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....

Subramania Bharati and the Indian Renaissance

Prof. R. Raphael

Subramania Bbarati, though he Wrote his poems, novels, short stories and prose works in Tamil, which is a Dravidian language, is accepted today by the people of India as one of their national poets, because in his creative writings, he synthesises the spiritual, cultural, social and political aspirations of the Dravidians and Aryans who were both struggling under the suffocating atmosphere of the British Raj which trampled under foot all the values of human civilisation to establish their superiority over us. His writings stand as a pillar of strength against the onslaught of those who seek to gain Power over the spiritually inclined people of India by dividing them into Dravidians and Aryans as if these two races of people are two monsters ready to fly at each other’s throat. Bharati recognizes the importance of the Dravidian and Aryan elements in Indian civilisation and out of these he seeks to create a new society and a new spiritual culture based on love, freedom and solidarity. It is in this sense that I speak of Bharati as the voice of the Indian people at a time when they were wandering through the wilderness of colonial suppression and misrule. His was not a voice from the burning bush, but one that was heard throughout the length and breadth of the Tamil  country by means of his poetic outpourings and journalistic prose. In Panchali Sapatham (“The Vow of Panchali”), he compares the British Raj to a woman being stripped by the Imperial colonisers.

“The immediate provocation for the genesis of the poem was of course political. Bound in bonds of slavery, Mother India was then being more and more insulted and injured as her great sons were consigned to jails and tortured in various ways. This vision of the enslaved motherland found powerful symbolism in Draupadi hemmed in by the Kuru courtiers and outraged by Duhshasana’s infamous hands,” says Dr. Prema Nandakumar.

A Philosopher and a Guide

Like Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda and Tilak, Bharati gave our people a new orientation, a new hope to live by, a new awareness of their rich heritage and a sense of urgency to fight for their natural and spiritual rights. He wants his people to live righteously among themselves, shed the fear-complex infused on them by the Britishers and fight for their political rights courageously. Bharati, then, is a poet, a philosopher and a guide to his people.

The first note that rings through all Bharati’s writings is his concern for unity and solidarity among the people of India, a unity based on the equality and the acceptance of the dignity of human persons. Other notable elements are his concern for the welfare of women, for nationalism or Swarajand education. In other words, Bharati was one of the inspirers of the Indian renaissance.

Bharati is very alive to the vital tradition of Indian spirituality. However, he is not an ascetic, bent on picking holes on the realities of this world. He is enough of a materialist to recognize the intrinsic worth and practical utility of the things of this world; imaginative enough to see their beauty and charm and intuitive enough to realize that the temporal life has an eternal and transcendental significance. The two most important elements that strike our attention in Bharati are his love for this world and for the activities connected with our lives on earth.

Beauty and Spirituality of this World

Bharati has a prayerful attitude to this world. It is Divine Mother’s gift to man. In “Krishna, My Mother,” he says–  

“The Realism of Life are Her bounteous breasts; and consciousness, her milk of endless delight...They call her Krishna. Ah! She has clapped me in fond embrace with her arms of ethereal space! And, placing me on her lap of earth, she loves to tell me endless stories, strange and mysterious. Some of these tales I call by the name of pleasures, evolutions and victories. Yet others visit me as pains, defeats and falls...

“And many are the wondrous toys and dolls which my Mother showeth me;

“There is one that is named the Moon, and it sheds a nectar like flood of light. There are herds and herds of clouds, many-coloured toys, yielding rain. There’s the Sun, too, foremost of my playthings, the beauty of whose face I have no words to depict...

“A heavenful of stars, sparkling like tiny gems. Many a time, but in vain have I essayed to count them all. And then those green hills, that never stir from their places, silent toys, offering speechless play.

“Rivers and rivulets, fair and playful, that wander all over the land and, in the end, flow into that marvellous toy. yon ocean, wide and boundless-seeming, with dashing billows, spouts of spray and its long, continuous chant wherein my Mother’s name is ever chanted: Om, Om, O...M.”

This could have been written only by a lover of nature who sees the indelible footprints of God in created things. Bharati thus appears to be an Augustinian to the very core. We might even call him a Wordsworthian. For him, the whole world is singing the glory of God.

Bharati, then, is not a materialist like Thales. Anaximenes, the Stoics and Epicurus. Thales may depart with his water, Anaximenes evaporate with his air, the Stoics may burn away with their fire and Epicurus may be anatomized into his atoms. But Bharati believes with Plato that “all things have their being from God, and from something immutable.” Bertrand Russell says that “Platonists are the best in logic and ethics, and nearest to Christianity.”

