Bharathiar on the Indian Education System
In Ring out the Old, Ring in the New (போகின்ற பாரதமும்-வருகின்ற பாரதமும்), Bharathi says that one must learn his native language before venturing into other languages; he asks people to live by those books that speak the truth. He says, “Praise the books that speak of the truth; kick out the ones that lie!” This becomes particularly relevant today as we see so much of incorrect and misleading information being widely circulated leading to critical errors of judgment. Dr. Abdul Kalam says, “Unfortunately, the information explosion is in great part a misinformation explosion.”
In Bharatha Samudayam (பாரத சமுதாயம்) Bharathi says, “Indians shall teach the path of universal wisdom to all citizens.” Such was the confidence he had in India and her children.
Bharathi’s thoughts on education are brought out in his 1910 song, A Dream (கனவு). He stresses on the importance of learning our traditional Indian wisdom, adhering to our time-tested methods of education, before venturing into anything foreign Condemning the English education system that was thrust upon the Indians during the British rule, by acknowledging greats like Pāṇini, Kālidāsa, Śaṅkara, Kamban, and Bhāskara, by praising works such as the Silappadigāram (composed by Iḻaṅgo Aḍigaḻ, the younger brother of the Cera king Seṅguṭṭuvan), and by applauding the great rulers and statesmen of India, Bharathi asks what do Indians gain by a foreign education:
“They cultivate arithmetic for twelve
whole years, but cannot tell the stars of the sky
A thousand wondrous texts they study
but know not the poetic muse profound
Commerce and Economics they blabber
but are blind to the nation’s poverty
The names of all shastras, they know by rote,
yet are not the slightest benefited…
Oh, what am I to say on how they learn!
My soul is all cinders because of these.”
As Bharathi himself has said in his poem Jnana Bhanu (ஞான பானு, literally ‘Sun of Wisdom’), a combination of mind, intellect, and right knowledge, and—most importantly—‘resoluteness of thought’ eventually leads to success.
When we look at the entire collection of Bharathi’s poems, it becomes evident that even as he was inspired both by Vedānta and by modern science, his central focus was India’s freedom; he envisioned a bright future for India and had rich dreams about its re-invigoration. We see a holistic view in his writings – on the one hand he is trying to embrace modern science and on the other, he is unwilling to let go of all those wonderful aspects of our tradition. Through his poems he gives a clarion call to his fellow Indians from all background and tries to invoke in them the spirit of the freedom movement. It is therefore difficult to label Bharathi as only a freedom fighter or a poet or a social reformer; he was a consummate polymath with a grand vision for India.
It’s truly remarkable that Bharathi had such a lasting interest in science while living in a period of colonial rule and in a time where access to knowledge was difficult. Bharathi’s scientific inquisitiveness inspires us to embrace the findings of modern science without succumbing to the lifelessness of dry logic; his poetic outpourings are full of earnestness and emotional richness but stay away from superstition and pseudoscience. During Bharathi’s era, India was clearly behind the Western world in matters of science. It is noteworthy that in raising his voice against the British, he also makes place for science, being the holistic thinker he was. Bharathi envisioned Indians to be world citizens who would make use of the collective wisdom of several thousands of years to build a strong foundation for the future generation.
In his song Our Doctrine (உயிர் பெற்ற தமிழர் பாட்டு) he speaks of the ephemeral nature of life and the path to liberation through ānanda:
“Joy is of momentary form
Youth and wealth are momentary
Pain’s form too is momentary
Defeat and age are momentary
Life appears and disappears
Pain, pleasure, and emptiness –
come what may!
Espouse joy – this is true liberation.”
True to his words, in spite of the pains, trials, and tribulations that he had to undergo, Bharathi lived a life of contentment.
For years, Bharathi’s poetical works have been enjoyed by the commoner and the scholar. A person without any knowledge of science can read all these poems and find an emotional resonance with it. However, someone with scientific training and temperament can appreciate these writings in the backdrop of their knowledge, thus making the experience of reading richer. After a century, if we are able to find scientific facts in his poetry, which he has converted into poetic value, it shows the profound thought process that has gone into the creation of those poems. On the other hand, to forcibly extract a scientific fact from his poetry or to identify a scientific theory in his poetic outpourings would be foolish. What we can say without doubt is that Bharathi’s poetry can attract readers who approach it from a material level, an emotional level, or a spiritual level. This perhaps explains his incredible popularity among Tamil-speaking people all over the world. How was Bharathi able to compose such poetry? The answer to that perhaps lies in his profound understanding of life, his grasp of the fundamentals of science, his inquisitive nature, and mostly importantly, his open-mindedness.
Subramania Bharathi died on 12th September 1921 in a freak accident. In his short life of thirty-nine years, he left behind a treasure-trove of knowledge for us to ponder upon. In one of his poems from his magnum-opus The Oath of Draupadi (பாஞ்சாலி சபதம்) he prays to Sarasvati, the goddess of learning and wisdom thus:
“The physicists say that atoms whirl
ceaselessly; the astronomers opine
that the orbs gyrate for ever and ever
If it be but natural for the things
of globe to work ceaselessly, O Mother of Arts!
