Tamil poet Bharathi -A real life hero
The Tamil poet, Maha Kavi Subramaniam Bharathiar, familiarly referred to as Bharathi, has been a real life hero. His extraordinary power was his poetry, his weapon of choice- his pen. He wrote at a time when his country was crying out for reform. Though many may remember him for inspiring his people to seek freedom from alien rule, he also spoke out for the freedom and equality of the Indian woman - his damsel in distress - in a time when they were barely acknowledged for their existence.
The mid 19th century was a time when the Indian woman had absolutely no rights and their relationship with their husbands were close to that of Master and Slave. Women were not thought important enough to pursue studies, as their role was more as the dutiful wife at home.
Bharathi was first among the growing school of Renaissance poets during this period who insisted that the only way for a country to grow was through empowering its women.
"Aanum Pennum nigarrenak kolvathaal
Ariviloanki ivvagayakam thalaikumaam"
Taken from his poem Puthumai Penn (New Woman) the line evokes that "When we realize that man and woman are equal, this world will flourish with knowledge".
Born on December 11, 1882, in the Tamil village of Ettayapuram, Bharathi a Brahmin was recognized for his talent as a poet even at the age of 11. After an early marriage Bharathi curious about the outside world travelled to Kasi in 1898, where the next four years led him discover a nation in tumult and misery under British rule. By the early 1900s Bharathi had fully immersed himself in the nationalist rule and took an active part in the Congress gatherings throughout the country. He also took an avid interest in the world of journalism and the print media of the West. He joined the Swadeshamitran, a Tamil daily as Assistant Editor and later on started his own Tamil weekly Bala Bharatham and also the English newspaper India. He was frequently thrown into prison as a result of his strong views against the British who were suppressing freedom fighters at the time.
From religious hymns to inspiring nationalist anthems and poems shattering without hesitation every social taboo that was held close by conventional South Indians, Bharathi voiced his opinion without hesitation in a lyrical style that has not even been surpassed by literature that followed his period. Among his well-known poetry is Oadi vilayaadu paapaa. While a poem of instruction for children it also hints to all ages on accepting people as human beings and not on their caste or creed.
Jaadhigal illaiyadi paaapaa,
Kulath thaalchi uyarchi sollal paavam paapaa
Neethi uyarntha mathi kalvi
Anbu niraiya udayavargal meloar paapaa
"There is no caste little one. It is a sin to categorise people as high and low caste. Only those who possess justice, intelligence and education and great love are of a high caste"
Thus he included the Tamil woman in his fight for freedom who, in one of his essays he called "Slaves who remain conservative and orthodox" as they were "not permitted to make their own choices".
Woman as a mother was Bharathi's favourite theme and the book 'Woman in Modern Tamil Literature' by Loganayagy Nannithamby says that "Bharati who envisages women as the incarnation of Sakti [Parasakti - the great Goddess or the Mother-Goddess] says in one of his essays on philosophy: As a man, all the female deities you pray to, represent the latent powers of Parasakti hidden in women like your mother, wife, sister and daughter."
Bharati's idealist views later turned to more down-to-earth, reformist views with the seeping in of Northern influences like the coming of the Brahmins and Puranas, which was slowly deteorating the status of the woman of the South. He argued that if women's freedom were to be deprived, man would perish along with it and that men were not to monopolize freedom.
Aettayum pengal thoduvadhu theemaiyendren niyirunthavar
Veetukkullay pennaip pooti vaippoam endra vindai manithar thalai
"Those who thought that women should not touch books and learn have died! Those surprising people who said that we have to lock women in homes to do their duties, have put their heads down in shame."
His hope for women included a librated free woman who thought independently and used her knowledge, like men, for the betterment of the country. His wife Chellamal Bharati, in her biography of her husband related incidents when she says how her husband put all social barriers to the wind and clung to her arms while walking boldly next to her (Brahmin women were required to walk a few steps behind her husband).
"Nimirntha nannenjum naer konda paarvaiyum
Nilathinil yaarukkum anjaatha nerigalum
Thimirntha gnanach cherukkum iruppadhaal
Semmai maadhargal thirambuvathillaiyaam"
"With upright heart and steadfast look and ideas that are not afraid of anyone in the world- the woman does not falter as she has the delight of wisdom."
This great poet died on September 11, 1921 after being trampled by an Elephant when he went seeking blessings at the temple.