Gandhi on the ban on Bharathi’s books

September 23, 2019

I came across this note by Gandhi on Bharathi, written when his poems were banned in the Madras Presidency 1928, following a ban by the Burma Government. Gandhi is extremely critical of the ministers and officials who passed this mindless order, ‘the Ministers are little more than clerks registering the will of the all-powerful I.C.S. “

Protesting the ban, Gandhi published Rajaji’s translation of Bharathi’s poems in the Young India – 17 of them spread over 4 issues, till the ban was revoked. It was accompanied by an introductory note on Bharathi by Rajaji.

Gandhi also refers to the efforts of Harihara Sharma in this note. Harihara Sharma, was an armed revolutionary turned follower of Gandhi; he had earlier worked with the likes of Vanchinathan. He moved with his family to Gandhi’s Kochrab Ashram during the initial years of the ashram. He was a friend and publisher of Bharathi. One of his essays is part of the anthology of writings on Gandhi in Tamil that I am translating.



I reproduce elsewhere in this issue the first instalment of a sample of the translation of the Tamil songs of the late Bharati, the Tamil poet, whose songs were the other day confiscated by the Madras Government acting under instructions, or, it is perhaps more proper to say, orders from the Burma Government. The Burma Government it appears in its turn suppressed these songs not by any order of court but by executive declaration. It appears that under that declaration the books of this popular Tamil poet which have been in vogue for the last 30 years and which, as appears from the evidence before the High Court of Madras, were under consideration by the Education Department of Madras for introduction in the school curriculum, are liable to confiscation in any part of India. I must confess that I was unaware of any such wide executive powers being held by Provincial Governments. But these are days in which we live and learn. This was no doubt a matter falling under the jurisdiction of the Education Minister. But it is becoming daily more and more clear that these Ministerial offices are a perfect farce, even as the legislative chambers are and that the Ministers are little more than clerks registering the will of the all-powerful I.C.S. Therefore the poor Education Minister could do nothing to save these popular books from confiscation. Probably at the time the confiscation took place, he had even no knowledge, or if he had, he was not even told what it was that he was really signing. In due course however the confiscation attracted public attention. Pandit Harihara Sharma of Hindi Prachar Karyalaya and publisher of Bharati’s songs, on behalf of his poor widow, could not sit still under the confiscation. He therefore moved the public and the matter was naturally debated in the Legislative Council which condemned the confiscation. Pandit Harihara Sharma even petitioned the High Court for an order to set aside what was clearly an illegal confiscation, and because of some understanding that the order of confiscation will be withdrawn, that the books will be returned and that the Madras Government will make reparation to the poor widow, the petition has been withdrawn. But the wrong still remains. One can only hope that the expectations of Pandit Harihara Sharma will be fulfilled and that the wrong will be remedied by the return of the books. But whatever reparation is made by the Madras Government, the sense of wrong will abide and so will the sense of insecurity created in the public mind by the action of the Madras Government in slavish obedience to the Burma Government.

(Young India, 13-12-1928)

After publishing the poems in 3 issues, Gandhi wrote this in Young India, 24-Jan-1929, along with the concluding part:

I continue to publish the balance of C.R’s translations for their intrinsic merit in spite of the fact that the ban has now been lifted though late in the day.


ராஜாஜியின் ஆங்கில மொழிபெயர்ப்பில் யங் இந்தியாவில் வெளிவந்த கவிதைகள்:

1. வந்தே மாதரம் என்போம்…எங்கள் மாநிலத் தாயை வணங்குதும் என்போம்
2. ஆடுவோமே பள்ளு பாடுவோமே
3. பல்லாயிரம் பல்லாயிரம் கோடி கோடி அண்டங்கள் (அல்லா)
4. பகைவனுக்கருள்வாய் நன்னெஞ்சே

(YI 13-12-1928)

5. பாரத தேசமென்று பெயர் சொல்லுவார்
6. பொழுது புலர்ந்தது யான் செய்த தவத்தால்
7. வீரசுதந்திரம் வேண்டி நின்றார் பின்னர் வேறொன்று கொள்வாரோ
8. தண்ணீர் விட்டோ வளர்த்தோம் சர்வேசா

(YI 3-1-1929)

9. நெஞ்சு பொறுக்குதில்லையே
10. பாரத சமுதாயம் வாழ்கவே
11. வெள்ளைத் தாமரைப் பூவிலிருப்பாள்

(YI 17-1-1929)


12. பயமெனும் பேய்தனை யடித்தோம் – பொய்மைப் பாம்பைப் பிளந்துயிரைக் குடித்தோம்
13. சென்றதினி மீளாது மூடரே
14. வலியற்ற தோளினாய் போ போ போ
15. விடுதலை விடுதலை விடுதலை! –
16. இப்புவிதனில் வாழும் மரங்களும் (அன்பு செய்தல்)
17. பெண்கள் விடுதலைக் கும்மி

(YI 24-1-1929)


August 1, 2017

Trees that thrive on this planet,

clusters of plants in bloom with joyous fragrance,

creepers that throng those trees,

healing herbs, weeds and grass and such:

By what profession do they live?


