Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore (রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর, rabIndranAth thhAkur) (May 7, 1861August 7, 1941) (in the Bangla Calendar, 25 Baishakh, 1268 – 22 Srabon, 1348), also called Gurudev, was a Bengali poet, Brahmo philosopher and nationalist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, becoming the first Asian to be awarded a Nobel Prize.


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Tagore was born in Jorasanko, Kolkata ((Bangla:কলকাতা), the son of Debendranath Tagore and Sarada devi. His grandfather Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, was a leading businessman and a man of letters who adopted the Brahmo faith propagated by his friend, the reformer Raja Rammohun Roy. The family was well-off and followed normal Bengali traditions but was educated (some of the women were pioneers in this direction) in both English and Indian traditions.

Rabindranath, as the youngest of fourteen culturally sensitive children, grew up in a vibrant artistic atmosphere, where literary magazines were published and music performance and theaters were presented within the cultural group nucleated by the Jorasanko Tagores. Rabindranath's oldest brother Dwijendranath Tagore was a philosopher and a poet. Another brother, Satyendranath Tagore, was the first Indian member of Indian Civil Service. Yet another brother, Jyotirindranath Tagore, was a talented musician-composer and playwright. Among his sisters, Swarna Kumari Devi earned fame as a novelist in her own right. Jyotirindranath's wife, Kadambari, about the same age as Rabindranath, was a dear friend and a powerful influence on the budding poet. Her suicide in 1884 left him distraught for years, and left a profound mark on Tagore's literary life.

In 1878 Rabindranath went to England where he studied in a public school in Brighton, and then at the University College, London. He did not complete his degree, however, and left England after just over a year. His exposure to the English culture however, he was to later infuse into the Bengali musical tradition to create new forms of music.

On 9 December 1883, Rabindranath married Mrinalini Devi, and the couple had two sons and three daughters, several of whom died at young ages. By this time he had already come into the literary limelight with several works, including a long poem set in the Maithili style pooneered by Vidyapati, which he initially claimed was that of a lost poet called Bhanu Simha. His reputation was further consolidated by works such as Sandhya Sangit (1882) which includes the famous poem Nirjharer Svapnabhanga - "The cry of the waterfall".

In 1890, Tagore went to manage the family estates at at Shelaidaha, an estuarine region in today's Bangladesh, where he lived on a houseboat on the tributary system of the river Padma. Works from this period such as Sonar Tari (1894), Chitra (1896), and Katha O Kahini (1900), further established him as a poet. In addition, he was also establishing a reputation as an essayist, playwright, and his short stories, reflecting the village life that he saw around him, earned him considerable praise.

In 1901, Tagore left Shilaidaha and moved to Santiniketan, where he set up an experimental school. He continued writing, with works such as Naivedya (1901) and kheyA (1906) being published in this period. Unfortunately his wife died in this period, and also a favourite daughter and also a son, leaving him distraught.

By now, he had a large following among Bengali readers. Some translations were also being produced, but were often of mediocre quality. In response to English admirers such as the painter William Rothenstein, Tagore started translating some of his poems in free verse. In 1912, he went to England, carrying a sheaf of his translations. At readings there, these translations moved a number of Englishmen, notably the Anglo-Irish poet WB Yeats and the Englishman CF Andrews. Yeats would later write the preface to the English Gitanjali, and Andrews joined him for a long periods in India. The English Gitanjali was later published by the India Society along with a glowing preface by Yeats. In November of that same year he was surprised to find that he had awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, based on such a slender corpus of translated work.

All along, Rabindranath had an artist's eye to his own handwriting, and he embellished the cross-out's and word layouts in his manuscripts with simple artistic leitmotifs. At the age of sixty, he started to paint, and successful art exhibitions were held in much of Europe.

He died in the Jorasanko house on 7 August 1941 (22 Shravan 1348), a day that is still mourned in public functions across the Bangla-speaking world.


Although poetry dominates his literary reputation, he also wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, and drama. He was also an accomplished musician, and his most enduring legacy to Bangla may be his 2,000 songs, now known as Rabindra Sangeet which are part of the Bengali cultural heritage in both West Bengal, India, and in Bangladesh.

Tagore's prose deals with social, political, educational issues and his vision of the universal brotherhood of man. His poetry and songs, apart from their deep spirituality and devotion, often express a celebration of nature and life. For him, life's multifarious variety is ever a source of pleasure without outward reason. The subject of love is a recurring motif throughout his literature, and he often wrote about patriotism.