In my book entitled Ananda Coomaraswamy: Spiritual Frontiers of Art, Literature and Culture, I laboured hard to show that there is a close affinity between Plato’s transcendental philosophy and the Indian conception of life. The point I am driving home is that at his best, Bharati is a Platonist, a true Christian, a true Hindu.

To Bharati, the whole world is an abode of God. The things of this world have their being, beauty and perfection in Mother Shakti, the Primal Energy, Creatrix Universalis:

You have manifested as all
O Kali! Everywhere you.
The evil and the good–  
Aren’t they the Divine’s play?

And again:

You have spread out as sky
Beyond comprehension.
You have built universes
And charged them with speed;
You have placed them far,
Far away from us
Beyond leagues so many.
O Forn! I praise you as Kali.

sings Bharati of Mother Shakti.

Bharati holds that all things have a measure of beauty and perfection commensurate with their being. Intellect, intuition and the physical senses are all real faculties.

“We know that the Universe is Being. We guess it is Infinite. We cannot comprehend Infinity. Mind is one phase of Existence. We are aware of a mental life. As experience is the sole proof of things, we require no further proof or the existence of the mind. This mind, we infer, has many phases and almost infinite potentialities. We have learnt this, again, by experience. We infer that all experience is one...We can therefore identify our being with the Universal Being.” says Bharati.

Since reality is known only through experience, the pleasures that experience brings cannot be regarded as being sinful. In his essay, “What must Each one of us Meditate On?” Bharati says, “If anyone desires to enjoy the genuine pleasures of this world and perform good deeds that would bring lasting benefits to himself and to others and if he is desirous of removing the perplexities and sorrows of life and ensure a happy and renowned life, it is not impossible for him to experience these pleasures: he can surely achieve these legitimate pleasures in this world and that too in this life.”

The point that Bharati drives home is that we should not hate this world in the name of religion and live like recluses. Such otherworldliness is bound to be taken advantage of by the other people who glorify our spirituality only to rob us of our purse. It is this apparent unconcern for the happenings of this world that has rendered us a slavish people.

“This world is one,
The male, the female, the men, the angels,
The serpent, the bird, the wind, the sea,
The Life, the Death–all these are but one...
The Vedas, the fish of the sea, the whirlwind, the jasmine flower– 
These are the manifold appearance of the one thing,
All that exists is only one thing–the one
The name of this one is ‘That’
‘That’ is god
‘That’ is the nectar, the immortal.”

From these lines, it follows that society is not an illusion. Family is not a source of misery and women not a source of temptation. Here then is the most direct statement of affirmation by Bharati. “It is being held in our country that the world is unreal. All the Sanyasis are harping on this depressing philosophy. Let them. I am not going to feel sorry for it. Family people shall not even utter it...The properties bequeathed to us by our parents, are they unreal? There stands the queen of the house like a golden statue. She willingly shared all the joy and all the sorrow of the family. She brought up the children. Is she unreal? Are children unreal? Let me put the question straight to the parents themselves. Are children unreal? This kind of philosophy won’t do for family people. What we require in this world are long life, knowledge, sound health and enough wealth. Let us pray fervently to our family deities to grant us these boons. God is one. The grace of God should be experienced in our endeavour to practise virtue, in our endeavour to acquire wealth and in our endeavour to seek pleasure,” says Bharati.

If life is meaningful, it must be lived as it ought to be lived. Bharati would say that we should live without fear in action and in contemplation, performing the normal duties of life in the best manner possible. From this it follows that man is responsible for what he does and that man is his own master for he moulds his own personality.

Bharati’s conception of duty is basically a recapitulation of the teachings of Krishna to Arjuna. He says: “Realising that we are not separate from God, we must perform all our duties of this world most perfectly as offerings to God. One who swerves from his duty is not free. Every right presupposes a corresponding duty. Even God has his own duty. God is a Karmayogi. Ascetic renouncement is not necessary. Women and children are not false illusions. Other men are not mere masses of earth. We have our duties towards them.”

Bharati goes on to say that “those who put their entire trust in God go on performing their duties constantly. Where there is genuine devotion to God, there is also charity. Where there is no charity, there cannot be genuine devotion but only a pretension to it.”

This is really a profound observation from the standpoint of ethics. Bharati implicitly says that there is a relationship between God and man and between a man and his fellowmen, or what the philosophers call an I–Thou relationship. These two sets of relationships impose on man certain duties. In addition to these, man has a duty to himself, too. The basis of Christian ethics is actually these three-fold relationships.