Men may not plough, nor sow,

not raise bunds, nor water their crop

but if the skies grant rains,

will not the land abound

with trees and various grains and grass?

There is not a thing I fear

Oh men, embrace my religion

and toil not!


Tax not your flesh and body

Nature shall yield food.

See, your task here is to wield love.

– Subramania Bharati

(Translated by me)


இந்தப் புவிதனில் வாழு மரங்களும்
இன்ப நறுமலர்ப் பூஞ்செடிக் கூட்டமும்
அந்த மரங்களைச் சூழ்ந்த கொடிகளும்
ஔடத மூலிகை பூண்டுபுல் யாவையும்
எந்தத் தொழில் செய்து வாழ்வன வோ?

மானுடர் உழாவிடினும் வித்து நடாவிடினும்
வரம்புகட்டாவிடினும் அன்றிநீர் பாய்ச்சாவிடினும்
வானுலகு நீர்தருமேல் மண்மீது மரங்கள்
வகைவகையா நெற்கள்புற்கள் மலிந்திருக்கு மன்றோ?
யானெ தற்கும் அஞ்சுகிலேன்,மானுடரே,நீவிர்
என்மதத்தைக் கைக்கொண்மின்,பாடுபடல் வேண்டா;
ஊனுடலை வருத்தாதீர்; உணவியற்கை கொடுக்கும்;
உங்களுக்குத் தொழிலிங்கே அன்பு செய்தல் கண்டீர்!-

– பாரதி

An ode to Maha Shakthi – Bharathi

August 28, 2013

Slay my lust – else
stop my breath.
Conquer my body – else
halt my thoughts.
Set me in a yogic state – else
slash my flesh.
Maha Shakthi – you
cause everything in this world,
from your divine solitude.

Break my bonds – else
end the burden of this life.
Unclutter my thinking – else
render my body dead.
Should I continue taking
chaff for grain?
Thou, who function
from deep within
every thing.

Will not all deceit melt away?
Will not tears of devotion flow?
Will not the heart gladden?
Will I not get rid of
the handicap of false pride?
In the torrent of thy Grace,
will not this mongrel’s
small appetite be sated.
Thou art unfathomable,
abiding in every thing.


[Translated from the following Tamil poem by Bharathi.]



மஹாசக்திக்கு விண்ணப்பம்

மோகத்தைக் கொன்றுவிடு – அல்லா லென்றன்
மூச்சை நிறுத்திவிடு
தேகத்தைச் சாய்த்துவிடு – அல்லாலதில்
சிந்தனை மாய்த்துவிடு
யோகத் திருத்திவிடு – அல்லா லென்றன்
ஊனைச் சிதைத்துவிடு
ஏகத் திருந்துலகம் – இங்குள்ளன
யாவையும் செய்பவளே!

பந்தத்தை நீக்கிவிடு – அல்லா லுயிர்ப்
பாரத்தைப் போக்கிவிடு்
சிந்தை தெளிவாக்கு – அல்லாலிதைச்
செத்த உடலாக்கு
இந்தப் பதர்களையே – நெல்லாமென
எண்ணி இருப்பேனோ
எந்தப் பொருளிலுமே – உள்ளேநின்று
இயங்கி யிருப்பவளே.

கள்ளம் உருகாதோ – அம்மா
பக்திக் கண்ணீர் பெருகாதோ?
உள்ளம் குளிராதோ – பொய்யாணவ
ஊனம் ஒழியாதோ?
வெள்ளக் கருணையிலே – இந்நாய் சிறு
வேட்கை தவிராதோ?
விள்ளற் கரியவளே – அனைத்திலும்
மேவி யிருப்பவளே!

Festering Remnants of Brahminic segregation

March 1, 2012

Are you a vegetarian?

This fairly innocuous-sounding question greets you, when you start hunting for a house to rent in Chennai. Skim the surface off the question, and you wish you never decided to come to Chennai. Its intent is plain. Are you a Brahmin?

Some of them may be genuinely looking only for vegetarians (and not necessarily Brahmins) to occupy their houses. Some of them are bold enough to specify “for Brahmins only!” on the advertisements or to their brokers. Many of them do not have the courage to be open about it and hide behind the vegetarian-question. But you can always sense their discomfort, in knowing that you are a non-Brahmin Vegetarian.

Of course, the story that we cook only vegetarian food at home, and I occasionally eat meat in hotels, complicates the picture. I told my wife not to bother narrating this tale after listening to her the first time. So, we were just vegetarians, and I insisted that the brokers tell the landlords that we are non-Brahmin-vegetarians to avoid questions, later, on the missing thread or the non-Brahmin dialect.

