“Oh, what a dream!
The dream happened in my conscious state,
when my eyes were wide awake”
Despite Bharati’s renown as a poet, his involvement in Hindu philosophical studies remains little known. His poetry is deeply rooted in Hinduism and in its philosophical principles. He studied the Vedas and undertook painstaking research to explore these sources of Indian thought. He not only studied the Hindu scriptures, but he also read the scriptures of other religions, such as the Bible and the Koran. In fact, his philosophical and spiritual research was among the most significant influences on the development of his poetic personality.
The significance of the word Arya is generally misunderstood and interpreted in the context of Bharati’s writings. An unbiased and objective look at Bharati’s writings, to explore where and how he uses the term Arya, clearly shows the poet’s scholarship in the Sanskrit language, his wide reading of both Tamil and Sanskrit literatures, and his understanding of history and culture. The word occurs in so many expressions, and is so richly endowed with myriads of meanings, that it may have to be understood according to its particular context. To Bharati, the meaning that the word Arya conveys is “highly esteemed, respectable, honourable and noble,” whether it is of a nation, or man. He definitely does not mean Brahmana, probably one of the original races which immigrated to the Tamil land, from the North.
Arya dharsanam, the poem that is available at this link, occurred in what the poet calls his “conscious” dream. In normal dream, when the dreamer is asleep and in an “unconscious” state, the sub-conscious mind enters into diverse realms of experience and imagination, and interprets them in any which way it pleases, bringing various things and sights into contact, relating the most unrelated objects, and creating a “story” of its own. The human mind, in its conscious state, is unable to grasp the inner meaning of these stories. Even the study of the mind’s workings can hardly decipher these stories, or provide explanations for the occurrence of the dreams.
A poet’s “conscious” dream is, perhaps, the poet’s “vision,” where the poet’s eyes and all his inner faculties are “wide open,” and he willingly, purposefully brings the story of his imagination to mind. It may not be possible to explain what exactly a poet’s “vision” is. But I am conjecturing, in this case, that the preoccupations of the poet’s mind rose to the surface of consciousness, and created a “screen” of vision in which he could see a wonderful “drama” taking place. As Bharati describes in his poem, characters who play in this “drama” of consciousness are the leaders of two great religions, the Buddha and Krishna, and a heroic warrior, Arjuna. It took place under a banyan tree, and on the plains of a field of battle.
As this drama unfolded, Bharati was found himself in the midst of a forest where there was a golden little hill surrounded by little pools (sunai) and a pond. The light of the round moon was shining in the sky. On the hill, there was a banyan tree (aala maram), under which, the Buddha was seated. His face was shining with wisdom, emitting brilliant light and illuminating all around him.
And, what a wonder! The Buddha’s light disappeared and a sudden darkness extended over the place!
On the top of the hill, there was a battlefield, the kurukshetra in which there was a chariot and horses. Bharati was wonderstruck to see a magnificent person who was seated in the front of the chariot. The charioteer was magnificent – beautiful as the love-God Kaman (Manmadan), blue in colour, his eyes overflowing with benevolence, in valour like Bhima (one of the Pandava brothers), holding a discus (tihiri) in his hand which would rouse fear in the hearts of evildoers. He realised then that he looked upon Kannan, Lord Krishna, the mountain of wisdom (gnana malai).
The battlefield was crowded with horses, elephants and chariots, in the midst of which stood Arjuna in front of Krishna, with distressed heart. What a figure! It was surprising to Bharati that he appeared to be fatigued! The great warrior, the hero of Mahabharata …
Bharati listened to the conversation between the two warriors:
Arjuna, his heart burdened with distress, said to Krishna: “I do not want success in this war; even if I die, I will not touch the Kauravas. Would I kill my own relatives? What would be the sovereignty of the kingdom to me after losing all my relatives?”
A smile appeared in the beautiful face of Lord Krishna. He said: “Do not talk like “ignorant” men who blabber the truths of wisdom. Do not lose your vitality like a wilted flower. Take your Gandipam (bow and arrow) and destroy the Kauravas, the crowd of evildoers.”
At this juncture, “the first and foremost scripture in the gnana shastras,” originated; “the highest literature in the line of the kavyas” was created.
Bharati translated the Bhagavat Gita into Tamil and wrote a detailed introduction to it.
Mahatma Gandhi gave his blessings to Bharati’s translation, as he felt that the Gita was essential reading for each and every Tamilian (click here to view). The former Governor-General of India, Sri C. Rajagopalachari, wrote an introduction to a collection of Bharati’s prose works, which included his “Introduction to the Bhagavat Gita” (Bharati Prachuralayam, 1940) (click here to view). Bharati’s translation may be considered the best that has ever been made into Tamil. Its language and style is unique and in a few places, it is poetic and original.
Bharati was impressed by the Bhagavat Gita for many reasons:
First of all, the Bhagavat Gita was written to explain the principles of the Vedas, and, as such, it was what Bharati understood as the “culmination” of the Vedas. For this reason, it becomes the gnana shastra, leading man to immortality.
Bharati studied the Vedas with Sri Aurobindo, a nationalist who ultimately became a seer and philosopher, who was Bharati’s great and esteemed friend in Pondicherry. Both men were learned scholars in the Sanskrit language, and were capable of deciphering the more than two and a half millennia-old Hindu scriptures. They undertook research on the vedas and wrote in detail about their findings.
