Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Poet of Renaissance

K. Chandrasekharan

“His verse has the significant quality of being clear as a mountain stream; withal it is mystic as the sea or a mountain summit of an evening. It is beautiful as a bird, swift of wing, exquisite in its poise, picturesque of plumage and soul-stirring in its cadence...patriotism becomes real and potent only when it is linked to the witchery of liquid song; and the late Subramania Bharati’s work in that direction is both unique in quality and rich and varied in quantity.” Thus wrote the late Sri S. Srinivasa Iyengar, prefacing the publication of Bharati’s works in 1922. Doyen of the Madras Bar and an outstanding legal luminary as he was, no less was he an ardent lover of the Muse. In words which have vividly summed up the many-faceted poetic output of Bharati, the preface further adds: “The humble folk in a far away village in Tirunelveli or Madurai, the busy labourer in a crowded city, the strenuous middle class and the ease-loving aristocracy, have all alike, in his poems, a golden key to the still-locked chamber of their and their country’s happiness.

Bharati was undoubtedly a harbinger of renaissance in Tamil literature. He burst upon the literary scene of Tamil Nad like a shower of manna to the parched-up souls for genuine poetry. In the dearth of a living language to stir human hearts and emotions for some decades previous to his emergence, his powerfully motivated songs in simple diction awakened the country to recapture its heritage of poetry and philosophy, music and arts, dance and drama. His vibrant voice filled with strikingly fresh conceits, made such a headway into the hearts of his countrymen, high and low, prince and peasant, scholar and layman, that before long his genius shot up with almost primal force in a surfeit of invigorating lyrics. The inner fire glowed in every word and line that he uttered or wrote. Words from his lips rose winged with an embodied spirit of rare insight and intensity. The rich legacy of culture from the past of his motherland imbued him with an unbending outlook and confidence. Though the times he lived in were cramping his soul in utter inanity, his mind easily rid itself of the disabilities under a repressive foreign Government’s governance and plunged into an overpowering spate of outpourings that wrought a great change in his brethren to wake up from mental torpor and act with an unusual determination to throw off a foreign rule. Patriotism inspired him much earlier than others, and his entire being could seek relief only in song after song clamouring for the coveted freedom for his country. While despising the alien attempt to keep in serfdom for long his country, he was not for one moment unaware of the need for cleansing his own house which lay under a heap of contradicting beliefs and social inequalities. The modernism born of a world outlook induced him to decry every custom and faith that thwarted the progress of the country in its march towards the same goal of self-sufficiency which every Western country possessed with the advance of science and industrial development. Combining in himself a new upsurge for reform and salubrious change with a steadfast conviction in the spiritual traditions of his country’s honoured sages, his intellect soared in ever-widening thought and expression for the regeneration of decaying institutions such as recitation of Vedas and study of classics. Adorer as he remained of Tamil language and its culture, he never descended into chauvinism and narrow linguistic exclusiveness. His strong belief in Sanskrit was unchanging; his desire for change and acquisition of modern languages in order to be abreast of a fast-growing international outlook everywhere, emboldened him to wish for the Indian woman leaving her once-cherished bashfulness but follow the new spirit which expected of her a lifted gaze and an upright tread along with civilized man. Bharat, as one undivided image, always dwelt in his inner eye goading him on to picture an integrated nation and to sing of her diversity in unity.

“If the soul becomes aglow with vitality of Truth, then speech would follow with no less illumination,” sang Bharati in one of his moments of deep understanding of life as a whole. Indeed, the expression of every authentic poet will be the same, born of experience, though none before him said it in Tamil with such bright terseness of language. The birth-pangs of creativity in an artist has its results of researches within and moments of churning of facts collected of human affairs. Unless the soul gets reflected in the work of art no great message for posterity can ever flow from it. On those occasions of profounder plumbings of the soul, the writer or artist does not feel different from his creation. Somerset Maugham observed in describing the writers’ creative urge as “something like an organic thing that develops not only in their brains, but in their hearts, their nerves and their viscera–something that their creative instinct evolves out of the expression of their soul and body, and that last becomes so oppressive that they must rid themselves of it.” In an analogical bit of a song, Rabindranath Tagore uttered: “The bow whispers to the arrow before it speeds forth: ‘Your freedom is mine” The delivery of lasting poetry seeks its relief from tension in the act of expression.

A poet need’s must comprehend life as a whole. Otherwise his mission on earth would lack permanence. In order to understand wider life the poet or writer has to be constantly in touch with all aspects of life. His mind or observation must embrace all life, all knowledge, all experience.

Despite the shortness of his life (39 years), Bharati proved himself actively conversant with the past history of thought while reflecting with equal concern upon the present happenings around. His projectiles into the future also were prophetic. If he anticipated for his country a time when the speech in Banaras could be heard in distant Kanchi or when wheat of the Gangetic plain could be exchanged for the fresh betel leaves of the Kaveri delta or when the gold of Kanara could be transported to Rajasthan, everyone of his prognostications came true even within half of a century of his death. Again an element of mysticism can be discerned in all great poetry. At any rate none of the poets of renown in our country has failed to touch the peak of self· expression without reaching out to touch the Higher Being. Bharati in his “Beloved Kannamma” rose to heights of exaltation of the spirit by decorating the Deity of his heart, Lord Krishna, with epithets which reminded of the beloved seeking her lover, or the lover waiting for his love or the master calling his servant or the elder scolding his little boy or the companion wanting his bosom friend–all alike in their depth of feeling towards the one Supreme that ever holds sway over our hearts. To sample a few lines from that fascinating bunch of verses, let us see the pictures drawn with delicate brush and colour.

