Gopalakrishna Bharati (1811 - 1896) was a Tamil poet and a composer of Carnatic music. He wrote a katAkALatcEpam, NantanAr Carittiram (Nandanar Charitram), two other works in this genre, and many independent kritis.
Bharati was a contemporary of Tyagaraja whom he is said to have met, and who asked him whether he had composed anything in the rAga AbhOgi; Bharati subsequently composed on of his most popular kritis in rUpaka tALa, CapApatikku. The great Tamil literary figure, U. V. Swaminatha Iyer wrote two sources for Bharati's life: a biography of the composer and his own autobiography, which contains references to Bharati, who was his guru in music.
Gopalakrishna Bharati was born near Mayavaram in Thanjavur district of today's Tamilnadu, south India. His father was Ramaswami Bharati, a musician. Gopalakrishna learnt Advaita and yoga SAstra from a guru in Mayavaram. Though he never took the vows of a renunciate, he led an ascetic life, and never married. Hailing from family of music exponents, Gopalakrishna showed inclination towards music even at a very young age. He had a commendable ability to grasp and reproduce complex music. He also listened to a number of the leading Carnatic vocalists of Thanjavur district.
Gopalakrishna Bharathi composed several kritis on the principles of advaita. Gopalakrishna Bharathi's kritis, portraying several musical facades, were extremely well received by the public and were sung in a number of concerts during his lifetime. This prompted several musicians to approach Gopalakrishna Bharathi. The musicians would express his vision for a new kirtana and Bharathi would always oblige and compose a song to fit the musician's requirement.
Gopalakrishna Bharati used the mudra (signature) Gopalakrishna in his compositions. These include famous kritis like varukalAmO (rAga mAnji), varuvArO (sAma) and ennEramum (rAga dEvagAndhAri).
NantanAr Carittiram is a katAkALatcEpam, a genre of religious story-telling with music that was popular in Tamilnadu in the 19th and early 20th centuries before the advent of film, especially the talkies. Nandan Caritiram was based on the story of a paraiyAr (dalit or 'untouchable'), Nandanar known also as TirunAlaippOvAr NayanAr. A great devotee of Siva, he yearned to visit Chidambaram the greatest of Siva temples. He greatly feared that caste prejudice would prevent him from entering the temple, but his devotion overcame this obstacle, and he obtained his desire, becoming physically merged with Siva in a blaze of light. Bharati's version of NantanAr Carittiram is a masterly development of the story narrated in Sekkizhar's Periya PurANam. He included many forms of Tamil regional music, and is praised for his ability to capture dialect and popular expression. The eminent Tamil literary scholar, Meenakshisundaram Pillai, however, criticised him for grammatical lapses.
Nandan Caritiram, as performed by Bharati, proved very popular and he published it in his lifetime. The highly regarded Thanjavur Krishna Bhagavatar, who developed the art of katAkALatcEpam by introducing elements from Marathi performance practice and elements of dance, made it one of his masterpieces. Many adaptations appeared, including stage plays and three film versions. Individual songs of Gopalakrishna Bharati became popular with Carnatic musicians. Later, Bharata Natyam dancers, including T. Balasaraswati, took up select pieces for interpretation as abhinaya. The album of the film version starring the singer M. M. Dandapani Desikar as Nandanar (with music direction by Papanasam Sivan) remains popular.
The story of Nandanar, as Bharati developed it, had considerable resonance with the Nationalist movement in India. Nandanar was an untouchable (dalit), and M. K. Gandhi, among others, saw his story as expressing the plight and aspirations of India's dalits. Others argue that Nandanar, with his burning desire to see Siva at Chidambaram, captured the mood and paralleled the aspirations of Indian nationalists yearning for independence from Britain.