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Vol 24 No. 2/2010 ISSN 0970 5074 VOL 24 NO.

2/2010

India
Perspectives

Six zoomorphic forms in a line, exhibited in Paris, 1930

Editor
Navdeep Suri
Guest Editor
Udaya Narayana Singh
Director, Rabindra Bhavana, Visva-Bharati
Assistant Editor
Neelu Rohra

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(1861-1941)
Editorial
In this Special Issue we pay tribute to one of India’s greatest sons As a philosopher, Tagore sought to balance his passion for
– Rabindranath Tagore. As the world gets ready to celebrate India’s freedom struggle with his belief in universal humanism
the 150th year of Tagore, India Perspectives takes the lead in and his apprehensions about the excesses of nationalism. He
putting together a collection of essays that will give our readers could relinquish his knighthood to protest against the barbarism
a unique insight into the myriad facets of this truly remarkable of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919. And
personality. During the course of an eventful life spanning eight he could, as Prof. Amartya Sen points out in his essay, critique
decades from 1861 to 1941, Tagore won international acclaim Mahatma Gandhi’s Swadeshi campaign and his advocacy of the
as a playwright, poet, song writer, novelist, educator, philosopher spinning wheel or charkha.
and humanist. Always positive and oriented towards action, he gives us much
Tagore wrote his first drama opera – Valmiki Pratibha – when to reflect. “I have become my own version of an optimist. If I
he was barely twenty. He went on to write over 2000 songs and can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door –
create Rabindra-sangeet as an important genre of Bengali music or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how
that is named after the poet himself. He translated a selection of dark the present,” he once said. For me, though, here’s the
his own poems, Gitanjali, from Bengali to English and became thought that almost invariably brings a smile to the face: “I slept
the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in 1913. His short stories and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was
and novels occupy a place of their own in Bengali literature. service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
And he is probably the only poet to have composed the national We are grateful to Visva-Bharti University and in particular to
anthems of two countries: Amar Shonar Bangla for Bangladesh Prof. Udaya Narayana Singh for joining me as the co-editor
and Jana Gana Mana for India. At the age of 60, he turned his of this issue. In addition to the articles illuminating key facets
attention to painting and managed to produce a remarkable of Tagore’s personality, Visva-Bharti have also provided us
oeuvre during the twilight years of his life. with rare photographs that have been painstakingly restored
As an educationist, he emphasized the notion of complete to provide a visual delight. The fact that several of these
and holistic education and established the Visva-Bharati photographs are being published for the first time makes this
in Santiniketan as an institution where “the illusion of issue a true collectors’ edition. For Tagore, anything less would
geographical barriers disappear from at least one place in be unthinkable.
India.” The ‘world poet’ traveled widely, winning friends and As always, we look forward to our readers’ feedback and
admirers as he traversed thirty countries across five continents. comments.
As Tan Chung says in his essay, “The Chinese have always
liked Tagore’s writings and songs for the richness of love, hope,
harmony and the humanness. A ‘Tagore Fever’ was created in
China in the 1920s, especially in the wake of his 1924 visit. We Navdeep Suri
see another rage of ‘Tagore Fever’ surging in China with the
universal celebration of the 150th birth anniversary…”
own trajectory of working for his own country, his own times
Tagore and for his own mother tongue – Bangla, or Bengali that holds
in the 21st century together two nations, India and Bangladesh. He knew that after
the dark comes light, as he said: “Clouds come floating into my
life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to
my sunset sky.”
Whereas reason and logic have an important place in Tagore’s
scheme of things, the inner strength and the belief in one’s
own self and an intuitive knowledge are of equal importance.
Tagore had once said: “A mind all logic is like a knife all
blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.” How true it is
in the context of creating a space for finer elements in one’s
life as well as in one’s learning processes. Creative writing,
meaningful performances, imaginative art, and soulful music
have a major role to play in shaping the human mind as much
as tools, technology and tangible instruments such as earthly
riches.
At a time when the world celebrates the onset of the 150th year
of Rabindranath Tagore between May 2010 and 2011, it was

T he face of the world is changing, and as time passes, the


changes are visible with a lot of disturbing images. But
each time one feels an element of doom and despair,
one’s faith is rekindled to see that there are thinkers and doers
like Tagore who firmly believed that ultimately the truth and
thought appropriate to pay a tribute to this great son of India
who made us proud. We have, therefore, put together a special
issue in his honour with close to two dozen essays together
with extremely important and rare visuals – from photographs
to images of his paintings. Some of these essays have been
beauty would prevail. It is not surprising to see Einstein sharing published earlier – mostly in Visva-Bharati publications,
the same beliefs as the doyen of Indian literature, Rabindranath but most of them have been written for this edition. We are
Tagore (1861-1941). Einstein said: ‘The ideals which have hopeful that the offerings we are making will be received
lighted my way, and time after time have given me new well by the international readership of India Perspectives,
courage to face life cheerfully have been kindness, beauty, and and this issue will be a collector’s item which would be
truth.” The progress of mankind is crucially dependent on this remembered and discussed for a long time. We are thankful
realisation. In exchanges with Einstein, Tagore had commented: to the authors as well as to Visva-Bharati in general, and to
“The progress of our soul is like a perfect poem. It has an the staff of the archives of Rabindra Bhavana, in particular.
infinite idea which once realised makes all movements full of We take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the
meaning and joy. But if we detach its movements from that Public Diplomacy Division, Ministry of External Affairs for their
ultimate idea, if we do not see the infinite rest and only see the interest and cooperation in putting this issue together.
infinite motion, then existence appears to us a monstrous evil,
impetuously rushing towards an unending aimlessness.” No Udaya Narayana Singh
amount of personal loss could make Tagore deviate from his Santiniketan; March 2010

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 2 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 3
Winged Surprises: Tagore and
Lyrics and Melodies of Rural Reconstruction
Tagore UMA DASGUPTA 86
LADLY MUKHOPADHYAY 6
Tagore and his Times:
The Poet’s School The Idea of Asia
SUPRIYO TAGORE 12 SUGATA BOSE 90

Tagore, Gitanjali Tagore:


❝ and the Nobel Prize The Scientist in Tagore The Golden Bridge between
Great Civilizations of
NILANJAN BANERJEE 20 PARTHA GHOSE 46
In common with thousands of his countrymen India and China
I owe much to one who by his poetic genius and Tagore: TAN CHUNG 96
singular purity of life has raised India in the The Seer and Interpreter
ERNEST RHYS 50 Tagore’s Visit
estimation of the world. But I owe also more. and its Impact on
Did he not harbour in Santiniketan the inmates China’s Literary World
of my Ashram who had preceded me from YIN XINAN 101
South Africa? The other ties and memories are too Man at the Centre of
sacred to bear mention in public tribute. Universe: Tagore’s Ideas on
Complete Education
❞ UDAYA NARAYANA SINGH 104
Rabindranath Tagore Tagore and
M.K. Gandhi as a Painter
Sabarmati, Ahmedabad Technical Education
SANJOY KUMAR MALLIK 26 The Wayfaring Poet B.N. PATNAIK 110
In Search of a AMRIT SEN 52
Equal Music:
New Language for Influence of Tagore on other
Tagore with Gandhi at Santiniketan
Theatre Tagore’s Religion Painters
ABHIJIT SEN 38 SABUJKOLI SEN 60 INA PURI 116
Gandhi and Tagore Tagore:
AMARTYA SEN 66 From the 21st Century
Perspective
Touched by Tagore ILKE ANGELA MARÉCHAL 122
MARTIN KÄMPCHEN 70
‘Blessed am I that
I am born to this land’:
Tagore’s Swadeshi Samaj:
A Biographical sketch
Debates on Nationalism
of Tagore
BIKASH CHAKRAVARTY 76
PURBA BANERJEE 127
Rabindranath’s Role in
Sambhu Saha

Women’s Emancipation
KATHLEEN M. O’CONNELL 80
Winged Surprises:
Lyrics and Melodies of Tagore
LADLY MUKHOPADHYAY

Rabindranath Tagore had of the increasing desire to


once said: “Our music is merge individual oneness with
the universal whole. In fact his
music for one, music for
compositions reflect beautifully
solitude”, but it is not meant the agony of failure to attain this
for one in a corner. It is union as well as the intense joy
the ‘one’ representing the upon achieving it.
universal whole. Tagore’s The body of music created by
music developed upon this Rabindranath Tagore in the
foundation of the increasing 64 years between 1877 and
desire to merge individual 1941 may be broadly classified
into two main categories.
oneness with the universal
Those that are melody based –
whole. ‘Suradharmi’ and those that are
lyric based – ‘Kavyadharmi’.

R
abindranath Tagore’s music Let us first explore the melody-
added a new dimension based compositions. Tagore
to the musical concept grew up in the classical tradition
of India in general and Bengal of Hindustani classical music
in particular. Rabindrasangeet, (‘raaga sangeet’). From his
being the cultural treasure autobiographical sketches, we
for Bengalis (including come to know of the musical
Bangladeshis) has an everlasting training he went through in his
and all encompassing appeal childhood. He was the disciple
for the listeners. It is said that of Jadunath Bhatta (1840-1883),
his songs are the outcome of the famous Pundit of Vishnupur
centuries of literary and cultural Gharana. In this gharana of
churning that the Bengali Indian classical music, the
community has gone through. artist excels in unfolding the
beauty of the Raaga through

Rabindra-Bhavana, Visva-Bharati
Rabindranath Tagore had once
said: “Our music is music for the initial introductory notes
one, music for solitude”, but it known as ‘Aalaap’. It is simple,
is not meant for one in a corner: devoid of heavy, cumbersome
it is the ‘one’ representing the ornamentation and is famous for
universal whole. Tagore’s music Right: Tagore singing with an
developed upon this foundation accompaniment by Abanindranath Tagore

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the ‘Dhrupad’ tradition (literally, Rabindranath used the folk a song from the Meenakshi
dhruva ‘fixed’ and pada ‘words’ based tunes extensively. His temple of Madurai (an ancient
– the oldest surviving tradition). stays at the estate of Silaidah song written by Muthuswami
Rabindranath was groomed and Patisar brought him in close Dikshitar) is an example of
in this tradition and later on contact with the rich, vibrant ‘Bhanga Gaan’.
used it with mastery without folk tradition of Bengal, the
The songs inspired by western
abiding to its strictures. For Bhatiyali, Kirtan, Ramprashadi,
music also come under this
example, we can think of a Shari, Baul and Jhumur. He
category. His understanding of
well-known dhrupad ‘Mahabiswe was introduced to the songs of
the character and distinctive
Mahakashe mahakala majhe’. Lalan Fakir (1774-1890) and his
features of Indian and Western
He experimented with dhrupad disciple Gagan Harkara (dates
music of the time enabled him to
tunes using various rhythms not known) and was greatly
create a perfect blend. ‘Purano
(such as, ‘Jortal’, ‘Jhanptal’, ‘Sur influenced by them. During
sei diner katha’, his adaptation
Phanktal’ and ‘Teora’ – usually India’s Freedom movement he
from a Scottish folk song is a
known only to the connoisseurs composed numerous songs in
well-known example of such
of Hindustani classical music) different styles of folk music.
tunes.
and composed 104 songs. These songs immediately
touched the hearts of common Taal or beat is one of the
Tagore used the classical form
people and became a source of important aspects of a song.
of khayal and thumri to create
inspiration. The National anthem Tagore experimented with the
almost 300 songs, encompassing
of Bangladesh ‘Amar Sonar existing beats like Dhamar – a
all the styles of the classical
Bangla’ influenced by Baul-song 14-beat taal and composed 16
traditions. For example he used
is an example. tunes using this type. He also
the ‘tappa’ style in his music,
created some new beats or taals.
where the song-text is very short Tagore’s first ever musical One of this is Shasti-taal which
and not as elaborately structured endeavour was ‘Bhanusingher has 6 counts, but unlike the
as a khayal or a thumri. There padabali’ the compositions of standard 6 beat where Dadra
have been two different styles which were influenced by the divided in 3/3 it is divided in
of Tappa, one that evolved in medieval age style of Padabali 2/4. Nava-taal is another such
Punjab, in the lineage of Shori Kirtan. He composed some beat created for ‘pakhwaj’ (a two
Miyan, and the other, adapted famous songs in this style but headed drum).
by Ramnidhi Gupta, better his adaptations made the songs
known as Nidhubabu in Bengal. modern. ‘Je chilo amar sapano Tagore always emphasized
Tagore from his early age was charini’ is an example of this that an ideal song is a perfect
exposed to both styles. Tagore style. marriage of lyric and melody,
adapted his ‘tappas’ from both where they go hand in hand.
the styles, he relinquished the Tagore adapted tunes from Tagore’s songs present a smooth
Punjabi ‘tappa’ but when he different regions all over India – blend of melody and lyrics
wrote in his mother tongue the Gujarati, Kannada, Punjabi, Tamil where these two are inseparable,
Rabindra-Bhavana, Visva-Bharati

songs became soft and sweet. as well as Hindi light music, and evolve together in a unique
For example we can consider including Bhajans – and created musical language. Suchitra Mitra
the song, ‘Ke bosile hridayasane his own music. These songs are said once, ‘singing only the
aaji, bhubaneshwara prabhu’, known as Bhanga Gaan (literally notes of Tagore’s songs does not
which is influenced by the tune meaning ‘Broken songs’). The mean anything… the singer must
of a Punjabi tappa, but becomes famous song ‘Basanti, hey understand the lyrics… he used
much softer in melody. bhubonmohini’ evolved from tunes or created new beats as the

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 8 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 9
rhythm of his poetry demanded.’ time. It is a source of great pride Tagore wrote almost 140
Rabindranath’s melodies go only to Bengalis that the National exquisite songs commemorating
as far as the lyrics, the emotion Anthems of two South Asian the ‘seasons’. He taught us to
and impulse of the words, allow nations, India and Bangladesh see nature in many ways at the
them. are both Tagore’s compositions. same time, through his intricately
The period, 1921 to 1940, mark woven words and melodies. He
This idea becomes clearer if we
the 3rd phase in which his songs also wrote songs for different
examine the songs based on
displayed the virtuosity and occasions centred on birthdays,
poems or lyrics – the songs in
his distinctive character of that weddings, ploughing, harvesting,
Kavyadharmi or lyrical category.
genre of music that has come to tree planting, New Year etc.
In fact, while working on his
compendium of all songs – be known as ‘Rabindrasangeet’ When we listen to his songs it
Gitabitan (1938), Rabindranath and have gained recognition becomes difficult to find out
had said that he wanted to worldwide with their own which part of it is Western and
develop it in such a way that particular style and feel of which part is purely Indian
it should not be seen only as a singing. classical or which is from the
collection of songs but should In Gitabitan he designated a folk or Baul tradition. Ultimately
also be acceptable minus the section as Puja containing the the mixture that he presents is
melody, as reading material. devotional songs (almost 650 in something which is purely his
But in his musicals like Valmiki numbers). Some of these songs own creation, ‘Rabindrasangeet’.
Pratibha, Shyama or Chandalika are known as ‘Brahmasangeet’. When we study this prolific
we could see how he uses the ‘Bipula taranga re’ (Oh these collection of compositions it
colloquial language with suitable gigantic waves) is one such becomes clear, as explained
modern melody. composition based on the raaga by the well-known Tagore
As far as structural variation ‘bhim palasri’ or, bhim palashi. music maestro, Santidev Ghosh
is concerned, Rabindranath’s Rabindranath’s youngest son (1910-1999), “The words of
musical compositions show Samindranath (1896-1907) passed Rabindrasangeet are eternally
three main phases. The first away when he was only eleven thrilling and enchanting. They
phase consists of those songs years old. A few days after his bring forth a vast panorama
composed between 1881 and demise he wrote this song. But of human life and experience
1900. During this period his this song is not at all about any encapsulating joy and sorrow,
songs strongly reflect Hindustani loss, on the contrary it talks love and languishment, pleasure
classical music influences as about the mystery and eternal and pain, union and detachment
well as other regional and joy of the unending cycle of life besides a look beyond.” …That
Western music influences. The and the melody is befittingly is why his music becomes a
next two decades between awe-inspiring. companion through all the
1900 and 1920 mark the 2nd or various moments of life.
Songs of love and adoration (in ◆
experimental phase, where the The author is a film maker and has
the section ‘Prem’ ) also number
classical structure remained intact featured in the Indian Panorama in
well over 150. Many opine that it several international film festivals. He has
but he added his own musical also authored several volumes of essays
is very difficult to categorize the
comprehension and maturity to in Bengali, and has made about 14 short
songs in this fashion. Many of the documentaries on various aspects of Tagore.
it. He wrote many of his patriotic
love songs can be perceived as
songs (about 62) during this
songs of spiritual devotion, and
Left: Rabindranath with his elder brother
many Puja songs can be perceived
Jyotirindranath. as songs of intense love.

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All these explanations might (c) a quest to achieve higher cities; there was no barrier
have some elements of truth. truth – something that was here between man and nature.
But one thing was clear: Tagore hinted at in different Upanishadic Children could feel the impact
wanted his school to be in the texts of ancient India. of different seasons; they got
model of Tapovana (hermitage) wet in the monsoon rain,
Thus, he moved from Kolkata
of ancient India. Does that basked in the sun, and enjoyed
to a place called Santiniketan,
mean that he wanted us to go the moonlit nights.
which his father, Maharshi
back to the past? The answer
Devendranath had chosen The classes were held outdoors,
is in the negative. Tagore was
for his meditation and other under the trees. At the end of

Rabindra-Bhavana, Visva-Bharati
too modern to wish to shun the
religious activities. Soon the each period children moved
present.
school started to grow. Students from one place to another and
from different walks of life and did not feel cramped. Teachers
What Tagore wanted to borrow
even other states of the country had a fixed place for their
from the Tapovana idea was the
came to join the institution. classes – whereas the children
following: (a) a close proximity
Parents who could not control enjoyed the movement.
to nature, away from the din
Tagore teaching at the Patha-Bhavana, the open-air school in Santiniketan their children sent them to
and bustle of the urban life; Along with the usual academic
Santiniketan.
(b) a close relationship between subjects of a school, children

The Poet’s School Guru and the disciples – in


almost a family like atmosphere;
Santiniketan was a place that
was far away from the crowded
were exposed to music and
dance, various crafts and

An open-air class at the Santiniketan school in the early years


SUPRIYO TAGORE

Tagore wanted his school to be on the model of Tapovana


(hermitage) of ancient India, and he wanted to borrow from
the Tapovana idea.

