Deshbhakt Bharati

There have been attempts to deny nationalism or paint nationalism, patriotism as jingoism for some years now. To be precise this gained momentum and vigour in the run up to the 2014 General Elections. In order to support their stand many started resorting to quote Aurobindo’s later works, select works of Subramania Bharati, to suggest they gave up nationalism for a greater universe where the humanity stood elevated beyond the national boundaries. While one cannot deny the broader, universal vision of the great personalities, writers like Aurobindo and Bharati, at core they were nationalists. Their yogic vision demolished the “narrow domestic walls”, but neither did Aurobindo retract his “The Renaissance in India”, nor Bharati reject “Swadesa Geetanthangal” (National Songs). It is going to be almost 100 years since Mahakavi Subramania Bharati passed away, he continues to ignite the minds of his readers now, with his vision, his fire as much as it did when they were first published, igniting the spirit of nationalist fervor, the fire to fight the colonial power. Instead of using the term Nationalist, one would like to stick to the term “Deshbhakti”, and explore the Deshbhakt Bharati.

Here we look at two poems Bharati wrote in praise, one on Dadabhai Naoroji, and another on Lokmanya Tilak. He uses the term Bharat, and the continent of Bharat there, clearly presenting before the readers the vision of ancient Bharat, not just a political nation brought together by a colonial power as many would presume the Indian nation to be. In the song on Dadabhai he sings:

Bharat great of yore gave birth to such sons

As godly Rama and Gautama who

The stewardship of many a nation

Secured for her; this day, alas this day,

She has into decadence, fallen

And is held in derision by others;

To rid her sorrow a few endeavour

And we, the feet of these, gratefully hail. (1)

On Tilak:

To Goddess Saraswati, immense service he did,

And the arts of other nations learnt,

To the amaze of great masters.

Known was he as the sea of sacred scriptures.

Great Saraswati’s birth-place was

The Land of Bharat, in the days of yore.

It had now an arid desert become,

Deeply agitated, a view he took,

To drive the dishonor away. (2)

This is the picture of a Bharatmata icon Bharati had commissioned while he was at Puducherry, a vision of not just the territory of the imperial British stretching from the North Western Frontier to Myanmar. “Though Bharatiyar’s image of Mother India coincides with

British imperial territory, it draws on indigenous traditions and taps into long-established

religious sentiment: into a Hindu sacred geography that encompassed the Indus

River region and into that extension of Hindu Tamil religion and culture represented

by the imperialist adventures of the Chola emperors in Southeast Asia.” (3)

Bharati imbibed the spirit and war cry of “Vande Mataram” and the personification of Bharata as the Shakti – she is a constant mother figure running through in many of his poems.  The earliest of his publications was the bunch of National Songs, coming out in the aftermath of the Partition of Bengal and his visit to Kolkata Congress session in 1906 where he met Aurobindo, Bipin Chandra Pal, Sister Nivedita and an ardent supporter of Lokamanya Tilak. He translated Bankim Chandra’s Vande Mataram twice and also wrote poems in praise of Bharat Mata in his own way and words. There is this song titled ‘Engal Thai’ (Our Mother) which asks how old is she, and replies no one can compute her age, eternal maiden that she is. Set in a lilting tune of “Kavadi Sindhu” (genre of Tamil folk songs) the song has been sung by late Carnatic musician D.K.Pattammal with zest and she used to improvise one line as Bharat’s populations kept rising through the decades since Bharati penned the lines.

Three hundred million

Her faces are;

But all of them

Throb with one vibrant life.

Eighteen are the languages

That she speaks;

But animating them all

Is only one thought. (4)

He saw the nation as a whole, no sectarianism for him. Another song that has been very popular in the Carnatic Music performances has been this beautiful praise for the land where our ancestors lived, enjoyed, nurtured noble thoughts.

…This is the land of our mothers dear;

It fostered them in their infancy

When as babes they lisped their words;

It saw them grow into tender maids

And sport and dance in the moonlit night;

…Here all around were temples tall

That soared aloft to bless the lands;

When our forefathers died, their flow’ry dust

Became part of the country’s rich humus;

Shan’t I sing they praise in grateful tunes,

Salutations to thee! Mother! Salutations! (Vande Mataram, Vande Mataram enru vanageno) (5)

Look at the myriad ways in which he eulogized Bharat Mata, showed his love, his happiness about the ancestry, the Vedas, the Upanishads, their culture, the tradition, the lofty ideals. This is not to forget that the nationalist poems of Bharati is a small portion of his large corpus of poetry and within that he has managed to express his love for the land in innumerable ways. He sees the nation as the one that saw the avatars of Rama, Krishna, Buddha, had a warrior like Arujna, a spiritual and revolutionary leader like Guru Nanak.

In a long narrative poem written as an address by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj to his warriors, Bharati writes:

This is the great and famed land

That knows not at all,

The wreaking stench of enemies!

Will the Mother of Bharat

Brook the philistines of other lands

Who hold in scorn our scriptures sacred?  

… The Land of Bharat, an ancient and famed one it is!

Her sons you are; this do not ever forget. (6)

The refrain echoes later in the poem too, a strong call to the citizens not to ever forget that they are sons of the great land. 

He might have used strong words against the conquerors who destroyed temples and disrespect the scriptures, in the above poem, but his Bharat was the one where didn’t want to see any divisions, none in the name of language, caste, creed and religion. He wrote a salutation to the Flag in 1909. Bharati did not live long to see the day his Bharat would be free, but he celebrated the independence that was to come long after he left, and he also saluted the flag.

The Beauteous Flag of the Mother

Behold the gem, the banner of Mother!

Come and humbly adore it and extol.

Indra’s thunder-bolt and young crescent

Of our Muslims bedeck the flag;

At its midst is Mother’s mantra;

Its majesty is ineffable. (7)

He yearned for his Mother to be free, unfettered, her people to be free, and song after song his love, affection, praises, prayers pour forth. Even as he cared for the larger humanity, democracy and egalitarianism, his poetry shows his yearning that Bharat Mata’s children live well, live with wisdom, virtue and prosperity.

May the classical Tamil flourish!

May the Tamils virtuous prosper!

May the holy land of Bharat dear flourish!

May the troubles afflicting us now perish!

… Vande Mataram! Vande Mataram! (8)

Reference & credits:

1 Translated by T.N.Ramachandran – Bharati Patalkal, Tamil University, Thanjavur

2 Ibid

3 Bhakti and Nationalism in the Poetry of Subramania Bharati  by Christine Mangala Frost – Springer, February 2007

4 Translated by Prof.S.Ramakrishnan – Bharati Patalkal, Tamil University, Thanjavur

5 Ibid. Translated by Prof.K.G.Seshadri

6 Translated by Dr.R.Ganapathi – Subramania Bharati, Vol I Poems, Sahitya Akademi

7 Translated by T.N.Ramachandran – Bharati Patalkal, Tamil University, Thanjavur

8 Dr.V.Murugan – Subramania Bharati, Vol I Poems, Sahitya Akademi

Picture: Bhakti and Nationalism in the Poetry of Subramania Bharati  by Christine Mangala Frost – Springer, February 2007

Author Vaijayanti Chakravarti

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