On this day, October the 2nd, we celebrate the birth anniversary of the Mahatma. This brings to us the memory of our past – the struggle we went through, the miseries we tolerated – for more than a century under British rule. The memory is impossible to bear when we think of the enormous suffering of our leaders – physically, mentally and morally – individuals who sacrificed their lives to set us free from slavery and ill- treatment. Today, we can perhaps console ourselves with the thought that their struggle and sacrifice were worth it, as it succeeded in opening up a new future for the present and future generations, enriching our lives and making India one among the Nations of the world. Was it not the same goal that our ancestors had striven for and accomplished in our glorious past?
In their human characteristics, the Mahatma and the Mahakavi were astonishingly similar. Determination and perseverance in the pursuit of accomplishing their goals – imagination, creativity, and clarity of mind – truth and loving-kindness – were the striking qualities of these two extra-ordinary personalities. As true patriots, their Vision of the country, their ability to foresee its future, and their optimistic view of human life were alike. Both visualized India as the Mother Shakti and Her people as the children of God. Both were devout Hindus and whose faith in God was unshakeable. Their perception of creation, life, and humanity were based on the Advaitic principles, that all beings are the forms of God and, therefore, equal. Their treatment of Harijans and their rejection of caste prejudice were based on this Advaitic ideal.
Neither Bharati the Mahakavi, one of the greatest poets in the world, nor Gandhi the Mahatma, the great soul and peerless leader, was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize.
What could be the reasons for this oversight? Perhaps in those days, Bharati as a Tamil poet, was unrecognized by the world; perhaps the world did not know either the language of his poetry or India’s greatness at the time that she was still a subject nation. With few exceptions, Bharati’s poems were not translated into English or other European languages.
On the other hand, a poet like Bharati, Rabindranath Tagore, the poet of Bengal, did gain the world’s recognition and was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in the year 1913. Tagore was well-known, not only in India, but also abroad. He had written a substantial volume of poetry, translated into English with the help of a powerful friend, W.B. Yeats. He traveled across continents on lecture tours, and, in fact, Bharati wrote about, and celebrated, Tagore’s remarkable trip to Japan.
Tagore lived a long life of 80 years; Bharati died when he was 39. Tagore was wealthy; Bharati lived in poverty for most of his life. While Bharati was totally involved in the Indian National Movement and lived all his life fighting for India’s freedom, Tagore, although he participated in the National Struggle, was largely involved in writing and traveling around the world, spreading India’s great culture.
The Mahatma had been nominated for the Nobel prize several times. In 1948, following his death, the Nobel Committee declined the award to the Mahatma on the ground that “there was no suitable living candidate that year.” Later, when the Committee awarded the Peace Prize in 1989 to the Dalai Lama, the members of the Committee expressed their regret for the omission of the Mahatma, and the Chairman said that the award was “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.”
Bharati and the Mahatma met once; it was an exceptional and memorable incident. Gandhiji visited Chennai and stayed in Rajaji’s house to discuss the Rowlett Committee’s Report. The Mahatma thought that the Report was not acceptable to any human being who had any self-respect. He wanted to take action against the Report, and sought to organise a nation-wide satyagraha (passive resistance) to oppose it.
The Meeting of the two is described by Va. Ra., (a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and Bharati) who was present when it happened:
[The] Mahatma was surrounded by a group of people . . . In this group, the elite personalities of Madras were present, such as Adi Narayana Chettiyar, Rangasamy Iyengar, Satyamurti, Rajaji, and Va. Ramasamy Iyengar.
Bharati came to Rajaji’s house to see the Mahatma. As soon as he entered, he went straight to Gandhiji where he was conducting the meeting. He asked him if he would be able to preside over a meeting at the Marina beach, where he was giving a lecture. Gandhiji turned around and consulted with his secretary Mahadev Desai as to the details of his program for that evening. It turned out that he was not free that evening, and he asked Bharati if he could postpone the meeting for another day. Bharati said that this would not be possible. He then “blessed” Gandhiji’s new Movement, and left the group.
Mahatma asked the group who the man was, and Rajaji answered, “He is a Tamil national poet.” Gandhiji remarked, “You should take good care of this man.”
Obviously, upon Bharati’s appearance, and witnessing his majestic behaviour, the Mahatma was immediately able to recognize the value of the Mahakavi and he was clearly concerned that it was important that he should be “taken care of.”
Why was Bharati not properly introduced to the Mahatma? The incident happened so quickly, and perhaps, there was not enough time. There was no other reason why Bharati should not have been introduced to the National leader.