T
he school founded by Rabindranath Tagore is known as the
‘Patha-Bhavana’ today. The school celebrated hundred years
of its existence nine years ago. It is a fairly big school today. It
draws students from all over the state of West Bengal and remains
a reputed institution. However, the school had a rather modest
beginning. In December 1901, Tagore started the school with only
five students; one of them was his own son.
By the beginning of the twentieth century Tagore had already
become a reputed Poet. Why then did he think of starting a school?
Experts in the field have different explanations. Some feel that
Tagore’s own tragic experience in schools, modeled by the then
British rulers of the country could be the reason. Others feel that he
thought of starting a school, because he had the education of his own
children in mind. Some others thought he was a visionary in the
field of school education, and that he wanted to set up a model.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 12 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 13
play-acting in the school. They
played games in the afternoon.
Tagore thought that man is
born in the world with only
one advice from God – that
is – ‘Express yourself!’ Therefore
children of the ‘Poet’s school’
were allowed to express
themselves through tune and
rhythm, lines and colour, and
through dance and acting. Every
Tuesday there would be literary
meetings in the ‘ashrama’
where children read out their
stories and poems, sang and
danced and put up short plays
in the presence of all the
ashramites (the inmates of the
ashrama). In their classes too
it was the self-expression that
would be encouraged and not
cramming of possible questions
and answers. They were
encouraged to use their limbs

An open-air class at the Patha-Bhavana today


(left) and Basantotsav celebration (below).
Samiran Nandy, Rabindra-Bhavana, Visva-Bharati

Samiran Nandy, Rabindra-Bhavana, Visva-Bharati


INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 14 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 15
in craft classes and gardening had its own space. Thus,
classes. It was the belief of the compartmentalization of one’s
poet that by using their limbs knowledge of and skill for
even dull students improved in a particular work and love
their academics. for it were not exclusive to
one another – they always
Tagore thought that children
overlapped. But for the sake
had a three-fold relationship
of better understanding, these
with their environment,
divisions are made.
especially in the relationship
between Nature and Man. Tagore also believed that
none of these three levels
At the lowest level children could be ignored for a proper
learned to use their development of personality.
environment. This was the level One must give its due to
of ‘Karma’ (action). Man uses Karma, Jnana and Prema for
his environment for a living – the fullest growth of man.
he has to till the soil, build
his house, weave his clothes. The finer things in life can

Rabindra-Bhavana, Visva-Bharati
Therefore, children must be never be taught in a class.
trained in various physical Children imbibe them from
activities. At the next level the environment or from the
they must gather knowledge personalities around them.
about their environment. They Tagore believed that these
must search for natural rules qualities were already there
and correlations, and form in the child. Therefore, it was
conclusions. They have to look thought essential to create Kala Bhavana Painting class in progress in early years

for unity in the world of diversity. a proper environment in


the school to bring out the children had their gardens growing up in nature? Tagore in children was always
Only then would they be able
dormant qualities in a child. to look after. There were felt that a person was not fit to encouraged.
to achieve the true Jnana or
The environment created at Nature-study classes as part of be a teacher if the child in his
‘knowledge’. This way, they Wednesday was the weekly
Santiniketan was, therefore, their curriculum. They learnt mind was not alive still. They
would try to gather knowledge holiday in the school instead of
most appropriate for the about trees, birds and insects had to share their experiences
about Nature and Man. Sunday.
education of children. The at the Ashrama. Also, seasonal with the children.
At the highest level, it was children grew up in the midst festivals were celebrated to
Then the children were made The children in the morning
Prema (love) that binds an of nature, however, only make the children conscious
aware of the problems of attended the weekly service
individual to Nature and to the close proximity to nature was of the spirit of the season,
the villagers living around in the prayer hall. The
world of Man. Through love not enough. It had to be a and establish a connect to the
Santiniketan. They regularly service essentially was non-
an individual loses his identity conscious encounter. agricultural cycle.
visited nearby villages to study denominational – not catering
and becomes one with the
Santiniketan was a beautiful It was an experience for the their life and problems. to one or the other dominant
world. In the Poet’s school
place with shady mango children to sing Tagore’s songs, religions. Devotional songs by
all such relationships were
and other fruit-bearing trees, going round the Ashrama in The school subjects were Tagore were sung. Carefully
cultivated.
under which children attended the moonlit night to feel the taught through experiments and created and crafted, these
Tagore was a believer in their classes. Tall Sal trees spirit of spring in their minds. different types of experiences prayers would be such that
unity where each element shaded the avenues. The What could be a better way of as far as practical. Creativity they would be acceptable

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to everybody. Once Tagore
was asked if he would like
to recommend the kind of
religious training the schools
should ideally impart. He
clearly replied that no religious
instruction should be given in
schools. There should rather be
an effort to cultivate a ‘sense
of infinity’ in the minds of
children. That we are a part
of a very vast and wonderful
creation should somehow be
conveyed; a sense of awe about
this huge creativity should be
given to the children.
Santiniketan has always been
like a big family. Teachers know
all the students personally,
and vice versa. The wives of
the teachers are like mothers
to the students. Therefore, the
institution had to be small for
Tagore’s ideals to be fruitful.
Big institutions have a different
logic of their own. It is, thus
an environment of beauty, love
and co-operation. Competition
has no place here. Tagore used
the word ‘becoming’ which he
thought was more important
than anything else in the Poet’s
School.

The author was the Principal of Patha-
Bhavana, the school set up by Rabindranath
Tagore at Santiniketan.
Samiran Nandy

Prayer in progress today in the heritage


Upasana-griha (Prayer hall).

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case, containing the translated (1907) within the short span
manuscript entrusted to Tagore’s of thirty two years. This
son Rathindranath (1888- experience with death refined
1961), was discovered to be his sensibilities and gave him
missing. Rushing to the Left- the impetus to consider life in
Luggage Office of the British its contrasting realities with joy
underground, Rathindranath and wonder.
managed to retrieve the
In the beginning of 1912,
baggage that he had left in the
Tagore became seriously ill.
train by mistake while getting
Cancelling a planned visit
down at the Charing Cross tube
to England, he went to his
station. Rathindranath wrote
ancestral home in Silaidah (now
in his autobiography, “I have
in Bangladesh) on the banks of
often wondered what shape
the river Padma for a change
the course of events might
where he translated some of
have taken if the manuscript
Tagore, Gitanjali of Gitanjali had been lost
due to my negligence.” The
his poems from their original in
Bengali. After his recovery he

and the Nobel Prize recovered translations came to


be published in the form of a
sailed for England in May 1912,
without any specific mission,
with the mind of a wayfaring
NILANJAN BANERJEE book Gitanjali (Song Offerings),
poet, primarily obeying his
on 1 November, 1912 by the
doctor’s advice. During his
Tagore felt “homesick for the wide world.” Further, he was India Society of London with an
long sea voyage to England, he
constantly struggling to overcome the barriers of language. introduction by the English poet
continued his experiments with
He thought that the Nobel Prize awarded by the Swedish W.B. Yeats (1865-1939).
translations presumably with a
Academy “brought the distant near, and has made the desire to connect to a distant
In 1910, Tagore published a
stranger a brother.” book of poems in Bengali titled
and wider horizon. Before 1912,
Tagore had translated only a
Gitanjali. By that time he had

R
abindranath Tagore, in a letter to E.J. Thompson, wrote in couple of his poems.
established himself as a poet,
1916, “I feel homesick for the wide world.” A few years before
an essayist, novelist, short story William Rothenstein, who
his death, he criticized his own poetry for not being universal
writer, a composer of numerous knew Rabindranath since his
in expression, arguing that his paintings had rather overcome the
songs, and a unique educator visit to India during 1910-1911,
barriers of language. It was likely that Tagore, a seeker of universal
with an experimental school for introduced Tagore and his
concord, would not have been satisfied in restricting himself to an
children at Santiniketan. He poetry to his illustrious circle
audience in the colonial, undivided Bengal where he was born and
underwent a number of personal of friends including W.B. Yeats,
raised in the second half of the nineteenth century. Rabindranath,
tragedies by the time Gitanjali Thomas Sturge Moore (1870-
who translated Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the age of thirteen, turned
was published. Tagore lost his 1944), Ernest Rhys (1859-1946),
out to be a prolific bilingual writer of his time often taking pleasure
mother Sarada Devi (1875), Ezra Pound (1885-1972), May
in translating his own works into English.
adored sister-in-law Kadambari Sinclair (or, Mary Amelia St.
It was in June 1912 that Rabindranath desired to share the English (1884), wife Mrinalini (1902), Clair, 1863-1946), Stopford
translations of his poems with his British painter friend William second daughter Renuka (1903), Brooke (1832-1916) among
Rothenstein (1872-1945) in London, (Rothenstein later went on father Debendranath (1905), Nobel Medallion (top), the reverse of many others. They were
the medal (middle) and the title page
to become the Principal of the Royal College of Art). A leather and youngest son Samindranath of the 1912 Gitanjali. instantly carried away with

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 20 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 21
buying its rights, publishing ten took the initiative in publishing
subsequent editions of the title six poems of Tagore in the
within nine months between prestigious American magazine
March and November, 1913. Poetry with a note by Pound
While the Bengali Gitanjali in December, 1912. Gitanjali
was brought out without any received wonderful reviews in
dedication, Tagore dedicated his some of the leading newspapers
first English anthology of poems and literary magazines including
to Rothenstein as a token of The Times Literary Supplement,
their friendship that lasted till Manchester Guardian, and The
the death of the poet in 1941. Nation among others, shortly
after the publication of the
Tagore, left England in October,
book.
1912 for America before his
English Gitanjali could be The British littérateur Thomas
published and returned to India Sturge Moore, in his individual
in September, 1913. Ezra Pound capacity as the Fellow of the
and Harriet Monroe (1860-1936) Royal Society of Literature of the

Nobel Prize citation

‘Where the mind is without fear!’: A poem from Gitanjali in Tagore’s calligraphy

the mystic vision and rhetoric poems, the English version


splendour of Tagore’s poetry. contained one hundred and
Yeats suggested minor changes three poems from ten previously
in the prose translations of the published anthologies including
Gitanjali songs. Speaking on fifty three poems from its
the charm of Gitanjali, Yeats Bengali namesake. It was due
wrote in his introduction: to Rothenstein’s efforts that
the India Society of London
“… These prose translations have
stirred my blood as nothing has brought out these translations
for years. …I have carried the as a book. A limited edition
manuscript of these translations of seven hundred and fifty
with me for days, reading it in
railway trains, or on the top of
copies was printed, among
omnibuses and in restaurants, and I which two hundred and fifty
have often had to close it lest some copies were for sale. The
stranger would see how much it book was received with much
moved me.”
enthusiasm in England and the
While the Bengali Gitanjali had Macmillan Press of London did
one hundred and eighty three not miss the opportunity of

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 22 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 23
United Kingdom recommended held that the ‘Novel’ prize Tagore could not be present in handed them over to the Poet Gitanjali and the Nobel Prize
Rabindranath Tagore’s name for came to Santiniketan only Sweden to receive the Nobel at a ceremony on 29 January, set Tagore on the world stage
the Nobel Prize for literature for the deserving novels that Prize as the first Asian recipient 1914 at the Governor’s House in raising him to the glorified
to the Swedish Academy while Tagore had written. Amidst of the award and a telegram Kolkata. status of Visva Kabi, the World
ninety seven other members this unprecedented storm of from him was read out at the Poet, who could celebrate life
of the Society collectively excitement, a grand felicitation traditional Nobel Banquet beyond any boundaries:
recommended the name of was organized on the 23rd of which stated “I beg to convey
“I have had my invitation to this
novelist Thomas Hardy for November in 1913 at Santiniketn to the Swedish Academy my
world’s festival, and thus my life
the award. Initially Tagore’s in honour of the Poet, presided grateful appreciation of the
has been blessed. My eyes have
nomination was strongly over by his scientist friend breadth of understanding which
seen and my ears have heard.”
opposed by the Chairman of Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858- has brought the distant near
(Gitanjali, 16)
the Academy Harald Hijarne. 1937). A special train reached and has made the stranger a ◆
The author is a poet and a painter who is
Vocal members of the Academy Bolpur from Kolkata with five brother.” The Nobel medallion currently designing several museums on the
like Per Hallstorm, Esais Henrik hundred enthusiasts. Tagore and the diploma were sent to life and times of Rabindranath Tagore for
Visva Bharati.
Vilhelm Tenger (who knew was led to the venue where he Lord Carmichael (1859-1926),
Bengali) and Carl Gustaf Verner noticed some of his critics who Governor of Bengal, who
von Heidenstam, familiar had criticized him personally on
A portrait of Tagore by William Rothenstein,
with Tagore’s literary genius, various occasions in the past. his painter-friend (right) and Tagore with
These individuals were now Rothenstein and son, Rathindranath.
wholeheartedly supported his
nomination. Tagore’s name gathered to felicitate him as the
was finalized for the award Poet had received recognition
from a total of twenty eight overseas. Tagore’s speech,
nominations “because of his which echoed his immediate
profoundly sensitive, fresh ill-feelings at the sight of his
and beautiful verse, by which, detractors, disappointed many
with consummate skill, he of his genuine admirers when
has made his poetic thought, he expressed, “I can only raise
expressed in his own English this cup of your honour to my
words, a part of the literature lips, I cannot drink it with all
of the West.” my heart.” Overnight, Tagore
was inundated with attention
A cablegram from the Nobel and praise which made him
Committee arrived in Kolkata write to Rothenstein in 1913,
on 14 November 1913 and “It is almost as bad as tying a
the news was communicated tin can to a dog’s tail making
to Tagore at Santiniketan it impossible for him to move,
through a series of telegrams. without creating noise and
Memoirs reveal that the whole crowds all along.”
of Santiniketan rejoiced at this
achievement of the Poet.
While some students debated
that Tagore had secured Facsimile of a page from The Statesman
the ‘Nobel Prize’ for his (daily) of Nov 15, 1913 announcing
Rabindranath getting the coveted
profound nobility, others Nobel Prize.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 24 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 25
RABINDRANATH TAGORE
AS A PAINTER
SANJOY KUMAR MALLIK

The multifarious personality of Rabindranath


covered diverse terrains of creative expression,
but he ventured into the world of painting
quite late in life.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 27


I
n a letter to his daughter, of painting quite late in life. distinctly identifiable moods,
Rabindranath Tagore had The pages of his manuscript emotions and characteristics,
once commented that titled Purabi, a book of such that they become
painting wasn’t really his poems published in 1924, is personalities rather than blank-
forte – had it been so he conventionally identified as the forms.
would have demonstrated what first evidence of articulation
needed to be done. But much through full fledged visual The manuscript is a private
before this lament, in an earlier images. In the process of and personal domain;
epistle addressed to J.C. Bose editing and altering the text of as the presence of these
(1858-1937), he had mentioned these poems, the poet began emergent forms began to
in an ebullient tone that it joining together the struck-out demand more independent
would surprise the latter to words in rhythmic patterns of existence, the poet-painter
learn that he had been painting linear scribbles, with the result turned to full scale paintings.
in a sketchbook, although the that these connected erasures However, having originated
effort with the pencil was being emerged into consolidated, from the subconscious
overtaken by the effort with united and independent identity playfulness of the erasures,
the eraser, such that Raphael as fantastic visual forms. About Tagore at his exhibition at the Gallery somewhat unfortunately
Pigalle with Victoria Ocampo (seated).
could lie peacefully in his and for a considerable time,
this process, he later wrote: “I
grave without the fear of being Rabindranath’s pictorial practice
had come to know that rhythm and assailed my eyes with the
rivaled. tended to carry the stigma of
gives reality to that which is ugliness of their irrelevance, being a dilettante’s dabble.
The multifarious personality of desultory, which is insignificant I often took more time in While it is true that he did
Rabindranath covered diverse in itself. And therefore, when rescuing them into a merciful not possess any academic
terrains of creative expression, the scratches in my manuscript finality of rhythm than in initiation into the domain of
but he ventured into the world cried like sinners, for salvation carrying on what was my the visual arts, he did take
obvious task.” (‘My pictures’, 1; lessons in painting in his
Tagore selecting his paintings in Moscow 28th May 1930). childhood, as most children
The Purabi corrective do, from home-instructors.
cancellations, deleting the In his reminiscences titled
unnecessary and unwanted, Chelebela (my childhood days)
finally fused together into Rabindranath had recalled how
a unity of design; but more in the interminable sequence
than that, this rhythmic of home-instructors, an art
interrelationship gave birth All paintings illustrated in this essay are
teacher would immediately
to a host of unique forms, by Rabindranath Tagore. step in once the instructor in
most often queer, curious physical education had just
and grotesque. This nearly that interested the poet, but the left. While that is no pleasant
subconscious birth of forms, emergent unpredictable that recollection that may inspire
springing up unpremeditated delighted him. These creatures later indulgence in the visual
on the sheet of paper, is a may certainly defy classification arts, in the Jeebansmriti (My
necessary corollary to the poet’s according to strict conventions reminiscences) he had recorded
innate concern with rhythm. It of zoology, but are very much a slightly different childhood
was not the sheer delectable valid as entities in a painter’s memory – at bed-time he would
beauty of swirling arabesques world. They even possess stare at the patterns of peeling

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 28 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 29
whitewash on the walls, and the latter to learn the entire wrote, he would prefer to leave
these would induce a range of story of how the once-poet them behind, considering it
visual forms in his imagination Rabindranath’s current identity fortunate that he had been able
as he drifted off to sleep. One was that of a painter, though he to cross over with these from
may infer that Rabindranath did would rather modestly wait for the ferry-wharf of his own land.
possess the elemental faculty of posterity to bear that news to
visual imagination. her rather than declare his own Rabindranath’s acclaim from
achievements. He went on to the series of foreign exhibitions
By 1930, however, Rabindranath mention that the inauguration (1930) even before one was
was relatively confident of his of his exhibition was scheduled held in his own country has
efforts as a painter. In a letter on the 2nd of May, 1930 – that been the other long-standing
dated 26th April addressed to the harvest at the year-end had cause for suspicion of indulgent
Indira Devi (1873-1960), he been collected together on praise. What counters these
wrote that it would surprise these foreign shores. But, he doubts is the consistency of

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 30 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 31
his pictorial quest and the a larger vision beyond the distinguished Rabindranath’s
enormous output – scholars restrictive criteria of national/ creative process, and his
claim that he had brought geographical boundaries in approach to the notion of
along as many as four matters of creative expression. tradition was thereby liberated.
hundred paintings for the In fact, it is tempting to view Coupled with this, his European
1930 exhibitions. What is of Rabindranath’s pictorial practice tours had probably contributed
interest beyond numbers, against the phrase that assumed considerably to make the art
are the choices exercised by the role of a guiding motto for of those lands a directly felt
Rabindranath as a painter. Visva Bharati, the university he experience. But even when
In a period when nationalist instituted: yatra viśva bhavati one identifies, for instance,
revivalism was triumphant eka nidam – where the whole echoes of the expressionistic in
in the country, he had the world comes to meet as in a the paintings of Rabindranath,
strength of will to propose single nest. This catholicity the images in their ultimate

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 32 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 33
totality of visual language are so the literary. Even when his well. The pictures that he drew personality but instead have determine the inspiring source
utterly individual that they defy pictorial compositions deal with for his own books Shey and distinctly personal presences, in actual locations. Nonetheless,
categorization into strait-jackets dramatic ensembles of multiple Khapchara are in the true spirit with expressions ranging from some of the glowing yellow
of stylistic periodization or human figures, the narrative of illuminations, independent the sullen and sombre to the skies behind the silhouette
movements in world art. is entirely contained within expressions in their own right calm and contained, and rare of trees in the foreground
the perimeter of the painted – complementary, rather than instances of the joyful or the must invariably be the result
It is, therefore, necessary to page, without drawing direct supplementary, to the text. merry. However, whichever of nature’s manifestation at
comprehend Rabindranath’s reference to literary allusions, be the particular expression, Santiniketan. Once again, the
Then there are faces – both
choice of themes in conjunction whether belonging to a shared the painted faces invariably fact, that despite a broadly
male and female – and these
with, and as a logical corollary tradition or to those of his own exude a feeling of untold general identification the
are not illusive portraits
of, his choice in the realm of creation. What unfolds in front mystery, as if the whole of a landscapes remain largely
standing in for an individual.
pictorial language. Not only of the viewer of these paintings personality is beyond complete non-specific. These paintings
They may have taken off from
did he opt not to hark back is a narrative told exclusively comprehension. rendered with a dominant tone
a particular individual, but in
to past pictorial traditions, he through the visual language of chromatic emotions, where
the final rendering become Very similarly, Rabindranath’s
also rejected associations of – and meant to be read so as nature’s mysteries unfurl before
rather character studies than landscapes are hardly
visual impressions. It is thus descriptive passages such that us through the liquid tones of
that they do not lack in it may be nearly impossible to colour.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 34 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 35
But above all, what draws beneath the cloak of pictorial than those that were of
our attention from amongst transformation, but in a few he immediate concern to his
his entire collection is a series had even painted over them. contemporaries in the field
of reworked photographs. Not only does this exercise of visual arts, Rabindranath
The May 1934 issue of the address the issue of the ‘real’ personified a vision of much
Visva-Bharati News carried a as an illusory appearance that larger dimension. Approaching
photo-portrait of Rabindranath substitutes an object, it also pictorial language from the
on the cover. A number of these introduces within the same vantage point of a wider
covers were painted over by debate the issue of identity, horizon, he indexed a direction
him in ink, pastel and water especially when one realizes and a possibility in pictorial
colour, transforming each of that a couple of these reworked practice that was exemplary
the faces into distinctly differing faces tend to look distinctly within the modern in Indian art.

