Today, the 11th of September 2013, is the death anniversary of C. Subramania Bharati (1882-1921). It is a religious observance in our custom to celebrate the death anniversary of our ancestors. I would like to dedicate to my grandfather, the last chapter from my book Amaran Kathai, a biographical novel about his life, as a tribute to his memory. I believe that nothing could be more appropriate than offering him my appreciation in this way.
Amaran Kathai is a novel based on Bharati’s life, and presented against the historical background of the Indian Freedom Movement, which he helped to ignite in South India. I would say that the novel is actually more of a biography than a novel, in the sense that it is more factual than imaginary. Most of the important events in Bharati’s life that are described in this novel – political, social, and personal –are factual, recounted with a touch of the imagination of the artist.
The genesis of this novel is an interesting story. Having written short biographical works on Bharati before, I wanted to write a truly detailed biography of this extraordinary man who was a Mahakavi, and also a personality of dazzling colours – a nationalist, hero, historical figure, revolutionary, social reformer, humanitarian, mystic, and above all, visionary who “saw” the future of India and the world. But I realized that it would not be an easy task; it would be challenging to portray such a personality in the usual form of a biography, which has certain inherent limitations. I was afraid that a mere narration of the incidents in the life of the poet, or a descriptive elaboration of his social background and the historical events of his times, might not be enough to understand the extent of his genius or his greatness as a poet. I was concerned that a traditional biography might end up as a kind of news reporting, purely informative, rather than portraying a complete picture of the poet’s personality.
I therefore decided not to pursue the idea of writing a biography in the traditional sense, but, instead, to write a novel about his life. I thought that, in a novel, I would be able to bring out all the different shades of his multifarious genius – the different aspects of his personality – his craftsmanship as a poet, his longing for freedom as a nationalist, his emotional force as a revolutionary, the depth of his faith and devotion as a bhakta, his love and compassion as a humanitarian, and his visionary insights as a gnani.
The Chapter in Amaran Kathai that I am posting today narrates the last day of Bharati’s life in his physical body. As my mother, Thangammal, recalled, “In those days, he was always thinking of Narayana and was always chanting Narayana namam (name).” He wrote his last poem, “Om Namo Narayanaya,” at this time, which reveals his disposition or state of mind in his last days. Both the poem and the last chapter from Amaran Kathai are attached to this Article (see links).
In this final chapter, I have incorporated Bharati’s poem “Om Namo Narayanaya,” a few excerpts from his writings (“Katchi”), and the fascinating story of the demon king Hiranya and his young son Prahalada. The poem is written as a dialogue, a samvadham, that occurred between the father and the son. Hiranya threatens his little son with unimaginable cruelties, but Prahlada, in return, answers only, “Om Namo Narayanaya.”
“What would you do if I killed you,” roared Hiranya;
“Om Namo Narayanaya, Om Namo Narayanaya,” said the little boy (siruvan).
“I will topple you down from the top of the mountain,” said Hiranya;
“Om Namo Narayanaya, Om Namo Narayanaya,” said the little boy.
“I will thrust you into the mouth of the whale, in the midst
of the frigid ocean,” said Hiranya;
“Om Namo Narayanaya, Om Namo Narayanaya,” said the little boy.
“I will break you apart at the hip and eat you, said the evildoer.
“Om Namo Narayanaya, Om Namo Narayanaya” said the little boy.
The two contrasting characters – the violent, tumultuous, stormy, fierce, raging, wild Hiranya stands in striking contrast to the calm, peaceful, fearless young bhakta. The difference accentuates the intensity of their confrontation. The repetition of the single phrase “Om Namo Narayanaya” highlights the fearlessness of the young boy and his unshakable faith in God.
Finally, Hiranya points to a stone pillar in front of him, and demands of his son, “Show me your Narayana in this pillar.” Prahlada answers, “Narayana exists in this pillar, and he also exists in the tiny twig of a tree.” Hiranya, becoming fierce with violent anger, kicks the pillar with his foot. To his astonishment, Narasimha, one of the ten avataras of Mahavishnu in the ferocious form of the Human-Lion, springs out and tears the evil king into two pieces.
In the explanatory remarks at the start of this Chapter, I have analyzed how an extraordinary event from history could appear to be happening at the present time. Was it just the imagination of the poet in his heightened state of mind? I do not believe so. I believe that these unusual occurrences were real, not imaginary, and that they were actually experienced by the poet.
I translate, below, my introductory remarks to the chapter. These passages are from Bharati’s own translation and commentary on the Patanjali Yoga Sutras:
In his commentary, Bharati uses a few musical terms to explain certain phenomena of creation that the human mind cannot grasp. He wants to emphasize, perhaps, that, in the vastness of creation, the limited human mind and physical senses are incapable of perceiving the wonders of nature to their full extent.
The musical term that Bharati uses to illustrate the levels of the human mind is Sthayi (range). There is also the order with which the human mind functions – the ascending and the descending: in musical language, Arohanam is ascending notes (swarams: s r g m p d n) and Avarohanam is descending notes (swarams: s n d p m g r).
“The phenomena of creation are infinite. . . .
“The Ocean of Sound: the limitless, unthinkable, unending range of variations of sound are infinite. From the sound of the young parrot’s cry to the sound of the moon colliding and collapsing onto the earth – the noise of the wind blowing on doomsday – the roaring of the planets crashing into the Sun and disintegrating into powder – if we can imagine such things happening – of all this varied range of sounds, the human ear can hear only seven Sthayis (the theory and calculation of Jagdish Chandra Bose).
“The Ocean of light: in the limitless, unthinkable, unending range of light – humans can only accede to seven Sthayis. What man discerns as dark, the owl perceives as light. In the matter of ‘light,’ the owl has familiarity with the ‘lower’ ranges whereas the eagle is able to access the ‘higher’ ranges. The eagle has the power to look directly at the sun.
“Similarly, the ‘Subconscious’ (chaitanya) is made up of infinite ranges of which the human mind, in its usual state, can only reach two or three ranges. Even within these ranges – in its ascending and descending Sthayis – in its various combinations of Swaras – in the variations of Ragas – it is possible to achieve strange and amazing experiences. A few men are able to reach even eight or nine Sthayis, and we call them mahatmas and avataras.
“For those who have ascended a few steps in yoga siddhi, the lower part of the subconscious world opens up and reveals ‘visionary’ sights and wondrous experiences. As the torrent of the river Ganga flows from the originating mountaintops, gushing over the earth, and descending to the nether world (padalam), the wonders of the upper levels of Chaitanya pass through the normal consciousness and descend into the lower Chaitanya, creating unimaginable and wondrous experiences – as the fire that lies in a dormant state below the surface of the earth, climbs up through the mountains and bursts out through the summits – in great men (mahans), the wonders that were dormant in the lower levels of their own subconscious minds, emerge on occasion and create visions or experiences which would ordinarily seem impossible.
“These visions are clearer than the dreams that occur when we are asleep. They are as ‘real’ as the little parrot’s cry, or the owl’s experience of the ‘light’ of ‘darkness,’ or the eagle’s experience of the brilliance of the sun.”