His songs have been chosen as national anthems of two nations: "jana gana mana" (জন গণ মন) in India and aamaar sonaar baanglaa (আমার সোনার বাঙলা) in Bangladesh. In 1913, he won the Nobel Prize in literature, the first Asian to receive this honor, for his English translation of his work Gitanjali (গীতাঞ্জলি, "An offering of song"). Here is song seven from the text,

Original text in Bangla and Roman scripts(গীতাঞ্জলি 127):

আমার এ গান ছেড়েছে তার সকল অলংকার
তোমার কাছে রাখে নি আর সাজের অহংকার
অলংকার যে মাঝে পড়ে মিলনেতে আড়াল করে,
তোমার কথা ঢাকে যে তার মুখর ঝংকার।

তোমার কাছে খাটে না মোর কবির গর্ব করা,
মহাকবি তোমার পায়ে দিতে যে চাই ধরা।
জীবন লয়ে যতন করি যদি সরল বাঁশি গড়ি,
আপন সুরে দিবে ভরি সকল ছিদ্র তার।


AmAr e gAn chheRechhe tAr sakal alaMkAr
tomAr kAchhe rAkhe ni Ar sAjer ahaMkAr
alaMkAr Je mAjhe paRe milanete ARAl kare,
tomAr kathA DhAke Je tAr mukhara jhaMkAr.

tomAr kAchhe khATe nA mor kabir garba karA,
mahAkabi, tomAr pAye dite chAi Je dharA.
jIban laye Jatan kari Jadi saral bA.Mshi gaRi,
Apan sure dibe bhari sakal chhidra tAr.

Free-verse translation by Tagore (English Gitanjali VII):

My song has put off her adornments. She has no pride of dress and decoration. Ornaments would mar our union; they would come between thee and me; their jingling would drown thy whispers. My poet's vanity dies in shame before thy sight. O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet. Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.

Public Life

Tagore wrote a number of songs in support of the Indian independence movement. He renounced the knighthood conferred by the British Crown in 1915 in protest against the 1919 Jaliyaanwala Bagh Massacre (Amritsar), where, without warning, British soldiers opened fire upon an unarmed gathering of civilians, killing over 500 innocent men, women and children.

He felt strongly that the nation could be uplifted only through widespread education. Writing of the rote-oriented education system introduced in India under the British Raj, he once said:

We pass examinations, and shrivel up into clerks, lawyers and police inspectors, and we die young ... Once upon a time we were in possession of such a thing as our mind in India. It was living. It thought, it felt, it expressed itself. But it has been thrust aside, and we are made to tread the mill of passing examinations, not for learning anything, but for notifying that we are qualified for employment under organisations conducted in English. Our educated community is not a cultured community, but a community of qualified candidates.

These views crystallized in the experimental school at Santiniketan, (শান্তিনিকেতন, "abode of peace") in West Bengal in 1901, where his father had left a landed estate in his possession. This school, established in the traditional Brahmacharya structure of the student living together with his Guru in a self-sustaining community, became a magnet for a talented International group of scholars, artists, linguists, and musicians. Tagore spent prodigious amounts of energy obtaining funds for this school (contributing all his Nobel monies). Today this institution is called Vishwa-Bharati (বিশ্বভারতী, 'India in the World"), a Central University under the Government of India.


Tagore's richest legacy for today's polarized world is perhaps his eloquent denunciation of Nationalism, which he perceived, in the shadows of our last great war, as one of the largest threats to humanity. "A nation," he wrote, ". . . is that aspect which a whole population assumes when organized for a mechanical purpose", a purpose often associated with a "selfishness" that "can be a grandly magnified form" o personal selfishness.

His international travels sharpened his understanding of the shallowness of human divisions. Once when visting a Bedouin camp in today's battleground of Iraq, the chief told him, "Our prophet has said that a true Muslim is he by whose words and deeds not the least of his brother-men may ever come to any harm..." Tagore noted in his diary: 'I was startled into recognizing in his words the voice of essential humanity.' (Dutta/Robinson p.317).

During his intensive travels in Europe, America and the Far East, he gradually formed a vision of the unity of East and West. Subsequently, he was profoundly shocked by the intense nationalism he found breeding in Germany and other nations before the Second World War. In a series of lectures on Nationalism that were enthusiastically received in much of Europe, but not so much in the United States, he said

The moment is arising when you also must find a basis of unity which is not political. ... There is only one history - the history of man. All national histories are chapters in the larger one.

This internationalism and sensitivity to the fundamental unity of man is perhaps Tagore's lasting legacy to the world. However, among the Bangla-speaking people of West Bengal and Bangladesh, his literary legacy continues to inform an unusually vivid artistic and cultural life.

External links


bn:রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর de:Rabindranath Tagore es:Rabindranath Tagore eo:Rabindranath TAGORE fr:Rabndranth Tagore hi:रविन्द्रनाथ टगोर it:Rabindranath Tagore he:רבינדרנת טגור ks:रवीन्द्रनाथ ठाकुर mr:रवीन्द्रनाथ ठाकुर minnan:Rabndranth Thkur zh-min-nan:Rabndranth Thkur nl:Rabindranath Tagore ne:रवीन्द्रनाथ ठाकुर pl:Rabindranath Tagore pt:Rabindranath Tagore ro:Rabindranath Tagore sa:रवीन्द्रनाथ ठाकुर sk:Rabndranth Thkur sv:Rabindranath Tagore vi:Rabindranath Tagore zh:罗宾德拉纳特·泰戈尔


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