Chinnaswami Subramania Bharathi (11 December 1882 – 11 September 1921) was an Indian writer, poet, journalist, Indian independence activist and social reformer from Tamil Nadu. Popularly known as “Mahakavi Bharathi”, he was a pioneer of modern Tamil poetry and is considered one of the greatest Tamil literary figures of all time. His numerous works were fiery songs kindling patriotism and nationalism during the Indian Independence movement.Born in Ettayapuram of the then Tirunelveli district (present day Thoothukudi) in 1882, Bharathi had his early education in Tirunelveli and Varanasi and worked as a journalist with many newspapers, notable among them being the Swadesamitran and India. Bharathi was also an active member of the Indian National Congress. In 1908, an arrest warrant was issued against Bharathi by the government of British India for his revolutionary activities, forcing him to flee to Puducherry, where he lived until 1918.
Bharathi’s works were on varied themes covering religious, political and social aspects. Songs penned by Bharathi are widely used in Tamil films and music concerts.
Bharati is considered as one of the pioneers of modern Tamil literature.Bharati used simple words and rhythms, unlike his previous century works in Tamil, which had complex vocabulary. He also employed novel ideas and techniques in his devotional poems.He used a metre called Nondi Chindu in most of his works, which was earlier used by Gopalakrisha Bharathiyar.
Bharati’s poetry expressed a progressive, reformist ideal. His imagery and the vigour of his verse were a forerunner to modern Tamil poetry in different aspects. He was the forerunner of a forceful kind of poetry that combined classical and contemporary elements. He had a prodigious output penning thousands of verses on diverse topics like Indian Nationalism, love songs, children’s songs, songs of nature, glory of the Tamil language, and odes to prominent freedom fighters of India like Tilak, Gandhi and Lajpat Rai. He even penned an ode to New Russia and Belgium. His poetry not only includes works on Hindu deities like Shakti, Kali, Vinayagar, Murugan, Sivan, Kannan(Krishna), but also on other religious gods like Allah and Jesus. His insightful similies have been read by millions of Tamil readers. He was well-versed in various languages and translated speeches of Indian National reform leaders like Aurabindo, Bala Gangadar Tilak and Swami Vivekananda.
Bharati is considered the first to have advocated and campaigned for women’s participation in politics. He advocated greater rights for women and their education. He visualised a modern Indian woman at the vanguard of society. He was of the strong opinion that the world will prosper in knowledge and intellect if both men and women are deemed equal. He condemned the Shashtras, the procedures formulated by some orthodox Hindus and weren’t held as holy by most Hindus, that suppressed women’s rights. Most of his views are considered contemporary even in modern times.
He was badly affected by the imprisonments and by 1920, when a General Amnesty Order finally removed restrictions on his movements, Bharati was already struggling. He was struck by an elephant named Lavanya at Parthasarathy temple, Triplicane, Chennai, whom he used to feed regularly. Although he survived the incident, a few months later his health deteriorated and he died on 12 September 1921 early morning around 1 am. Though Bharati was considered a people’s poet, a great nationalist, outstanding freedom fighter and social visionary, it was recorded that there were only 14 people to attend his funeral. He delivered his last speech at Karungalpalayam Library in Erode, which was about the topic Man is Immortal. The last years of his life were spent in a house in Triplicane, Chennai. The house was bought and renovated by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 1993 and named Bharati Illam (Home of Bharati).