THE NATIONALISM OF THE CONGRESS and the vision of Indian civilisation that sustained it—the fantasy of a Sanskritic, Aryan heritage that united the subcontinent’s countless peoples—have long been supplanted in Tamil Nadu by a politics of Tamil difference and autonomy. Similarly, the imagined institution of Indian literature has long ceased to animate Tamil writing. The first Tamil modernists of the twentieth century, though, drew heavily on the imaginary of Indian nationalism and its associated reform movements—the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj. Foremost among these writers was the poet Subramanya Bharathiyar. He wrote both Tamil and Indian nationalist songs, was deeply read in Sanskrit, and believed the Tamils were Aryan.
Bharathiyar wrote the earliest poems in Tamil without metre. His poems demonstrate how, for him, the human, the divine and the nation are connected. In the poem “Shakti” he writes:
This is all one.
The stupid, the intelligent.
They’re all one substance.
Vedas, seafish, cold wind, jasmine—
are one substance’s many appearances
but inside is only one substance, one.
This one’s name is “Self.”
“Self” is god.
Self’s ambrosia is everlasting.