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Dr. J.B. Prashant More, a Puducherry-born and Paris-based historian, is already a familiar face to the readers of inmathi.com as he has, in earlier interviews, spoken about various subjects including the Muslims emergence in South India, freedom struggle leader Subhas Chandra Bose’s death or disappearance, Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi’s life and so on.
Dr. Badri Seshadri, who interacted with Dr. More on behalf of inmathi.com, is co-founder of cricinfo.com and MD, New Horizon Media. He has a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from IIT-Madras in 1991 and Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University, USA in 1996. Badri Seshadri, a media personality, writes on technology, science, education, politics and current affairs in Tamil and English dailies and periodicals. He regularly appears on TV programs on the channels such as Vijay TV, Puthiya Thalaimurai and so on. He has anchored a 17-week ‘walk-the-talk’ program on Thanthi TV.
Picking up the threads from his earlier interview about Bharathi’s stay in Pondicherry, then a French colony, Dr More cast the spotlight on the poet’s incognito life in the coastal town from 1908 to 1918.
Stating that it was mainly to escape the British crackdown that Bharathi landed in Pondicherry along with Mandayam Srinivasachary, Dr More said he continued his firebrand journalism against the British rule in India from the French enclave, running the journals India and Vijaya.
It was during his incognito stay in Pondicherry that his creativity was at its best and his patriotic fervour at its most intense. His famous literary works such as Panjali Sabatham, and Kuyil Pattu, were written during this period. He re-interpreted Paanjali Sabatham, an episode from the Mahabharata, to reflect the contemporary Indian freedom struggle against British rule. Paanchali (Draupadi), who was disrobed in the court of the Kauravas and saved by Lord Krishna, then took a vow to tie up her tresses only after smearing them with blood from the thighs of Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kaurvas. Bharati re-invented Paanchali, using her as the metaphor for Mother India languishing in slavery and her vow as the pledge to make India independent.
It was during his incognito stay in Pondicherry that his creativity was at its best and his patriotic fervor at its most intense. His famous literary works such as Panjali Sabatham, Kuyil Pattu, were written during this period
Such a work of high literary value and nationalist connotations was, however, not published in Bharathi’s time. His allegorical work, The Fox with Golden Tail about Annie Besant and philosopher J. Krishnamurti was, however, a huge hit in the publishing world with 500 copies sold in the first edition itself. Bharati was, though, not happy, disappointed as he was over Paanchali Sabatham not having seen the light of the day, Dr More said.
About the Sri Aurobindo-Bharathi connection, Dr More said though initially the poet was enthused by the arrival of Aurobindo Ghosh in Pondicherry, later his affinity with Ghosh tapered off.
Ghosh of West Bengal landed in Pondicherry after his acquittal in the Alipore bomb case involving the attempt to murder Muzafferpur district judge. Though the bomb had missed the judge, it claimed the lives of two English women. Hearing about the bomb attack, Bharathi criticized the incident, lamenting the death of the two women. Following the British crackdown on all prominent freedom-fighters such as Tilak, Lala Lajapat Rai, Ghosh escaped to Chandernagore (Chandannagar), a French colony on the banks of the Hooghly, two hours from Kolkata. From there Ghosh made his way to Pondicherry.
Anticipating the arrival of Ghosh, Bharathi was afire with desire to be led by Ghosh who, he thought, would galvanize the spirit of freedom fighters in South India. But contrary to his expectations, what emerged out of Ghosh was not a fiery warrior of nationalism but a serene yogi awash with esoteric philosophic narratives. Bharathi, for whom poetry and philosophy were meant as weapons to liberate the country from the British reign, was chagrined when Ghosh turned an ascetic and attracted religious crowds vying to touch his feet. Bharathi’s disciple Bharatidasan witnessed Bharathi’s anger, Dr More said.
It was in Pondicherry that Bharathi came under the influence of revolutionary French thinkers such as Voltaire, Rousseau and so on. The famous French revolution slogan of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ had a big role in shaping his political outlook. A democrat, a socialist, an egalitarian and a reformer, Bharati dreamt of a casteless society where all were equal. When British India was suffering from slavery, the French India allowed its citizens to exercise their franchise in electing representatives to Parliament in France. Surprised at this, Bharati campaigned for Paul Richard in the Pondicherry elections. Paul Richard was the husband of Mira Alfassa who would be later hailed as Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a community of spiritual reclusion.
Dr. More said though Bharathi and his family were living in utter poverty, his literary contributions were rich. His famous long poem Kuyil Pattu (Song of the Cuckoo) was composed in the serene environs of what was then called Kuyil Thoppu or Cuckoo’s Grove. Nothing green remains of Kuyil Thoppu now which has been replaced with the modern concrete apartments.
But Bharathi, staying at that time in Pondicherry, could not make out what was touted as the Dravidian movement that harped on the Aryan-Dravidian dichotomy. The Aryan invasion and Dravidian son-of-the-soil theories were a large part of the political narrative in 1910s and are still dominating the political debates
Another noteworthy point about Bharathi’s stay in Pondy, which Dr, More mentioned was the fact that the poet used to interact with some Siddhas from the Sidhananda Ashram such as Kullasamy, and Govindasamy, who influenced his mysticism and all-inclusive spiritual outlook.
Talking about an important event in the political history of Tamil Nadu, Dr More said that the South Indian Liberal Federation aka Justice Party was set up by Dr. C. Natesa Mudaliar, T.M. Nair and Pitti Theagaroya Chetti in 1916. It was a non-Brahmin outfit floated to fight Brahmin domination in education and jobs in the then Madras Presidency. The party was a precursor to the Dravidian movement that would become the mainstay of Tamil identity politics for several decades.
But Bharathi, staying at that time in Pondicherry, could not make out what was touted as the Dravidian movement that harped on the Aryan-Dravidian dichotomy. The Aryan invasion and Dravidian son-of-the-soil theories were much part of the political narrative in 1910s and are still dominating the political debates. But Bharathi poured scorn on the Dravidian ideology and called the Aryan-Dravidian divide a myth which, he said, was created by Christian missionaries. It was Robert Caldwell who discovered the Dravidian family of languages – of which Tamil was the oldest and most advanced. German Indologist Max Muller posited that Aryans invaded north India and imposed their culture on the Dravidians living in the Indus Valley Civilization.
The Dravidian movement’s ideology mainly revolved around the Aryan-Dravidian schism, making Aryan synonymous with Brahmins/Sanskrit and Dravidian with Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. But Bharati was an idealist who had once anointed a Dalit, Kanagalingam, with a holy thread, declaring him as a man of the upper caste – Brahmin. The incident speaks volumes about Bhrathi’s ambition to create an egalitarian society where there are no caste barriers and all humans are of the higher station and children of the God, as the Gita and Upanishads declare.
The Dravidian movement in embryo, thus, did not appeal to the poet who hated the non-Brahmanical initiative for its attempt to divide the society on communal lines, claimed Dr More, adding that Bharati was not even aware of writings of Ayothi Dasa Pandithar, the first anti-caste crusader in South India, who fought for the welfare of Adi Dravidars.
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