“Bharati’s” Works Not by Bharati

Co-author: Mira T. Sundara Rajan.

Nearly a century after his death, Bharati’s fame has grown beyond all bounds. As Bharati becomes increasingly well-known, Bharati research is growing, with a large number of books and articles on Bharati being published every year. The growing interest in Bharati makes it more important than ever that the basic texts with which the public is familiar should be the pure, unadulterated literature written by Bharati, and nothing else.

One of the peculiar difficulties surrounding Bharati’s works is the challenge of trying to find the writings published by Bharati during his lifetime. Because Bharati was a journalist, his published writings were scattered throughout various magazines published in the pre-Independence era in India. These include Swadesamitran, where he worked as a sub-editor, and various other publications. Scholars have therefore been intent on retrieving Bharati’s writings from these publications, like searching for diamonds in a mine, and have gone ahead to publish whatever they found.

Over the past several decades, Bharati scholars and researchers have attempted to locate Bharati’s works. They have sought to trace Bharati’s works by traveling to the places where he lived, spoken to Bharati’s relatives, friends, and acquaintances, and noted their recollections. They have taken photographs of the people in Bharati’s life, and of the houses where he lived.

Personal conversations and interviews, in particular, lead to a number of problems. For various reasons, the recollections of those Bharati knew are not always factually correct – sometimes even as a result of over-enthusiasm! I wrote about some of these issues in more detail in an earlier essay in this blog.  On some occasions, poems were also given to researchers by Bharati’s relatives and acquaintances.

I fully support the efforts of scholars attempting to locate Bharati’s works, wherever they may be available; these efforts are commendable. But, these findings must be substantiated by thorough examination, credible proof, or approval of a group of Bharati-scholars. Otherwise, the validity of these findings is highly questionable.

The “found” works attributed to Bharati have generally been published with prompt eagerness – with little attempt at corroboration. To me, as a Bharati scholar with many decades of experience, and as a member of Bharati’s family, there are a number of works which have become accepted as part of Bharati’s canon, but simply do not belong there. This problem has distressed me for a number of years, as I feel that it is damaging to Bharati, and to Bharati’s future – as scholarship grows around his works, and as researchers make judgements of the quality of his writings based on questionable works. And the dissemination of these works continues apace. The well-known film on Bharati, made in Tamil Nadu in the year 2000, even features a popular “Bharati” song that was actually not written by Bharati!

I have gradually come to understand that a very clear way of describing this problem is offered by the legal concept of authors’ “moral rights.” According to this concept, what has happened to Bharati would be called the mis-attribution of Bharati’s work. This problem has various dimensions, affecting Bharati’s right to be named as the author of his own, and only his own, work, and his right to choose which of his own works should appear before the public, and in what publication circumstances. Moral rights allow us to describe and understand this problem in a clear, precise, and systematic way. The moral rights involved are “disclosure,” “attribution,” and “integrity.”

Mira T. Sundara Rajan has written an article about Bharati’s copyright, in which she defines the legal concept of moral rights and explains how it relates to Bharati’s works:

“The expression, ‘moral rights,’ is itself a somewhat awkward translation into English of the original term in French law, “droit moral.” The connotations of this French expression are quite different from its English equivalent, evoking, rights of a ‘personal or spiritual’ nature, above all.

“The two main types of moral rights are the rights of attribution and integrity.  The right of attribution allows an author to assert authorship of his work, and to prevent another person from claiming authorship of his work. In addition, an author may prevent the attribution of works to him which he did not create.

“The right of integrity allows the author to protest any distortion, mutilation, modification, or other treatment of his work which is, in the language of the Berne Convention, ‘prejudicial to his honour or reputation.’  In contrast to the highly specific right of attribution, the right of integrity is a broad right which allows authors to object to a wide range of practices – including editing, publishing, performance, and possibly exhibition – which may not be compatible with the intentions of the author.

“In addition to these two types of moral rights, three other moral rights are recognized in some Continental jurisdictions, notably France. The right of disclosure or publication allows the author to decide whether his work is to be published or otherwise brought before the public, and how this should be done. The right of withdrawal allows an author to recall a published work from circulation on the grounds that it has ceased to represent his views.  Lastly, the right to prevent excessive or vexatious criticism is also a recognized moral right. .  .  .  .  .