By connecting the moral and religious act with charity, Bharati has clearly shown that man cannot develop his personality to the fullest extent possible by behaving as if he were not his brother’s keeper. When a man regards his neighbour as an inferior creature and refuses to establish communication with him, he perpetuates Kaliyuga. Without charity, then, Kaliyuga, cannot be destroyed and the age of truth, the renaissance in India, cannot come.

Action and Contemplation

Bharati’s conception of renaissance in India, thus, implies action and contemplation. Contemplation presupposes a set of values or convictions which determine the course of action one undertakes. The first point that Bharati insists on as being essential for the birth of a new order in India is the recognition of the human race. The crux of the matter is that division of our people into different castes is senseless and defeats the purpose of Indian nationalism. “There are two evils peculiar to India. One is the lack of money and the other is the confusion of castes”, says Bharati.

Bharati regards caste as a symbol of Indian decadence. It is a symbol of the nadir of the Hindu civilisation during the age of Kaliyuga. In the introduction to his Story of the Vedic Rishis, Bharati quotes Jsgdish Chandra Buse to prove that Indian civilisation has the intrinsic vitality to withstand the destructive effect of time. Civilisations have been born, have grown to maturity and have died. But our ancient Indian civilisation is alive even today. But Bose warns us saying that during the Middle Ages, Indians took their stupidities and meanness for their greatness. Bharati explains what Bose means by this: “From the Middle Ages onwards, India has been rotting below the dust and rubbish of caste. Mother India has been in a deep coma.” Only love for all men as children of God will wake up Mother India from her coma.

In his essay, “The Tamil Renaissance,” Bharati says that though meat-eating and drinking may prove to be harmful, “it is wrong on our part to feel jealous of persons who eat and drink what we do not. It is senseless and futile to place meaningless restrictions, regulations and norms so far as food, clothing and giving and taking women in marriage are concerned.

“Besides, all the human beings of the world belong to a single caste...All men are brethren and have one common life. This being the real nature of things, it is our sheer superstition that makes us divide our homes on religious pretexts, saying, ‘I belong to this caste; my cousin to another. I shall not have my food in his company for fear of pollution. I shall excommunicate him’ I have written so much only to show the rank stupidity of our position in this regard. In Tamil Nadu, restrictions, superstitions and orthodoxy based on caste are crumbling down.”

It is thus pretty clear that according to Bharati caste segregations must crumble and our people must learn to assemble in a bond of brotherhood and love before we can ever hope for a genuine renaissance in India. Renaissance implies a new birth, a new vitality and a new system of values. The old caste-based society which was ultimately responsible for enslaving ourselves must give way to a society in which all men and women will be equal and enjoy equal opportunities. For Bharati equality is justice. It presupposes that we create wealth and then distribute it equally. It must be noted that giving a lower status to women and to the people of tae so-called lower castes is one of the root causes of all the sufferings in India.

The point that Bharati wants to bring home to our people is that we must base our life and conduct on sound principles. Superstitions are a proof that we lack such a principle. “Every man must have a guiding principle in his life, depending on the particular kind of reasoning or religion or morality that attracts him more than the others. It is not necessary that a man’s principles should be universally upheld by all mankind as being beneficial. In fact, a principle may be a source either of evil or of good. Nevertheless, it is true that when a man acts in accordance with his convictions, he usually does so in the hope that his actions will profit either himself or others,” says Bharati.

It is very important to note that Bharati recognizes the existence of good and evil principles. The principle on which a robber bases his life may benefit him for a while but it always proves to be harmful to others. Hence, “a robber’s life is based on an immoral principle” says Bharati.

“What is a principle?” asks Bharati and gives the following answer: “A principle is a source of action; it enables a man to ponder over the lasting things of life and to determine rationally what ought to be done and what ought to be shunned.”

If a principle is a source of action, it follows necessarily that one’s actions should conform to his principles. But this does not always happen, for “it is one thing to have a principle or ideal and quite another to act according to it.”

Bharati has no respect for those whose life contradicts their preaching. He calls them “walking corpses” and “the pernicious tubercle bacilli.” “These men have stuffed their heads with vain principles which they sell to make a living. From public platforms, they proclaim their ideals so that the world may come to know of them. The common man who hears them is all amazed at their profundity. And as these ordinary mortals begin to apotheosize these pseudo preachers as avatars of the gods, from whose minds issue forth words of wisdom and praiseworthy ideals, these men pretend to be such and accept their unmerited adulations with almost obscene pride. But if we follow them to their homes, we will be shockingly exposed to the skeletons in their cupboards, for the behaviour of these men is a mockery of their ideals. So long as there is no one to question their integrity, they go on proclaiming their ideals; but when they sense the danger of exposure, they try to hoodwink the people by telling them, ‘You should behave as I tell you; you should not act as I do’.”