Should not my heart, I pray,
function ceaselessly, made one with thy Grace?”
This was Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam’s favourite poem as well. Indeed, as Bharathi has stated here and as Dr. Kalam had believed, we too need to work tirelessly towards our goal. Just as Bharathi and Kalam have envisioned, let that goal of ours be to empower our country as a whole, and in the process, this world as well.
The author would like to express her thanks to ‘Padma Shri’ Dr. Y S Rajan for his constant encouragement, valuable inputs, and insightful feedback in putting together this essay in spite of his busy schedules. She would like to express her thanks to Śatāvadhani Dr. R Ganesh and Dr. Prasad Bapat for their detailed review and astute feedback. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.
- Bharati Patalkal. Ed. T N Ramachandran (Sekkizhar Adi-p-podi). Thanjavur: Tamil University, 1989.
- மகாகவி பாரதியார் கவிதைகள், நியூ செஞ்சிரி புக் ஹவுஸ் (பி) லிட்.
- Kalam, A P J Abdul; Rajan, Y S. The Scientific Indian: A Twenty-First Century Guide to the World Around Us. New Delhi: Penguin India, 2011.
- Hawking, Stephen. The Theory of Everything. New Delhi: Jaico Publishing House, 2007.
 …வேறு வேறு பாஷைகள் கற்பாய் நீ
வீட்டு வார்த்தை கற்கிலாய் போ போ போ
நூறு நூல்கள் போற்றுவாய் மெய்கூறும்
நூலி லொத்தி யல்கிலாய் போ போ போ
மாறு பட்ட வாதமே ஐந்நூறு
வாயில் நீள ஓதுவாய் போ போ போ…
…மெய்ம்மை கொண்ட நூலையே அன்போடு
வேதமென்று போற்றுவாய் வா வா வா
பொய்ம்மை கூற லஞ்சுவாய் வா வா வா
பொய்ம்மை நூல்க ளெற்றுவாய் வா வா வா
நொய்ம்மை யற்ற சிந்தையாய் வா வா வா
நோய்க ளற்ற உடலினாய் வா வா வா…
 Kalam, A P J Abdul; Rajan, Y S. The Scientific Indian: A Twenty-First Century Guide to the World Around us. New Delhi: Penguin India, 2011.
 See http://www.lakshmansruthi.com/tamilbooks/bharathiar/bharathi17.asp to get the lyrics of the entire song. One can also refer to மகாகவி பாரதியார் கவிதைகள்.
 ஆங்கிலப் பயிற்சி
…கணிதம் பன்னிரண் டாண்டு பயில்வர்,பின்
கார்கொள் வானிலோர் மீனிலை தேர்ந்திலார்;
அணிசெய் காவியம் ஆயிரங் கற்கினும்
ஆழ்ந்தி ருக்கும் கவிளம் காண்கிலார்;
வணிக மும்பொருள் நூலும் பிதற்றுவார்;
வாழு நாட்டிற் பொருள்கெடல் கேட்டிலார்
துணியு மாயிரஞ் சாத்திர நாமங்கள்
சொல்லு வாரெட் டுணைப்பயன் கண்டிலார்…
…என்ன கூறிமற் றெங்ஙன் உணர்த்துவேன்
இங்கி வர்க்கென துள்ளம் எரிவதே!…
திருவளர் வாழ்க்கை, கீர்த்தி, தீரம், நல்லறிவு, வீரம்
மருவுபல் கலையின் சோதி வல்லமை என்பவெல்லாம்
வருவது ஞானத்தாலே வையக முழுவதும் எங்கள்
பெருமைதான் நிலவி நிற்கப் பிறந்தது ஞானபானு…
…இன்பமும் ஓர்கணத் தோற்றம்-இங்கு
இளமையும் செல்வமும் ஓர்கணத் தோற்றம்;
துன்பமும் ஓர்கணத் தோற்றம்-இங்கு
தோல்வி முதுமை ஒருகணத் தோற்றம்.
தோற்றி அழிவது வாழ்க்கை-இதில்
துன்பத்தோ டின்பம் வெறுமையென் றோதும்
மூன்றில் எதுவரு மேனும்-களி
மூழ்கி நடத்தல் பரசிவ முக்தி. (இனி)
 இரண்டாம் பாகம் – சரஸ்வதி வணக்கம்
இடையின்றி அணுக்களெலாம் சுழலுமென
இயல் நூலார் இசைத்தல் கேட்டோம்;
இடையின்றிக் கதிர்களெலாம் சுழலுமென
வானூலார் இயம்பு கின்றனர்.
இடையின்றித் தொழில்புரிதல் உலகி னிடைப்
பொருட்கெல்லாம் இயற்கை யாயின்
இடையின்றிக் கலைமகளே! நினதருளில்
எனதுள்ளம் இயங்கொ ணாதோ?