Thou art the leaping light my dear, and I
The eye roving free.
Thou art the gleaming wine my dear,
And I the drunken bee.
I strive to speak of the glory thou art,
But words fade into quiet,
Thou art a splendour from Heaven, my dear,
A Nectarine riot. 1

The ecstacy rises in a crescendo as it were, and we find lines which breathe of an intoxicating union of the two, the lover and the beloved.

And there somebody softly stole to me
And behind me standing, closed my eyes
I felt soft hands and in a flash was wise,
I knew her by the fragrance of her silk saree,
I knew her by the joy that within me welled,
I knew her by the beats of our kindred hearts,
“Oh, take thy hands away Kannamma, thy arts”
I cried, “are of no avail.” Her hands I held
And when her laughter tinkled, I freed my eye,
And turning drew her to me and said “Behave”. 2

The seduction of words entice us as we lisp the lines. It becomes part of our experience alike with no more scanning of the import. God-madness pervades the reader and the read.

His long pieces such as “Panchali Sabadam” and “Kuyilpattu” are by themselves deserving of serious study as of higher literature. Both mark him out as one of our never-to-be-forgotten poets, because of their sustaining power of the graphic and the lyric. Some of his much smaller poems too bear the touch of true art, and lift the reader to realms of enjoyment and induce the untrained voice to sing in quiet a verse or two without knowing of any effort.

Critics sometimes point out that the Nayaki-Nayaka Bhava in poetry is an old one which every saint-singer in the land has adopted to describe his own craving for the Lord and that Bharati has not been at all fresh in his conceit. But the very detractors forget that even while in the traditional mould he has departed from the usual and struck out his own path of assuming different roles as a seeker of God. The other type of criticism accuses the writer of eroticism in making the whole picture one of physical contact. Scoffers apart, there cannot be anything more sustaining than this form of invocation to God from a heart pining for liberation. The long-drawn-out strains of despair from the throats of the Gopis when their dearest Krishna vanished from sight can never be surpassed for their purity and pervasiveness of Bhakti as they easily excel all known theistic philosophy. Perhaps a single strain of that beautiful song of the Gopis can compensate for all the impurities the human soul suffers from, wallowing in earthy speculations.

It is now common to witness people, especially politicians, expending their lungs in shouting Bharati’s national songs, as if they alone registered his claim to the world’s attention. They imagine that his horizon was limited. But what provides freedom to a poet- seer is not merely welfare of his own country but of the entire humanity. Patriotism itself has its limitations when viewed in this light. Loving one’s own country too much may not stop with it but lead to even hatred of others. To view all as belonging to oneself requires greater sympathy and consideration for others. It is this sense of an expansive heart and mind which gave the Rishis of old to visualise the epics in all their grandeur of universality. Bharati mastered while yet a youth the intimations of a deep study of our spiritual classics.

Bharati was not satisfied with merely writing poems and prose of his own. He keenly advocated the need of translations from other languages of important literary works. Himself he translated some of the passages from Vedic literature and Bhagavadgita as well as from foreign writings like English. His own poems–at least some of them–found in him a good translator. They easily convey how much “wonderfully in compact verse forms” they look “not merely without a flaw but with a polished brilliance which is a joy to contemplate.”

The main corpus of Bharati’s works can bear any amount of critical study. The prose from his pen as well as his attempt at prose-poetry equally show his sincere belief in weaving language not to baffle readers as to their meaning but to wean them over to his conclusions in interpreting thoughts and events in a maddening world of misunderstandings. Further, they help in knowing the poet’s sidelights of observation of many other subjects in an age of total political dependence and social inhibitions. His articles in the Swadesamitran Daily, forthright in their views, made it clear how sincerity of thinking can bear fruit in clarity and forceful language.

Full sixty years now after his death in September 1921, and a century after his birth, we are still the same captives to his music and poetry. Either before or after him none other shot up with the same leap of a flame. Days of his early striving for recognition were not in vain, for the later inundation of praise has almost engulfed him out of recognition. Still, let us not forget the wise utterance of Tagore: “It is far better for a poet to miss his reward in this life rather than have a false reward or his reward in an excessive measure.”

While extolling the poet’s mind and art, one aspect of his manhood is liable to escape notice. People who grow crazy in their paens of acclamation of his wonderful merits–especially his gift of poesy–do not pause a moment to consider the other and more unusual gift of his being a greater man. In the year 1913, the Nobel laureateship went to Rabindranath Tagore and the whole of India looked proud of his achievement. On learning of it Bharati’s heart was filled to the brim with a rare satisfaction that Indian thought as represented by Tagore within its core of spiritual exaltation, had not failed to convince the world of its beauty and power. He wrote in the press with unequalled poise and admiration of a compeer’s legitimate deserts, in these words: “The poetic works translated into English such as the Gitanjali are only a few; and they are not long poems nor big plays. Tagore gave only a few shorter self-contained poems; the world stood amazed at them. If you could sell a select ten or twelve gems of the first water, could you not secure a fabulous price for them? His compeers, would they not be captivated even by say, ten pages of such God-chosen poetry?”

To express high praise of the kind about another contemporary poet with no trace of self-consciousness requires no small measure of fairness and outspokenness. Bharati remained to the last his own appraiser and critic. He depended more for the stamina of a bold spirit on what his conscience dictated to him. His worship of the Goddess of Letters during all the vicissitudes of fortune he went through, made him cast in the mould of the warrior-heroes of old. He strove with an unfatiguing pen, inspiring his countrymen to conquer their fear and weakness in order to win freedom from the clutches of a foreign rule. At the same time, he also tried to rescue literary language from the coils of pedantry and conventionality to which for long they were condemned.


1 and 2 ‘Voice of a Poet’ by A. Srinivasa Raghavan

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