identities. In many of these, the feminine. The author teaches Art History at
ink scribbles and colour tones Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan and taught
at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of
spare the eyes which continue Addressing questions of Baroda.
to glow piercingly out from considerably wider implications

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 36 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 37
spectators sitting all around the theatre; one of them in
IN SEARCH OF the stage) but also the non- particular, Jyotirindranath

A NEW LANGUAGE dramatic forms like kathakata


(Didactic story-telling tradition),
(1849-1925), had written
several plays for the

FOR THEATRE kabigan (literally, poets’ songs),


panchali (Poetic texts singing
professional theatres, and had
experimented extensively with
the glory of a deity), or kirtan Western melodies, which,
ABHIJIT SEN (religious singing in chorus). in turn, are said to have
These forms were looked down inspired Rabindranath’s own
Though Rabindranath maintained his search for an alternative upon as being fit only for the experimentations in the early
language for the theatre, yet it must be remembered that when riffraff – as vulgarisation of operatic pieces like Valmiki
the Hindu pantheon merely to Pratibha (1881), Kalmrigaya
it came to matters of actual performance he was never rigid
entertain the lower sections of (1882) and Mayar Khela (1888).
or inflexible. He combined in himself the roles of author-actor- the society. Though some of his works
producer, therefore, he was ever alert to the requirements of
Rabindranath and his brothers were staged in the public
production and reception, kept adapting his staging principles had a close association with theatre, Rabindranath himself
accordingly, thereby giving his theatre a broader perspective.
A scene from a dance drama by Tagore, also seen in the picture
There is no need for the painted importation, and second, an
scene; I require only the scene of urban phenomenon. The
the mind. There the images will English theatres in Calcutta,
be painted by brush-stokes of the constructed chiefly for the
melodious tune. entertainment of local British
residents, provided the models

I
n a prelude that he later for the theatres of the Bengali
added to his play Phalguni, baboos (the elite nouveau
Rabindranath Tagore makes riche); so the theatres of
Kabisekhar (the poet) speak Prasannakumar Tagore (1801-
these words, and when he 1886) or Nabinchandra Basu
went on to play this role during (with his home production of
performances of Phalguni Vidyasundar in 1835) or the
(1915), the created and the kings of Paikpara, all emulated
creator seemed to speak in that Western model. The other
the same voice. Rabindranath important characteristic of this
himself is known to have made Bengali theatre was its urban
similar declarations regarding nature. It evolved principally in
the theatre and the language the city, patronized by the rich
that it needs to adopt, more so elite classes, and increasingly
in our socio-cultural context. pushed to the margins the
The Bengali theatre of the earlier forms of popular
19th century, which emerged performance, which included
as a product of the Bengal not only the jatra (a form of
Renaissance, was first, a colonial indigenous musical theatre with

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 38 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 39
did not seem to care much for tragic structure in blank verse,
the contemporary professional in Raja O Rani (1889) and
theatre. He was envisaging a Visarjan (1890). Most of these
‘parallel theatre’, distinct from early performances were
the contemporary professional marked by their use of overt
theatre. realistic stage-conventions,
whether it was the illusion of
This search for a ‘parallel
a forest created with actual
theatre’ kept Rabindranath
trees for the staging of Valmiki-
preoccupied throughout his
Pratibha (1890), or the stage
entire dramatic career, though
strewn with realistic stage
he began with early dalliances
properties for the mounting of
with the Western model – first,
Visarjan (also 1890).
the operatic experimentations
in Valmiki-Pratibha (1881), Between Visarjan of 1890 and
Kalmrigaya (1882) and Mayar Sarodatsav of 1908, despite
Khela (1888); next, his use some sporadic attempts at
of the Shakespearean five-act playwriting, there was virtually

Tagore (left) and with Indira Devi (below) in Valmiki Pratibha.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 40 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 41
a gap of almost eighteen partitioning Bengal; he stepped
years. The return to serious into the streets singing songs
drama with Sarodatsav in 1908 and celebrating Rakshabandhan
marks a major shift, not merely between members of the Hindu
dramaturgical or theatrical and Muslim communities (1905).
but even ideological. On the
Alongside, he was also
one hand, Rabindranath still
‘imagining’ a new kind of
had a sense of regard for the
theatre, which would be
“great English” (whom he
significantly different from the
associated with all that was
colonial mimicry then practised
good in the English culture)
on the public stage. This new
and distinguished them from
theory of theatre is formulated
the “little English” (whom he
in the essay “Rangamancha”
located in the colonial masters
(1903), in which he voices
who had taken control of this
his disapproval of Western
country). On the other hand, he
theatrical models, particularly of
was influenced by the upsurge
the realistic kind, and suggests a
of the nationalist/anti-colonial
return to our indigenous cultural
ideology that was increasingly
traditions. Rabindranath’s
gaining momentum.
espousal of the cause of jatra is
particularly significant because
Oscillating between the two,
this indicates his disapproval of
Rabindranath had started to
both the colonial and the urban Tagore as Raghupati in Visarjan
‘imagine’ a modern Indian
nature of the contemporary
nation that would recover much
Bengali theatre. In the preface of seasonal plays like setting for the two scenes of the previous incongruous Western
of its lost ancient glory. This
to Tapati (1929) he is critical Sarodotsav and Phalguni. For this play: the first located on the imitation, a blue backdrop
urge was articulated in several
of overt realism in theatre, the 1911-Sarodatsav production road; the second, on the banks had been used; it is still used
poems, songs and essays
particularly the use of painted (in which Rabindranath played of the River Betashini. now. Against it, was a single
composed during this period
scenery. In imagining a “parallel the Sannyasi, or the ascetic), branch of a tree, with a single
(among which were essays Again, for the first performance
theatre”, he was trying to rid the students are reported to red flower at its tip, under a
like “Prachya O Paschatya of Phalguni at Santiniketan
it of the unnecessary colonial have “decorated the stage with pale ray of the moonshine.”
Sabhyata”: 1901, “Nation ki”: (25 April 1915), the stage décor
trappings and urban inflections. lotus flowers, kash, leaves The reviewer of The Statesman
1901, “Bharatvarsher Samaj”: was in tune with this poetic
He was seeking to ensure that and foliage”. Rabindranath (1 February 1916) noted: “
1901, “Bharatvarsher Itihas”: structure of the play. As Sita
the imagination of the audience allowed only a blue backcloth ‘Phalguni’ is a feast of colour
1902, “Swadeshi Samaj”: Devi reminiscences, “the stage
was not limited. to stand in for the sky, and and sound and joy.1”
1904). He was making a was strewn with leaves and
conscious departure from the When he moved to Santiniketan made Abanindranath remove flowers. On the two sides were Around this time, Rabindranath
British system of education and the open-air environs of the the mica-sprinkled umbrella: two swings on which two small also wrote what were arguably
by founding a school in ashrama-school, Rabindranath “Rabikaka did not like it, and boys swung gleefully to the his maturer plays – Raja (1910),
Santiniketan, approximating the was able to put into practice asked, ‘Why the royal umbrella? accompaniment of the song…” Dakghar (1917), Muktadhara
Indian concept of a tapovan his notions of a ‘new’/‘parallel’ The stage should remain clear Indira Devi, referring to a (1922), Raktakarabi (1924)
(1901). He was even actively theatre – both in the dramatic and fresh’; so saying, he had 1916-Jorasanko performance and Tasher Desh (1933). In
involved in the political protests and theatrical languages – the umbrella removed.” The (a charity show for the Bankura 1 Cited in Rudraprasad Chakrabarty, Rangamancha
O Rabindranath: Samakalin Pratrikiya,
against the British-policy of particularly in the productions bare stage was the appropriate famine), comments: “In place of pp. 125-126.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 42 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 43
of unease because this was he observed: “In their dramatic remembered that when it came
effectively the first time that a performances [he uses the term to matters of actual performance
girl from a respectable family yatra], there is dance from the he was never rigid or inflexible.
– Gouri, the daughter of the beginning to the end – in their Because he combined in himself
artist, Nandalal Bose – would movements, their combats, the roles of author-actor-
be seen dancing in a theatrical their amorous dalliances, even producer, he was ever alert to
performance. To tide over their clowning – everything is the requirements of production
the problem, Rabindranath dance.”4 This exposure to the and reception, kept adapting his
created the only male character dance-languages of the Far East staging principles accordingly,
of Upali and played the role inspired Rabindranath to evolve and thereby gave his theatre a
himself. For the later dance his own theory of ‘theatre as broader perspective.
dramas, he made it a point dance’, which resulted in the
If Tagore was imagining a
to be seen on the stage in crop of the dance dramas of
liberally comprehensive concept
a bid to give legitimation the final phase that commenced
of a nation, he was also
to the performances. The with Shapmochan (1931). With
imagining a more inclusive kind
Statesman noted with the following trio – Chitrangada
of theatre, as is evident from
approval Rabindranath’s (1936), Chandalika (1939), and
his later experiments (as actor
on-stage presence during a Shyama (1939) – Rabindranath
and producer). He retained his
performance of Parishodh (the went even further with his
fondness for the indigenous
original version of Shyama) in experimentations of the dance-
resources but never believed in
October 1936: “He makes the drama form. Rabindranath
a blind replication of the jatra
stage human. Everyone else adopted the style of kathakata,
or yatra-model. At the same
on the stage may be acting so that the lines of the prose
time, though largely critical of
but he is not. He is reality. play (of 1933) were easily
the Western stage importations,
Moreover he gives a dignity to set to tune. The Statesman
he did not reject them outright
the performance – nautch is remarked: “The technique of the
if they served the purposes
transformed into dance.”2 dance-drama in ‘Chandalika’ is
of theatrical exigencies. As a
Rabindranath by this time had in many ways a revival of the
producer, he often conceded
paid several visits to the Far ancient Indian form in which
to the actual staging conditions
East: he went to Japan thrice, the dialogue is converted into
Scene from a Tagore dance-drama
at hand to uphold the model
twice in 1916, and again in songs as background music,
of an eclectic theatre where
1924; to Java and Bali in 1927. and is symbolically interpreted
each of these he experimented produced by Rabindranath, he components realistic and
To him, the Japanese dance by the characters through the
considerably with the could stage neither Muktadhara non-realistic, urban and rural,
“seemed like melody expressed dances.5”
dramaturgical structure, but nor Raktakarabi, though he borrowed and indigenous,
through physical postures… Though Rabindranath Western and Eastern, could all
the performance of the two read them out before several
The European dance is … maintained his search for co-exist.
seasonal plays in the open-air people on different occasions. ◆
half-acrobatics, half-dance… an alternative language for
ambience of Santiniketan The author teaches English literature at
In 1926, Rabindranath took The Japanese dance is dance the theatre, yet it must be the Department of English & Other Modern
encapsulated his notions of a yet another bold step as he complete.”3 Of the dance of Java European Languages, Visva-Bharati,
Santiniketan.
new theatre scenography in a introduced dance as a medium 4 Java-yatrir patra, Rabindra Rachanabali,
2 The Statesman, 14 October 1936; cited in (Complete Works) Visva-Bharati Edition, vol. 10,
manner that would not/could of theatrical expression in his Rudraprasad Chakrabarty, Rangamancha O 1990, p.525.
Rabindranath: Samakalin Pratrikiya , p.298; 5 The Statesman, 10 February 1939, after the
not be available in any other play Natir Puja. When it was emphasis added. performance at Sree Theatre in Calcutta (9 &
ludic space. Though Raja, decided to take the production 3 Japan yatri, Rabindra Rachanabali (Complete 10 Feb); cited in Rudraprasad Chakrabarty,
Works) Visva-Bharati Edition, vol. 10 (Calcutta: Rangamancha O Rabindranath: Samakalin
Dakghar and Tasher Desh were to Calcutta, there was a sense Visva-Bharati, 1990) p.428. Pratrikiya , pp. 271-272.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 44 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 45
The Scientist in Tagore
in the line, ‘I have searched for layers of a continuous mass Maharshi would point out to
the unknown within the known’. of water made obvious by the him the constellations and the
It is this aspect of science rather movements of the sawdust filled planets, and tell him about their
than its utilitarian value that him with a sense of wonder that distances from the sun, their
PARTHA GHOSE
makes it a deeply spiritual quest never left him. According to him, periods of revolution round the
and that fascinated Rabindranath. this was the first time he realized sun and many other properties.
Tagore was a perfect antithesis of the cultural divide between that things that we thoughtlessly Rabindranath found this so
In the Preface to his only book
the sciences and the humanities so poignantly exposed on science, Visva Parichay
take for granted as natural and fascinating he began to write
by C.P. Snow in his “The Two Cultures”. All truly creative simple are, in fact, not so – this down what he heard from his
(1937), dedicated to the scientist
geniuses have straddled this divide. set him wondering. father. This was his first long
Satyendranath Bose (1894-1974),
he wrote about this fascination The next wonder came when he essay in serial form, and it was

R
abindranath Tagore Rabindranath’s song akash bhara for science from his childhood went with his father, Maharshi on science. When he grew
was a quintessential soorjo tara expresses the same – how his teacher Sitanath Datta Debendranath, to the hills of older and could read English,
poet-philosopher. Yet, sense of ‘wonder’ in the universe: used to thrill him with simple Dalhousie in the Himalayas. he started reading every book
he had a deeply rational and demonstrations like making the As the sky became dark in on astronomy that he could lay
The sky studded with the sun and
scientific mind. He was a perfect convection currents in a glass of the evenings and the stars his hands on. Sometimes the
stars, the universe throbbing
antithesis of the cultural divide water visible with the help of came out in their splendour mathematics made it difficult for
with life,
between the sciences and the sawdust. The differences between and appeared to hang low, him to understand what he was
In the midst of all these
humanities so poignantly exposed have I found my place –
by C.P. Snow (1905-1980) in In wonder whereof gushes forth
Tagore and Albert Einstein
his “The Two Cultures” (1959). my song.
All truly creative geniuses have The blood that courses through
straddled this divide. Darwin my veins can feel the tug
(1809-1882) wrote in The Origin Of the sway of time and the ebb
of Species (1859): and flow that rocks the world –
There is grandeur in this view of In wonder whereof gushes forth
life, with its several powers, having my song.
been originally breathed into a
Stepped have I gently on the grass
few forms or into one; and that,
whilst this planet has gone cycling along the forest path,
on according to the fixed law of My mind beside itself with the
gravity, from so simple a beginning startling fragrance of flowers.
endless forms most beautiful and The bounty of joy lies spread all
most wonderful have been, and are
being, evolved.
around –
In wonder whereof gushes forth
Einstein admitted: my song.
A knowledge of the existence of I have strained my ears, opened
something we cannot penetrate, my eyes, poured my heart out
our perceptions of the profoundest on the earth,
reason and the most radiant beauty,
which only in their most primitive
I have searched for the unknown
forms are accessible to our within the known –
minds – it is this knowledge and In wonder whereof gushes forth
this emotion that constitutes true my song.
religiosity; in this sense, and this
alone, I am a deeply religious man. How wonderfully the poet
(From ‘The World as I see it’ 1931). delineates the essence of science

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 46 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 47
reading, but he laboured through large extent. Nevertheless, I have
them and tried to absorb their never felt that it hurt my poetry or
imagination in any way.
gist. He liked Sir Robert Boyle’s
(1627-1691) book the most. Today, at the end of my life, my
mind is overwhelmed with the
Then he started reading Huxley’s new theory of nature – scientific
(1894-1963) essays on biology. mayavada. What I read earlier I did
He writes in the Preface to Visva not understand fully, but I kept on
Parichay: reading. Today also it is impossible
for me to understand everything
The universe has hidden its of what I read, as it is for many
micro-self, reduced its macro-self specialist pundits too. (translation
or shelved it out of sight behind mine; italics added)
the curtain. It has dressed itself
up and revealed itself to us in a Tagore’s life long and intimate
form that man can perceive within friendship with Acharya Jagadish
the structure of his simple power. Chandra Bose (1858-1937) must
But man is anything but simple.
have also helped him no end to
Man is the only creature that has
suspected its own simple perception, develop a reverence for science.
opposed it and has been delighted The Acharya’s life was devoted
to defeat it. To transcend the limits to the search for reason in the
of simple perception man has
workings of nature, for a unity
brought near what was distant,
made the invisible visible, and has in the diversity of nature, a
given expression to what is hard synergism between spiritualism Landscape – a painting by Tagore
to understand. He is ever trying to and reason. This search did not
probe into the unmanifest world He also had extensive (Muktadhara, Raktakarabi), he formulas but concrete, living
remain confined to philosophical
that lies behind the manifest world conversations with other leading readily embraced its beneficial truths that inspired him to write
in order to unravel the fundamental speculations alone but led
him to invent instruments of scientists of his time like Albert effects. In Sriniketan where great poems and compose
mysteries of the universe. The
majority of people in this world do unprecedented precision and Einstein on the nature of reality the emphasis was on rural wonderful songs. He assimilated
not have the opportunity or power sensitivity for collecting direct and causality in Germany in 1930 reconstruction he introduced and internalized his scientific
to participate in the endeavour that
evidence from nature. This and with Heisenberg (1901-1976) many technologies like weaving, knowledge and weaved it into
has made this possible. Yet, those on the philosophical implications carpentry, leather work, etc. In the very fabric of his philosophy
who have been deprived of the must have greatly influenced
power and gift of this endeavour Rabindranath who, like Raja of quantum theory in Calcutta Personality (1917) he wrote: and his artistic creations. So
have remained secluded and Rammohun (1774-1833), in 1928. This involvement with complete was the fusion that
Science is at the beginning of the
ignored in the outskirts of the
Bankimchandra (1838-1894) and understanding of science invasion of the material world the songs and poems appear
modern world... helped him develop his own and there goes on a furious to stand by themselves as great
and Iswarchandra Vidyasagar
It is needless to say that I am not interpretation of the Upanishadic scramble for plunder. Often things artistic creations far removed
(1820-1891), forebears of the look hideously materialistic, and
a scientist, but from childhood philosophy of Nature to which from the world of science.
my strong desire to enjoy the Bengal Renaissance, searched shamelessly belie man’s own ◆
he was introduced at an early
rasa of science knew no bounds. for a synergism between nature. But the day will come when The author is an eminent Physicist of
…My mind was exercised only age by his father. It engrossed some of the great powers of nature international repute, and a specialist of
spiritualism and reason in the educational management, taught at the
with astronomy and life science. his mind when he delivered the will be at the beck and call of every
Indian tradition. Not only did S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences,
That cannot be called proper Hibbert lectures in Oxford in individual, and at least the prime Kolkata. He has authored numerous books
knowledge, in other words, it does Rabindranath help his friend necessities of life will be supplied including Testing Quantum Mechanics
1930. These lectures were later
not have the sound foundation of with money to carry on his to all with very little care and cost. on New Ground (1999), Cosmic Quest
published as the Religion of Man. To live will be as easy to man as to (2000), Riddles in your Tea-cup (1990, with
scholarship. But constant reading path breaking experiments Dipankar Home and Suparno Chaudhuri),
created a natural scientific temper (Tagore, 1931). breathe, and his spirit will be free
in England, he also wrote etc.
in my mind. My lack of respect to create his own world.
for the stupidity of blind faith
extensively about them and Although he was critical of
has, I hope, saved me from the made them known to the public technology dominating over To Rabindranath scientific truths
extravagance of cleverness to a at large in Bengal. man in some of his plays were not mere abstractions and

