Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (1878-1972), popularly known as ‘Rajaji’ or ‘CR’ was a renowned advocate, statesman, writer, freedom fighter, journalist, and political leader. He was hailed as M K Gandhi’s conscience-keeper (somebody had to be, for better or for worse). A voracious reader, original thinker, astute politician, and prolific writer, Rajaji was a modern-day renaissance man. He was also a devout Hindu with a firm belief in the almighty and great admiration for saints like Shankara and Ramanuja.
साहित्ये सुकुमारवस्तुनि दृढन्यायग्रहग्रन्थिले
तर्के वा मयि संविधातरि समं लीलायते भारती ।
शय्या वास्तु मृदूत्तरच्छदवती दर्भाङ्कुरैरास्तृता
भूमिर्वा हृदयङ्गमो यदि पतिस्तुल्या रतिर्योषिताम् ॥
Subhashitas (su = good, bhashita = spoken) are self-contained verses that are witty, romantic, wise, puzzling, devotional, sarcastic, or didactic. While many of the subhashitas are standalone compositions by various poets, some of them are extracts from major works of poetry or drama (like Raghuvamsham).
गोविन्द-नन्दनतया च वपुःश्रिया च
मास्मिन्नृपे कुरुत कामधियं तरुण्यः ।
अस्त्री-करोति जगतां विषये स्मर स्त्रीः
अस्त्रीजनः पुनरनेन विधीयते स्त्रीः ॥
Sriharsha, the great exponent of Sanskrit poetry in 12th century C.E., was erudition and creativity personified. Srihira and Mamalladevi were his parents. His Naishadhiya-charitam is one among the pancha maha-kavyas (five epic-poems).
ऐश्वर्य-मद-मत्तोऽसि मामवज्ञाय वेत्स्यसे ।
उपस्थितेषु बौद्धेषु मदधीना तव स्थितिः ॥
तात बाहट मा रोदीरेषा वै कर्मणो गतिः ।
दुषि धातोरिवास्माकं गुणो दोषाय क्ल्प्यते ॥
The central character of this story is Vikatanitamba, who lives on to this day through her muktakas (stray, independent verses). No work of this fine poet has come down to us in full; they have been swept away in the flood of time.
Sukanta Bhattacharya (1926-1947) is counted as one of the great Bengali poets along with Rabindranath Tagore, Jibanananda Das, and Kazi Nazrul. For someone who died at twenty, that is quite something. Many of his poems have sociopolitical undertones but are romantic at the core.
Subramanya 'Bharathi' (1882-1921) or 'Mahakavi Bharathiar' was among the foremost of modern Tamil poets. He was not only a poet but also a journalist, social activist, and freedom fighter. His poems covered a wide variety of topics and many of them are even sung as classical compositions.
The first poem of Bharathiar that I learnt was one that he wrote during the freedom struggle. It is a stirring poem that exhorts his compatriots to fearlessly face the British. The poem in Tamil goes:
काले माषं सस्ये मासं वदति शकासं यस्य सकाशम् |
उष्ट्रे लुम्पति षं वा रं वा तस्मै दत्ता विकटनितम्बा ॥
kaale maasham sasye maasam vadati shakaasam yasya sakaasham |
ushtre lumpati sham vaa ram vaa tasmai dattaa vikatanitambaa ||
Subhadra Kumari Chauhan (1904-1948) was a renowned Hindi poet and freedom fighter. Her pièce de résistance is her epic poem on the Queen of Jhansi, Lakshmibai. While she was known for her poems in the vira rasa (the aesthetic experience of courage; one of the nine rasas), this is a beautiful poem about childhood in the karuna rasa (the aesthetic experience of compassion, pathos, and empathy).