Seeking Immortality: Kullachamy

Bharati Arubattaru is an autobiographical poem, which consists of 66 stanzas about Bharati’s life in Pondicherry. When the British police closed his magazine India in Chennai and curtailed all of the activities of the nationalists, arresting many of them, Bharati took refuge in Pondicherry. It was 1908; he would stay until the year 1918.

While in Pondicherry, Bharati met many Siddhas  – Kullachamy, Govindasamy, and the Swamy of Jaffna. He was impressed by their way of life.

Govindasamy, who came to Bharati’s house one day, showed him the image of his father, long-dead; and then, the Swamy himself became the image of his beloved mother, whom the Poet had lost when he was only five years old. Bharati understood that he was a yogi who had attained jnana (wisdom). Bharati worshipped the Swamy of Jaffna as the great Shankara, and surrendered himself to him.

In Bharati Arubattaru, Bharati introduces himself as a siddha. The word siddha may be interpreted to mean “one who has attained wisdom, siddhi.” It is generally believed that siddhas mastered the art of living long years by strengthening their bodies through kayakalpa methods. It is by the observation of many varied methods, that the siddhas attempt to perpetuate the body, making it eternal, and golden in character; to send the Sushumna, Swadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Visuddha, Ajna, Sahasrara through certain ordained paths is part of their life. The eight siddhis anima, laghima, prapti, prakamyam, mahima, ishitwa, vashitum and kamavasayita are attained through such methods. Each of these siddhis contributes to the much greater realization of the “knowledge of self.” Bharati does not proclaim his way to be that of the siddhas who perform wondrous feats through mastery over the eight siddhis. The whole poem Bharati Arubattaru  explains siddhi in a larger sense, and how he has attained  this goal.

In a number of his poems and prose writings, Bharati speaks of meeting many such siddhas, and states that he understood their extraordinary powers. But nowhere do we find any evidence of his having tried to follow their patterns of life by putting the body through trials of hardship, or by attempting to control the breathing system.

Bharati followed Kullachamy, who led the way to show men immortality. Bharati calls him his guru. There were many instances by which Kullachamy taught him about this secret:

“He is about four and a half feet tall, dark in colour, his face is round and awkwardly large like a gunduchatty (round pot). Nobody knows his age; it may be fifty, sixty, seventy or eighty years. Ordinary people imagine that he should be more than a hundred years old, and has looked like forty-five all his life. But nothing is certain. A strongly built body as if made out of diamond; he was never afflicted with sickness in his entire life. We could say that this man is in the state of a Jatabharatha, who lives in the state of an ascetic.”

When he talks, he talks like a madman – drawling words, stuttering now and then (thikki thikki), swallowing – his speech would be disjointed. He would be lying in the street. Whenever he felt hungry, he would go somewhere, beg for food and eat. He would drink toddy and take drugs.

Suddenly he would enter a house and smear vibuti (holy ash) on the foreheads of the children. If anyone scolded or hit him, he would bear with it and run away. Many people believed that his vibuti would cure all deceases.

One day, Bharati saw Kullachamy walking by in the street, carrying a torn bundle of dirty clothes on his back. Usually, when Bharati saw the Swamy, he would greet him. When he did so now, Kullachamy laughed innocently, showing his teeth; his eyes were mischievous.
Bharati asked, “Why, Swami, are you insane? Why are you carrying this bundle of torn, dirty clothes on your back?”
“I am carrying it on my back; you are carrying it in your heart,” said Kullachamy, and ran away.

“Ah, I understand what the Swami meant,” thought Bharati. Ordinary men carry in their hearts ignorant (agnjaanam) old refuse, old worries and sorrows, and wasteful and ignoble meanness that we should have long since thrown away.”

The Pope’s “Culture of Inclusion”: What does it have to do with Bharati?

“May the ‎Transcendent Light illumine your hearts, homes and communities, and may all ‎your celebrations deepen the sense of belonging to one another in your families ‎and neighborhoods, and so further harmony and happiness, peace and ‎prosperity.‎” Thus did the Pope bless the people of India when they celebrated “Deepavali” a short time ago, on 23rd October, 2014.

What a great thing to say! And, this, we heard from the great spiritual leader of Christianity!

The world has changed a great deal since Bharati’s times. And yet, in these hundred or more years, the world has not quite changed. While certain positive changes have occurred due to globalization, some negative consequences have also come into existence, bringing challenges to the situation of the world. In fact, the “old” problems – in spite of the persistent efforts of great religious leaders and social reformers – have been accentuated, and have taken on various forms on an enormous scale, wreaking havoc and causing disharmony.

At this time, it is necessary that these crucial social themes and messages be restated, so that the goal of a just and peaceful society can be achieved. Globalization has not achieved what should be its primary objective – that of uniting people – it has, rather, acted negatively, to induce widespread “materialism” and “consumerism” which in turn, have had a negative impact on humanity. As a result, “self-absorption,” the hunger for power, and, in general, an “indifferent” attitude towards other human beings have developed in societies around the world. What the great Catholic leader has said is absolutely true: this “indifference makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves.”

Pope Francis created a new “theme” for the Deepavali day, and he called it, “a culture of inclusion.” “Inclusion” – meaning, to include others in your circle – other races,  religions, nationalities,  classes, and people of different economic and educational levels – not to exclude or alienate them. Creating a culture of inclusion in the global environment is a grand scheme, and the idea holds great importance.

On the other hand, the hoped-for results might or might not happen. Why not? There is dissatisfaction, greed, hatred, jealousy, and inequality – there are religious, caste, class, racial, and other differences – in the world, in almost all sectors of societies, leading to violence and cruelty all over the world.

The problems are severe, and have already started affecting the roots of  social structures; perhaps, there is clearly much more to do. A fundamental change of attitude among people everywhere will have to occur. Somebody will have to take charge of cleansing the debris, building new paths, and re-establishing our cherished values – the values that lead us towards these desired goals.

Early in the 8th century, Adi Shankaracharya organized Hinduism to include six religions which believed in the principles established by the Vedas. The disparities between these religions were eliminated and a clear goal was achieved. This was, perhaps, an essential step in the history of Hinduism, in order to establish and further develop a peaceful social environment. Shankara’s philosophy was Advaita – that, all beings are one and the same, and in unity with God – therefore, they are all equal. For Hinduism,  Advaita was a leading light. It set everything right in the human mind, and clarified all doubts concerning existence and the existence of God.

Bharati was a firm believer in Advaita philosophy. All his poetry was based on this principle. The culmination of this philosophical approach is the realization of oneself. As Bharati writes, “I am God”.

Bharati “included” all men and women of the world within one circle: on a global level  the patriots of India who suffered ill-treatment under the British rule, the women who drudged in the cane fields of Fiji, the Russians who suffered the cruelty of the Czar, the Belgians who confronted the consequences of World War I; he talked about supporting the freedom of women in China, he joined with Mazzini, the Italian patriot, in his vow to fulfil “the Order of God” in his country – in general, he was in fellowship with the human beings who suffered “exclusion,” poverty, and sickness.