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 48 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 49
He did it by the simplest magic not touched by the affectionate of the earth, in the sun and the
of heart and mind, such as piety and the feelings as those stars, and in the waters below,
poets and children know. When of a mother for her children, there should grow a living faith
you talk to him, and walk in or the intimate faith of a such as Rabindranath Tagore
the sun with him, you learn St. Francis. But in Tagore you has expounded in Sadhana.
the secret. You see how by the feel the humanity that was in The test of its truth for him is
divination of the heart he learnt the son of man, comforting the that, living by it, and dowered
to join together two spirits, children of light in their awe of by Nature to enjoy life to the
two faiths, two regions. India the Eternal. In him the spirits of full, he has found the medicine
and Indian faith and divine the Upanishads reach the same to heal the troubles of his own
philosophy have often seemed threshold. It was natural that out day. He is able to speak so
immensely far away from ours of a living belief in the beauty naturally to us in this country,
because he became an early
Mother and child – a painting by Tagore pilgrim to our shores. In youth
he went like some of the old
Buddhistic pilgrims on a long
and arduous journey into our

TAGORE: outer world, saw for himself


the spectacle of our Western
THE SEER AND INTERPRETER civilization, and what it was
doing for good and evil; and he
ERNEST RHYS felt those forces of today which
are affecting his own country,
too, at times, and seeming
A sharper force drove Tagore to look at the ailment of his
to threaten the secret faith in
times, and he became, instead of its ascetic, or its hermit in which his songs were sung and
the wilderness, its Healer, its Discerner, and its Interpreter. his books sent into the world.
He did it by the simplest magic of heart and mind, such as
Thus, he has been not only a
poets and children know. seer, but the herald of the new
Dawn that we hope means the

W
hen Zarathushtra (in alive to the needs of men and New Day for our two allied
one of the older books women in India and all over regions and our two troubled
of the East) asked the world. His temperament, civilizations.
Ahura what his name was, his love of Nature, and the life ◆
(Ernest Rhys (1859-1946) was an English
he gave two in reply, both of of meditation that the Indian writer, best known for his role as founding
which are remarkable – the sun favours, might have led editor of the Everyman’s Library series of
affordable classics. He wrote essays, stories,
Seer or ‘Discerner’ and the him to retire from the struggle poetry, novels and plays)
‘Healer’. They would serve well, for the new order. A sharper
it has been said, to mark the force drove him to look to the
functions which Rabindranath ills of his time, and he became,
Tagore made his own in that instead of its ascetic, or its
later phase of his career, hermit in the wilderness, its
when the trouble of his days Healer, its Discerner, and its
had made him more keenly Interpreter.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 50 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 51
bonding with nature, this Rabindranath also visited the with western music and was

The Wayfaring Poet trip also provided a sense


of freedom and exploration
that Tagore was to cherish
British Parliament and noted the
bustle of English life. Tagore
undertook his second trip to
drawn to European art, visiting
the National Gallery and the
French exhibition.
AMRIT SEN throughout his life. Europe in 1890 with his brother
Satyendranath and his friend Tagore’s third trip to Europe
Accompanied by his brother
The sheer range of Tagore’s travels fascinates us, considering Satyendranath, the young
Loken Palit visiting London, in 1912 was a landmark in his
the enormous difficulties and hardship he had to encounter. Paris and Aden. On both these career. Recuperating in England,
Rabindranath travelled to
He was always eager to familiarize himself with other cultures, trips Tagore familiarized himself the ailing Rabindranath came
Europe in 1878 to study law. He
integrating the best aspects within his self and his institution. reached London via Alexandria in contact with the leading
and Paris and visited Brighton literary personalities of England
and Torquay. He enrolled including William Rothenstein

A
mong the many aspects For Tagore, travel not only W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, C.F.
of Rabindranath’s broadened his selfhood, it also himself in the faculty of Arts and
Laws in the University College Andrews, Ernest Rhys and
multifaceted personality contributed to his philosophy
London, but his trip was cut Bertrand Russell (1872-1970).
was his fascination for of internationalism and the
short and he returned to India His translation of Gitanjali was
travel. “I am a wayfarer of development of his institution
in 1880. One of the interesting received with great enthusiasm
the endless road”, he wrote. Visva-Bharati.
aspects of this trip was Tagore’s as Tagore left for the USA. He
He travelled widely across
recognition of the freedom of visited Illinois, Chicago, Boston
Europe, America and Asia Tagore’s earliest experience
women in European society, and New York and delivered
at different points in his life of travel was his trip to the
already discussed in another several lectures at Harvard.
and left behind a copious Himalayas in 1873 with his
essay in this volume. The young On his return to England,
record of his travels in his father Debendranath Tagore.
his play The Post Office was
letters, diaries and reflections. Apart from inculcating a
Tagore in Argentina (right) and in Persia
staged by the Abbey Theatre
(below). Company. Tagore’s growing
Tagore with Helen Keller

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 52 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 53
popularity as a poet can be with cultures. In 1916 he and Philadelphia delivering visit to USA to generate funds
gauged from Rothenstein’s visited Rangoon and Japan, his critique against the cult of for Visva-Bharati proved to be
letter to him, “When you last stopping at Kobe, Osaka, nationalism. Although he was unsuccessful. Not only did he
came, it was as a stranger, with Tokyo and Yokohama. Tagore warmly received, his views fail to raise significant funds,
only our unworthy selves to was keen to locate in Japan a generated a lot of hostility. he also encountered a distinctly
offer our friendship; now you “manifestation of modern life hostile audience for his criticism
Tagore returned to Europe
come widely recognized poet in the spirit of its traditional of materialism and nationalism.
in 1920. In England, he was
and seer, with friends known past”, and he was moved by the In 1921, Tagore travelled to
disappointed to find that
and unknown in a hundred aesthetic consciousness of the Paris to meet Romain Rolland,
his strident stand against
homes”. Tagore left for India in people. Tagore was, however, immediately warming to the
nationalism and war had cooled
September, 1913. disappointed by the emergence vision of internationalism
the ardour of his friends. He
of nationalism and imperialism that both shared. Tagore also
The award of the Nobel Prize travelled to France and was
in the country. visited Holland and Belgium,
transformed the reputation of deeply moved on his trip to
Tagore and he was invited all In September 1916 Tagore the battle ground near Rheims. Denmark and Sweden
across the globe. His ideas of was invited to the USA to At Strasbourg, he delivered his delivering an address at the
internationalism also spurred deliver a series of lectures. He lecture titled “The Message of Swedish academy. He travelled
his desire to travel and interact travelled to Seattle, Chicago the Forest”. His subsequent to Germany looking with

Tagore with dignitaries on a visit to Japan, 1929 Tagore addressing people during his visit to Singapore, 1927

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 54 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 55
interest at the Universities interacted with a number of Ocampo (1890-1979). The proceeded to Oslo, Belgrade, and to forge closer cultural ties
there and proceeded to Vienna poets, educationists once again voyage to South America was Bucharest, Athens and Cairo. with these regions. Tagore’s
and Prague. Tagore’s poetry reviving the notion of an Asian significant for Rabindranath’s At Germany he interacted with travelogue on this trip shows his
was now being translated and solidarity. He visited the tomb preparation of the manuscript Albert Einstein (1879-1955). keen interest in the music and
discussed all across Europe and of Confucious and addressed of Purabi with its copious The translations of his poetry dance of this region.
offered a significant acceptance the Chinese youth on several doodlings. It was from this point ensured that he received
among a population that had occasions reminding them of the onwards that Tagore’s career as recognition and appreciation In 1930, Tagore travelled for
been ravaged by war. He tradition of cultural exchange an artist would find expression. wherever he went. the last time to Europe. On this
received a rapturous welcome between China and India. In 1926, Tagore visited Italy trip he exhibited his paintings at
everywhere as he spoke about at the invitation of Mussolini In 1927, Tagore undertook a several cities including Paris and
peace and world unity. Tagore’s visit to South America (1883-1945). He received a trip to South East Asia, visiting they were warmly applauded.
took him to Buenos Aires, rapturous reception, but once Malaya, Java, Bali, Siam and He travelled to the University
In 1924, Tagore travelled to China. Chapadmalal and San Isidro. An he realized the fascist leanings Burma. The overarching motif of Oxford to deliver the Hibbert
He visited Shanghai, Beijing, ailing Rabindranath recuperated of Italy he severely denounced of this voyage was to study the lectures, later published as The
Nanking and Chufu. Tagore at the residence of Victoria the Italian government. Tagore relics of an Indian civilization Religion of Man. He travelled

A photograph from Tagore’s USA visit, 1916 Tagore with students in Russia, 1930

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 56 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 57
hardship he had to encounter.
He was always eager to
familiarize himself with other
cultures, integrating the best
aspects within his self and
his institution. The young
Rabindranath had travelled for
pleasure and education. Once
he was recognized as a world
poet, he travelled as a voice of
humanity to a society recovering
from war, warning against
the dangers of nationalism,
fascism and imperialism.
He retained an unflinching
stance despite the hostility
that he faced. As Tagore
Tagore on arrival in Berlin, 1926
devoted himself to the growth
of Visva-Bharati, his travels
across Munich and reached necessary condition for were directed to enriching
Russia. He was warmly greeted progress. The younger the institution by creating a
by the Russian government Rabindranath had admired the space where different cultures
and intellectuals. Tagore was free spirit of the Bedouins in an could coexist harmoniously
deeply impressed by the rural earlier poem. Having travelled in one nest. Everywhere he
development and co-operative for a lifetime, he had finally met went, he interacted with the
movements here and later the subject of his fantasy. brightest intellects and creative
attempted to replicate them in personalities debating issues
Santiniketan. Tagore’s travels within the
country are too numerous to of philosophy, politics and
In 1932 Tagore travelled catalogue. He travelled to all aesthetics.
overseas for the last time to parts of the country for various Writing to his daughter, Tagore
Persia on the invitation of causes. The last journey to once commented, “I feel a
the King of Iran. He visited Kolkata from Santiniketan in restlessness swaying me… The
Baghdad, Shiraz, Tehran, 1941 came immediately after world has welcomed me and I
Bushehr and he appreciated the his stirring address titled Crisis too shall welcome the world…
modern measures to improve in Civilization where Tagore I go towards the wide road of
the state under Reza Shah observed the darkening clouds the wayfarer”. As he travelled
Pehlavi (1919-1980). Once of war and destruction gather across unknown ways dreaming
again Tagore reminded this over the world. His only hope about a globe without borders,
audience of the deep cultural was for the saviour who could he searched for the self that
bonds shared by the nations. He redeem mankind. would be at home in the world.
visited the tomb of the famous ◆
The author teaches English literature
poet Saadi and interacted The sheer range of Tagore’s at Visva-Bharati, and is a specialist on
with the King, emphasizing travels fascinates us, considering American Literature.
Painting by Tagore on board S.S. Tosa Maru, 1929 communal harmony as a the enormous difficulties and

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 58 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 59
Hindus. But the Adi Brahmo for me to accept any religious

Tagore’s Religion Samaj sect of Brahmo Dharma


to which Tagore belonged
considered themselves as a
teaching on the only ground
that people in my surroundings
believed it to be true… Thus
special branch of Hinduism. my mind was brought up in
SABUJKOLI SEN
In a letter to C. J. O’Donnell an atmosphere of freedom,
(1850-1934), in charge of freedom from the dominance of
Rabindranath’s mission is – the divinization of man and the census, Tagore requested him to any creed that had its sanction
humanizing of God. Tagore’s journey to “Religion of Man” started refer the Adi Brahmo Samaj as in the definite authority of some
with the shlokas of Upanisad in his childhood. It was enriched ‘Theistic Hindu’. He published scripture or in the teaching of
a circular in Tattvabodhini some organized worshippers
by the philosophy of the Gita, the teaching of the Buddha, the
requesting Adi Bramho families (Lectures And Addresses,
Mahavira and also by the Christian tradition besides the indigenous to classify themselves as R.N. Tagore, Macmillan & Co.
Baul and Sufi traditions. “Hindu – Brahmo” (Rabi Jivani, Ltd., London, 11).
Prasanta Kumar Pal, Ananda
“Everyone has something special gave it a shape, and became was one of them. The Publisher, Kolkata, Vol.III,165). Raja Rammohan Roy Throughout his life
called ‘my religion’… which is his Hindu revivalist Pt. Sasadhar Rabindranath Tagore never
the leader of a re-oriented As a Brahmo, Rabindranath
religion? The one that lies hidden
faith founded on the pure Tarkachuramani (1851-1928) Hinduism be that through his clung to one belief, however,
in his heart and keeps on creating was against the practice of
him.” monotheism of the ancient invented a new religion called literary works or through his his thoughts went through
idolatory in Hinduism. He was
– Rabindranath Tagore (Of Myself, Tr of
Upanisads. Every morning his Scientific Hindu Religion. Its letters to Hemanta Bala Devi changes and developed further.
Tagore’s Atmaparichaya by Devadatta against the ‘Incarnation-theory’
Joardan & Joe Winter, Visva-Bharati, 23) sons had to recite, with correct two organs, Navajivan and or avatarvada of Hinduism. (1894-1976) or Kadambini Devi From the fiftieth year of his
pronunciation and accent the Prachar systemically published The taboos and prohibitions of (1878-1943). But Rabindranath life we find a change in his

R
abindranath Tagore verses culled from the Vedas articles against Brahmo Religion. Hinduism were repugnant to had an unprejudiced mind and ideas about religion. He was
was born in the family and Upanisads. The daily recital Bankim Chandra Chattapadhyay the poet. In Dharmer Adhikar did not subscribe to the views no longer against Hinduism.
house of the Tagore’s of these beautiful as well as the famous Bengali novelist (Vide Sanchaya, Rabindra of any particular conventional He was eager to incorporate
of Jorasanko, a centre of 19th morally uplifting verses and the used to write articles in these Rachanavali, Vol. XII). He says : religion. We have an idea of the best of Hinduism into
century Bengal renaissance. simple prayer introduced by papers supporting Hinduism. his religious view from the Brahmoism. At that time there
“There are two sides of man’s
When he was born, the Hindu the Maharshi influenced young The young Secretary of Brahmo power. One is his ‘can’ and the following statement “I have was a debate in the country:
revivalist movement already was Rabindranath and made a Samaj, Rabindranath, took up other is his ‘should’. The man been asked to let you know Are the Brahmos Hindus? The
in progress. Raja Rammohan the challenge of the Hindus can do certain actions, this is the something about my own view Brahmo leaders were divided
lasting impression on his mental easy side of his power. But he
Roy had founded the Brahmo make up. and replied to the articles of should do certain actions, this
of religion. One of the reasons on this issue. According to
Samaj, Pandit Iswar Chandra Bankim Chandra. Bankim constitutes the utmost exercise why I always feel reluctant to some, Brahmos are separate
Vidyasagar started his social As a member of Tagore’s family Chandra replied back and the of his power. Religion stands on speak about this is that I have from the Hindus like Christians
in 1884 at the age of twenty the high precipice of the ‘should’ and Muslims. But as we have
reforms from within Hinduism wordy duel of these two famous not come to my own religion
and as such, always draws the
and Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa three Tagore had to take charge litterateurs continued for some ‘can’ towards it. When our ‘can’ through the portals of passive already mentioned earlier
(1836-1886) was preaching his as the Secretary of Adi Brahmo time. In the long run both of is completely assimilated by our acceptance of a particular creed according to Tagore Brahmos
inter-religious understanding. Samaj. During this time Brahmo them forgave each other and ‘should’, we attain the most desired owing to some accident of birth. were Hindus and in support
object of our life, we attain Truth.
Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, Samaj was the target of adverse friendship was established I was born in a family who of this view, he read a paper
But these impotent people who can
father of Rabindranath Tagore Hindu criticism. As a reaction between them. It will be not act up to this ideal of religion, were pioneers in the revival in in the Sadharan Brahmo
was an ardent follower of Raja to Brahmo Dharma a group interesting to mention here that try to pull it down to their own level. our country of a great religion, Samaj Mandir under the
Rammohan Roy, the maker of of Hindu educated men was the date Feb.26, 1891 was fixed Thus taboos and prohibitions arise”. based upon the utterance of caption Atmaparichaya. He
modern India. Debendranath formed. They called themselves for the census in India. Some Rabindranath did not spare Indian sages in the Upanisads. said: “Brahmoism has received
abjured idolatory, accepted positivists or atheists. Akshay Brahmo sects used to think any opportunity to protest But owing to my idiosyncrasy of its spiritual inspiration from
initiation into Brahmo Dharma, Kumar Dutta (1820-1886) themselves different from the vehemently against orthodox temperament, it was impossible Hindus, it stands on the

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 60 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 61
broad basis of Hindu culture. Then he was able to realize his
Brahmoism has a universal universality. From ‘Gora’ we
outlook but it is always the find a seed of ‘The religion of
religion of the Hindus. We man’ in Tagore. Professor Asin
have thought and assimilated Dasgupta rightly observed that
it by the help of the Hindu there is no doubt Rabindranath
mind. Today Hinduism must spoke through Pareshbabu’s
open the sacred, secret truth of mouth and Anandamayee’s
its own heart. It must preach work (Vide Rabi Thakurs Party,
the gospel of universalism Asin Dasgupta, Visva-Bharati
to the entire universe. Today Quarterly, New Series, Vol. IV,
through the salvation of Nos. I & II).
Brahmoism, Hinduism has
The years 1910 & 1911 are
been fulfilling its own mission
very important to understand
(from Atmaparichaya, in
Tagore’s views on religion. In
Tattvabodhini Patrika, 1919).
1910 “Christotsava” (celebration
of Jesus’ Birthday) was first
Tagore’s unique ideas about
observed in Santiniketan’s
religion began to take shape
prayer hall. On Tagore’s request
from this time. What he
Hemlata Devi, wife of Tagore’s
believed was neither Hinduism
nephew Dwipendranath Tagore
nor Brahmoism but a synthesis
translated a book on Sufism, the
between the two. He did
first issue of this was published
not discard the old orthodox
in Tattvabodhini Patrika in
religion totally, and yet at the
1911. In Tattvabodhini in the
same time he did not accept
same year Tagore published
Brahmo religion with the
“Bouddhadharme Bhaktivada”
same enthusiasm as before.
(Devotion in Buddhism).
Brahmoism could not satisfy
Rabindranath Tagore was
him any more. He had seen
very much interested in the
that Brahmoism also had
translation of the great Sufi
become conventional and rigid
poet, Kabir (1440-1518). He
like Hinduism. Brahmoism of
was the inspiration behind
Rammohan Roy, the aim of
Pandit Ksitimohan Sen Sastri’s
which was to unite people
(1880-1960) translation of
failed to serve its purpose.
Tagore in Nara, Japan, 1916 Young Tagore with father Maharshi Debendranath – a painting by Gaganendranath Tagore Kabir’s Doha. It is evident that
Brahmos also used to think of
Rabindranath wanted to cull the
non-Brahmos specially Hindus
best of all religions and formed
as opposed to themselves. From There is staunch Brahmo of the novel ‘Gora’ initially was notions were shattered. When he was free then. He has no
his own view in the manner
this time we see Tagore was Haranbabu, ritualistic Hindu a staunch Hindu. He was very he saw Anandamayee, who religion, no caste, no creed, no
in which honey is formed in a
not confined to any particular Harimohini and characters like particular to observe Hindu being a Brahmin Hindu lady bondage of doctrines. He wakes
flower.
religion and sect. His novel Pareshbabu and Anandamayee rituals. However, when he came took the orphan infant Gora up to a new awareness of his
‘Gora’ published in 1910 depicts who believed in the “religion to know of his Irish birth and in her lap – unthinkable at identity. He is a human being, Tagore’s journey to “Religion of
the condition of the society. of man”. The central character Christian origin, his previous that time, Gora declared that neither Hindu nor Christian. Man” started with the slokas of

