Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Memorial to a poet

The Bharathi Ilakkiya Mandram is one of the innumerable groups that celebrate the life and works of Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi. Bharathi was one of modern India's greatest poets, a firebrand nationalist who considered prejudices as great an enemy as the British. His poems were therefore as much exhortations against the imperial rule as they were against social practices which marginalized women. 

Born at Ettayapuram, educated at Tirunelveli, widely travelled across India, Bharathi's involvement with the freedom movement was in the company of the more strident nationalists like Tilak and Chidambaram Pillai. That brought the British police on him and he moved to Pondicherry, then under French occupation. He came back to British India in 1918, was arrested and imprisoned. Though he was released within a couple of weeks, he had to sign an undertaking that he would show his works to the DIG of police before publishing them. Obviously, this cramped his style considerably and the stress led to his health breaking down.

His last years were spent in Triplicane. Living in a house near the Parthasarathy temple, he regularly visited there, and got into the habit of feeding Lavanya, the temple elephant. One day, in a spirit of playfulness, Lavanya knocked him down; already frail, this blow was quite debilitating to the poet. He survived for a few more months, house-bound. After he died in 1921, he was never forgotten, but rarely celebrated, either, for a long time. The owners of the house he lived in at Triplicane, were loath to turn it into any kind of memorial. It was only in 1993 that the Bharathi Ilakkiya Mandram succeeded in having the government take over the building and turn it into the Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi Memorial House, making it one more memorial to the poet in his home state.  Among the many pieces of memorabilia here is a two line letter, blessing the opening of the memorial at his birthplace in 1947, from Mahatma Gandhi - written in Tamizh!

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