Bharati is forced to make the above observation because these people are ultimately responsible for our enslavement at the hands of the Englishmen. Because we lacked convictions, because our life was not guided by noble principles, we lacked discipline and fell an easy victim to the more determined English race. This explains how less than two crores of English people could conquer and rule over thirty crores of Indians, says Bharati.

Bharati says that mere multiplication of our people would not bring us any fresh hope for the future. What we need most is noble principles of action: “What we are in need of is great ideals and not men...There cannot be a more ignominious person than the one who sacrifices his cherished ideals for the sake of the coffee he drinks, the food he eats and the clothes he wears.” The conclusion is obvious: man does not live by bread alone. Man lives by ideals and aspirations. Hence, Bharati says:

“Henceforth, each man and each woman among us must invariably accept and uphold one specific principle, namely, we must learn to lead the kind of life that would make others fear and respect the freedom and independence of our beloved land. We must trample under foot all the obstacles that stand in the way of our practising this principle and forge ahead. While living according to this principle, we should expect neither happiness nor respect, nor social status. If it entails the losing of our home, wife andchildren, let us be prepared to lose them. We must act according to the poet who says:

Unmindful is he of hunger and pain;
Vigilant ever, but never wicked.
Praise and blame in him leave no stain,
He that his duties above all else reckoned.

“Anyone who is unable to tread this difficult path must accept at once that he is afraid. Let him not pretend that he has accepted the principle or vision of Swaraj. Let him who would be free be prepared to lose everything except his soul. Oh, you men of India, a slothful man cannot pretend to act on principles...Do not sacrifice your national ideals for the sake of bodily pleasures or for fear of physical pain. Only Truth conquers. You must first extricate yourself from slavery, shed all your inhibitions and then fight for the liberation of all those enslaved in the four corners of the world. Your actions must be such as to elevate India and enable her to regain her pre-eminence which she enjoyed once in the civilised world. Do not sacrifice this ideal. Vande Mataram.”

This might at first appear to be a political ideal. But the poem he quotes belies it. Bharati wants freedom so that he may be free to lead a life of his own choice without ever causing sufferings and hardships to others. He knows that politics is one of the highest duties of man, for our nation is our Mother supreme. It is our sacred duty to take care of our Mother, the bringer of all good:

Mother, those that hungering seek your grace
And offer to you their life and love,
Although consigned to dreary dungeons here,
They’d merit a passage to Paradise.
Those unvisited by your grace, Mother,
Must exult in being slaves;
Although living in gorgeous palaces
They breathe the air of prison cells!
Alas, born in a hapless land
That remembers not the glories lost,
Knowing the power of your grace, Mother,
How best may I propitiate thee?

I have shown that living a disciplined life according to noble principles is the first requisite for achieving personal or subjective freedom and political liberty. Regeneration and rebirth must start from oneself. Unless a man be born again in the waters of justice, equality and love, Kalyugacannot be destroyed.

To make noble ideals one’s guiding principles of life, it is essential, says Bharati, that we learn to contemplate. The first condition for becoming a contemplative is the recognition of our own greatness as human beings and of the power of our faculties to see into the nature of things and comprehend their secret relationships. In an essay entitled, “Meditation and Prayer,” with the subtitle, “The Road to Independence,” Bharati says, “My intelligence is divine. I am capable of thinking like a god. Henceforth I must make it a point to act like a divine being.” Bharati thus establishes man’s greatness and the capacity of his faculties for possessing knowledge and of acting accordingly. He thus accepts as an a priori principle that man is free and that he can will and act independently.

In the essay, “What Must Each One of Us Meditate on?” Bharati warns us not to “slight the efficacy of meditation. Man makes himself.” It is clear from this that man is a master not only of himself but also of the things of the world. His own activities create and mould his personality. Man is an end in himself. Bharati does not accept determinism in human affairs. Determinism gives no room for rational action and Bharati insists on rational actions as the only salvation for the people of India. He tells us: “The innumerable thoughts that fleet across the horizon of the mind cannot be called meditations.” These streams of thoughts do not leave their imprint on the human personality. A particular thought becomes fit for being meditated upon when it becomes his dominant idea, pervading his entire being and consciousness. “Just as the fire that burns down the bushes in the forest, so also the dominant idea that burns away our worries and other worthless thoughts is the fruit of meditation. If we can entertain such a burning thought in our heart, all the events and happenings of the world would take place according to our mental condition,” says Bharati.