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 62 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 63
Ksanikatvavada did not attract flowed from a human heart” Santiniketan he came to know
him, neither he was attracted (Creative Unity, Rabindranath Nabani Das Baul. Tagore was
by the Buddhist concept of Tagore, Macmillan India Ltd., also acquainted with Lalan
Nirvana where there is no 1922, 69). Fakir’s songs though there is no
pain or pleasure. He was Tagore was also influenced evidence of their meeting. The
attracted to Buddhist concept by the Baul tradition. Baul songs of Bauls had such impact
of Ahimsa. He was fascinated is a non-orthodox faith that upon Rabindranath that his
by the Buddhist’s teachings of flourished in Bengal. The Baul novel Gora starts with a Baul
Maitri (brotherhood), Mudita philosophy is very similar to song. In his book ‘The Religion
(happiness in everything), Sufi philosophy. The simple life of Man’ (Hibbert Lecture,
Upeksa (indifference) and style of Baul singers wandering Oxford, 1930) he quoted a
Karuna (compassion). around singing and dancing – number of Baul songs and he
Rabindranath was attracted to always absorbed in the joy of composed many songs in the
whatever was humane. The life touched Tagore. The Bauls Baul tune, in keeping with the
person Buddha was near to believed that there is God in Baul spirit, such as:
Tagore’s heart. Rabindranath’s every man’s heart and He may O my mind,
view on Buddha will be be realized only by sincere You did not wake up when the
transparent from his saying love and devotion. There is no man of your heart
“This wisdom came, neither room for distinction of caste Came to your door.
in texts of scripture, nor in and sex. At Silaidaha (Tagore’s You woke up in the dark
Tagore at the Santiniketan Temple At the sound of his departing
symbols of deities, nor in family estate) Tagore came
footsteps
religious practices sanctified by into contact with Baul Gagan
Upanisad in his childhood. It innumerable ties. What attracted My lonely night passes on a mat
ages, but through the voice of Harkara, Fakir Fikirchand on the floor.
was enriched by the philosophy him was Vaisnavism, specially a living man and the love that (1833-1896) and Suna-ullah. In His flute sounds in darkness,
of the Gita (though he did the Visistadvaita of Ramanuja
Alas, I can not see Him.
not like the context of the (1017-1137). Vaisnavism,
Tagore with people at Silaidaha (his family estate) [Tr. cited from “The Spirituality of
Gita, i.e., the warfield and the cult of the deity and the Rabindranath Tagore”, by Sitanshu Sekhar
also he was against the idea of devotee, the love between the Chakravarty, in The Spirituality of Modern
Hinduism, 274]
arguments in favour of war), two attracted him. Rabindranath
different schools of Vedanta received the inner significance Here the relation between the
and the philosophy of medieval of creation and love from the singer and the God – “the man
saints. Vedanta was his natural medieval Bengali Vaisnava of the heart” – is very intimate.
inheritance but like his father Padavali (lyrics). The Vaisnava Sometimes Tagore calls this “man
Debendranath, Rabindranath of the heart” the “Eternal Friend”,
concept of beauty is imbibed
did not accept entirely the sometimes he calls him ‘lover’.
by the poet, as beauty and love
This ‘lover’ is Tagore’s Jivan
Advaitic interpretation. “Brahma form the keynote of Tagore’s Devata, the ‘Lord of Life’, the
satya jagat mithya” was writings. guiding principle of his life. This
never acceptable to him. Like Jivan Devata sometimes appears
Debendranath he also had a Rabindranath’s mission is – the to him as male, sometimes as
reverence for the world. He said divinization of man and the female. Like the Bauls, he was
salvation through the practice humanizing of God. Tagore also looking out for this “man of
of renunciation was not for was influenced by Buddhism heart”.
him. He wanted to taste the also. Buddhist philosophy ◆
The author teaches Philosophy and Religion
freedom of joy in the midst of of Pratityasamutpada or at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 64 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 65
Gandhi and Tagore
AMARTYA SEN

Rabindranath knew that he could not have given India the


political leadership that Gandhi provided, and he was never
stingy in his praise for what Gandhi did for the nation.
And yet each remained deeply critical of many things that
the other stood for.

S ince Rabindranath Tagore


and Mohandas Gandhi
were two leading Indian
thinkers in the twentieth century,
month, he recorded in his diary
an account of some of the
differences between Gandhi
and Tagore written by Reverend
many commentators have C.F. Andrews (1871-1940), the
tried to compare their ideas. English clergyman and public
On learning of Rabindranath’s activist who was a close friend
death, Jawaharlal Nehru, then of both men (and whose
incarcerated in a British jail in important role in Gandhi’s life
India, wrote in his prison diary in South Africa as well as India
for August 7, 1941: is well portrayed in Richard
Attenborough’s film Gandhi
“Gandhi and Tagore. Two types
entirely different from each other, [1982]). Andrews described to
and yet both of them typical of Rolland a discussion between
India, both in the long line of Tagore and Gandhi, at which
India’s great men ... It is not so he was present, on subjects that
much because of any single virtue
divided them:
but because of the tout ensemble,
that I felt that among the world’s “The first subject of discussion
great men today Gandhi and was idols; Gandhi defended them,
Tagore were supreme as human believing the masses incapable of
beings. What good fortune for me raising themselves immediately to
to have come into close contact abstract ideas. Tagore cannot bear
with them.” to see the people eternally treated
as a child. Gandhi quoted the great
Romain Rolland (1866-1944) things achieved in Europe by the
was fascinated by the contrast flag as an idol; Tagore found it
between them, and when easy to object, but Gandhi held his
ground, contrasting European flags
he completed his book on
bearing eagles, etc., with his own,
Gandhi, he wrote to an Indian on which he has put a spinning
academic, in March 1923: “I have wheel. The second point of
finished my Gandhi, in which discussion was nationalism, which
I pay tribute to your two great Gandhi defended. He said that one
must go through nationalism to
river-like souls, overflowing reach internationalism, in the same
Tagore and Gandhi – a painting by Jamini Roy with divine spirit, Tagore way that one must go through war
and Gandhi.” The following to reach peace.”

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 66 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 67
its normal burden of problems,
such as hunger and poverty,
was being supplemented by
politically organized incitement
to “communal” violence between
Hindus and Muslims. This
conflict would lead in 1947,
six years after Tagore’s death,
to the widespread killing that
took place during partition; but
there was much more already
during his declining days. In
December 1939, he wrote to his
friend Leonard Elmhirst (1893-
1974), the English philanthropist
and social reformer who had
worked closely with him on
rural reconstruction in India
(and who had gone on to
Tagore with Gandhi and Kasturba at Shyamali, Santiniketan, 1940 (left)
and with Romain Rolland (above). found the Dartington Hall Trust
in England and a progressive
Tagore greatly admired Gandhi who popularized the term school at Dartington that
but he had many disagreements “Mahatma” – great soul – as a explicitly invoked Rabindranath’s
with him on a variety of description of Gandhi). And yet educational ideals):
subjects, including nationalism, each remained deeply critical “It does not need a defeatist to feel
patriotism, the importance of of many things that the other deeply anxious about the future of
millions who, with all their innate
cultural exchange, the role of stood for. That Mahatma Gandhi
culture and their peaceful traditions
rationality and of science, and has received comparably more are being simultaneously subjected
the nature of economic and attention outside India and to hunger, disease, exploitation
social development. These also within much of India itself foreign and indigenous, and
differences, I shall argue, have makes it important to understand the seething discontent of
communalism.”
a clear and consistent pattern, “Tagore’s side” of the Gandhi-
with Tagore pressing for more Tagore debates. How would Tagore have viewed
room for reasoning, and for a the India of today? Would he
less traditionalist view, a greater In his prison diary, Nehru see progress there, or wasted
interest in the rest of the world, wrote: “Perhaps it is as well that opportunity, perhaps even a
and more respect for science [Tagore] died now and did not betrayal of its promise and
and for objectivity generally. see the many horrors that are conviction? And, on a wider
likely to descend in increasing subject, how would he react to
Rabindranath knew that he measure on the world and on the spread of cultural separatism
could not have given India India. He had seen enough in the contemporary world?
the political leadership that and he was infinitely sad and (Excerpted from Tagore and His India).
Gandhi provided, and he unhappy.” Towards the end ◆
The author is Lamont University Professor
was never stingy in his praise of his life, Tagore was indeed at Harvard. He won the Nobel Prize in
for what Gandhi did for the becoming discouraged about Economics in 1998 and was Master of
Trinity College, Cambridge 1998-2004.
nation (it was, in fact, Tagore the state of India, especially as

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 68 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 69
thing of pleasure, even more Bengali readers of today
than an educational effort. The who are born into the same
Poet to them became the Great context as Rabindranath, have
Consoler. “Behold the horrible the extraordinary privilege of
fears that seize us when we realizing the Larger Whole within
behold the empty spaces of the the concepts and the vocabulary
night sky, when we imagine the known to them.
vast expanse of time which is
This is a privilege which is rare,
already spent and that which is
probably unique, in the modern
in front of us, full with unknown
world. Where in America or
challenges and tribulations.”
Europe do we have another
They can only be subdued by
writer who has opened the sky
the inspired words of a poet like
to the Larger Whole within his
Rabindranath Tagore. Religious
or her cultural context? Have
texts sanctified by tradition may
the French existentialist writers

Touched by Tagore have a deeply consoling effect


as we sense the experience of
centuries solidified in them. Yet,
done so? Or the playwrights
of the Theatre of the Absurd?
Has Marquez or Ezra Pound
the words of an inspired man of
MARTIN KÄMPCHEN (1885-1972) or Virginia Woolf
our own time radiates so much
(1882-1941) or James Joyce
more of human warmth and is
Creative writers like Tagore do not merely produce works of Thus, as I read Rabindranath, (1882-1941)? I do not think so.
so much more relevant to us,
art, but they also create a new art of living which translates, I was infused with a feeling When I survey the European
because they echo those old
of moving within a tradition, writers who have meant
as closely as possible, the essence of their creative impulses traditions in the language and in
something to me since my time
the experience that we are born of being one element of a
into a social context. as a student, I can only think
in and that we intimately share. Larger Whole. And yet, in spite
of such abstractions, Tagore of Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

T here are two scenes from Ashram of Narendrapur, south radiates the warmth of a poet who within his melancholy
Creative writers like Tagore do
the early days of my of Kolkata. One evening I and story-teller who, within Prague Jewish culture, has
not merely produce works of
sojourn in India which entered the hostel room of two such a larger whole, is bound created a universe and drawn
art, but they also create a new
have left a deep impression on college students whom I had to be specific and personal. A all his readers into it magically.
art of living which translates, as
me. The first is when I was on befriended. I found them in the story or a poem cannot simply Yet, his stories and novels
closely as possible, the essence
a visit to a village in District middle of a recitation of a long spell out ideas or a philosophy. lack the capacity to console.
of their creative impulses into
24-Parganas in South Bengal. A poem by Tagore. There they They must strive to evoke They tear us away from the
a social context. Rabindranath
young farmer whom we met on sat, side by side, and in one the Whole by describing the complacency of a bourgeois
Tagore’s urge to move out of
his field, which was green with voice they declaimed loudly detail. It is like the sun being life, away from a life which
the big city of Kolkata to start
young paddy, wanted to greet us in the sing-song melody that mirrored in a drop of rain. has become commonplace,
a brahmacharya ashrama,
with warmth. He spontaneously is so well-known and adopted Writers who are capable of conventional, uncreative. But
his vision of an authentic
burst into a Tagore song while for recitation in Bengal. Their giving their readers a sense of Kafka stops there. We are awed,
education which unfolds the
he was standing on his field. eyes were moist with tears, so the Whole through their stories as I mentioned, by the horrible
child’s potentialities, his service
His voice was untrained but soft deeply were they involved in the and poems, they alone can be spaces of time and geography
to village people, and his life
and full of emotions, which was emotions of the poem. Great Consolers. Such writers suddenly thrown open. Now
of aesthetic simplicity combine
in stark contrast to his rough recreate the Whole in the context we stare into these spaces –
I realised that for this unlettered into such a new art of living.
workman’s hands and bruised unconsoled. desolate. Tagore
farmer, as also for these two It interprets old traditions of of their language, their
bare feet. goes beyond Kafka.
students, singing Tagore’s songs living, yet it does so in an historical time and their specific
The second scene took place and reciting his words was more individualized and personal geography, their cultural Recently, I met a Muslim Bihari
at the Ramakrishna Mission than a pastime, more than a manner. and social system. Thus, the student in Darjeeling, a bright

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 70 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 71
his fine features which were spiritual transcendence. I now
neither harsh nor soft, impressed try to describe Tagore’s cultural
me. Here was a young man of, universality which goes beyond
say, twenty-five years of age the vocabulary and the concepts
who had been chiselled by the of one culture and thus opens
morally upright, intellectual his work to the understanding
Jesuit knife. I asked him, what he by other cultures. Alienation
wanted to do in the future, and and hurt, strangely, speak more
his reply was no surprise to me. directly to humans than the
He said: “I will be a teacher, Sir! products of a culturally secure
I want to serve this institution. I and harmonious life.
love it very much.” With as much
envy as dismay, I realized that Reading Rabindranath Tagore
this young man had probably in Germany brings us to yet
never been seized by doubt on another dimension of the
the merits of his education and poet’s work. First, we face
character formation; he had language as an obstacle. Bengali
never gone through the agonies is not considered a world
of self-doubt. language – but Rabindranath
is a World Poet. This statement
My envy was caused by the What do I mean by these encapsulates all problems in
realization that my own life has remarks in the context their entirety. Outside Bengal,
not been as straight and simple. of Rabindranath Tagore’s Rabindranath’s language is no
In fact, forever under various, universality? The Bengal Poet longer simply a vehicle which
often conflicting, influences, I has not written his poems and carries cultural content and is
have to struggle continuously to songs without the experiences of capable of evoking a cultural
find my direction, agonizing and alienation and anxiety, without universality beyond language.
praying over the question what the fear and trembling he too Goethe (1749-1832), Germany’s
the wisest and most practical felt when faced by the mysteries classical and most universal poet
decision would be. At the best of life. Though he lived among and thinker, has been intelligibly
of times, I felt elated realising his people with whom he translated into other European
that my decision, executed with shared a common language and languages and been able to
courage, took me further in my culture, he was not confined influence the people speaking
development as a human being to them, not like this young them. Shakespeare (1564-1616)
and a writer. At bad times, I man in Darjeeling who was and Dante, Victor Hugo (1802-
could hardly contain my despair restricted to one single mindset. 1885) and Ezra Pound have
at the mistakes and ill judgments Rather, Rabindranath struggled become beacon-lights of their
I committed. My dismay looking through existential ups and respective countries, radiating
at this young mission school downs, through ananda (joy) beyond their culture into all
product, was caused by the and duhkha (sorrow), and even corners of the occident. Their
and fervently dedicated lad. Prefect while still in College. realization how much he really his light-hearted, full-throated, influence depends on good
He had joined a Jesuit school He supervised younger students missed out on the fullness of life. melodiously happy verses are translations into other European
at Darjeeling in Class Two and and was allowed to eat with Elation and despair, doubt and impregnated by them. Here I see languages. We have a “culture
was now completing his College his teachers, which he clearly crisis belong to a fully lived life, his universality. Earlier, I spoke of translation” in Europe and
graduation in the same Jesuit considered a great honour. His and even being loved can never of his mirroring the Whole in America; so we can demand that
institution. Meritorious as he clear-cut, natural speech, his be worthily enjoyed without a the detail of a song or a poem, writers of national importance
was, he had become a Student simple pride bereft of arrogance, self-purifying struggle. through which the Poet achieved should get noticed internationally

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 72 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 73
through translations. There is a the German sentence structure translations which were done
‘family feeling’ at work when a and thought process. Needless to from the English renderings are
Frenchman appreciates a Spanish say, this is a daunting task when quite sufficient. After all, in this
poet, or a German picks up an it comes to such a volatile, fluid, context these Gitanjali poems
Italian novelist’s book. evanescent, ethereal “creature” as were less seen as literature than
a poem. Is it not bound to fail? Is as vehicles of religious emotions.
Such a family feeling is still
it at all worth trying?
absent in India. She still lacks Tagore poems serve this purpose
the culture of translation. Despite even today in Germany. It is
Before me, many others have
the efforts of several literary astonishing how often a few
tried their hand at translation
agencies, the literatures of the lines from a Tagore poem
with the same questions in
various regional languages do crop up in a lecture or essay
mind. Let us not forget that
not yet travel widely beyond or any passage of devotional
Rabindranath Tagore shot into
their language boundaries, literature. Along with figures
international prominence with
at least not as much as they like Khalil Gibran (1883-1931),
a slim book of English prose
should. One, there is no money Mahatma Gandhi, the Buddha,
poems, Gitanjali, which are the
for translating from one Indian Rabindranath Tagore supplies
Poet’s own translations from
language into another, and the storehouse of memorable,
the Bengali original. Today we,
two, India so far has too few sententious thought-lines which
including myself, prefer to run
professionals who are sufficiently are meant to prove to European
down the English Gitanjali as readers that oriental wisdom
skilled to execute such a difficult
sentimental. Clearly, it cannot teachers have a message which
task. Hence, each regional
stand up to the spiritual and can be understood by all
literature plods on with rather
lyrical lucidity of the original. All peoples.
scant influence from the rest of
the same, the English Gitanjali
the country. Yet, there is more to Rabindranath
has introduced into the European
Translating from Bengali to, consciousness a hitherto Tagore than the pure religious
say, German involves a still unknown experience, namely emotions enshrined in the
greater effort. Rabindranath the direct, unabashed expression Gitanjali poems. Isn’t Tagore
must cross over, not merely of religious sentiments. We a figure of world literature and
from one language to another in Europe find it increasingly should he not be seen against
within the Indo-Germanic difficult to speak about religious such a canvas. I have tried to
language group, but the poet’s feelings normally, without project him as a figure who
thoughts and feelings must move camouflage. We feel uneasy and stands side by side with the
Mit freundl. Genehmg: National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

from one culture to another, vulnerable, as if baring our soul national literary personages
from one religion to another, is like stripping our clothes. This of other countries. I see him
from one emotional and social is a trend which has become as one of the last universalists
organisation to an entirely even stronger since the time of among them. Let there be more
different one. When I translate Gitanjali. The words “God” and and more translations from the
a Tagore poem into German, I “Lord” cannot be uttered without Bengali into European languages
need to break up the Bengali an undertone of fashionable which prove this point. These
sentence structure, and the doubt. So Europeans increasingly translations will console and
thought process moulded by turn to Oriental religions to enrapture many readers as
that sentence structure, into its express their simple spiritual deeply as the original consoles
elements and then “reassemble” emotions. In this context, Tagore and enraptures Bengali readers.

them by integrating them into has been a powerful vehicle of The author is a noted German writer and
liberating religious sentiments translator of Tagore’s works.
Left: “Study in Face” by Tagore in Germany. For that, the