His “inclusion” further extended to birds and inanimate objects:






“The Crow and the Sparrow are of our caste

The Sea and the Mountain are of our crowd

Whichever way we look, there is none other than ourselves

Looking again and again, oh dance of joy!”

— Poetry: Philosophy– “Jaya Berigai

Ella Uyir




“ ‘I exist in all lives’, said Kanna peruman (Krishna).” On the basis of this Truth,







“All belong to one Class, one Race. We are all people of India, the Kings (rulers) of this country,” said Bharati to the Indians who were then enslaved under British rule. He declared, “if one person goes without food, we will destroy the whole world”.

—  Poetry – Nationalism: “Bharata Samudayam

Bharati, while fighting for India’s freedom from British rule, simultaneously worked towards  eradicating social problems such as religious and caste differences, superstitions, inequality between men and women, ignorance, and poverty.

Bharati’s Drum (Murasu) beats loud to celebrate success when the negative elements of Indian society were destroyed:















—  Poetry – Nationalism: “Murasu


“They are fools who cultivate the flames of enmity

Insisting on the existence of several Gods

God is One, Which exists in all beings.”

“There should be no cruelties of caste . . .

The world will flourish only by love.”

“God blessed woman with wisdom

A few fools on earth destroyed their intellect.”


Bharati’s main theme was to free women who suffered inequality at the hands of men. In his times, women had no access to education, no freedom of speech or movement; they lived in darkness in a corner of the house, they followed and adhered to the qualities of “fear” (acham) and “shame” (naanam), which “foolish” men established as virtues for women.







– Poetry – Nationalism: “Pudumai Penn


Bharati’s “New Woman” (Pudumai Penn) declared that women would learn many new sciences (sastras); they would destroy all of the old rules and foolish ties that controlled them; they would travel all over the world and bring all that is new of their learning to India, and work to make their country great.


Let the Murasu beat, “all are equal” . . .  “all are one.”

Let the Murasu beat “destroy all Classes” . . .

Let the Murasu beat “Love” . . .

— Poetry  Nationalism: Murasu

“Let there be Light!” – said God.

“Tatsa vitur varenyam” – chanted the Veda mantra (Gayatri)





“Let us discern the Light of the Deva of red rays (The Sun)

Let him illuminate and guide our intellect”

— Translation in Tamil by Bharati of the Gayatri mantra

                                                                       (Panchali Sabatham: Canto 1, poem 153)

“May the ‎Transcendent Light illumine your hearts .. .” said the spiritual leader of Christianity.





— Poetry – Philosophy: “Agni Sthomam


“Agni, grows towards the sky to see Usha, the Dawn of wisdom.”

— Bharati: The poetry of the Vedic Rishis: interpretation of Agni


Mahatma and the Mahakavi

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!”



The Legacy Continues . . .

It was 1920. Just about a year and a half earlier, Bharati had been released from the Cuddalore jail. He had been living in Pondicherry, a French territory, for 10 years or so – a life of seclusion and imprisonment – where all his efforts at running a magazine called “India,” in which he promoted his ideas of India’s freedom and sought to educate the British Government and public about India’s needs – were curtailed.

Longing for freedom, he suffered mental agony in the last years of his life in Pondicherry. He knew that, if he did return to British territory, he would be arrested and put in jail. But his agony finally reached a point when Bharati, in disregard of the probable consequences, simply decided that he had to leave Pondicherry and move back to British India.

And indeed, immediately upon his re-entry into British territory, Bharati was caught and imprisoned. This was how the poet of Freedom ended up in Cuddalore jail.

After twenty days, with the help of his friends, Bharati was released; he had signed an agreement with  the British that “in the future, he would not publish any of his works, without showing them to the Police Deputy Inspector General.”

Upon his release, Bharati went to Kadayam, the birthplace of his wife Chellamma. It was a beautiful place that well suited his poetic nature. But, as soon as he arrived there, he realized how much he had to do: first of all, his first duty was to work towards the freedom of India. And yet, his hands were tied; he had been compelled to sign that absurd contract with the British authorities. How was he going to accomplish his goal? Not only there was no possibility of publishing anything through the newspapers or journals, but he was also living in a small village which was far away from the activities of the nation. Most importantly, he had no means of publishing the works which he had written over the past decade in Pondicherry.

Bharati became restless: the creative products of those ten years of labour– the gems of his writings – were sitting in a trunk; they were going to waste without reaching the public. Bharati sorted out all of his works into 40 parts, and he thought that the solution might be to publish them in the form of small books. But, how could he publish them without money? He decided to write a letter to his friends, seeking their support in this important endeavour.

On June 28, 1920, almost exactly 94 years ago, Bharati sent a letter in the form of a circular to all his friends. It was written in English, and read as follows:

“All my manuscripts – the accumulated labour of my 12 years’ exile – have arrived here from Pondicherry. They are to be divided into 40 separate books; of each book I print 10,000 copies for the first edition. This work will cost me an initial outlay of Rs. 20,000. And, within one year, or at the most, two years from the date of publication, I shall certainly be able to get a net profit of a lac and a half rupees.

“Most of the works which I have now selected for publication are prose-stories, sensational and, at the same time, classical: very easy, lucid, clear, luminous and all but too popular in style and diction and, at the same time, chaste, pure, correct, epic and time-defying. The fact and (2) the ever-growing increase of Tamil-reading men, women and children in the Tamil land and the Tamil world overseas; (3) the historic necessity of my works for the uplift of the Tamil land which, again, is a sheer necessity of the inevitable, imminent and Heaven-ordained Revival of the East; (4) the novel and American-like improvements which I propose to make in the printing, binding and get-up of my editions-which, aided by the beautiful and suitable pictures illustrating the interesting events occurring in the stories, will make them a tremendous attraction to our public and such a wondrous surprise; (5) the comparatively low prices of my books; for I am going to sell my prose-works uniformly at eight annas a copy and my poems at, so far as possible, four annas a copy; and (6) my high reputation and unrivalled popularity in the Tamil-reading world due to my past publications – all these are bound, most evidently, to make my sales a prodigious success.

“Please send whatever you can, send as loan towards the printing expenses. I expect from you at least Rs. 100. Kindly induce at least twenty more of your friends to lend me similar and much larger sums, if possible.

“I shall give stamped ‘Pro’ notes for the sums I receive from you and your friends, paying the generous interest of 2% per month, in view of my large profits. Expecting very eagerly, your kind reply and scores of money orders from your side and praying to God to grant you a long and joyous life.

“I remain,

“Yours faithfully,

“C. Subramania Bharati”

A wise business planning indeed, well thought through from start to end; an honest, intelligent way to get his work done.