Secondly, Bharati was fascinated by the dramatic opening of the battle of Kurukshetra, where Lord Krishna, driving a chariot in the midst of the feuding Pandava and Kaurava clans, taught Arjuna the essence of the Vedas. Bharati’s philosopy is based on the principles of the Vedas, and the Bhagavat Gita explains this in a dramatic context. This drama introduces two great personalities – the great soul Krishna, the incarnation of Mahavishnu, and a human being, Arjuna, an embodiment of Indian culture. Krishna is paramatma, and Arjuna, the kshatriya king, is jivatma; Duryodanas are impious, evil spirits, (kama krodhas) that are the root cause of ignorance, sorrows, worries, doubts, laziness, and forgetfulness.
As a poet, Bharati enjoys the mantras of the Vedic sages and calls them “the poetry of the Vedic rishis” (vedarishikalin kavithai). These mantras from the Rig Veda describe the constant battle of the devas (immortals) with the asuras (demons). Bharati’s poetry in Tamil (Agni Sthomam) which describes Agni and the sacrifice (yaga/velvi) that the rishis perform at the altar, is a dramatic masterpiece.The sacrificial fire in which the sages pour ghee roars towards the sky, and drives the asuras, the evil spirits, to far away forests – as Milton’s Satan and his allies burn unforgettably in hellfire. The never-ending battle of the devas and asuras is an allegory of the human spirit struggling to fight against evil – sorrows, worries, fear, and ignorance.
Thirdly, the Bhagavat Gita is one of the three treasures of Hindu dharma – the other two being the Upanishads, and the Vedanta sutras. Sankara, Ramanujacharya, and Madvacharya who established three religions, wrote interpretations of the Bhagavat Gita, and established the place of the scripture as one of the foundations of the Hindu religion. Bharati was impressed that the great religious leaders proclaimed the Bhagavat Gita a foundation of the Hindu religion.
Fourthly, Bhagavat Gita is one of the treasures of Indian thought and represents thousands of years of culture – a culture of great aspirations and spirituality.
Finally, and most importantly, the Bhagavat Gita preaches the goal of Immortality, which was also Bharati’s goal, and, indeed, his religion.
Bharati’s poem, “Arya Dharsanam,” touches the essence of the Bhagavat Gita, simply, in four stanzas. In his “Introduction to the Bhagavat Gita,” Bharati offers a detailed discussion of what the scripture preaches in its eighteen chapters. He examines the various theories that inform the study of the Gita among Hindus and others, and clarifies their doubts and fears about the doctrine of the great scripture.
In the wide spectrum of Bharati’s personality, his experiences with the two great religions, Buddhism and Hinduism played an important part as he determined his own philosophy of life. In the past the two religions had engaged in a frightful battle in the Tamil land. Hinduism succeeded, not only by maintaining its own principles and ideals, but also, by adopting certain aspects of the other religion that appealed to the South Indian public. While Bharati was attracted by the ideals of equality (sarva jana samatvam) and love (jiva karunnyam), proclaimed by the Buddhist religion, he was totally against the pursuit of asceticism, promoted by Buddhism as a way of life. He appreciated the great personality of the Buddha, and his principles of humanitarianism and service, spreading these ideas throughout India. That is probably the very reason why Bharati’s dharsanam of the Buddha takes place in this poem.
“At the awakening of India from its long slumber, the first figure, the light that appeared in Bharati’s vision, was Krishna” (Introduction to Kannan Pattu, 2nd edition – V.V.S. Iyer). Bharati wrote two poems on Krishna. In these, he pleaded to Krishna, the king of the Aryas, who created the great Bharatam (“Sri Krishna Sthotram”) to bestow success and fame on the people of India (“Krishnan Midhu Sthuti”).
Bharati is fascinated by Arjuna, the other character who appears in this dream. Arjuna was a hero of the great epic, the Mahabharata; although Dharmaputra was the eldest of the Pandava brothers, Arjuna was the leading figure in all respects. He was a friend of Krishna; in his song “Kannan –My Friend,” Bharati transforms himself into Arjuna and talks about his experiences with Krishna, as a friend. Krishna practically led Arjuna through life, helping him at difficult times – most importantly, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Krishna became Arjuna’s charioteer – preached the Bhagavat Gita to him at a time when he found himself confused and distressed – gave him the eyes of wisdom (gnana), as Arjuna was the deserving and qualified personality – showed him his visvarupa, the dazzling atma of the Lord Himself.
Bharati yearns to be like Arjuna – the beautiful, strong, heroic personality, above all, a gnani. He sings to the Mother, “She would make me like my brother (annan), Arjuna” (“Kannan-En Thai” – Bharati).
Bharati explores the Bhagavat Gita from all angles: to him the great Hindu scripture is “moksha shastra, bhakti shastra, karma shastra, yoga shastra, amrutha shastra and gnana shastra.”
Immortality is Bharati’s goal in life, and he believes that Bhagavat Gita shows the path to this goal. He believes that the Bhagavat Gita reflects the conviction of the Vedic rishi, in the purusha sukta of the Rig Veda, which he interprets as follows: “You are God. All your deeds are God’s deeds. Once you realize this fact, it will be ignorant to bind yourself with chains of illusion, that you are the one who does everything. Therefore, surrender all you do to God and do your work dispassionately.”
The last four stanzas of Bharati’s “Arya Dharsanam” distil the essence of the Bhagavat Gita, which elucidates the vision of the Vedic rishis in eighteen chapters.