Two great literatures with a hoary past—Sanskrit and Tamil —exist in India, both with fascinating histories extending to more than two thousand years.
After the period of the ‘Sangam’ and the later classics, Tamil literature was almost lost for a time in heavier and heavier folds of conventional imagery and prosodical jugglery. It was therefore inevitable that before long Tamil should free itself from this stagnation of creativity and imaginative sterility. As if in response to this aspiration of the Tamil spirit, Subramania Bharati was born on 11 December 1882.
His active literary career spanned less than two decades, but in that period Tamil poetry and letters took a great leap forward. Tradition was not thrown overboard; but a new phoenix arose out of the heritage of the living past.
When Bharati died on 12 September 1921 he had left behind him a glowing imperishable mass of poetry and prose. He had bequeathed a new hope, a new self-confidence and a whole new generation began looking forward to the future.
The author, Dr. Prema Nandakumar, hails from a family of scholars and writers, and is no mean writer herself, this being her fifth book on Bharati after ‘Poems of Subramania Bharati’ published by Sahitya Akademi in co-operation with UNESCO recently.
Subramania Bharati certainly deserves a place among the Makers of Indian Literature’, for he was not only the Morning Star of modern Tamil literature, he was also one of the leading lights of the 20th century renaissance in Indian Life and Letters. Nay more: he was poet and seer both, and prophet of future humanity.
It was exactly twenty years ago that I first felt the fascination of Bharati’s poetry and personality. The immediate result was a few tentative translations, presently collected in my first book, Bharati in English Verse (1958). My two books on Bharati’s Life and Work appeared in 1964 and 1968 respectively, in the ‘Indian Writers and Their Work’ series edited by Prof. C. D. Narasimhaiah and ‘National Biography’ series edited by Prof. K. Swaminathan. In 1974 a book on ‘Subramania Bharati’ appeared in Twayne’s World Authors series, which was but a massive exercise in plagiarism, mainly from my 1968 publication. On a strong representation from me, Twayne Publishers gave an apology in Books’ Abroad (1976) and withdrew their book from circulation.
In the meantime, a completely revised and much enlarged edition of my translations has been jointly sponsored by UNESCO and Sahitya Akademi, and this volume, Poems of Subramania Bharati, has just been published.
In the present monograph, which is tailored to the requirements of the ‘MIL’ series, the stress is on Bharati’s achievement in the context of the literary history of the Tamils. Bharati was born 95 years ago, as it were at the crossroads of Modern Indian History. It was the time of Lokamanya Tilak and V. 0. Chidambaram Pillai, Sri Aurobindo and Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Bande Mataram’ and ‘Non-cooperation’. And it was Bharati’s destined role to charge Tamil poetry and prose, and Tamil sensibility, with a new energy of utterance, a new sense of direction, and even a new ethos. After him, Tamil literature couldn’t be what it was before. It had to wield new powers, assume new responsibilities, and move towards new horizons.
The English translations from Bharati figuring in this monograph are mine own. While the interested reader is referred to my Poems of Subramania Bharati for a fully representative selection from Bharati’s poetry, here too a few pieces are given in translation towards the end.
I am thankful to the Sahitya Akademi for having entrusted this work to me. I thank the reviewers and critics of my earlier books on Bharati for having encouraged me to persevere in this labour of love and devotion. I hope this modest effort will prepare the ground in some measure for the approaching Bharati Birth Centenary Celebrations.
Let me conclude by thanking my father, Professor K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, my mother, Srimati Padmasani, and my brother, Professor S. Ambirajan, for their constant encouragement and counsel.
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