And yet, no one replied!

As my daughter Mira Sundara Rajan, reiterates in her article about her great-grandfather’s letter:

“. . . In this letter, Bharati argues that the publication of his works would respond to ‘the historic necessity … for the uplift of the Tamil land which … is a sheer necessity of the inevitable, imminent and Heaven-ordained Revival of the East.’ . . . He expected his “high reputation and unrivalled popularity in the Tamil-reading world “to generate a large volume of sales.”

Mira further explains what happened to Bharati’s project of publishing his books:

“Unfortunately, Bharati’s efforts to publish a definitive edition of his works did not bear fruit during his lifetime. After his death, the project was taken up by his widow, Chellamma. Chellamma published notices to the public in several Tamil magazines. In these notices, she stated that she was going to establish a printing press to publish Bharati’s works, and she sought the help of the public in her undertaking.

“Chellamma, with the help of her brother, established a publishing company called Bharati Ashramam in Madras. She advised the public that she intended to publish twelve books. The first volume appeared in January of 1922, and included ninety “National Poems,” patriotic songs in the cause of Indian independence and cultural revival. Chellamma wrote a preface to this volume. She expressed her ultimate intention to publish all of Bharati’s works, and to bequeath these publications to the people of Tamil Nadu as public property upon her death. Bharati Ashramam brought out five volumes. However, Chellamma’s personal commitments prevented her from fully realizing her goal of bringing out a complete edition of her husband’s works.

“In 1924, another publishing company, Bharati Prachuralayam, was formed by Bharati’s brother, C Viswanathan, his son-in-law, and one of his friends. While Chellamma retained the copyright in Bharati’s works, Bharati Prachuralayam went on to publish almost all of his writings. In 1931, the company purchased Bharati’s copyright from Chellamma for what can only be called the ‘astoundingly small sum’ of four thousand rupees.

“When two of the partners in the Bharati Prachuralayam eventually withdrew from the company, the copyright in Bharati’s works became the property of his brother. In 1949, the copyright was purchased from Viswanathan by the government of Madras. Interestingly, the government also paid Chellamma and Bharati’s two daughters five thousand rupees each at this time.

“The government began to publish Bharati’s works in 1950. It established a publishing committee to oversee publication. The committee was composed of the members of Bharati Prachuralayam, as well as two leading post-Bharati poets. This committee attempted to establish definitive texts based on Bharati’s manuscripts and earlier published versions of his works. Any doubts as to content were primarily resolved by incorporating suitable additions at the discretion of the most literary members of the committee.

“The copyright in Bharati’s works was made public by the government of Tamil Nadu state in 1954. From this time onwards, anyone in India was free to undertake publication of Bharati’s works. Members of the public were to enjoy complete freedom to publish. Subsequent publishers of Bharati would not be required to pay a copyright fee, or to submit their editions to the government or any other agency for approval.


“Over the past seventy-five years, numerous editions of Bharati’s poetry have appeared. His works have been translated extensively, and both his works and his own personality have been featured in a number of films. However, the expansion of public access to Bharati’s works has been matched by a decline in the quality of publication, from both technical and critical points of view. . . .

“The problems that have accumulated over the years in the publication of Bharati’s works include careless printing that incorporates both typographical and interpretative errors into the final texts; false attribution of the works of other poets to Bharati; inaccurate and inappropriate translations; misleading representations of the poet’s personality; and erroneous statements about his life and works. A simple example is the routine misspelling of Bharati’s name – strange when we consider that Bharati was quite particular about the way his name was written in Latin letters. . .”

This situation actually led Mira to become interested in authors’ rights for the first time. As a legal scholar, deeply disturbed by what has happened, she asks:

“How can such problems be resolved legally? Copyright law should provide a framework for regulating both the dissemination of literature and the integrity of literary works. The pursuit of one goal at the expense of the other – in this case, widespread dissemination and minimal concern about integrity – can only result in the impoverishment of cultural heritage as a whole.”

After 93 years, I now find myself in a situation that is very similar to my grandfather’s. While I am proud of my legacy, I am also concerned that this cultural heritage in the form of literary treasures is not being protected as it should be – not by myself, nor by the government or anyone else. But our intention is to do so. Just as we take steps to protect our monumental treasures, such as the Taj Mahal, the Ellora  caves or the Mahabalipuram temples – we should undoubtedly seek to protect and preserve Bharati-literature, and, if we possibly can, to maintain this literary inheritance without allowing deterioration of any kind.

The legacy – the name, the relationship, the property itself which became public in due course – continues. What my grandfather handed down to me – and, of course, to the world – is precious; it is extraordinary,  special – a gift that God has ordained that I, a little person, as his granddaughter should be given!

When I inherited my legacy, I also inherited a few of his own problems – maybe of a different kind, yet similar. Just as Bharati had problems in publishing his Works, for certain reasons, I also encountered problems in the publishing industry, for certain other reasons!

My grandfather had to face the British Empire. And, as a result, he had to face poverty and oppression throughout his life.

In my grandmother’s case, the poverty continued . . . After the demise of her young husband, a still  younger woman of thirty two, with the responsibility of a daughter who had to be married – living in a village which was oppressive – Chellamma was left alone to live her life without any concrete help. She had no education, and no experience in the publishing industry. It was amazing that she had a great and profound understanding of Bharati’s poetry, and nothing short of a miracle that she managed to publish some part of Bharati’s editions successfully after his death!

In the second generation came Bharati’s daughters. His elder daughter, Thangammal, herself became a writer, and published, among other works, a number of articles and books where she wrote about her father and her experiences with him. She spoke to the Tamil public, in India, and attracted huge crowds who came to listen to her in Malaysia and Singapore; his younger daughter Sakuntala, wrote a memoir on her father and spoke to tamil audiences as well.

In the third generation, his granddaughter, myself, undertook, for the first time, scholarly research on his Works, wrote a number of books on his life and poetry, taught Tamil and Bharati literature in various universities around the world, and travelled to many countries to speak about Bharati, his life and literature, to large audiences.

In the fourth generation, a study of Bharati’s English Writings has been undertaken by his great-granddaughter, my daughter, Mira Sundara Rajan; this book (co-edited by myself) is waiting to be published at the desk of an eminent publisher; and a book of translation of Bharati’s poems into English is on her agenda. Mira has been speaking to international audiences about her great-grandfather for the past decade or so.

Now, my goal is to produce STANDARD, DEFINITIVE editions of Bharati’s works. All of Bharati’s poetry is divided into 4 volumes, and my goal, based on my grandfather’s own plan, is to produce:

–       a high quality work that will be the basis for future publications to conform to,

–       publications that will show Bharati’s Works as true “classics,”

–       publications that would be totally error-free, authentic, authoritative,

–       editions that are based on recognized principles of the author’s moral rights, and,

–       books that are reasonably priced, so that the general public will be able to have easy access  to     Bharati-literature.