Though many of my closest friends, since school days, have been (and still are) Brahmins, I have never felt excluded from their company. The first time, I was exposed to this exclusivity of the Chennai Brahmin club was when I went to a few carnatic music kutcheris alone, ten years back. Now this rude shock…the blatant display of casteism in the heart of the capital city, amongst, probably, the most educated elite of Tamilnadu…100 years after the Dalit Kanagalingam was bestowed with the Brahminic thread, by the Brahmin-born reformist-poet Bharati (who himself had forsaken the thread) in obstinate, sacrilegious defiance of the orthodoxy of that era.

This, sadly, is enough fodder to keep the crass anti-brahmin rhetoric of the Dravidian movement alive.

P.S. : We are finally going to be in a small apartment complex, as tenants to a generous Brahmin family. In the words of the broker, who was confused to hear that we are vegetarians but not Brahmins, “it is a nice apartment with only brahmin residents”.

A small sample of ads from Google search:


I know no fear – Bharathi

October 26, 2011

I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When united
the world stands
against me,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When rubbish
I am dismissed as,
and trashed,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When a life
of begging
I must resort to,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When everything
I love
is lost,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When the eyes
of pretty women
pierce me,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When I am fed
poison by my
closest friends,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When an army arrives
with spears
smeared with flesh,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When the sky
shatters and descends
on my head,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.


My translation of the song “Achamillai achamillai” by Bharathi.

On this Diwali day, I am inspired to do this translation, thanks to Mahirl Malar ( my 3-year old daughter). Last night, she was refusing to step of the house, in fear of crackers. I told her to recite ‘Achamillai’ song, everytime she hears a loud burst. She started doing that in her inimitable way, and tone, with wild gestures of bravery. Voila:  she dragged me down for a walk to watch the big boys having a blast.

The day has dawned

October 11, 2011

The day has dawned

thanks to my penance.

The damned dark moments

have all disappeared.

Spreading its rousing

fresh golden rays,

it’s risen with splendor:

the wisdom, the sun.

– part of a poem by Bharathi, translated by me and posted on Facebook.

Here is a wonderful rendition of the song by Bombay Jayashree (Pozhudu pularndadhu).

Yadugiri’s biography of Bharathi

September 11, 2011

I came across this wonderful biography of Bharathi by Yadugiri Ammal. Yadugiri knew Bharathi, when she was a child. And, this biography sketches the portrait of the great poet from a child’s perspective. While this book was written much later in her life, Yadugiri has showed remarkable restraint in narrating only incidents that she had seen on her own. She had kept the child, who adored Bharathi, alive in her 40-year old mind, giving us also a glimpse into the life of the reformer, revolutionary, swadheshi, and, above all, poet.

The translation by Arasi is quite good.

Part I

Part II


Light and darkness – A poem by Bharati

July 30, 2011

The skies are brightly lit
by sunlight.
So are
the mountains,
the oceans with warring waves,
the land, and the trees,
the woods, and the banks
of the rivers;
from where did
this darkness spring,
sinking only
man’s heart?
– Translated by me from a Tamil poem by Subramaniya Bharati

வானமெங்கும் பரிதியின் சோதி;
மலைகள் மீதும் பரிதியின் சோதி;
தானை நீர்க்கடல் மீதிலும் ஆங்கே
தரையின் மீதும் தருக்களின் மீதும்
கான கத்திலும் பற்பல ஆற்றின்
கரைகள் மீதும் பரிதியின் சோதி;
மானவன்தன் உளத்தினில் மட்டும்
வந்து நிற்கும் இருளிது வென்னே!


May 25, 2011

Crows and sparrows are our caste,
the ocean and mountain our creed.
None but ourselves,
wherever we glance.
Nothing but joy and dance,
the more we see.

A poem by Bharati – translated from Tamil

A tiny tract of land – Bharati’s wish

March 25, 2011

A tiny tract of land, I want, Parasakthi,

a tiny tract I want. There,

with​ pillars exquisite, and the color

of the rooms pristine, amidst

that tiny plot, let a palace

be built. There, close to the well,

with slender branches,

and tender coconut juice,

a dozen or so coconut trees​,

I want nearby. Like

the glittering pearl, let

the moon lit the place.

Let the song of larks

ring on my ears.

Let the gentle breeze

enchant my mind.

For our songs to blend,

a virtuous girl be there.

In our joint intoxication, bestow

on us, poetry. In that

dense wilderness, Amma,

your protection I adjure.

I must protect this world,

With my poesy.


This is the translation of a song from Subramanya Bharati, the great Tamil poet. He happens to be extremely difficult to translate. Much of his rhyme, rhythm, simplicity,  sublime choice of words and impact is lost in translation. Nevertheless, this is a modest attempt to give glimpses of Bharati to the uninitiated.

More from Bharati here, here and here .