For, Bharati was more than qualified to meet the Mahatma. First of all, he was a true Nationalist. He had attended the nationally organized Congress meetings in the North. All his life, he was a journalist and the editor of nationalist newspapers and magazines. Indeed, he was the first person to introduce “nationalism” to the people of Tamil Nadu. He had worked hard towards educating the people of the Tamil Land about the greatness of their own country and its age-long culture. He had taught them the value of freedom, and how it was important to live a life of dignity as an equal with all other human beings.
Why, then, was Bharati not included in the efforts of the Mahatma towards achieving their great, and shared, goal?
I am not seeking to awaken the old grievances at this time, after so many years. But, I think that Bharati’s intelligence and acuity in making political decisions could have helped the Mahatma, perhaps a great deal, if the “important” people would have given him the opportunity to meet the great leader.
The Mahatma’s insight, both spiritual and political, was true, in that Bharati was not exactly well taken care of in those days. It was not that people of his times did not recognize his value. On the contrary, India’s first Governor General Sri. C. Rajagopalachari was his friend; he had visited him at his house a couple of times, and enjoyed Bharati and Chellamma’s hospitality. He had read Bharati’s poetry, and commented on the man and his work in newspapers. Co-nationalists such as Sri Aurobindo, the great spiritualist and writer – V.V. Chidambaram Pillai, the Kappalottiya Tamizhan who launched a Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company against the British – G. Subramania Iyer, the founder and editor of the “Hindu” in Tamilnadu – V. Krishnasamy Iyer, a staunch Nationalist and leader of the “Moderate” party in Tamilnadu (Bharati belonged to the “extremist” party), and other patriots such as Subramania Siva, Surendranath Arya – all these individuals sought Bharati’s opinions and ideas on national matters. A few of the great leaders of the North, including his political Guru Bal Gangadhar Tilak – respected him. As a Nationalist and a poet, the Tamil-speaking public respected him enormously and loved his poetry and writings.
But, in spite of this wide recognition – why was he not in the front row along with the Mahatma and his circle?
As two Nationalists working towards one goal, there may have been a few natural differences between them in their approaches to unity and their methods of fighting the British. Indeed, Bharati was not always positive about the Mahatma’s methods in the Struggle. Some of the issues – such as voluntary submission, or the sacrifice of human lives at gunpoint and in the face of violence were difficult for him to accept. I am sure, that these methods were also difficult to accept for the Mahatma. But, in any case, these incidents happened in the history of the Freedom Movement. As a humanitarian, Bharati was anxious to avoid the loss of innocent lives. And Bharati examined and critiqued certain ideas of the Mahatma, including his approach to social issues such as widow re-marriage – Bharati elaborates on this in his own writing, providing statistical data to support his points.
At the same time, Bharati realized that, when a large scale “non-cooperation” movement is involved, mistakes can occur. As a result, the loss of human life was a possibility. Bharati was clear in his mind that Mahatma’s political scheme of satyagraha was an effective tool to use in this struggle; indeed, he came to believe that this was the only method that could be successful for the achievement of freedom for India. Applying this method carefully, it might be possible to protect human life and still be successful.
Bharati, sings of the glory of the Mahatma, who came to revive the down- trodden people of India who suffered under British rule. In his poem saluting the Mahatma, Mahatma Gandhi Panchagam (5 stanzas), Bharati compares him with the historical heroes of the Hindu scriptures: from the Ramayana War, Hanuman, who brought a medicinal herb from the Sanjivi mountains to alleviate the effects of the nagapasa and save the life of Lakshmana, the brother of Rama; and in the Bhagavatam, Krishna, who shielded the lives of people and cattle with the Govardhan giri (mountain), from lightning and thunder caused by the fury of Indra.
Bharati pays homage to Gandhi for creating a powerful strategy which was New and Simple, to treat the debilitating and cruel “disease” of foreign rule. He praises the Mahatma for introducing the basic principles of Advaita – the revelations of the Hindu thought that all beings are embodiments of God and, therefore, equal – into politics, which is filled with war, killing, and cruelty.
Bharati quotes Tagore in his poem Bharata Mata Navaratna Malai, “The Mahatma is the leader of the men of the world and he is the embodiment of dharma.”
He assured the people of India that they should follow the path shown by the Mahatma and be successful. He declared freedom and invited people to celebrate the victory: “Let us blow the conch to celebrate our success!”