In the past ten years or so, as far as publishing goes, I encountered great difficulty in accomplishing these goals. There was no cooperation whatsoever from the publishing industry in India. The legacy continued – from my grandfather to myself – in trying to publish his Writings, the cultural and literary treasure of India, challenges were everywhere.

But now, the time has come!

With the advent of modern technology, I am almost ready to publish the four volumes of Bharati’s poetry: 1. Desiyam, 2. Deivam-Thathuvam, 3. Kannan Pattu, Panchali Sabatham, Kuyil Pattu, 4. Bharati’s Autobiographical and other poems of Love, Nature, Vazhtthu and Katchi – all at the same time, followed by his prose-works. With the click of a button, the public can have access to these books via the most modern providers of literature online.

I will let you know as soon as these books are ready to order. There have been innumerable inquiries on my blog as to the availability of Bharati’s works… for which I am delighted to offer this reply, which I could not offer before. I firmly believe that the intervention of my grandfather, and his own determination to see his Works published, after nearly a century, will now make the inevitable possible, and a wonderful reality!

S. Vijaya Bharati




“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.

Reputation of Bharati

When the great Russian writer, Fyodor Dosteoevsky died, in 1881 – the year before  Bharati’s birth –  his funeral became a national and “historical event – thirty thousand people accompanied his coffin, seventy-two delegations carried wreaths, fifteen choirs took part in the procession.” (Pevear & Volokhonsky, translation of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990), xii). Could the contrast with Bharati, the National Poet, the People’s Poet, the “Supreme Poet” (Mahakavi) of the Tamils, be greater?

“When Bharati’s body was taken to the Cremation ground, there were only 13 people in the procession” − laments the film, Bharati, a biopic of the poet’s life.

“A wonderful genius who is born once in several centuries ended up like this.  The Tamil world did not recognize that a Mahapurusha lived among them.  Only a few friends and intellectuals understood Bharati’s greatness” – A biographer expresses his feelings of despair when describing the end of Bharati’s life.

When Bharati died, Parali Su. Nellaiyappar, Lakshmana Iyer, Kuvalai Krishnamachari, and V. Harihara Sharma – two friends and two relatives – carried Bharati’s body to the Cremation ground.  The names of the others who followed the procession are not known, but they were probably Duraisamy Iyer, V. Chakkarai Chettiyar, Surendranath Arya, Mandayam Srinivasachari, S. Tirumalachari, and Nilakanta Brahmachari, about 10 people in all.

I am bothered by this outcry of the biographers and the people of Tamil Nadu that Bharati was not honored at his funeral by a large number of people, including those who were celebrated and well-known in society.  I want to deal with this important issue.

I can understand the feelings of Bharati-lovers, that there should have been hundreds of people at the funeral procession. Why not? Was he not the Mahakavi, a nationalist, and a great man?

The reason provided by Bharati’s younger daughter Shakuntala, in her book En Thanthai Bharati (Bharati, My Father), is that there was not enough time for friends or relatives to travel to Madras from other parts of South India. The people who could come to the funeral were those who lived locally, in Madras. A further consideration lies in the fact that, in those days, it was not customary to keep a dead body in Brahmin houses for an extended period.  In Triplicane, in a street where the Brahmin community lived, it was not possible to keep the body until all the friends and relatives could arrive from different places.  There was simply no time!

The practical considerations given by my aunt make sense.  But they leave some unanswered questions.  After all, Madras was the epicenter of British South India. Would there not have been many, many people – politicians, journalists, and the intellectual elite – living in Madras who knew about Bharati and his work?

This is a more troublesome issue. I believe that Bharati’s funeral procession reflected the prejudices of his society. In particular, why was Bharati neglected by the elite of his times?

As far as Bharati is concerned, everybody talks about the great “poverty” in which he lived (rather like James Joyce!). My grandmother, Chellamma, says in her book, Bharatiyar Charithiram:

“Sometimes, there was no rice to cook in the house.  Bharatiyar would be upstairs, immersed in discussions with his disciples. …. If we had four annas in our hands, we would buy some bananas and satisfy our hunger.  We would receive milk from the milk woman in advance, without payment. …We spent two or three months like this.”

Apparently Bharati did not even want to hear the word illai (“there is not”). There was a strict rule in the house that his family should not even mention the words, “There is no rice in the house.”  Instead, he said jokingly, “say Aharam Iharam,” to signify arisi illai.

Bharati talks about the miseries of poverty in his poem, Lakshmidevi Saranpuguthal.  What concerned him was the demoralizing nature of poverty: “the mind that hates even the Vedas, the demeaning behavior of the lowly, association with the unworthy, all the efforts that go to waste (like a lamp that is submerged in a well), gaining nothing even if you cross the ocean,” and so on.


But it is essential to remember why Bharati was “poor.” He was a man at odds with the government. He was a “Swadesi,” sought after by the British police and the government wherever he went; the publication of all his magazines and newspapers was stopped; all his writings were proscribed; all of his contributions were looked upon with suspicion. He was a writer, but the British said that it was illegal for him to publish anything. How could he earn a living?Whatever the reason, society’s attitude towards poverty is the same now as it was in Bharati’s times, or even before. It has never changed.  More than sympathy, poverty generates dislike, contempt, carelessness, and neglect.

This attitude was in evidence when Bharati met Mahatma Gandhi in Chennai.  Va.Ra. describes this memorable incident as follows:

“At the invitation of Kasturiranga Iyengar, the Mahatma came to Chennai to discuss the  Rowlett Committee’s Report. He stayed in Rajaji’s house. Gandhiji thought that the Report was not acceptable to any self-respecting human being; he wanted to take action against it.

The Mahatma was surrounded by a group of people. He was in the midst of a discussion about organizing a nation-wide satyagraha (passive resistance) demonstration as he thought that it was necessary to do so in order to accomplish his goal.

This group of people included the Madras elite personalities, such as Adi Narayana Chettiyar, Rangasamy Iyengar, Satyamurti, Rajaji, and Va. Ramasamy Iyengar.

Bharati came to see Gandhiji. He went straight to the Mahatma, and asked him if he would be able to preside over a meeting at the Marina beach, where Bharati would be giving a lecture that evening.  Gandhiji turned around and consulted with his secretary, Mahadev Desai, as to his program for that evening. As he was not free that evening, he asked Bharati whether he could postpone the meeting for another day. Bharati said “No, he couldn’t,” “blessed Gandhiji’s ‘new Movement,’” and left the group.

Note the treatment of Bharati by the elite group of people who were attending the meeting at Rajaji’s home in Chennai:

Not inviting Bharati for the meeting, whereas the rich and “important” were invited.

When Bharati entered, nobody introduced him to the Mahatma.  He had to thrust himself forward to the Mahatma to talk to him, interrupting the meeting.


