
to think of anything else,
and lead me to immortality…
As to sage suka all things appeared to be God,
So to me all things appear to be you.

Bharati has expressed a deep experience of love in his Kannan Songs – The lover and the Beloved. Chellamma was a source of inspiration to him all his life. She married him at the age of seven and lived with him for about twenty-four years. In all these years she had accompanied him in his unusual experiences. Like Kasturba, in the context of Gandhi, she was subjected to various experiments by bharati, and she had come through all of them. Not that she was very intelligent at that young age, but as she was bought up in village, in the atmosphere of a happy, married household, where the wife obeyed her husband, and the age-long tradition of an Indian woman who believed in living in harmony with a husband, she was willing to do as the husband told her. Later on, in her life with Bharati, she learn many things, including reading and enjoyment of poetry.

Bharati believed strongly in the quality of the sexes,. He regarded the inferior place what women were given in the social structure as barbaric, that came in the interim period of British rule. Bharti used to walk with his wife holding her hands in the ettayapuram streets, to go to the Raja gardes. In those times, this was considered a very unusual behaviour indeed. Bharati always acted according to what he though and said was right.

Bharati used to sing or read his poems to his wife and daughters as soon as he finished composing them. Chellamma and the daughters used to sing his poems as the poet himself taught them. Bharati was an excellent musician; he was well-versed in Karntatak and Hindustani styles of music. He enjoyed the music of Thyagaraja, and other composers as he knew very well the language of composition, Tellugu. Sometimes he would sing Hindi bhajans, the ragas of which he loved greatly. Those who have listened to Bharti’s songs as they were sung and set to music by the poet himself would well realize the distinct flavour of the poet’s musical talent. Bharati was very fond of experimenting with different musical notes, and the combinations were often so novel that the song took an altogether new form in the manner in which the poet set the piece to music. Chellamma too was talented in music as she was brought up in an atmosphere of music, and used tossing Bharati’s song till the day of her death, at the age of sixty-three. She had a surprising gift of memory for Bharati’s poetry, and was able to identify many of Bharati’s original compositions.

It may be surmised that in many ways Chellamma was an extra ordinary woman. As she lived with Bharti for more that two decades, she developed many qualities that most women would envy. Her courage is worth mention, and, after Bharati, the way she faced the varied problems of life was little short of amazing. The courage, faith in God and essential goodness, an optimistic view of life-qualities which she developed were exactly the same as her husband’s. In my seventeen years of life with her, I had never onced seen her despairing in and situation. She would recite Bharati’s poems quite often, as village women in our country recite old sayings frequently, to find strength and enlightenment for herself. Just befor she died, she spoke of Bharati and sang the following two lines even when she had become partially unconscious:

I came but to wait and serve Him

and He made me the famed minister….

Bharati had deep and enduring love for his family. As a man his love for his wife and parental affection for his daughers were similar to any man’s love of his family. But a poet’s love runs to extremes. For example, Bharati loved his elder daughter Thangamma so greatly- and she was beautiful and intelligent-that he would have here marry the prince of Germany. He did not listen to the people of the village or other relatives who gossiped in vain about his keeping her unmarried even after she had come of age, thinking that she should marry at the proper age a person whom she wanted to marry. Ironically, it so happened that the daughter was married with the help of Bharati’s brother. Viswanatha Iyyer. The bridegroom was brought to Bharati for approval and Bharati was happy to see that he was good looking, healthy and had sharp eyes. Bharati performed all the rites of the marriage of his daughter with a great deal of enthusiasm, chanting the mantras from the depth of his heart.

The younger daughter, Sakuntala, was very active, unlike her sister who was by nature very quiet and unassuming. Bharati was very fond of the name Sakukntala, the heroine of Kalidas’s Sakuntalam. As Sakuntala was born when Bharati was reading Sakuntalam, he named his daughter after the heroine of the play. Bharati would on occasion sit on the first floor of the house, a footless structure, and look at the morning sky, the birds and life gathering momentum on the street below. Bharati’s poem “ Morning” was the outcome of one such occasion in which, as the daughter Sakuntala described what was happening outside, the factual description was rendered into verses by the father.

Bharati has mentioned some of his friends in his essays and stories. He calls them by nick-names, partly humorously as well as with a veiled truthfulness. “ Vilakkennai “ Chettair (Sabapath) who owned Bharati’s house never asked him for payment of rent. He was so good and compassionate that even if he had to ask Bharati for money \he would not be able to do so. Instead he would listen to Bharati’s songs and go back without asking anything. Bharati called him “Vilakkennai : (castor oil) as his nature was so uncertain as to reflect smoothness of his namesake.

