Subramania Bharati & Mira

My Relationship to the Poet

I am a great-granddaughter of  C. Subramania Bharati. A chart of my lineage can be viewed here.

Life of C. Subramania Bharati

C. Subramania Bharati was born in Ettayapuram, South India, in 1882, and died in Madras, in 1921. Deceased at the early age of thirty-nine, Bharati left behind a remarkable legacy of poetry and prose writings whose importance for the Tamils today can only be compared to the status of Shakespeare in the English-speaking world. Bharati’s writings sparked a Renaissance in Tamil literature. While Bharati drew his inspiration from ancient sources of Indian culture, his works were truly innovative in both form and expression. His granddaughter, Dr. S. Vijaya Bharati, an eminent Tamil scholar, writes:

Though Bharati belongs to the age-long tradition of Tamil literature, and limits himself in some places to [its] conventional banks, his poetry flows with [the] racing vigour of contemporaneity, gushing with new ideas and emotions. The course of its flow, its speed and manner, its transgressions and its light are totally new, and original in the finest sense of the word. Its impact on modern Tamil literature has been tremendous … [I]t has given life and form to present-day writing in Tamil.

Bharati was not only the greatest of modern Tamil poets; he was also an ardent Indian nationalist and an impassioned advocate of social reform. Through the power of his ideals, he was able to envision freedom and independence for the three hundred million Indians dominated by British Imperial force. In Bharati’s imagination, the imminent liberation of Indians would free them both from imperial rule by the British – at a time when Britain was the most powerful nation on earth – and from oppressive social customs which had been practised in India for thousands of years.

Unfortunately, Bharati was persecuted for his convictions by both the British and the orthodox elements of his own, Brahmin society, who treated him as an outcast. He was exiled from British India in 1908 and went to live in Pondicherry, a French colony in South India. He spent ten years in exile there and eventually returned to Madras, where he died.

After Indian independence, Bharati’s contribution to Indian culture was widely recognized. There is no major city in India that does not have a street named after him, or a statue erected in his honour. Bharati’s works have been translated into every major Indian language, as well as a number of European languages, including English, French, German, Russian, and Czech. The government of India has issued a postage stamp in his honour.

In recognition of Bharati’s exceptional contribution to Indian culture, as a poet, nationalist, and social reformer, the government of India ultimately conferred upon him the title of Indian “National Poet.”

An excerpt from his official biography, written by Dr. S. Vijaya Bharati and published in English by the Government of India in 1972, may be viewed here.

Publication History of Bharati’s Works

Bharati’s attempts to publish his works were frustrated by several factors whose negative influence persisted throughout his life. One of these was, of course, the political situation in India. Bharati’s unyielding anti-British stance resulted in a government ban on the publication of his works because of the political views which they expressed.

Bharati was also constrained in his publishing efforts by poverty. British persecution made it impossible for him to maintain his position as a journalist in Madras. He attempted to continue his professional activities in Pondicherry, but his magazine India, a Tamil-language publication, was not allowed to circulate outside the French territory. As a result, India was cut off from the greater part of the readership for which it was intended, the Tamil-speaking population of Madras Province. The magazine was forced to cease publication in 1910. Bharati spent the following years in great poverty.

In spite of his financial difficulties, Bharati came to be keenly interested in publishing a definitive edition of his works. He made several attempts to publicize his intentions in the hope that he would be able to raise the necessary funds from friends and publishers. He also sought help from the Maharajah of Ettayapuram, his native village.

Bharati’s circular of 28th June 1920 provides a clear statement of his intentions in this regard. 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 also expresses his intention to employ “novel and American-like improvement[s]” in the printing and binding of his works, and to set a low price for his books. He expected his “high reputation and unrivalled popularity in the Tamil-reading world” to generate a large volume of sales. Bharati concludes his letter by noting that government restrictions on his writings have been lifted – and even suggests that government officials may be asked to provide loans for this worthwhile endeavour!

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. The contract between Chellamma and Bharati Prachuralayam can be viewed here.

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, any Indian citizen was free to undertake publication of Bharati’s works.  My detailed study of Bharati’s copyright appeared in the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies in 2001, and can be purchased here.

My editorial on Bharati’s moral rights appeared in The Hindu in December 2004, and may be viewed here.

Despite numerous efforts at publication, no authoritative Standard Edition of Bharati’s works has yet been published. A Standard Edition is currently being prepared by Dr. S. Vijaya Bharati, the poet’s granddaughter.

A Standard Edition of Bharati’s Works

The Standard Edition of Bharati’s works currently being prepared by the Poet’s granddaughter is offered as an authoritative edition of the Poet’s works. The Standard Edition draws its authority from the principles on which the text has been prepared, the authenticity of the textual sources, and the editorial commentary.

The fundamental objective of the Standard Edition is to provide an error-free text of the poet’s writings, and to present this text in a high-quality and easy to read format that will make the poet’s words accessible to all readers. The preparation of the text has been guided by the principles of “moral rights,” drawn from legal philosophy, of correct attribution, in order to ensure that Bharati’s works and words, and only his, appear in these volumes; and integrity, to present the text in an authentic, unadulterated, and correct form.

The text is based on the earliest published texts of Bharati’s works, and, where possible, on original manuscripts consulted by the Editor. The text also draws upon the oral tradition of teaching Bharati’s poems in the poet’s family, which was initiated by the poet himself. Bharati taught his poems to his wife and two daughters, and they, in turn, taught his poems to their children. Dr. S. Vijaya Bharati has learned the oral tradition of Bharati’s poetry from her mother, and directly from the poet’s wife, her grandmother.

The Editor is both the poet’s granddaughter, and a Tamil scholar with 50 years of experience in Bharati studies.  Over the course of her career, she has published 18 books on Bharati and Tamil literature, in both Tamil and English, and has lectured and broadcast in India, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Mauritius.

Volume 1 of the Standard Edition, “Desiya Githangal [National Songs],” was published in 2002, and Volumes 2, 3, and 4 are forthcoming in 2011-12. A total of 10 volumes is planned.  An additional volume of Bharati’s English writings, co-edited by Dr. Mira T. Sundara Rajan, will complete the set.

For further details, including how to purchase these books, please Contact us.

For further details, including how to purchase these books, please do so on Amazon. →