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Subramanya Bharathy

Subramanya Bharathy (December 11, 1882 - September 11, 1921) better known as Mahakavi Bharathiar (Maha Kavi meaning Greatest of Poets) to his legions of Tamil languageTamil speaking readers, is often deemed one of the greatest poets of twentieth-century India. A prolific writer of immense genius and perspicacity, Bharathiar was also one of the most prominent leaders of the Indian independence movement in South India.

Born on December 11, 1882 in the idyllic Tamil village of Ettayapuram, Bharathy was educated at a local high school where his talents as a poet were recognized even at the age of 11. After an early marriage, Bharathy, curious to see the outside world, left for Kashi in 1898. The next four years of his life, served as a passage of discovery, where Bharathy discovered a country in tumult, outside his small hamlet.

Immersing himself in Hindu spirituality and nationalism, Bharathy returned to his Southern home, an iconoclast who shattered without hesitation, every meaningless social taboo and rule that held sway amidst the orthodox South Indians. By the early 1900s Bharathy had become completely involved in the nationalist movement and took active part in the Congress meets through out the country.

During this period, Bharathy understood the need to be well-informed of the world outside and took avid interest in the world of American journalism and the print media of the West. Bharathy joined as Assistant Editor of the Swadeshamitran, a Tamil daily in 1904. By April 1907, he had started and become the editor of the Tamil weekly India. and the English newspaper Bala Bharatham.

These papers not only served the purpose of enlightening the masses on the affairs of the nation and the world outside, but also as a means of expressing Bharathy's stupendous creativity, which began to peak at this time. Bharathy started to publish his poems regularly in these editions. From complex religious hymns to rousing nationalist anthems, from contemplations on the relationship between God and Man to Songs on the Russian and French revolutions, Bharathy's subjects were truly diverse.

This period produced such masterpieces as Kannan Paattu (The Song of Krishna), where Bharathy sought to portray The Divine as the source of all of humanity's passions in the most accessible of forms including in the roles of a love-lorn lover, of a mischievous child, of an innocent child, and of a wise teacher.

The poetry and imagination of Bharathy, of this era, has rarely been surpassed in any literature that followed. Bharathy also published two of his most widely read epics during this period Panchali Sapatham (Draupadi's Vow) a poetic semi-political reflection on greed, pride and righteousness derived from the Indian epic Mahabharata and Kuyil Paatu (Song of The Cuckoo) an ode and a tribute to the poet's favorite Shelley.

As a journalist, Bharathy was the first in India to introduce caricatures and political cartoons to his newspapers; they were satirical and angry hand drawn illustrations of the poet that improvised heavily on the works of his inspiration Thomas Nast.

By 1912 Bharathy was already a legend in South India and his political meetings in Pondicherry, where he lived since 1908, were attracting multitudes of young patriots, ready to join the non-violent constitutional agitation against the British rule.

This led to a systematic British suppression of what was dubbed as the "militancy". Several arrests and bans on his newspapers followed. The poet's health was badly affected by the imprisonments and by 1920, when a General Amnesty Order finally removed restrictions on his movemnet, Bharathy was struggling in penury and failing health resulting in his tragic premature death.

Bharathy died on September 11, 1921, not yet forty years of age. The legacy of the poet however endures among the Tamil.

Works of Bharathiar