There were “ Vellachu “ (jaggery piece) Krishnasamuy Chettiar, “ Elikkunju “ (mouse) Chettiar (Armugam Chettiar), “ Valluru” (kite) Naicker, Brahmaraya Iyer (Professor N. Subramania Iyer)—who became characters in Bharati’s wirtings. Mandayam Srinivasachariar, Sundaresa Iyer and S. Duraisamy Iyer were among Bharati’s friends who helped him in numerous ways. Though Sundaresa Iyer was very poor himself, he helped ;Bharati as a true friend would in times of necessity. Bharati was so close to him as to compose the poem beginning ‘ How have you been gone ‘ in his absence.

In spite of such an array of loyal friends the Pondicherry police began actively preventing help or money reaching the poet. The incidents responsible for such tightening of controls were the assassination of sub-collector Ashe, and the suicide of the patriot-assessing, Vanchinathan. During such difficult periods. Bharati had the good fortune of some friendships. His friends were courageous enough to help him even at the risk of their own involvement with the police. Such heroic men were Sundaresa Iyer, Kalavaia Sankara Chettiar, and Ponnu Murugesam Pillai. The whole family, including his wife and sons, of Murugesam Pillai was devoted to Bharati. Bharati was one of them indeed and was free to do as he pleased in their house. Anni Ammal, the wife of Murugesam Pillai, took a motherly care of Bharati, giving him food whenever he came. Unfortunately the life of the family ended tragically. Raja Bahadur, the eldest son, was sent to Paris for his studies in engineering. At the point of his return the world war broke out and Murugesam Piollai received a telegram carrying the message that the ship in which his son traveled was destroyed by the Germans Mufrugesam Pillai dies soon after, and Raja Bahadur arrived on the twenty-seventh day of his father’s death.

Ammakkannu was a faithful servant in Murugesam Pillai’s hous and had a great affection for Bharati. She could be trusted with anything, including taking care of Bharati’s family at the time when his house and movemnts were closely watched by the police.

Among Bharati’s compatriots, C.O. Chidambaram Pillai was a close and noteworthy friend. Bharati helped him establish the Swadesi Shipping company, which failed later. When V.O. Chidambaram Pillai was arrested on the orders of collector Which at Tirunellveli, and sentenced to forty years in prison, Bharati was greatly upset. The poems he composed as the imaginary conversations between V.O. Chidambaram Pillai and the collector are full of patriotic fervour and show Bharatis understanding of the cultural history of India and the psychology of British tyranny.

Subramaniya Siva was another fried of Bharati, who went to jail for then years for the fault of loving his country, and on his release started a monthly “ Gnana Bhanu “ in the year 1913. Bharati contributed to “ Gnana Bhanu “ regulary; Chinna Sankaran Kathai was published (only six chapters ) in “ Gnana Bhanu “ every month. His poems “ Gnana Bhanu (Surya Sthomam), “ Yoga Siddhi ” , “Olium Irulum “, “ Madhu ” , “ Kannan – En - Thai ”, “Veinkuzhal “, “Pappa Pattu ” and “ Iravamai ” appeared in “ Gnana Bhanu “. V.Ramasamy Iyengar and Bharati Dasan (Kanaka Subburathinam) were among Bharati’s admirers. Bharati Dasan, as a follower of Bharati tradition in the history of Tamil literature, is an important sequence.

Parali S. Nellaiyappar was a publisher and one Bharati’s close friends. He published a collection of Bharati’s poems in 1917, under the title Nattuppattu, and published a second edition in 1919. Bharati’s many letters to Nellaiyappar regarding the publication of his works are available today. Bharati’s letters may be regarded as pieces of literature and as revealing his poetic personality. Bharati’s letters show him as a great patriot and love of his language. In a letter to his wife from Varanasi Bharati advises Chellamma to learn, to read and write well in Tamil. In another letter to his brother Viswana-than he asks him not to write in English, but to write in Tamil or Sanskrit. Bharati disclosed his ideals as well as his love of the Tamil people and language in one of his letters to Nellaiyappar:

Brother, mind is the world.

Arise, arise, arise,

Away, upwards, and far, far away.

Burst with laughter at the sight of

old superstitions, fools who are trying

to hold their positions by mean of ropes.

Let there be wings for you! Fly away !......

The letter he wrote to M. Raghava Iyengar (October 18,1907) is remarkable for its simplicity of expression and patriotic fervour. Bharati called ‘patriotism’ a ‘new flame’ as it was capable of dispelling the darkness of slavery. Bharati, saluting these flame in the heart of M. Raghava Iyengar, writes:

I prostrate before the flame of patriotism kindled in the purity of your heart. You say that the wheel of time goes round in the end. Yes: the wheel turns indeed. In that revolving, the time has come when the humiliated India will be replaced by Maha Bharatam (the Grand India). The fire in your heart will lead the Indians now drowned in the darkness of humiliation towards the grand concept of Mother India. I salute this fire. May it prosper.

Bharati’s foresight did not fail; as the wheel of time turned, the flame of patriotism kindled in the hearts of many thousands of Indians, and brought her freedom. Though Bharati did not live to see his country liberated from foreign rule, a poet’s vision has the streaks of immortality which blends the past and the future in the unity of the present.


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