“Many of the problems involving Bharati’s works may effectively amount to violations of the author’s moral rights. The false attribution of the works of other authors to Bharati contravenes his right of attribution.”

To summarize these principles:

I. The moral rights of Bharati: his rights are of a “personal or spiritual” nature.

II. The right of attribution is the basis for asserting Bharati’s authorship: it prevents another person from claiming authorship for his work; it also prevents other work from being attributed to Bharati, which he did not create.

III. The right of integrity allows Bharati to protest any “distortion, mutilation, modification, or other” treatment of his work which is, “prejudicial to his honour or  reputation.” The right of integrity is a broad right which allows authors to object to a wide range of practices – including editing, publishing, performance, and possibly exhibition – which may not be compatible with the intentions of the author.

IV. The right of disclosure or publication allows the author to decide whether his work is to be published or otherwise brought before the public, and how this should be done.

V. The right of withdrawal allows an author to recall a published work from circulation on the grounds that it has ceased to represent his views.

VI. The right to prevent inappropriate criticism, such as criticism that is ill-informed,  is also a recognized moral right.

I have attached a file to this post, “Bharati’s Moral Rights” (please click here), in which I have made a detailed analysis of the poems that are currently in circulation and included in Bharati’s Poetical works.  I have categorized the poems into 2 groups: one violating Bharati’s Authorship (False Attribution), and the other, violating Bharati’s right of Disclosure or Withdrawal.

A. Bharati’s Authorship (False Attribution)

  1. Under this category, I have listed the poems that were taken from books on Bharati, written by biographers and various others.
  2. The poems that were collected by researchers from: friends and relatives of Bharati – individuals who had recorded them in their (journal) notes – individuals who had  reported from their memories – and Bharati’s  (supposedly) original hand-written manuscripts.
  3. Poems published in magazines as Bharati’s after his time by various persons.

B.  Bharati’s  Right of Disclosure 

  1. Poems taken from Swadesamitran and India magazines from 1904 to 1909 and published.

These were the poems written from the year 1904 to 1906, during Bharati’s lifetime.

Bharati himself did not include these in his first publication, Swadesa Githangal (1908) in which he publishes a collection of his poems, most of them national.  There may be reasons why Bharati did not publish these poems that were written between 1904 and 1906; but, the fact that he did not disclose these poems to the public when he published his poems in book form indicates that he had decided not to include these poems in his body of work.

However, P. Thooran, in his beginning college years (intermediate), took an interest in copying these poems from Swadesamitran periodicals and published them in his book Bharati Tamizh.  There is no record or back-up for these poems, except for Thooran’s copies.  At this point in time, it may or may not be possible to verify these poems, as the original papers would have deteriorated or been destroyed by now.

2. (Supposedly) completed version of Bharati’s poems – published in books and magazines.  Additional material (stanzas) found in previous publications or originally published by Bharati in magazines which he himself changed, removed or modified to publish in his first book of poetry Swadesa Githangal.  Researchers have brought them back for inclusion among his poems.

Thanjavur Research Edition

Many of these cases are illustrated by the Thanjavur “research” edition of Bharati’s works.

When Bharati’s birth centenary was celebrated in 1982, the Chief Minister of Madras called for the preparation of a “special edition” of Bharati’s works. 3 lakhs of rupees (Rs 300,000) were allotted for this work, and the project was given to Tanjavur University. The Editorial group chosen  for this work included Chu. Chellappan, Pa. Chidambaram, Chini Vishwanathan, T.N. Ramachandran, and T.V.S. Mani. The Editor of the book was Ma. Ra. Po. Gurusamy. The first edition of this book was published in 1987; the second in 1989; and the “corrected,” third edition appeared in 2001. As far as I am aware, no further editions have appeared since then.

I am deeply troubled by this book, which raises various, serious concerns. The sources for the Thanjavur edition include all of the questionable items that I have listed above. They were not the original publications, from Bharati’s own lifetime, Bharati Ashramam, Bharati Prachuralayam, or the first Government editions. As a result, poems of questionable authorship are included in this book, and appear alongside those which are certainly Bharati’s (the book is organized chronologically). Overall, there are about 50 such poems in the book.