Because Bharati was poor?

Did they think that Bharati would behave inappropriately in the meeting, as members of the group thought he was a “crazy” man?

…Or, did they fear that Bharati’s intelligence and imagination would offer solutions for the problems that concerned the Mahatma? For this reason, would the Mahatma choose to include Bharati in his own circle and elevate him to a higher position?

If that were to happen, would their own power and position in society be affected?…

In her book, my aunt, Shakuntala, says that Bharati’s close friend Surendranath Arya gave a speech at the poet’s funeral, and that this speech resembled the famed speech given by Marc Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. I have always wondered why she compared Arya’s speech with Marc Antony’s.  Nobody has a record of Arya’s speech.  But, I wonder if the speech was cleverly presented, in the sense that he had to repeat certain facts, in order to clarify certain points, and yet avoid an open condemnation of certain facts, people, or experiences that happened in Bharati’s life!

Society never changes.  Time and again we make the same mistakes; we think in the same way; we act the same. We are greedy for money, position, and fame, without asking ourselves about our own talents and qualifications, our real entitlements.  Because of this, little opportunity is given to talented people to do good work.  They have to struggle and suffer in life, and attempt to rise up in the midst of ordinary talents.

It appears that it takes a long time for a genius to be recognized, understood, and appreciated.  The current situation in India is that the Government and other Organizations have a number of programs, awards of titles, grants, and other help to recognize and support talented persons. Unfortunately, by the time the work of a person is recognized, he or she might be dead and gone! Isn’t this the trend?

The current situation in Tamil Nadu is as follows: Titles and Awards are presented in the name of Bharati, on the stages that celebrate Bharati’s birthday, for example. Yet these awards often seem not to reflect real achievements or talent in research, writing, music, public speeches, or service in the dissemination of Bharati’s works.  It seems both parties, the “giver” and the “receiver,” gain popularity and other benefits from these arrangements. Bharati is simply forgotten here. Bharati would have called this kind of “recognition” “poi mathippu,” false praise.

With this background, I would like to present an article written by my late husband, Professor P. K. Sundararajan, entitled, “The Reputation of C. Subramania Bharati – 1921 to the Present.”

Professor Sundararajan was an English scholar who was trained in Canada as well as India.  He was both expert in the English language and literature, and knowledgeable about modern Tamil literature.  His reading was comprehensive, and he had read everything of significance that was written in Tamil over the past few decades.  He had close associations with distinguished writers, including Mouni, La. Sa. Ramamirtham,  Na. Parthasarathy, Ku. Azhagirisamy, T.N. Viswanatha Iyer (Shyama), A.S. Raghavan, Thriloka Sitaram, and so on.

In his Article, Sundararajan explores Bharati’s “reputation” − how Bharati was viewed and approached by his friends, acquaintances, and biographers. He discusses how Bharati’s “reputation” has been built from the time of the poet’s death, in 1921, to the present. He reviews the Bharati “phenomenon” that has developed in the past 25 years, and expresses his deep concern about the current situation in Tamil Nadu.

Myths and Misconceptions Regarding Bharati’s Life

In her Preface to the Biography of Bharati, his daughter, Thangammal, writes:

“Bharatiar’s Biography needs no introduction.  He is known as the Mahakavi throughout our country.  But, just as he was not understood when he was alive, people continue to be uninformed about his life, even after his death.  Imaginary stories and mistaken notions about Bharati are often published in the newspapers and books.  People believe that these stories or notions are actually true.  .  .  . Whenever my mother (Chellamma Bharati) read such anecdotes, she was distressed and asked, ‘How am I going to communicate the truth about the Mahakavi’s life to the Tamils?’ ”

(The first Biography of Bharati, Bharatiar Charithiram , was dictated by Chellamma Bharati, the poet’s wife, to her daughter, Thangammal.) 

No wonder my grandmother was distressed. Her experiences with the poet were extraordinary, unique.  When such experiences were distorted and brought to a mundane level by others, she became naturally upset, and was concerned about the untrue image that was inadvertantly perpetuated by the people.

Leave alone some of the extraordinary experiences that Chellamma had with the poet; even the apparently “ordinary” incidents that occurred in the poet’s “everyday” life were far from ordinary. In fact, the “every day” incidents of Bharati’s life  were precious and deeply significant experiences that both reflected and shaped the history of the nation and the culture.

Fortunately, the somewhat inaccurate picture drawn by the people of their Mahakavi is balanced by his powerful poetry, which overcomes any false image of the poet.  But, as time goes by, I am afraid that the imaginary stories may grow so large that we become unable to  see the poet’s true self!

In my own life, I have come across untrue stories which are actually harmful to the poet’s memory and image.  A friend of mine, a colleague, described to me Bharati’s visit to her house to see her grandfather and have dinner with him.  Her grandfather was a friend of Bharati and an eminent scholar.

She recounted, “Bharati ate dinner in our house, and he enjoyed the meat served there.” I was simply shocked! Bharati was, of course, a vegetarian. Yet my friend told this tale with no hesitation, even to me, the granddaughter of the poet, who would be thoroughly familiar with the poet’s food habits and his belief in vegetarianism.

When Bharati scholarship was in its infancy, biographers of Bharati  carried out extensive research: they visited the places where Bharati lived,  took photographs of Bharati’s friends and acquaintances, conducted interviews with them, and wrote down the stories that they narrated. Such research was essential, as there was simply no better way to collect information about Bharati.

However, the trouble with this kind of research is that its reliability is not beyond question. Human memory fails, or, for any one of a myriad reasons, a story may be embellished in the re-telling. A researcher must carefully sort through material that is gathered in this way, and consider its significance. One cannot simply report  everything that is said without some attempt at verification or corroboration.  There is no doubt that the stories of eyewitnesses – their experiences with the poet, what they saw and heard – are valuable.  But not all of them are actually true. A few of the stories are told from memories which may have faded in due course; a few are purely imaginary.One has to undertake further research, to examine the integrity of the information that is collected in this pursuit.  And, indeed, as Bharati is greatly respected and loved by people, there is a tendency to build imaginary stories about the poet.  People would like to associate themselves with him, and talk about him in familiar terms, out of affection.

When biographers write an account of Bharati based on interview research, they should be aware of these facts and take them into consideration.  One simply cannot report such material verbatim.  The biographer should use his or her scholarly judgement and discretion..

In order to clarify the main events of Bharati’s life, remove misconceptions, and shed light on curious incidents such as the manner of the poet’s death, I  have prepared an Annotated Biography of Bharati: please click here for the PDF file.  This type of analysis has never before been applied to Bharati’s life.  The existing biographies generally offer a casual listing of the main events of Bharati’s life, in chronological order.  This Annotated Biography is based on extensive research on Bharati’s life that I have conducted over the past decade, in particular. The sources are Bharati’s autobiographical articles and poems, and other reliable resources.  The biography situates Bharati’s life in the context of each historical event that occurred in Bharati’s times, each incident in the national Freedom Movement, and his meeting and association with political leaders and great personalities.