This may at first appear to be a propagandist ideal coming from a poet who strongly believes in revolutionary changes. In fact, Bharati is restating the ancient position that man is the measure of all things. He can determine the shape of things to come. A poet is a prophet and Bharati is both: “Man is empowered by nature with the faculty and strength to determine the kind of thoughts and ideals that he should cherish and the ability to avoid others. Of course, initially he experiences some inner resistance or difficulty when he tries to put his ideals into practice.”

All Need Meditation

It must be pointed out that when Bharati insists on meditation as a source of strength, he is not propagating a Hindu ideal. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Bharati the poet speaks as a man to man. He believes that contemplation elevates the soul of man. As such anyone who wants to lead a life befitting his spiritual personality should meditate. He says: “The theists and the atheists, the followers of a particular religion and those who subscribe to no organized religion in particular, all need meditation. And at this time each Indian needs serious meditation more than good food. You may give up the habit of eating rice but do not neglect to go to a lonely place and to fill your mind with noble thoughts, thoughts that would bring peace, strength, courage and firmness, and meditate on them. Those who believe in God may invoke their patron saint in their mind and pray to them in earnestness and sincerity to grant them great boons. It is of not much use to mumble an old story. Your prayers should emanate from the innermost recess of your soul. The meditation that you do on your own accord, using your own thoughts and words alone is efficacious. Even atheists who do not have a personal deity can profitably meditate.”

Having meditated and having come to a firm conviction on a particular course of action, what is now left is to act accordingly. Bharati brings out the importance of action through a story which has a tinge of the parables of Jesus Christ. There was a king by name Sthira-Chitta who ruled over Vidyanagar. One night his enemies gained entry into his palace, carried him bound to a forest and there they deposited him in a cave. When he woke up, he was overcome by fear and helplessness. Being young, he was not prepared to die. But he just did not know how to save himself. Presently, a piece of dying-advice by his mother flashes across his consciousness. The advice was, “Karomi(I do).” The frightened king, helpless and forlorn, repeats this Mantra and starts acting after much initial hesitation. He gives a strong knock against the boulder covering the cave’s mouth. The boulder rolls down and the king comes out to freedom, repeating the prayer, Karomi.

This little story clearly indicates that Bharati believes in freedom and action. Man is not condemned to be free as Sartre would have us believe. For Bharati, freedom is a source of action and liberation. Fear is the greatest enemy of action. It eats away action from within. Hence, Bharati argues that courage is the fundamental quality of a man of action. He says: “Our ancestors considered only the fearless man as wise. If a coward who trembles at every passing shadow calls himself learned in many fields and wise, don’t believe it; spit at him and tell him ‘you are nothing but a worm and have wasted your life pouring through books. As long as you are afraid you are not wise. Have not you heard that your ancestors used the same word to indicate courage and wisdom?’

“By his own exertions, bravery and sharp intellect Shivaji destroyed Aurangazib’s tyranny and established Hinduism again in Maharashtra. He was not a scholar. These days thousands are spoiling their eyesight pouring over books in English schools only to sell their soul and religion for a paltry sum of money. Shivaji gained an empire–who is the better, the wiser?

“Some say that India needs education for renaissance; but I say she needs fearlessness. Courage is the mother; all else including education and wisdom spring from it.”

Courage is necessary for action and action liberates us. Consequently, it can be said that courageous actions alone would hasten the birth of the new renascent India.

Earlier it has been pointed out that Bharati’s philosophy of life and action is essentially the one advocated in the Bhagavad Gita. He says that we must act with clarity of thought and lucidity of vision. When we do a thing, we must identify ourselves completely with it, says Bharati, for that is the essence of Yoga.

In the Gita, it is made abundantly clear that there are two paths to the realisation of God. They are “the path of knowledge to the discerning, the path of work to the active.” (III, 3) By merely renouncing action one cannot achieve perfection nor can one become actionless by abstaining from action. (III, 4) It is also made clear that man cannot remain inactive for thinking is also a form of activity (III, 6). The essence of action, according to the Gita, is unattachment (III, 7). And Bharati also wants us to perform our duties without being attached to the fruits of those actions.

It has been shown in this essay that Bharati’s concept of renaissance in India is intimately connected with his vision of Swaraj. Swaraj is not only a political but also a spiritual ideal. To achieve this, we must shake ourselves free from the shackles of superstitions, unite ourselves in a bond of true love and solidarity, wipe away all the disruptive forces of unity such as caste feuds and religious fanaticism and march ahead without fear into the promised land of Bharat, to establish the noble ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood arrived at after genuine meditation and contemplation. These principles should be our sources of action. Truly, then, Bharati is a teacher, a visionary, a poet and a prophet.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: