Subramanya Bharathiyar is a renowned poet from Southern India. He composed poems and songs in the Dravidian language Tamil, which have gained popularity in schools, movies, and households across India over the years. His poetry is known for its appeal to the liberty and strength of the people.
As a person, Bharathiyar was a simple man, interested in his writing alone. His wife would leave the house to bring food somehow, while he wrote and brought in little income for the poor family. However, his writings have earned him the title “Mahakavi,” or “Great Poet.”
Born to Chinnaswaamy Aiyyar and Lakshmi AmmaaL in 1882 at ETTayapuram, he lost his mother at 5, and at 11 was invited to a conference of ETTayapuram court poets and musicians. There he was given the title Bhaarati for his ability to compose poems and songs – he accepted a challenge and composed a cindu on the model of kaavaDi cindu of Annaamalai Reddiyaar. At 15 he married CellammaaL and in 1898, his father died.
At 22, he became Tamil teacher at Setupati High School in Madurai and the same year was appointed Assistant Editor of a daily newspaper called “Swadesamitran.” In 1906, he was editor of a weekly magazine called “India” in Madras and the next year a friend of his, Krishnaswaamy Aiyyar received from him songs he had composed on patriotism and published them, titled “SudEsa geetangaL.” In 1908 the government wanted to arrest him, but he escaped to PonDicerry (under French rule) and published “India” from there. In 1912 he translated the Bhagavad Geeta into Tamil and composed songs on Krishna (KaNNan PaaTTu), “Kuyil,” and “Pancaali Shabadam” (on Draupadi of the Mahaabhaarata). When he left PonDicerry in 1918, he was arrested and later released.
His national integration songs earned him the title “DEsiya Kavi” (National Poet). He composed Tamil keertanais on love, devotion, fearlessness, mysticism. His stepbrother C. Vishwanaata Aiyyar and V.V.S. Aiyyar tell us that he himself set his songs to music and could sing them well in a variety of raagams. In “Bharata dEviyin tiru dasangam” he used 10 raagams. His patriotic songs emphasize nationalism, unity of India, equality of man and the greatness of the Tamil language, set himself to folk tunes. He sang these himself at Congress meetings at the Madras beach.
In an article “Sangeeta Vishayam” (Issues in Music), Bhaaratiyaar rebukes musicians for singing songs of the Trinity, PaTnam Subramania Aiyyar and others without knowing the meaning because the songs are all in Sanskrit or Telegu. Without knowing the meaning, singers are unable to sing with proper expression. He also says songs usually portray devotion and love and not other emotions like courage, anger, wonder, fear, and hatred. He emphasized that musicians should not sing songs which they don’t understand and should learn from Hindustani musicians how to train their voices. He died in an accident on September 11, 1921 at 39.