The Integrity of Bharati’s Songs: Words and Music

Over the past decade, I have had the opportunity to attend and enjoy the December Music Season in Chennai on an annual basis. There are some truly great talents on today’s Carnatic stage, but many new challenges also face our musicians. In particular, there are a few issues that I would like to discuss, regarding Bharati’s poetry and music and how they are handled by musicians at this juncture.

I am a trained musician myself.  I started learning Carnatic music from the age of 8; beginning with a music teacher, I later continued to learn with giants like T. K. Rangachari and M. Dandapani Desikar.  I have sung Bharati songs on All India Radio Tiruchy and Chennai stations, and in countless gatherings of small and large audiences throughout the world.

In our family, my grandmother Chellamma, and my mother Thangammal, although not trained formally, were excellent singers.  I, my two elder sisters, and two brothers, were taught how to sing Bharati’s songs as Bharati composed and sang them himself.  Bharati’s songs were passed on through the generations, in a format that exemplifies  the oral tradition of learning from the guru that is traditional in our culture.  Bharati’s musical compositions were passed on by the poet-musician Bharati, himself, to our grandmother, to their children, and to the grandchildren, even up to the present generation.

My grandmother, who was a great critic, appreciated certain musicians highly. Not only were their renderings musically great, but the musicians also took care to maintain the integrity of Bharati’s poetry.  Bharati’s poetry was respected and there were no changes made to his words, no mishandling or mutilation of the original poetry.

Bharati’s musical compositions were guided by the same aesthetics that shaped his poetry. They show simplicity, great novelty, and innovation. He uses Carnatic and Hindustani ragas, but they are sometimes so cleverly disguised that they are impossible to identify!

Today, ideas have changed. There exists a notion that Bharati’s songs should be made more “Carnatic” in style,  for concert performance, as the kucheri audiences do not appreciate “simple” music such as the original melodies composed by Bharati.  For these and other reasons, some musicians believe that it is appropriate to change Bharati’s music to suit a Carnatic audience.

When Bharati, himself, sang his poems to his friends, or in public meetings, people appreciated his music, as well as his poetry, enormously.  His music was captivating, inspiring, fascinating, magnificent, and awe-inspiring.  Friends, such as V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, were fascinated by Bharati’s singing and would ask him to sing more and more. After hearing Bharati singing three of his national songs, V. Krishnaswamy Iyer, a staunch nationalist and leader of the moderate party in the Madras State, published those poems and distributed them to all the schools. V.V.S. Iyer, a great scholar and critic of Tamil literature, in his introduction to Bharati’s Kannan Pattu, writes:

VVS Iyer

As a member of the Bharati family, I have always found that, when we sing his songs in the original melodies, the public shows immense appreciation!


Kuyil Excerpt

I can see the logic in the thinking of the musicians.  A few of these “forms” and “metres” are repetitive in nature.  Bharati’s focus was on the words, and for this reason, he sometimes sang the same melody for several stanzas which could be monotonous for the audience. But Bharati’s originals are truly captivating, charming, and attractive. They are not only appealing to the “common man”; they are also aesthetically pleasing.

But, I have an overwhelming concern, which is so important that it dwarfs everything else: the integrity of Bharati’s poetry.  Generally, the musicians pay more attention to the music than to the poetry – perhaps a professional hazard.  The words are glossed over quickly, while detailing and elaborating the music.  In the process, however, Bharati’s words are often “distorted, mutilated, or modified,” whether by mistake, by negligence, or, dare I say it, on purpose.

Why would anyone do these unimaginable things with a purpose? Let me explain:


These changes are, as I noted, deliberate. I can only suppose that they were made with the purpose of “improving” the rhythm for singing purposes. But they change the meaning of the words completely!

I am distressed to see that, more and more, these kinds of errors are creeping into the performance of Bharati’s poetry.

Apart from attitudes, I see another, underlying problem: there are actually no error free publications available, and musicians therefore have to depend on whatever editions of Bharati’s works that they find. It is possible, even likely, that the musicians are using editions that are NOT authentic, nor edited with care, taking words from them verbatim.

In this case, they cannot be expected to know or to be aware of the problems that exist in the current available editions. The musicians do not have the expertise to identify and correct textual mistakes.

But, I have to say, people are not generally willing to change their fixed ideas easily.  This might be true of almost anything– whether it is music, poetry, food, habits, thinking or lifestyle!

The purpose of my Standard Edition of Bharati’s works – of which, Volume 1, Desiya Githangal, has already appeared – is to offer a permanent solution to this problem.

As far as Bharati’s poetry is concerned, I do not quite understand the attitude of certain Bharati scholars towards the preservation of national treasures such as Bharati’s poetry.  I had an unexpected encounter with a Bharati scholar.  In the course of conversation, I pointed out that many editions of Bharati’s works contain errors in typing or printing, sometimes due to negligence or carelessness.  I gave an example. In the publication of Bharati’s spiritual writing “Vedarishikalin Kavithai,” (Poems of the Veda-Rishis) a careless mistake occurred: the title was printed as “Vedarishikalin Kathai” (Stories of the Veda-Rishis). The scholar’s response was, “That could actually be correct.”  I was amazed to hear this remark, doubted whether he had read the spiritual piece at all, and wondered at his comprehension of Bharati.  If you had read “Vedarishikalin Kavithai” you would clearly see that Bharati was fascinated by the poetry of the vedic sages.


My edition work is perhaps the only literary work to be directly inspired by a legal principle. My daughter, a scholar, introduced me to the concept of an author’s “moral rights.”  I quote here an excerpt from Mira’s article which explains these essential principles:

“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.”

These principles are recognized in countries the world over, including India. They are a legal expression of what matters most to literary scholars like myself – the preservation of literature, which is simply a form of truth.

Translation or Travesty? Bharati’s Poems in English Translation

“Thath tharikita Thath tharikita thiththom,” says Mahakavi Bharati.

Whoosh, crackle, snap, sizzle,” says Usha Rajagopalan.

This claims to be the English translation of the last line of Agni Kunju – a profound allegorical poem by Bharati. It appears in a recently released book, Selected Poems, by Subramania Bharati, translated by Usha Rajagopalan, and published by Hachette India.  Ms. Rajagopalan            LR_BHARATHI_1228667e
has also released another book of Bharati translations called Panchali’s Pledge, an English rendering of Bharati’s Panchali Sabatham, also published by Hachette. Both books were released at functions  in Chennai during the Bharati festival and at the British Council, on December 10th and 12th.

For a long time, I wondered what Ms. Rajagopalan’s “translation” of the last line of Agni Kunju could mean. Then (I thought) I understood: it must represent the sound of a fire!