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 74 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 75
Nationalism (1917:97), in (Rabindra-Rachanabali 3:515- immemorial” (Tr; Rabindra-
which he questioned all forms 19), or ‘What is nationalism?’, Rachanabali 3:522)
of western nationalism; for drawing largely on the French
nationalism and nation-states thinker, Ernest Renan (1823- Three years later Tagore
seemed to him a great menace, 1892), and the second on the developed these ideas more
a ‘geographical monster’. The Indian Society, “Bharatbarshiya fully in a seminal paper called
author of India’s national anthem Samaj”. Tagore concludes in the “Swadeshi Samaj” (1904), or the
was now outspoken in his views. former that language, material ‘Self-sufficient Society’. Here, we
He did not want his country to interests, religious unity or begin to recognize that Tagore
be caught in a situation where geographical boundary – none raises very important issues – at
the idea of nation-state would of these have been an essential once social, political and moral.
supersede that of Indian society condition for the making of the Tagore says that in the history
and civilization. He said: “Our western nation. For Tagore, of the western civilization, life
real problem in India is not nation is a mental construct. of the people has always been
political. It is social. This is a In the other, he differentiates controlled by the state power, as
condition not only prevailing in between the idea of nation in in ancient Greece and Rome and
India, but among all nations. I the West and the idea of society also in the modern European
do not believe in an exclusive in Indian history. To quote him: societies. But in the Orient, in
“What we have to understand China and India, for example,
Tagore’s Swadeshi Samaj
political interest” (Nationalism in
India, 1916). is that society or community society and not state, has been
reigns supreme in India. In other the determining agency.
Debates on Nationalism The genesis of these ideas go countries, nations have protected
Secondly, Tagore emphatically
back to 1901 when Tagore wrote themselves from various
asserts that the locus of Indian
BIKASH CHAKRAVARTY two consecutive articles (both revolutions for survival. In our
civilization must be sought
published in Bangadarshan) on country society has survived
in her villages. The village in
The author of India’s national anthem was outspoken in his the idea of nation: “Nation ki” countless convulsions from time
ancient India was not merely
views on nationalism. Nationalism and nation-states seemed a place where people lived.
Tagore and Priyanath Sen
to him a great menace, a ‘geographical monster’. It was also the centre of the
basic values of Indian culture.
It achieved almost a total

I t is now well known that poet written so much on public


issues – issues concerning the self-reliance in all its basic
after his initial involvement
violent passion of patriotism, needs – health, food, education,
in the Swadeshi movement
the illegitimacy of nationalism, recreation and creativity. The
centering round the partition of
disengagement of the political village in India could thus
Bengal in 1905, Rabindranath
from the social and the moral, function independently, without
gradually moved away from
and the celebration of truth and any help from the state. This is
the mainstream of nationalist
atmashakti (literally meaning, the village we have lost.
politics around 1907. However,
the fallacious notion that ‘the power within oneself’) – as Thirdly, Tagore argues that the
disillusionment with the he did in this period. genius of the Indian civilization
contemporary political situation This period includes the incisive embedded in the community life
led the poet to seek escape lectures the poet delivered in of the village lies in ‘its ability
and retreat at Santiniketan from Japan and America in 1916-17 to harmonize the disparate’. He
1907 onwards falls in the face on the cult of nationalism, explained it in great detail in
of facts. Never before had the later collected in a book called ‘Bharatbarshe ltihaser Dhara’,

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 76 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 77
or ‘The Course of History in Samaj” (1904), in some of its having a minimal contact with
India’ (Prabasi, 1319 B.S., basic postulates, anticipates the state power – which will
Baishakh: 423-451), and in other Gandhi’s ‘Swaraj’ conceived not resist the tenets of scientific
essays, where he insisted that in Hind Swaraj written in rationality and the use of
Indian history, had achieved 1909. In his emphasis on the admissible technology. This
an ideal synthesis of diverse values of poverty, suffering, organization, however, must
elements at all levels of human restraint and sacrifice and his devote itself to the strenuous
experience (‘it is a perpetual idealization of the rural life, task of reconstructing the village
process of reconciliation of Tagore at this period comes as the centre of Indian culture.
contradictions’, he said). Thus, quite close to Mahatma’s idea As he has been repeatedly
his idea of nation-building of nation-building. For both saying, we must win our Swaraj
must be understood in terms of of them, ‘Swaraj’ in the final ‘not from some foreigner, but
inclusion, and not in terms of analysis ceases to be a political from our own inertia, our
exclusion. programme. It was an alternative own indifference’. This Swaraj
way of living. But we should (or ‘self-governance’) – call it
Implicit in these issues is Tagore’s also note a difference. Tagore Swadeshi Samaj (‘Self-governed
firm belief that the village is the Tagore with Rashbehari Bose in Japan, 1929
did not believe in ‘enlightened society’) – will function by
centre of Indian culture – which anarchy’ as Gandhi did (The inclusion in the sense that it
we have lost in the course research and rational thinking What, finally, then is Tagore’s
Penguin Gandhi Reader, in equal measure. In building must be open to the world. Did
of time, and which needs to idea of Swaraj? In the post-
New Delhi, 1993:79). That is the nation, we require the not Gandhi talk about more
be retrieved and resurrected. war decades, the poet was
why Tagore does not reject economists to apply their minds, or less the same kind of vision
And that alone could bring increasingly moving towards a
the concept of that state in engineers to use their skill and (except of course the question
us independence. Following concept of internationalism as
“Swadeshi Samaj”; he only the educationists and political of the state and the intrusion
the idea of Mahatma Gandhi the basis of a true nation. He
refuses to recognize it as the scientists to play their respective of technology) in a letter to
(1869-1948), he says this should said in a letter to C.F. Andrews
determining agency in the life of roles” (Translated). The argument Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964)
be done through an absolute (1871-1940) in May, 1921: “I feel
community. To put it differently, is frankly statist, its logic issuing in 1945? The letter read: “You
commitment to the cultivation that the true India is an idea
for Tagore, the state and the straight from the epistemology will not be able to understand
of love and neighbourliness, and not a mere geographical
community are not competing of the European Enlightenment me if you think that I am talking
restraint and sacrifice, self-help fact… the idea of India is against
categories; they are, in the best because Tagore never denied about the villages of today.
and hard labour – that is the intense consciousness of
of times, complementary. the importance of the state, nor My ideal village still exists
through the full organization the separateness of ones’s own
did he discard the legacy of only in my imagination … In
of atmashakti. However, even The divergence between people from others, and which
the European Enlightenment. this village of my dreams the
though Tagore does not endorse the views of the Poet and inevitably leads to ceaseless
During the Gitanjali phase (1904 villager will not be dull – he will
the role of modern technology the Mahatma widens in the conflicts. Therefore my one
onwards), Tagore seems to have be all awareness … Men and
in reconstructing the village, decades after the First World prayer is: let India stand for
come quite close to erasing women will live in freedom,
he does accept the logic of War. Tagore’s first clear note the co-operation of all peoples
the gap between the natural prepared to face the whole
liberal-democratic organization of dissent from Gandhi’s of the world. The spirit of
world” (Raghaban lyer, ed., The
as is evident from a detailed concept of ‘Swaraj’ was struck order and the moral order – a rejection finds its support in the
Moral and Political Writings of
constitution he drafted for in a long rejoinder from the postulate Gandhi believed in all consciousness of separateness,
Mahatma Gandhi, New Delhi,
‘Swadeshi Samaj’ and from Poet to the Mahatma. At one his life. However, in the 20s and the spirit of acceptance in the
stage, Tagore says: “Building the 30s, Tagore seems to have 1986: vol. I: 286).
his appeal to the people to consciousness of unity”. ◆
elect a leader for the proposed of Swaraj involves an elaborate revised his earlier Spinozistic The author is a renowned Tagore scholar
having edited and published several works
organization. theoretical frame work, its position in favour of Kantian I submit that Tagore’s idea on the poet. He has also taught English
process is intricate and lengthy. critique of practical reason, of Swaraj finally rests in a literature at Visva Bharati.
It is worth noting at this It needs emotion and aspiration separate the moral order from vision of a liberal-democratic-
point that Tagore’s “Swadeshi but it also needs empirical the natural order. representational organization

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 78 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 79
Rabindranath’s
Role in
Women’s Emancipation
KATHLEEN M. O’CONNELL

Rabindranath’s role in the liberation of Bengali women was


a seminal one. Initially, he exposed the plight of women and
argued for their autonomy through his letters, short stories,
and essays. Through his novels, he was able to construct new
and vital female role models to inspire a new generation of
Bengali women. Later, by his act of admitting females into
his Santiniketan school, he became an innovative pioneer
in coeducation.

T
he Jorasanko Tagore Most notable was the liberating
family played a seminal role of Rabindranath’s brother,
role in almost all the Satyendranath (1842-1923),
innovative socio-cultural whose wife Gnanadanandini
changes that occurred in (1851-1941) became a role
19th century Bengal, and model for modern female
female emancipation was no behavior. Not only did
exception. Dwarkanath Tagore Gnanadanandini redesign
(1794-1846), the grandfather of Bengali female dress to make it
Rabindranath, was advocating more appropriate for travelling
women’s education and social beyond the antahpur (inner
reform regarding women as courtyard) she contributed
early as 1842, following his articles on female educational
trip to Europe. Rabindranath’s and social reform to several
father, Debendranath (1817- journals and travelled to
1905), though conservative England with her three children
by nature, supported the without the accompaniment of
Bethune school for women’s her husband. Rabindranath thus
education, and permitted the grew up in a household where
participation of his daughters the norms concerning women
and other female members of were changing rather rapidly.
the family in various forms of
education and social work. Rabindranath made his first
trip to England in 1878, at the
This essay displays Tagore’s paintings age of 17, and some of his

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 81


earliest statements regarding be pointed out that to consider female writers, and as a result had close associations with the Rabindranath continued his
the practice normal to enter into of his encouragement, the
the need for Bengali women’s ashram – were boarded in one exploration of the female
purdah, surrounded by walls for
independence come in a series the rest of one’s lifetime, severing feminist writings of Sarat Kumari of the cottages, where they were psyche in his writings. The
of letters written to his family. all contacts with the rest of the Chaudhurani (1861-1920) were looked after by Ajit Chakravarti’s publication of his novel
After attending a party where world, is in itself very abnormal published in such journals as mother and Mohit Chandra Sen’s Gora was significant for its
(ibid, p.100). Sadhana and Bharati.
British men and women mixed wife Susheela. What made the delineation of young female
freely, Tagore wrote a letter Following his return to India, When Rabindranath started his experiment so radical was that characters and the manner in
contrasting the free mixing that Tagore was put in charge school in Santinketan in 1901, the girls were not put in separate which they interacted with
occurred between men and of the family estates in East he had wanted to include girls classes but rather joined the boys the society around them. Such
women in England and the Bengal. There, for the first time, as well, but it did not prove in classes, sports and mandir characters as Lolita, Sucharita
isolation of Bengali women, Rabindranath had an extended practical until 1909, when a services. Further impetus for the and Anandamayee are shown
who were confined to purdah exposure to rural society and further blow to the traditional women’s program came when in the process of shaping
and separated from the outside to the sufferings of rural people image of the Brahmacharyashram Rathindranath was married to new identities and personal
world. Wrote Rabindranath: in general and rural women in occurred with the admission of the talented Pratima Devi (1863- autonomy as they developed
It is only natural that men and particular. This was the period women.1 The first six girls – who 1969) in 1910, and she began alternate ways of interaction
women should seek amusement when many of his short stories taking a prominent role in the with men and society. The
1 Both P.K. Mukhopadhyay and Himangshu
together. Women are a part of the were written and we find him
human race and God has created
Mukherjee put the opening of the girl’s school ashram activities, particularly in development of such vital
in 1908, but Amita Sen, who lived in the ashram
them as part of society. To consider portraying the plight of orphans during this period, gives it as 1909. drama and the arts. characters signalled the
the enjoyment of free mixing and widows such as Ratan in
between people to be a cardinal the ‘Postmaster’ and Kusum in
sin, to be unsociable and to turn
‘Ghater Katha’ (‘The Tale of
it into a sensational matter is not
only abnormal, it is unsocial, and the Ghat’) or the abuses of the
therefore in a sense uncivilized. dowry system and child-wives
Men are engrossed in all manner as illustrated by the abuse of
of amusement in the outside
Nirupama in ‘Dena Paona’
world, while women are like their
privately owned tamed animals, (‘Profit and Loss’), as well as the
chained docilely to the walls of the repression of female learning
innermost chambers of the houses. portrayed through the character
(Rabindranath Tagore, Letters from
a Sojourner in Europe, ed. Supriya
of Uma in Khata (‘Exercise
Roy, Visva-Bharati, 2008: 88). Book’). Rabindranath’s most
radical short story ‘Strirpatra’
In response to criticism of
(‘A Wife’s Letter’) came later.
this letter, which had been
Here the transformation of its
published in Bharati, then
main female character Mrinal
edited by his older brother
– an upper caste woman – is
Dwijendranath (1840-1926), he
portrayed, from submissive
wrote:
wife to autonomous individual.
The Editor has said that keeping Mrinal chooses to live apart
women in purdah is not an
outcome of the selfishness of from the joint family as a
men, it is but a natural outcome result of the oppressiveness
of the demands that the duties of to a female relative that she
householding place on one. This
witnessed within the family.
is a very old excuse provided
by those against liberation of It should be noted that
women; but I feel that it need not Rabindranath also encouraged

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 82 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 83
potential for a new identity that curriculum innovations were movement. Their co-educational
Rabindranath upheld for the required. These often took work helped the village children
female students at Santiniket- place through extra-curricular develop various practical skills
an. The novel’s characters activities such as the 1910 and overcome caste prejudices
transcended the stereotypes drama Lakshmir Puja, which through group participation.
of their sex, caste and race to was staged and performed by We can, therefore, conclude
participate in a broader social female students. Tagore brought that Rabindranath’s role in the
vision, becoming role models in dance teachers from Benares liberation of Bengali women
for a new generation of Bengali to train the girls and when they was a seminal one. Initially, he
women. left, he personally taught them. exposed the plight of women
In his educational essays also, and argued for their autonomy
With the foundation of Visva-
Rabindranath began addressing through his letters, short stories,
Bharati, a residence known as
the issue of women’s education. and essays. Through his novels,
‘Nari-Bhavan’ began attracting
His essay Strishiksha (‘Female he was able to construct new
female students from India and
Education’), which was initially and vital female role models
abroad. The girls participated
published in the journal Sabuj to inspire a new generation of
in all the academic departments
Patra and later translated as Bengali women. Later, by his
with virtually the same courses
‘The Education of Women’ act of admitting females into his
as the male students. In
in August 1915, states in no Santiniketan school, he became
addition, they also received
uncertain terms that there an innovative pioneer in
special classes in cooking
should be equality in education: coeducation. Not satisfied with
and kitchen work from an
Whatever is worth knowing, is imitating existing educational
American nurse, Gretchen
knowledge. It should be known models, Tagore set out to create
equally by men and women – not Green, who was attached to
an alternative model of learning
for the sake of practical utility, Sriniketan. Along with the
that was based on the education
but for the sake of knowing…the general social and cultural
desire to know is the law of human of the whole personality,
activities of the institution, the
nature. (Shiksha, 1351, B.S. ed, whether male or female. It is
vol I, 181). girls organized their own clubs,
hard to overestimate the social
societies and organizations.
This was not to say, however, change that resulted through
Rabindranath believed in a
that there should be no Rabindranath’s writings and his
holistic education, and the girls encouragement of women’s
distinction in education:
were encouraged to participate participation in academic
Knowledge has two departments: in physical education as well.
one, pure knowledge; the other, events, sports, dance and
utilitarian knowledge. In the field
They engaged in games, sports, creative expression.
of pure knowledge, there is no hikes and excursion, and even ◆
The author conducts courses on South
distinction between men and the athletics of self-defense Asia at New College, University of Toronto,
women; distinction exists in the such as lathi play and ju-jitsu. Canada. Her research interests include
sphere of practical utility. Women Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray; and
should acquire pure knowledge In Sriniketan, Dhirananda Roy Bengali cultural and literary history.
for becoming a mature being, and (1902-1971), a former student,
utilitarian knowledge for becoming organized the Brati-Balakas/Brati-
true women (ibid, p.183).
Balikas (literally boys and girls
As Santiniketan expanded to who have taken a vow), a group
include women as students and patterned after the boy scouts/
village welfare as an objective, girl guides and the American 4-H

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 84 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 85
Tagore and
Rural Reconstruction
UMA DASGUPTA

“If we could free even one village from the shackles


of helplessness and ignorance, an ideal for the whole
of India would be established… Let a few villages be
rebuilt in this way, and I shall say they are my India.”
– Tagore

N
ot many would imagine or know that the poet Rabindranath
Tagore worked for rural reconstruction in the surrounding
villages of his Santiniketan school and Visva-Bharati
university in rural southern Bengal. He founded the Santiniketan
school in 1901 and Visva-Bharati in 1921. Along with Visva-Bharati,
an institute of rural reconstruction was established in 1922 Old Sriniketan farm
and named Sriniketan. The work of rural reconstruction was a
pioneering endeavour to redeem the neglected village. The urge came to Tagore when he first to Patisar, by rivers, large and small, He had two stated objectives,
and across beels (meaning ‘bayou’,
went to live in his family’s to educate the villager in
or ‘marshy water-ways’) and in
Tagore with Leonard Elmhirst agricultural estates in East this way I saw all sides of village self-reliance and to bring
Bengal, as estate manager in life. I was filled with eagerness back to the villages ‘life in its
the 1890s. This was his first to understand the villagers daily completeness’ with ‘music and
routine and the varied pageant of
exposure to the rural world. their lives… Gradually the sorrow
readings from the epics as in
He was then thirty, already a and poverty of the villagers became the ‘past’. He declared he would
poet of fame, and had till then clear to me, and I began to grow be content if that could be done
lived only in Calcutta. As estate restless to do something about it. realistically only in ‘one or two
It seemed to me a very shameful
manager he stayed in Silaidah in thing that I should spend my days villages’. He wrote:
Nadia district, on the banks of as a landlord, concerned only with If we could free even one village
the mighty river Padma, and his money-making and engrossed from the shackles of helplessness
with my own profit and loss and ignorance, an ideal for
work as zamindar is on record
(Tagore, ‘The History and Ideals the whole of India would be
in the District Gazetteers of the of Sriniketan’, The Modern Review, established…Let a few villages be
period. This rural experience Calcutta, November 1941:.433). rebuilt in this way, and I shall say
was seminal to turning the poet As a pragmatist he knew there they are my India. That is the way
into a humanist and a man of to discover the true India.
was not a lot he could do – (Tagore, ‘City and Village’, in
action. He wrote: with his meagre resources as Towards Universal Man, Reprint,
I endeavoured all the time I was in an individual considering the Bombay: Asia Publishing House,
the country to get to know it down 1967, p.322).
enormity of the need. But he
to the smallest detail. The needs of
my work took me on long distances was determined to at least make Community life in the Indian
from village to village, from Silaidah a beginning with the work. villages was seen to break

