Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathi was born on 11 December 1882 in Ettayapuram (Tamil Nadu). During a rather short life of 39 years, Bharati made a tremendous impact as a poet of Tamil nationalism and Indian freedom.
Bharathi had a difficult childhood as his parents passed away while he was still young; however this did not subdue his poetic genius. His teachers recognised his potential at a young age and accredited him. Despite his early losses Bharati was married at the very young age of 14. A year later curious about the outside world Bharati set off on a journey to Benarus, Kashi. For fours years he discovered the country and realised how bad things were. Interestingly it was during these voyages that he began to wear a turban inspired by some members from the Hindu society.
His stay in Kashi made gave him a broader perspective on spirituality and so he began to study. Bharathi learnt many languages such as Sanksrit, Hindi, Bengali, and English. With his knowledge he was regularly employed as a school teacher and also a journal editor at times. Though Bharathi was a Hindu he wasn’t limited spiritually; as he wrote in Vande Mataram once “ We shall not look at caste or religion, All human beings in this land - whether they be those who preach the vedas or who belong to other castes - are one.”
It is important to note that Bharathi lived during an eventful period of Indian history. People like Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and Gandhi were his comtemporaries, and just like them he too decide to join the Indian freedom struggle. He wrote poems and articles to awaken the people of India. He saw a great, educated and free country. A visit with Sister Nivedita opened new doors for Bharati and he realised the importance of Women in society. Soon he became editor of a Tamil weekly ‘India’; a source from which he channelled his creativity in the forms of poems, hymns, anthems e.t.c.
Simultaneously Bharati fought against society for its mistreatement of the lower classes as well as the British for not giving India the freedom it deserved. Bharati attended the Surat Congress where along with Sri Aurobindo and Tilak demanded India’s freedom. Slowly but steadily Bharati became immersed in politics and began writing nationalistic poems. But when the proprietor of the Journal ‘India’ was arrested and he was next in line, Bharati escaped to Pondicherry, which was under French rule. During this period in Pondicherry he met with Sri Aurobindo again and also with Lajpat Rai. He continued his writing work along with Sri Aurobindo and they were both published in the ‘Arya’ and the ‘Karma Yogi’.
In November 1918 Bharati was arrested in Cuddalore and was locked up for three weeks. Once out he continued to write and his poetry began reflecting a reformist ideal. He had given up his own cast and decided to fight in order to abolish the caste system.
Although he lived for a short time (Subramaniya Bharathi died on September 11, 1921, in Madras), the impact that Bharati made with his poetry, articles, songs and speeches is still indelible. He remains one of the great tamil poets of his age and a respected figure in South India.