Perhaps the translator was imagining the sound of the fire when its flames burnt down the forest in Bharati’s poem:

Tamil 1 cropped

Yet, Bharati himself never wrote any such thing. The last line written by Bharati has nothing to do with the sound of the fire per se. It is a dance rhythm. Why, and on what basis, did Ms. Rajagopalan make this change from the original? It seems purely imaginary. A translation may have to take some liberties for the sake of readability in the new language. But in this case, the translator is, in effect, claiming that the poet wrote something that is simply not there. That is not translation; it is falsification of the original, and a misrepresentation of both the poet and his work. And – above all – the English phrase sounds ridiculous!

Another problem that is immediately apparent is the translator’s approach to the titles of Bharati’s poems. Some of the “translated” titles actually change Bharati’s imagination and become the translator’s own titles:

For example:

Panchali's Pledge– the title of the poem Panchali Sabatham is translated as Panchali’s Pledge rather than Panchali’s Vow. The connotations of the two words are quite different. The Oxford Concise English dictionary defines “pledge” as: “solemn promise or undertaking,” “a thing given as security for the fulfilment of a contract, the payment of a debt, etc., and liable to forfeiture in the event of failure, ” “a promise of a donation to charity.” “Vow” is defined as “a solemn promise, especially in the form of an oath to God.”

– Vendum as Aspirations

– Sivasakti  as In Search of Answers

– Agni Kunju as A Baby Fire

– Ammakkannu Pattu  as A Special Song

This last alteration is truly inappropriate.  Ammakkannu is not at all, as one of the reviewers of the collection puts it, a “term of endearment.” In fact, Ammakkannu was a person – it is the proper name of a woman who worked for the Bharati family in Pondicherry.  When Bharati’s family was under surveillance by the British police in Pondicherry for nationalist activities, Ammakkannu protected Bharati’s wife, Chellamma, and  his child.  When there was election in Pondicherry, she stayed in Bharati’s house day and night, as Bharati often returned home late at night from the Aurobindo Ashram.  She took food to Bharati wherever he went – the beach, the Ashram, the mango grove, and the ponds and temples around the outskirts of Pondicherry.

I have bought the Kindle version of this book, and I have read a number of reviews of Ms. Rajagopalan’s Selected Poems, which include excerpts from the translations. The reviewers have identified fundamental problems with the work, and have cited examples to support their claims. A review from the Sunday Guardian, “Underwhelming Entree for a Masterly Meal,” can be viewed here, and a review from The Hindu, “No Song Here,” can be viewed here. I  am very disappointed, and I  feel very  sorry that Ms. Rajagopalan’s efforts have ended up like this.

As noted by Sharanya Mannivannan in her review of the translations, Ms. Rajagopalan’s publication is in a position to inflict terrible damage on Bharati’s name among the reading public who want to know about the Tamil Mahakavi, but cannot read his work in the original. Today, literary reputations often depend on the ability of the English-speaking public to read and recognize great writers from countries and cultures around the world. Even in India, most of the reading public does not read Tamil; yet Bharati is a founding father of this nation of myriad languages, and what he wrote is relevant to them all – a gift for every single Indian, regardless of mother tongue. Translation, into English, and into other Indian languages, is important.

Yet, as far as English is concerned, Bharati has never found a good translator.  I have been reading translations of Bharati’s poems by various authors over the past four decades, and I have yet to see a satisfactory translation of Bharati.  This situation is unfortunate, but not at all surprising.  Translating Bharati is a formidable task.  It requires research and knowledge, scholarship, expert fluency in both Tamil and English, and something else – a literary touch –  what Alexander Pope called, “nameless graces which no methods teach.” Translating Bharati is additionally complicated by the fact that translation does not depend only on language.  Bharati’s poems involve a cultural framework that is profound and complex, and one that is, in many ways, quite remote from Western culture.  In this case, effective translation means cultural translation.

Taking all of these considerations into account, the sad truth must be acknowledged.  To date, no qualified translators of Bharati have come forward.

Let us look more closely at Agni Kunju, the great short poem, in deceptively simple language and form, that Ms. Rajagopalan attempted to render in English.  It is true that the poem is allegorical in nature and therefore subject to the interpretations of the reader. But, in a symbolic poem, you should be able to go beyond the words and try to capture the imagination of the poet in order to understand the symbolism. The reader-translator has to understand the poet, his background, his influences, the words he uses, his poetic diction, his thinking, his imagination, and his genius.

The symbolic poem Agni Kunju may be interpreted in several ways. It could be a poem about women’s freedom, spiritual experience, Vedic imagination – or a number of other possibilities!

Bharati’s interest in Vedic literature may have been a result of his association with Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry.  He had the extraordinary opportunity of engaging in research with Sri Aurobindo, who lived as a fellow nationalist exile in Pondicherry while Bharati was there.  Sri Aurobindo, who was originally involved in the freedom struggle, ultimately emerged as a “philosopher,” “seer,” and a “maharishi”.  Both Bharati and Sri Aurobindo were learned scholars, and were widely read in the Sanskrit language and literature.  They read the Vedas together, the more than two and half millennia-old Hindu scriptures, undertook research, and wrote in detail about their findings.

Bharati points out that the language of the Vedas is the oldest known form of Sanskrit; it is quite different from the later scriptures that were written in Sanskrit, presenting unique challenges for the reader.  Importantly, the Vedic literature is basically symbolic.
In Vedic language

The Vedarishis pour ghee on the fire and sing in praise of Agni.  In the poem Agni Bhagavan, Bharati sings:

Tamil 3

The influence of Bharati’s Vedic research on his poetry is clearly apparent. A few of his poems are directly related to Vedic literature. In a poem called Velvi Pattu

Tamil 4

sings Bharati, in his Velvi Pattu.

In another poem, Agni Sthomam, which may be called a masterpiece, the rishis joyfully sing the praises of Agni and celebrate their success over the demons; in contrast, the asuras groan and lament their helplessness and defeat:

Tamil 5top

Tamil 5bottom

In Bharati’s poetry, his dealing with poetical “form” is quite extraordinary.  As a true Renaissance poet and creator of the modern Tamil language, he was an innovator, and built his innovations on the foundation of the age-long tradition of Tamil poetry.  Modern in every sense, not only in language, but also in thought, ideas, imagination, creativity, and vision, he chose to write in apparently “simple” language.  Because of this simplicity, the choice of simple words, common rhymes, and adherence to his fundamental principle that “one should write as one speaks,” it is easy to think that Bharati’s poetry is simple to  understand and enjoy. But it is quite the contrary. As the few examples discussed here illustrate, Bharati’s learning and influences are quite amazing, as they represent many traditions of literature and culture, going all the way back to the Vedic experience.

Reading poetry is an art in itself. The reader has an opportunity to make a journey with the poet himself, to wherever he has travelled, in order to capture the poet’s thinking and imagination.