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 86 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 87
for the first time with the friend’s son, Santosh Chandra programme was useless so
emergence of the professional Majumdar (1886-1926), to the long as the Indian elite were
classes among the English- University of Illinois at Urbana, divided, so long as there was
educated Indian elite. The USA, to study agriculture and a conflict of vested interests
city began to attract Indians dairy farming so that they among them. His remedy was
away from the villages. Letting could bring back scientific to personally identify young
the government take over methods of agriculture to the educated volunteers who would
guardianship of the people, this Indian village. They returned willingly dedicate themselves
professional class relinquished with their degrees in 1909-10 to living and working in the
their own traditional duties and dedicated themselves to villages without publicity or
to society. The result was a the Sriniketan scheme of rural loud announcements. Their
widening gap between city reconstruction. Tagore wrote: job would be to enlist the
and village. Tagore sought If we can possess the science that
cooperation of the villagers to
to bridge the gap through gives power to this age, we may yet start the work of constructing
the Sriniketan experiment of win, we may yet live. roads, schools, water reservoirs,
combining science and tradition. An open air class at Sriniketan sanitation, to improve
The Sriniketan scheme was
He knew that a civilization agricultural production, also to
to organise the villages so In reconstructing society two villages. He was critical
that comprises of only village create new folk music, all this
that they could supply all urban Indians had to give of the fact that the Indian
life could not be sustained. to bring about a ‘new objective’
their needs on a cooperative the village its due respect National Congress had no such
‘Rustic’ was a synonym for the to village life. He had enlisted
basis. Tagore believed that by recognising the skills that ‘constructive’ programme even
‘mind’s narrowness’, he wrote. his son and son-in-law as
the villagers, when trained in they could contribute. This with being concerned over the
In modern times the city had volunteers for the future.
self-reliance, could establish thinking was reflected in the peasant question. Tagore argued
become the repository of new and maintain their own schools In 1912 he bought twenty
new and alternative education that the national congress only
knowledge. It was essential, and granaries, banks and bighas of land along with a
of Visva-Bharati University by clamours for political grievances
therefore, for the village to cooperative stores. He hoped house which stood on that plot
combining the knowledge given and for jobs for Indians in the
cooperate with the city in that those ties of cooperation of land just two miles west of
in the class-room with hands-on government. As early as 1910
accessing this new knowledge. would bring unity to the people Santiniketan in the village called
activity and experience from he wrote of his disillusionment
and free them from dependence outside the class-room. Tagore with the nationalists to his son Surul. This place was named
One such vital area of expertise
on the city and the government. hoped this would serve at Rathindranath who was then Sriniketan and its work was
was in agriculture. His study of
He insisted that Indians must least as an ideal for the whole being groomed for the village carried out through the Institute
‘other agricultural countries’ had of Rural Reconstruction from
unite themselves to provide country. work:
shown Tagore that land in those 1922. In the course of the next
nation-building services. This A deep despair now pervades rural
countries was made to yield If we take the goal of self- two decades the Institute’s work
was one of the pillars on which life all over our country, so much
twice or thrice the harvest by reliance as a basic premise so that high-sounding phrases like was extended to twenty-two
his dissent with the Nationalist
the use of science. In Sriniketan, in Tagore’s scheme of rural home rule, autonomy etc appear villages, starting from just ‘one
Movement over swadeshi
as in his family’s agricultural reconstruction, it would to me almost ridiculous and I feel
or two’ that we have mentioned
and swaraj was founded. He ashamed even to utter them.
estates earlier, he endeavoured be easier to distinguish the above.
chose the path of ‘constructive – (Tagore to Rathindranath, 7 April
to introduce the latest Sriniketan endeavour from ◆
swadeshi’ as something more 1910, Bengali Letters, File: Tagore
The author is an eminent Tagore and
techniques of Western science the nationalist and economic Rathindranath, Rabindra Bhavana Library & Information Sciences specialist
urgent than swaraj. Archives, Visva-Bharati University.
to improve cultivation and thinking of its day. Tagore’s and editor of many volumes on Tagore. She
Trs. Uma Das Gupta). has also worked as the Special Officer at
agricultural production. In 1906 That was the change he sought response was to work directly Rabindra Bhavana, Visva-Bharati.
he sent his son Rathindranath to bring to the Indian village. with the peasants even if By 1910, when he wrote that
and son-in-law Nagendranath By change he meant, first that meant working on a letter, he came to the conclusion
Ganguli (1889-1954) and a of all, a change of attitude. limited scale with only one or that working for a ‘national’

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 88 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 89
TAGORE AND HIS TIMES:
THE IDEA OF ASIA
SUGATA BOSE

The idea of Asia and the spirit of Asian universalism were


in important ways products of cosmopolitan thought zones
created by passages across the Indian Ocean. Rabindranath
Tagore’s direct encounter with the power and scale of art in
Japan, Burma and China led him to urge Indian artists to
look east in order to pioneer a fresh departure.
Tagore traveled to Japan (above), Persia of the Hindu sage Swami
(right above) and China (right) in the early
twentieth century. Vivekananda (1863-1902), wrote

A
historical transformation contention that modern history an introduction. Once Sister
is under way in the early could be interpreted – not innovations in different parts of Nivedita introduced Okakura to
twenty-first century as wholly or in full measure, the globe and felt comfortable the Tagore clan, a formidable
Asia recovers the global position but very substantially – as within ever-widening concentric cultural bridge was established
it had lost in the late eighteenth an interplay of multiple and circles of Bengali patriotism, between East and South Asia,
century. Yet the idea of Asia and competing universalisms. The Indian nationalism, and Asian and Japanese artists Taikan
a spirit of Asian universalism colonized did not simply erect universalism. Aspiring to Yokoyama (1868-1958) and
were alive and articulated defensive walls around their reconcile a sense of nationality Shunso Hishida (1874-1911)
during the period of European notions of cultural difference. with a common humanity, soon followed Okakura’s
imperial domination. One of They were keen to be players they were not prepared to let trail to Calcutta. By observing
the most creative exponents of in broad arenas of cosmopolitan colonial borders constrict their Taikan, Abanindranath Tagore
an Asia-sense was Rabindranath thought zones and wished imaginations. The spirit of Asian (1871-1951) – the principal artist
Tagore (1861-1941) who won to contribute to the shaping universalism was brought to of the Bengal school – learned
the Nobel Prize for Literature in of a global future. Their India by two turn-of-the-century the Japanese wash technique,
1913. Tagore traveled to Japan, cosmopolitanism flowed not ideologues – Okakura Kakuzo of which his famous painting
China, Southeast Asia, Iran from the stratosphere of abstract (1862-1913) and Sister Nivedita Bharatmata (Mother India,
and Iraq in the early twentieth reason, but from the fertile (1867-1911). 1905) is a prominent example.
for the Boston Museum of
century forging powerful ground of local knowledge and Another of his paintings – Sage
Okakura had been deeply Fine Arts. Okakura’s blend of
connections across Asia. learning in the vernacular. riding through mountains on
influenced in his early years Japanese nationalism and Asian
In my book A Hundred The Swadeshi cultural milieu by the Harvard scholar of universalism was appealing as a white horse is in the same
Horizons: The Indian Ocean in of early twentieth-century Japanese art, Ernest Francisco a potential model for Indian technique.
the Age of Global Empire (2006; India (‘Swadeshi’ standing for Fenollosa (1853-1908) – the intellectuals and artists of
Cambridge) I had claimed a political movement to attain Catalan American professor the Swadeshi era. Okakura The Japanese brush-and-ink
that ‘Tagore was an eloquent ‘Self-sufficiency’), despite of philosophy and political first came to India in 1902 style was more deeply imbibed
proponent of a universalist its interest in rejuvenating economy at Tokyo Imperial on the eve of the publication by Abanindranath’s brother,
aspiration, albeit a universalism indigenous traditions, was not University, whose collection of his book, The Ideals of and nephew of Rabindranath-
with a difference’. This specific wholly inward-looking; its of Japanese and Chinese the East, for which Sister Gaganendranath Tagore
claim was part of a larger protagonists were curious about paintings he later cataloged Nivedita, the Irish-born disciple (1867-1938). In Nandalal Bose’s

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 90 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 91
Rabindranath to Japan in dismembering the Chinese
1916; it would be the linguist Republic, without humiliating
Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay another proud, cultured and
(1890-1977) and painter ancient race?” “No,” he replied,
Surendranath Kar’s (1892-1970) “with all our admiration for
turn on a voyage to Southeast Japan, where such admiration
Asia in 1927. is due, our whole heart goes
out to China in her hour of
On the 1924 journey to Burma,
trial.” He then went on to draw
China and Japan, Tagore’s two
some ethical lessons for India
companions from Santiniketan
from the conflict in East Asia.
were Nandalal Bose, the
“Standing at the threshold
painter, and Kshitimohan Sen
of a new era,” he wrote, “let
(1880-1960), an erudite scholar
India resolve to aspire after
of Sanskrit and comparative
national self-fulfillment in
religion. On this trip Tagore
every direction – but not at the
preached the virtues of close
expense of other nations and
interaction among Asian
not through the bloody path
Bharatmata (Mother India), 1905 by
cultures. Stung by the passage
of self-aggrandisement and
Abanindranath Tagore. of the Immigration Act of
imperialism.”
1924 (sometimes referred to
(1883-1966) early masterpiece as the Orientals Exclusion In the end Japanese art
Sati (1907), a quintessentially Act) in the United States, enabled the spirit of an Asian
Indian theme of selfless some of Tagore’s admirers universalism to survive the
womanhood emerged in the even established an Asiatic era of Japanese nationalistic
colors and contours of the Association in Shanghai to foster imperialism. After Indian
Japanese wash. solidarity among all Asians. independence was achieved
In Japan, Nandalal Bose had in 1947, Nandalal Bose began
Rabindranath Tagore’s direct
the privilege of being hosted to quietly and confidently
encounter with the power and
by Tagore’s friend, the artist celebrate the Indian countryside
scale of art in Japan during his
who had visited India, Taikan, in his art creatively drawing on
1916 visit to that country led
and he was introduced to the Japanese sumie style.
him to urge Indian artists to look
masterpieces of Japanese art.
east in order to pioneer a fresh The idea of Asia and the spirit
departure from the Swadeshi Developments in East Asia Sati, 1907 by Nandalal Bose. (Courtesy: National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi) of Asian universalism were in
corpus of ideals. He crossed during the late 1930s had by important ways products of
the Pacific to the United States this time brought a measure of Role in the Far East’. In some and for Asia”. He recalled how cosmopolitan thought zones
of America and delivered his disillusionment with the idea ways it offered a remarkably Japan had been a beacon of created by passages across the
critical lectures on nationalism. of Asia. Japan’s invasion of dispassionate, realist analysis inspiration for all of Asia at the Indian Ocean. In this sense,
The poet’s entourage on his China in 1937 had shown Asia of power relations in East Asia. dawn of the twentieth century. the continent and the ocean
travels typically included a to be as prone to nationalist Towards the end of the article, He welcomed Japan’s stance were not necessarily in an
small but formidable team of wars as Europe. In its October however, Bose did not hesitate against the Western imperial adversarial relationship but
intellectuals and artists. Mukul 1937 issue the Modern Review to reveal where his sympathies powers. But, he asked, could provided different contours of
Dey (1895-1989) was the carried a long essay by Subhas lay. Japan, he conceded had not Japan’s aims be achieved inter-regional arenas animated
artist who had accompanied Chandra Bose titled ‘Japan’s “done great things for herself “without Imperialism, without by flows of ideas and culture.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 92 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 93
Benoy Kumar Sarkar, writing
in the Modern Review in the
1910s, stressed both sea-lanes
and land-routes in creating
what he called an‘Asia-sense’.
By the 1920s most contributors
to the same journal were
more enamored of the oceanic
connections that spread Indian
cultural influences to Southeast
Asia. I have sought to make a
distinction between two strands
of cultural imperialism and a
more generous universalism that
shaped early twentieth-century
discourses on this subject.
During the modern age it has
been a constant struggle not to
allow universalist aspirations
of the colonized degenerate
into universalist boasts and
cosmopolitanism be replaced
by bigotry. The tussle goes on
in new post-colonial settings.
The outcome is yet uncertain,
but the ethical choice before us
seems clear enough.

The author is Gardiner Professor of History
at Harvard University, USA. The grandson of
Sarat Chandra Bose, he has authored several
books on the economic, social and political
history of modern South Asia.

Tagore with the students at Karuizawa, Japan

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Tagore:
The Golden Bridge
between Great Civilizations
of India and China
TAN CHUNG

Tagore acted as the golden bridge between two ancient


civilizations. He was in favour of a seamless world
where all barriers, including the political and the
geographic, must be obliterated to create a united
mankind. He showed how following in the footsteps of
Buddhism, barriers could become pathways leading to
long-lasting friendship and mutual appreciation.

“Geographical boundaries have translations from some of your


lost their significance in the books of poetry and I have
modern world. People of the been fascinated by something in
world have come closer. We the quality of your literature…
must realize this and understand I have not seen anything like
that this closeness must be it in any other literature that I
founded on love… the East know of.”
and West must join hands in
Inspired by the Vedic mantra
the pursuit of truth.” The man,
“yatra visvam bhavati
Rabindranath Tagore, who
ekanidam” (where the whole
made this observation, had his
world meets in one nest),
intellectual realm encompassing
Tagore named the institution
Sanskrit civilization, English
he founded at Santiniketan in
culture, and Bengali folklore in
1921 “Visva-Bharati”. This ideal,
addition to family affinities with
Tagore shared, in a letter, with
Islamic traditions and Persian
the Chinese writer, Xu Dishan
literature. He had also a China
(Su Ti-shan), who visited
dimension in his universal
Santiniketan in December 1920:
outlook as he said in Beijing
“Let the illusion of geographical
in 1924: “I have been reading
barriers disappear from at least
one place in India – let our
Left: Tagore with Tan Yun Shan and family Santiniketan be that place.”

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 96 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 97
Chinese bird-chirping was heard between China and Santiniketan Tagore also spent one of his hand was too weak to hold the life, who stayed on a particular
from Tagore’s “world-in-one- in subsequent years, formed most enjoyable birthdays in pen, his “Once I went to the mountain, in a particular cave
nest” ashram in 1921 when the Sino-Indian Cultural Society Beijing in 1924, getting from land of China” poem on his last enjoying freedom.”
Professor Sylvain Levi arrived in Nanjing in 1933, enlisted the renowned Chinese political birthday:
Tagore inaugurated Cheena-
from Paris and started teaching support from influential thinker and scholar, Liang
“A Chinese name I took, Bhavana on the Bengali New
Chinese to Prabodh Chandra Chinese leaders, like Dai Jitao Qichao (Liang Chi Chao), the
dressed in Chinese Year Day (14 April) in 1937, in
Bagchi who rose to become (Tai Chi-t’ao), and eventually Chinese name “Chu Chen-
Clothes. these words: “This is, indeed,
modern India’s first Sinologist. helped Tagore build Cheena- Tan/Zhu Zhendan” which
This I knew in my mind a great day for me, a day long
That was the time when Tagore Bhavana in 1937. Attracting cleverly wrought the image
Wherever I find my friend there looked for, when I should be
wrote in Sikshar Milan or Union important Chinese academia to of “thunder of Oriental dawn”
I am born able to redeem, on behalf of
of Cultures: “When the Lord interact with Indian scholars, by synthesizing “Tianzhu/
Anew.” our people, an ancient pledge
Buddha realized humanity in Cheena-Bhavana became the Heavenly India” (ancient
implicit in our past, the pledge
a grand synthesis of unity, his first foreign bird-nest at Visva- Chinese praise for India) and When Tagore asked for the
to maintain the intercourse of
message went forth to China as Bharati, and has remained, “Cinastan” (ancient Indian Chinese name on Chinese soil,
culture and friendship between
a draught from the fountain of to this day, the symbol of praise for China). Liang wrote he told Liang: “I don’t know why,
our people and the people of
immortality.” Sino-Indian friendship and the “Introduction” to Tagore’s as soon as I arrived in China, I
China…”
understanding. Talks in China. That memory felt as though I was returning to
Tagore traced the footsteps
was so indelible in Tagore that my native place. Maybe I was For many years Tagore was
of Buddha’s messengers to
Tagore converted the Chinese made him dictate, when his an Indian monk in a previous voted by Chinese public
China in 1924 and proclaimed
initiator, host, manager, guide
there: “Let what seems to be Cheena-Bhavana at Santiniketan
and interpreter of his China trip,
a barrier become a path and
poet Xu Zhimo (Tsemou-Hsu),
let us unite, not in spite of our
into the Bengalee “Susima”. Xu
differences, but through them…
Zhimo, in turn, intimately called
Let all human races keep their
Tagore “Rubidadda”. These
own personalities, and yet come
Sino-Indian pals bade goodbye
together, not in a uniformity
not on the Chinese shore
that is dead, but in a unity that
that Tagore left behind, but
is living.”
only after Tagore sailed back
Tagore longed for the creation from his tour to Japan. When
of a department of Chinese “Susima” asked “Rubidadda”
studies at Santiniketan, and at parting whether anything
extracted in his China visit had been left behind, Tagore
(1924) promises of help that replied with a touch of sadness:
did not materialize. In 1928, “Yes, my heart.” Eventually,
a young Chinese scholar, Tagore went back to China
Tan Yun-shan (my father), in 1929 incognito to be the
arrived in Visva-Bharati to private guest of “Susima” and
start Chinese language courses his wife at Shanghai for a
and have lengthy discussions couple of days each way when
with Kshitimohan Sen, one of he set out for Japan and the
the dons of Santiniketan who U.S.A. in mid-March as well as
was in Tagore’s China trip. in his homeward journey in
Tan Yun-shan began to shuttle mid-June.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 98 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 99
opinion as among 60 “most
influential foreigners” in shaping Tagore’s Visit and its Impact on
the life of modern China, along
with Marx, Engels, Nehru, etc. China’s Literary World
The Chinese remember Tagore
fondly because his being YIN XINAN

an Asian winning the Nobel


Prize of Western monopoly “If all the land were turned to paper and all the seas turned
woke up the self-pride of to ink, and all the forests into pens to write with, they would
Asian peoples, because still not suffice to describe the greatness of the guru.”
his advocacy of embracing – Kabir
Western modernization while
consciously developing