The establishment of the text of Bharati’s poems, as it appears in this edition, also presents certain grave problems. The authoritative sources of Bharati’s poems are not given priority in the establishment of the text. Rather, these sources are indicated only in the footnotes to specific poems. For example, a given poem might be reprinted in the Tanjavur edition as it appeared in a journal (eg. Swadesamitran): the text would not be taken from Bharati’s own book publication, or from any of the authoritative publications brought out after his death. As the editor  of the Thanjavur edition says: “The first  version in which the work is published is the one that has been used. Even if Bharati himself has corrected it, those corrections are only indicated in the footnotes” (“Specialty of the Edition,” in the Front Matter of the Thanjavur Edition, 3rd edition 2001).

The editor also says that he has done this in order to give researchers the opportunity to read various versions of the poem, and “choose” whichever ones they think are “best.” He notes: “In order to accomplish this goal, it is sure that the edition will be helpful.”

…From the point of view of the rightful attribution of Bharati’s authorship, this is a nightmare! This attitude will only promote the proliferation of works wrongfully attributed to Bharati, and doubtful judgements about Bharati’s works. If we give researchers the opportunity to “select” versions of Bharati’s works, the original versions are likely to be lost. Each researcher will favor his or her own “findings.” In my opinion, this should absolutely not be allowed. It interferes fundamentally with the establishment of authenticity in Bharati’s texts. What is needed, is just the opposite: a “standard” version of Bharati’s works, based on accurate principles of establishing their authorship and authenticity. Otherwise, the publications are based on, and promote, the false attribution of works not by Bharati to him, and the persistence of words and phrases not approved by him – an inaccurate and shameful situation.  I find some of the poems “atrocious;” and I am absolutely sure that they harm Bharati’s  reputation.  Adding insult to injury, the text of the Thanjavur book is full of mistakes, so that Bharati’s poems are presented to the public flaunting wrong words and other lamentable errors.

The Standard Edition that I am currently publishing is very carefully based on publishing Bharati’s poems – only those poems that are written by him, and in the authoritative versions established by him or featured in the early editions of Bharati’s works that were published after his death. The guiding principles of my Standard Edition are those of moral rights – disclosure, attribution, and integrity. This approach is unprecedented in relation to Bharati-literature. And I believe that this may be the first time that an author or editor has ever adopted moral rights explicitly as the basis for an edition.

The reason that I have undertaken this elaborate work is to prevent any further mis-attribution of works to Bharati, or the publication of inauthentic versions of his works that may happen in the future. I am afraid that if we do not address this problem now, it is going to grow larger and larger as Bharati research grows; and will ultimately present Bharati to the world in a wrongful light.

The efforts of researchers who have sought out and published such questionable material – whether through over-enthusiasm, negligence, or without realizing the consequences – do not do any service to Bharati. Instead, they cause harm to his fame.

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  1. Raji Krishnan Avatar
    Raji Krishnan

    Let me first congratulate you on your tireless effort in launching a blog
    to inform the world not only about Mahakavi Barathyar’s life and his great works
    but also delving into the controversial aspects, sometimes slandering. I am following the articles
    as and when I get the info from you.
    Congratulations on your thorough-going attitude, tackling without fear or hesitation,
    what you think is rightfully due to your grand father. Your writings give me a lot of food for thought.
    . . . . .
    The younger generation does not even fully apprehend the greatness of this human being (Bharati) and often
    times dismiss him as a legendary character!
    Carry on this monumental project of revealing to the world the nature of his erudite works, he brought forth
    those short years and relinquishing the blemishes that people have been led to believe.
    . . . . Mahakavi Barathiyar, single-handedly, touched upon issues far ahead of his time for the Betterment of Humanity.

    Jeera – Tamil Writer, Author of the book entitled ‘Malarum Ninaivugal’
    with English translation ‘Down Memory Lane.
    Lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  2. Professor M.S. Nagarajan Avatar
    Professor M.S. Nagarajan

    I read, with great attention, your review article on Usha Rajagopalan’s translations of Bharati’s poems. It is a masterly piece on the theory and practice of translation. Please send this article to the journal Indian Literature published by the Sahithya Akademi, Delhi.

    Professor M.S. Nagarajan
    Retd. Head of the Dept. of English
    Madras University
    (in response to “Translation or Travesty? Bharati’s Poems in English Translation”

  3. Dr. S. Mohan Bharati Avatar
    Dr. S. Mohan Bharati

    I find your blogs both interesting and informative. The presentation of the subject and the style of writing are brilliant. I cannot find any other words to express my appreciation!

    Dr. S. Mohan Bharati
    (Bharati’s grandson)

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