In general, the best approach to read a poem is to approach it as a whole, rather than line by line, trying to capture the literal meaning of each word. The poem has the beauty of music, and the sound and rhythm of the words, themselves, communicate the poet’s vision.

I have examined in detail the original poem, Agni Kunju. It is also essential to bear in mind that a grasp of the “source” poem for the translation is only the first part of the translator’s job. The translator also carries the responsibility of expressing his or her thoughts on the source poem in a new language – one which may be far removed from the source language and culture. Therefore, the translator must be equipped to handle both traditions, which may or may not be compatible with each other.

Regarding Ms. Rajagopalan’s translations of Bharati, something must be done. The publication of these translations has already caused damage to Bharati. And the continued availability of the book will cause future damage to Bharati.

I had the following thoughts about possible remedies:

– The author of the translations could attempt to redo certain translations and re-publish them in a new edition of the book.  But, is there a promise of a better production? And what is to be done about the books that have already been sold? The book is even available in a Kindle version for worldwide distribution!

–  On this issue, should Hachette be called upon to withdraw these books from the market?

A few words need to be directed towards the publisher of Ms. Rajagopalan’s translations. How were these translations approved for publication? I do not know what Hachette’s approvals process involves, but I am familiar with the publication process at some of the world’s leading publishing houses for scholarship. Publication depends on the submission of a detailed proposal, explaining what the intellectual contribution of the book will be, what the writers see as its market potential, and how the writers are qualified to write the work that they hope to publish. In most cases, these proposals are examined, not only by the publisher, but by independent peer reviewers who assess the credibility of the project, point out potential weaknesses or problems, and comment on the qualifications of the author to undertake this work. The author must satisfy the publisher on all counts before a book can be accepted for publication.

As far as Ms. Rajagoapalan’s translations are concerned, how was this project approved for publication? Was her work subject to any form of independent evaluation, by peer reviewers or other experts? Were her qualifications to do this work assessed? I do not understand why Hachette did not notice the poor quality of the translations, and why they proceeded with publication.

The book production is, of course, beautiful – and Hachette is a well-reputed publisher. The books, especially as they are marketed under the authorship of “Subramania Bharati,” translated by Usha Rajagopalan, are sure to sell well. My main concern is, what kind of impression will they make with readers around the world, particularly non-Indian readers who may be attracted by the book’s delightful cover design, but may  or may not have any knowledge of Bharati as a poet? These translations present a grossly distorted caricature of the great poet. They will damage his reputation as a Mahakavi.

I appeal to the public. Should we not take care of our national treasures? How can this situation be dealt with? How can we find a remedy in this case?

 Bharati’s great-granddaughter, Mira T. Sundara Rajan, has become an expert on the “moral rights” of the author – an area that she decided to study in order to address the treatment of the Mahakavi’s works. Moral rights are an author’s right to proper attribution of his work, and to protect the integrity of his work from damage, distortion, or mutilation. In India, the Indian Copyright Act, section 57, protects the moral rights of authors. Internationally, a copyright treaty called the Berne Convention protects moral rights and is accepted by virtually every country in the world.

Mira has recently published a book on moral rights: Moral Rights: Principles, Practice, and New Technology (Oxford University Press, New York 2011). This book has also been published in an Indian edition by OUP India, and was reviewed in The Hindu. But Mira’s first scholarly paper was actually a study of Bharati’s moral rights, published in the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies (2001), and an excerpt from this paper was published as an editorial in The Hindu in December of 2004.  It includes a section on the problems of Bharati translations:

“Translations and Adaptations

Bharati’s works have been translated into a number of languages. Some of these translations are his own, while others have been done by his personal acquaintances.  The vast majority of translations of his works, however, were completed after his death. Many of these appear to be of disappointingly poor quality, particularly those in English and French.

The problems which arise in relation to these translations can often be characterized as moral rights issues. It is generally accepted that an original author has a moral right in translations of his work undertaken by other authors. As far as possible, translations should accurately reflect the meaning, ideas, and style of the original.  However, the situation of translations and adaptations in developing countries is quite distinctive, and deserves separate treatment beyond the sphere of moral rights.

In a vast and culturally diverse country like India, the quality of translations may be virtually as important to an author as the quality of his original works. Translations will determine whether the author’s works are read in other linguistic areas of India, as well as outside the country. The quality of translations is almost certain to affect his international reputation and standing. The availability of good translations not only determines whether an author’s works are read for pleasure in another country, but they will also have an impact on international scholarship on his works, and in the growth of international interest in his language, culture, and country.

Given Bharati’s historical importance, translation within his own country is vitally important. Few Indians are literate in more than one or two national languages, a situation that KR Srinivasa Iyengar appropriately calls a “mental purdah.”  As a result, for Indians to be aware of literary happenings in different parts of the country, reliable and suitable translations into regional languages are crucial. This applies equally to readers and to other writers, whose creative development stands to benefit from contact with writers in the other national languages.

Translation Rights in Indian Law

Under the Indian Copyright Act, the right to translate a work, like the right of reproduction, is vested in the author. The author may authorize a translation of his work either by providing a licence to the translator, or by assigning his translation rights to the translator.

The translator has copyright in his translation. He may protect his translation against infringement as an original work in its own right. However, under Indian law, only authorized translations are assured of protection as original works. Unauthorized translations are considered to be infringing works which do not merit copyright protection.

The Indian stand against unauthorized translations seems very harsh. Although the translator’s work has not been authorized by the author of the original work, it remains an original work in its own right, reflecting the skill and effort of its creator. Rather than denying protection to these works, which is equivalent to sanctioning further illegal or immoral activity by allowing anyone to exploit them freely, the legal focus should be on protecting the integrity of the original author’s works. Instead, the original author should be able to restrain the sale and distribution of unauthorized translations on the basis that the translation infringes his rights, both economic and, if appropriate, moral.

The situation of translation in Indian law may grow out of an awareness of the difficulties of pursuing legal remedies in the Indian context. Authors may not have the financial means to vindicate their legal rights through the court system. Further, the time period which is likely to pass before the granting of an injunction or a damages award may be so long that the damage to the author’s reputation or, indeed finances, is irreparable. However, it should be noted that translators may also have great difficulty in obtaining authorization for their work because of the vast distances and difficulties of long-distance communication which appear to remain typical of India. It remains to be seen whether Information Age technologies will succeed in improving these conditions.

In Bharati’s case, almost all translations of his work are unauthorized. After his death, neither his family members nor a legal representative of his estate authorized any translation work. When the government took over the copyright, the publishing committee was not concerned with translations of his work. Finally, when the copyright became public, there was no system for monitoring or supervising translations.

The importance of translations should not be underestimated. They require as much approval and supervision by qualified people as original editions and scholarly work. If Bharati’s work were to be incorporated into a system resembling the domaine public payant, translations should also be subject to this regime.”