R
abindranath Tagore, who his powerful writings. Both
Eastern traditions of millennial
‘brought out the essence his literary works and social
sedimentation of sagacity
of Eastern spirituality in activities had a strong impact on
and enlightenment, and also
his poetry like no other poet’ the Chinese literati and social
because of his firm objection
is revered as the greatest guru activists of the time. Tagore
to Japan’s aping the West. The
of modern India. Gurudev, was viewed in those days as a
Chinese have always liked bridge of friendship between
as he is fondly referred to
Tagore’s writings and songs the two countries.
by his countrymen, had a
for the richness of love, hope,
thorough knowledge and deep When Tagore won the Nobel
harmony, and humanness. A
appreciation of the Chinese Prize in 1913, as the first Nobel
“Tagore fever” was created in
culture. On the one hand, he laureate in Literature from Asia,
China in the 1920s, especially
loved the Chinese culture so his reputation spread across the
in the wake of his 1924
much so that he always took Himalayas in a very short span
visit. We see another rage of
advantage of his profound of time. Because of the long
“Tagore fever” surging in China
knowledge of the Tang poetry cultural relationship that existed
with the universal celebration
and Tao Te Ching (Dao De between the two countries, the
of the 150th birth anniversary
Jing), compiled by Lao Tze (Lao literati in China were extremely
of Tagore.
Zi, 6th century B.C.) one of the happy to witness the great
Tagore’s commentary in Buddha – a sculpture by Ramkinkar Baej at Santiniketan most famous sages of ancient achievements made by him. As
Sikshar Milan likening modern China, and quoted from them more and more of his articles
Western civilizations to “a an increasingly sick, immoral anniversary is to call upon the profusely during his talks and began to appear in Chinese
locomotive… rushing on with and uncouth humanity living in great civilizations like India and speeches. Tagore often showed publications, Tagore became
its train, the driver left behind an increasingly rebellious and China to lead the world out of his regard for the glorious very popular as a literary icon
wringing his hands in despair” hostile environment. We see this impasse. history and cultural traditions even among the ordinary

is highly relevant today after Tagore-like prophets running The author served at the University of
of China, and was deeply Chinese readers which, in
eight decades. In the name of behind this mad train wringing Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University. sympathetic towards the country turn, led to an upsurge in the
He was also a Professor-Consultant at
“development”, countries of the their hands in despair. We the Indira Gandhi National Centre for which was being trampled upon demand for his works. Thus,
entire world are vying with one must stop this mad train and the Arts in New Delhi. He was awarded by the colonialists at the time. the conducive atmosphere
‘Padma-Bhushan’ for his contribution to
another in converting the flesh put the driver of mankind Sino-Indian relations. On the other hand, he greatly that existed in China in the
and soul of Mother Earth into to his seat. The best way of influenced the contemporary early 1920’s paved the way for
the so-called “wealth”, creating celebrating Tagore’s 150th birth literature of China through Tagore’s visit to the country.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 100 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 101
In 1923, cultural celebrities, States, he had never been to famous writers, like Mr. Zheng his speeches as they shared his
Mr. Hu Shi (1891-1962) and China and was keen on visiting Zhenduo (1898-1958) and views. Some others, however,
Mr. Xu Zhimo (1897-1931), had the country. In 1923, two Mr. Xu Zhimo. Tagore stayed welcomed Tagore’s ideas only
jointly founded a community cultural celebrities of the time, in China for almost 50 days from the literary perspective.
called “Xin Yue She” or the Mr. Liang Qichao (1873-1929) and visited several important It is also a fact that Tagore’s
“Crescent Society”, named and Mr. Hu Shi, invited Tagore places, like Beijing, Shanghai, speeches had elicited a
after Tagore’s famous work, to deliver a speech at the Hangzhou, Nanjing, Jinan, different kind of reaction in
The Crescent Moon. Most of Peking University. Taiyuan and Wuhan. Besides some quarters in China at the
the members of the “Xin Yue” enjoying the scenic beauty of time. Some intellectuals, like
community had travelled to On March 21, 1924, Tagore China, Tagore also gave some Mr. Chen Duxiu (1879-1942),
Europe and America for higher began his journey from Kolkata important speeches and had Mr. Qu Qiubai (1899-1935),
studies, and as a result, had (then, Calcutta) by sea. On April several meaningful literary Mr. Yan Bing (1896-1981),
a longing for democracy and 24, Tagore and his entourage exchanges in many cities. The Mr. Yun Daiying (1895-1931)
freedom which matched with arrived in Shanghai to a warm friendship between the poet and Mr. Shen Zemin, who were
Tagore’s views on these subjects. welcome from the Institute of and his Chinese counterparts, deeply influenced by Marxism,
Literary Research and other and also his followers and fans, Tagore with friends in a boat held a critical view of him
Though Tagore had visited organisations and individuals. strengthened in a matter of few which was later proved to be
several countries in Asia and The celebrities who were days, and it had a profound relationship between the two that if only China and India a kind of misunderstanding.
Europe, and also the United present to receive him included influence on the cultural countries in the early twentieth cooperated with each other, the However, the style of his poems
century. An important cultural oriental civilisation could be undoubtedly became immensely
Tagore sailing for China, 1924 popular and cast a great impact
landmark was thus established developed further, which would
in the mutual relationship then be beneficial to the whole on the Chinese youth of the
between the two countries. world. time. No wonder, he was often
referred to as the “Guiding Light
The speeches Tagore had Many historians believe that of the East” by many of them.
delivered in different parts he was successful in achieving
of China were compiled and the goal of his visit, i.e., The year 1924 is history now.
published in a book titled, Talks to ensure that the people Both the countries have
in China (1924). His speeches of China and India would witnessed the dawn of a new
were full of wisdom, zeal and rebuild and strengthen their century. The seed sown by
enthusiasm. One of the key traditional friendship. He was Tagore in China has now
thrusts of his speeches was an very optimistic of the future grown into a giant tree. As
appeal to commemorate the cooperation between the two we celebrate his one hundred
traditional friendship between countries. and fiftieth birth anniversary,
the two countries and to rebuild let’s hope that the friendship
A vast majority of the Chinese between the peoples of these
and strengthen the good cultural
intellectuals welcomed Tagore’s two great ancient civilizations
bond that existed in the past.
visit to China and appreciated will grow from strength to
In his speeches, Tagore also his speeches made during strength.
urged the people of the two the visit. Cultural celebrities, ◆
The author is Professor at the Faculty of
countries to undertake the Mr. Liang Qichao, Mr. Liang Literature and Media, Sichuan University,
duty of developing the oriental Suming (1893-1988), Mr. Gu Chengdu, China.
civilisation and to fight the Hongming (1857-1928) and
materialistic influences of the Mr. Hu Shi, among others,
Western world. He believed appreciated Tagore’s visit and

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 102 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 103
Man at the Centre of Universe
Tagore’s Ideas on Complete Education
UDAYA NARAYANA SINGH

A set of four words here – aspiration, power, freedom and


moral communion, define how Tagore would like to place
man at the centre of his universe as he spelt out his ideas
on education.

W
hile talking about his childhood and education
Rabindranath Tagore (1929) had once written: “I was
brought up in an atmosphere of aspiration, aspiration
for the expansion of the human spirit. We in our home sought
freedom of power in our language, freedom of imagination in
our literature, freedom of soul in our religious creeds and that
of mind in our social environment. Such an opportunity has
given me confidence in the power of education which is one with
A painting by Rabindranath Tagore life and only which can give us real freedom, the highest that is

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 104 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 105
Tagore with the students of the Santiniketan school Open air ambience of Santiniketan school

claimed for man, his freedom will not lead us anywhere as thoughts on ‘What makes man While looking back at his our work-place. The Vedas tell
of moral communion in the human beings, and that we complete?’, and ‘How Creative experiment at Santiniketan us – ‘yasmadrite na siddhati
human world....” (From ‘Ideals need something more than Joy’ as in Music, Painting, when he was 80, Tagore told yajno, vipashcitashcana sa
of Education’, Visva-Bharati these came out beautifully in Sculpting or Writing go hand in us how he found a place for dhiinam yogaminvati’ –
Quarterly, April-July 73-74). The a statement of Einstein when hand with Applied Sciences?’ ‘science’ in the scheme of things ‘One without whom even the
four highlighted words here he said: “Knowledge and skills While commenting on Tagore’s here (in ‘Atmacarita’): ‘Once most knowledgeable ones
– namely, aspiration, power, alone cannot lead humanity ideas on education, O’Connell, I had taken a vow to impart cannot attain the fruit of the
freedom and moral communion, to a happy and dignified life. K.M. (2003; ‘Rabindranath education, the creative field of yajnas – One that is attainable
define how Tagore would like Humanity has every reason to Tagore on Education’) argued: which was the poetic universe only with intellect and not by
to place man at the centre of place the proclaimers of high “Rather than studying national of the Supreme Creator, and so chants nor by magical rituals!’
his universe as he spelt out his moral standards and values cultures for the wars won and I had invoked the cooperation That was why I have tried to
ideas on education. above the discoverers of objective cultural dominance imposed, of the land, the water and the use both joy and intellect in
truth. What humanity owes to he advocated a teaching system sky of this place. I wished the creative construction of
By the early 20th century, personalities like Buddha, Moses, that analysed history and to place the penance for this place.’ (Translation by
by when western education and Jesus ranks for me higher culture for the progress that Knowledge on the pedestal of this author).
had permeated into our lives than all the achievements of had been made in breaking Joy. I tried to inspire the young
in India, nobody seemed to the inquiring and constructive down social and religious students in the festive garden of Notice that contrary to our
have thought about Complete mind.” barriers. Such an approach nature by singing the welcome belief, there is no talk of
Education which would provide emphasized the innovations that songs for each season…Here, ‘divinity’ or ‘supernatural’ here,
a learning opportunity where To this list of ‘Great Minds’ had been made in integrating right at the beginning we which is very interesting. Tagore
there is a communion between that Einstein (1879-1955) had individuals of diverse created a space for the mystery here talks about bringing in a
man and nature, between mentioned, I would like to backgrounds into a larger of the origin of universe. I communion between the forces
teacher and the taught, between add Tagore – not just for his framework, and in devising wanted to create a space for of ‘intellect’ – the sciences, and
liberal arts and the performing poems, plays, stories, novels, the economic policies which the intellectual in the total the power of ‘joy’ – the arts. All
and fine arts, and where Man songs, and paintings, but also emphasized social justice and and vibrant scheme of mine, through, his argument is that
is at the centre of universe. for his philosophy and ideas narrowed the gap between rich which was why Science had a both need to be ‘located’ within
That knowledge or skill alone on nation-building – and his and poor.” special position of privilege in the space in which they need

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 106 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 107
to be reared and cultivated, of the mind, because that Tagore had argued that in
and must address the issues can be taken care of even the West, each country and
that are the concern of man mechanically!’ (Translation by its culture as well as society
and the nature around him. this author). Truly, mechanical had found its own goals and
That is why they must have the reproduction cannot be the aim objectives based on which
cooperation of the land, the of an educated aggregate as the they had decided what kind of
water and the sky of the space ideal education requires us to education system was needed.
around, and be linked to the discover or uncover the truth, But in our country, rather
change of seasons. and express that according to than the life or ‘jiivana’, it
one’s own abilities. He talks is the livelihood or ‘jiivikaa’
That education did not mean about constraints here as a that assumed the prime place
‘rote’ learning, memorization particular nation may have in education planning. While
and reproduction is clear from various constraints within livelihood or employment
his opening paragraphs of the which one would be able to Students of Patha-Bhavana with a visiting scholar
related to what we lacked and
book titled Visva-Bharati: ‘The express a scientific truth or an what we needed (‘abhaava’
education that encourages observation. Tagore is confident at the forefront of cracking discipline. This facilitation and ‘prayojana’) , the aim of
repetition is not the education that India has always been difficult knowledge puzzles, and of making them interact, he life is much higher – it seeks to
thought, would automatically achieve a fullness, a completion
thinking about solutions to the
– a kind of semantic that is
A ceremonial procession at Santiniketan. Indira Gandhi is seen (fourth from right) as a student of Visva-Bharati during 1934-35
crisis of the world. lead to new ideas and new
much higher than mundane
knowledge.
But then, Tagore also laments aspects of employability,
that when India had cracked He, therefore, says that we which would be achieved any
difficult problems of knowledge, need to develop a system way as we go along the true
it had a mental unity, but that draws from civilizational path of education. To that
that now it’s ‘mind’ has got histories of ‘Vaidika’ (‘Vedic’), extent, we must differentiate
divided in terms of caste, class, ‘Pauranika’, ‘Bauddha’ between the “higher” aim,
language and religion. He (‘Buddhist’), ‘Jaina’, ‘Muslim’ i.e. liberty, freedom, civility
warns that disruption of one’s (‘Islamic’) traditions of – and “lower”, or “incidental”
intellectual organ or snapping education, and discover our aim – employability, skill and
off one’s sense-organs vis-à-vis own pathways to prepare the technical capability (Visva-
Mit freundl. Genehmg: Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust, New Delhi
the rest of the body can render new generations and help Bharati, 1919). In Tagore’s
one useless or motionless, emerge men and women with scheme of things, therefore, it
whereas it is a known fact appropriate leadership qualities. was always the case that man
that only when we join all He says – if you do not know and emancipation of the human
ten fingers that our hands can yourself in detail and in an being occupied his central
form a cup – either to offer involved manner, you cannot concern.

‘anjali’ or to accept anything build an ‘India’ by aping and The author holds the Tagore Studies Chair
that is offered as a gift. It is copying others. You can do so and is the Director of Rabindra Bhavana
at Visva-Bharati. An eminent poet and
not surprising that he would only by learning to converge playright, he was the Director of the Central
invite the best of European and various traditions, or else – we Institute of Indian Languages at Mysore.

Asian scholars in his university could at best build a second-


while gathering some towering rate system that depends on
personalities in his time as ‘transfer’ of knowledge and
faculty members under each technology.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 108 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 109
One might suggest that Looking at this from a different historical, and the larger cultural
Tagore and these are too idealistic to be
successfully translated into
perspective, Tagore’s thoughts
can be viewed as constituting
context in which technology
development takes place, and

Technical Education reality. One might argue, for


example, that it is neither
possible nor desirable to reject
a benchmark for education,
and at the same time, a kind
scientific pursuits are carried
out – no pursuit of knowledge,
whether purely aesthetic or
of measure for evaluating
B.N. PATNAIK
competition and conflict, education. scientific, takes place in a
because these contribute to vacuum. Secondly, a student of
There is no place for competition in education. the growth of knowledge. This What would be a Tagorean science and technology should
Education must lead to an understanding of the of course is more evident in view of technical education at be broadly aware that there
underlying harmony in the universe; thus it would certain knowledge domains, the higher level, with specific exist other ways of cognizing
for instance, the sciences, reference to our country? His the world than the scientific;
discourage a perspective that sees things in conflict – for ideas on education need to be
than in others, like the arts. for instance, the imaginative,
example, humans in conflict with nature, or in conflict But this argument loses force translated into a set of goals as manifest in works of art,
with another species. in the personal context of for being directly relevant to and further that these modes
an individual practitioner of this domain. First, technical of cognition are not inferior

T
agore did not see must also develop in him a science. In any case, there can education should significantly to the scientific one. Thirdly,
education as merely a strong sense of relatedness to hardly be a justification for increase the students’ awareness he must know that there are
means to a career and others, and of empathy for the not trying to implement ideals. of the social, economic, domains of knowledge, such
a comfortable livelihood; he deprived, the disadvantaged,
saw it as a means to the full and the voiceless. It must not Photographs in this essay show students’ acquiring skills in the early years of Sriniketan
unfolding of the potential – lead to dissociation between
intellectual, emotional, and the learner and the tradition of
spiritual, and physical – of knowledge and value system to
an individual. There is, then, which he belongs. At the same
no place for competition in time it must equip him with a
education. Education must critical intelligence to evaluate
lead to an understanding of that tradition. Tagore believed
the underlying harmony in that learning is possible under
the universe; thus it would conditions of joy; therefore the
discourage a perspective that classroom must not be a prison
sees things in conflict – for cell, and a foreign language
example, humans in conflict could hardly be the medium
with nature, or in conflict with of education. He believed that
another species. The great poet a good educational system
and thinker was intensely aware must benefit all sections of
of the destructive potential of the society; the farmer and the
knowledge, not grounded on potter must gain from it (in,
such an integrative perspective. for instance, the form of useful
Education must not only technology), as those aspiring to
sharpen the aesthetic sensibility be bureaucrats and doctors. As
of a person, and sensitize for exploration of knowledge,
him to the expressed and the education must not ignore the
hidden beauty of things, it local and the indigenous.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 110 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 111
as ethics, which lie outside the
scope of science, but for that
reason are not dispensable.
Ethical sense is invaluable not
just for living a good life, but
for survival too. Fourthly, a
student of technology must
be enabled to appreciate that
the most valuable technology
is that which brings relief to
the labourer, and the farmer,
and which helps the physically
challenged in different
ways to negotiate with the
world with relative ease.
Development of text-to-speech
and speech-to-text systems in
the local languages is a case in
point.

A conservative objection to
such broad based technical
education has been that it
would reduce the quantum
of technical knowledge to
be imparted to the students,
and would thereby dilute the
quality of technical education.
This view is based on the
wrong premise that technical
education serves a society best
when it delivers competent
technical manpower. On the
contrary, from its educational
system, that does not exclude
technical education, a society
expects knowledgeable,
competent, balanced, sensitive
and empathetic persons
who can provide it creative,
constructive leadership. Yet
another conservative view
is that there is no need for
humanities and human sciences

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in the curriculum because towards career and success, not
one can acquire sufficient the development of a well-
knowledge about society and rounded personality. In fact, the
culture from life itself. But ultimate goal of broad-based
the fact is that one does not education is to inculcate in
acquire such knowledge directly the student, recognition of
from experience; one needs the existence of and a healthy
constructed knowledge to concern for the other, respect for
interpret experience and render him, and his beliefs and views,
it intelligible and learnable. which may be diametrically
Then again some maintain that opposite to his own.
one does not learn values in a
It is extremely important
university classroom. Whereas
that proper structures, at
there is some truth in it, it must
the formal and non-formal
be recognized that university
levels both, are created for
(and university-like institutions),
the implementation of the

Gavandes Kollektion im Rabindra-Bhavana


whether general or technical,
Tagorean ideas. In the present
is the best place to critically
system of higher education, the
interrogate knowledge, beliefs
undergraduate level is where
and values, whether traditional
broad-based education can
or modern, and develop a
be most meaningful. About
proper perspective on the same.
ten to twelve percent of the
courses an undergraduate has
However, some technical
to do must be in humanities
education planners today are
and social sciences, and these
inclined to support broad based
must be spread over the entire Tagore’s ideas would mean so that free and responsible which gives its practitioners
technical education. But at the
duration of the undergraduate developing, in our context, discussion and debate are “knowledge-power”. Such a
same time there is a negative
programme, not concentrated in people-oriented technologies possible on questions of mindset tends to view other
attitude to arts and human
the first two or three semesters. for maximal utilization of water significance concerning kinds of knowledge as mere
sciences. So “broad-based” in
Courses on literature, linguistics, resource, harnessing natural various societal issues, not intellectual self-indulgence and
most cases has come to mean
communication (knowledge energy resources to meet power excluding those of technological luxury, therefore, dispensable.
inclusion in the curriculum
and skill oriented both) history, requirements, road building, knowledge creation and This needs to be corrected and
of courses such as English
philosophy, art and psychology, communication, disposal of dissemination. technology pedagogists have an
language and communication
sociology, economics, among garbage including electronic important role here. One hopes
skills, industrial economics, The main difficulty for the
other human sciences, and waste, among others, and also that they will not fail the society
organizational behaviour, and implementation of such a
traditional Indian knowledge developing innovative methods in this respect.
business management. These Tagorean model of technical ◆
systems, must be available for and techniques of teaching-
are supposed to enable the education is a certain The author taught English and Linguistics at
the student to make his choice. learning, including language the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur,
student to negotiate with the societal mindset, formed by and has been a fellow of the Central Institute
He must be discouraged from learning, etc. of Indian Languages, Mysore.
market effectively. Such a the enormous success of
choosing courses from just two
curriculum is broad based only But curriculum alone cannot technology, its ever increasing
or three disciplines.
in name; it actually defeats serve the goals of broad marketability, and to a certain
the purpose of broad based At the level of technology based education. Non-formal degree at least to the specialized
education – it is oriented development, application of structures need to be created nature of its discourse,

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 114 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 115
Equal Music:
Influence of Tagore on other Painters
INA PURI

In the words of the Poet, ‘What is rhythm? It is the movement


generated and regulated by harmonious restriction. This is
the creative force in the hand of the artist. So long as words
remain in uncadenced prose form, they do not give any
lasting feeling of reality.

D
istanced by time, lasting impression on his mind
geographical locale, that time would only strengthen.
personal histories, it He found himself deeply drawn
came as a surprise when the to the brooding faces of women
painter in Manjit Bawa (1941- especially, their eyes darkened
2008) spoke ever so often, with inner turmoil and pain. As
of the deep spiritual kinship he read his poems and plays,
he shared with Rabindranath and listened to his songs, his
Tagore, a man he regarded reverence for Tagore deepened.
as one of the most influential As always, his life followed it’s
forces in modern years. We usual routine in Delhi, school,
were working in Dalhousie art classes, working on studies
on Manjit’s memoirs and as he for his assignments, yet, in his
painted, he spoke of his first secret life, he could hear the
acquaintance with Tagore and song of the bard encouraging
his art. For an artist it was but him to break away from the
natural that the young man mundane and follow his heart’s
should get to learn about the chosen path. ‘Eklaa cholo rey...
great poet, musician, playwright, jodee tor daak shuney keyu naa
litterateur, philosopher, savant aashey’ (‘Move ahead alone…
through his art. Manjit was a even if no one comes listening
mere adolescent then, growing to your call!’) became Manjit’s
up in an era brimming over anthem, words he replayed in
with optimism, when he his mind when he was faced
discovered quite by chance, with hardship and strife.
the paintings of Tagore, at his
teacher, Abani Sen’s (1905-1972) As one of midnight’s children,
class. The surreal landscapes growing in the immediate
Self-portrait by Tagore and intensely sensitive portraits decade post-Swaraj (with the
of women were to leave a trauma of partition), Manjit’s

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 116 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 117
Paintings by Tagore (above & right)

childhood years were a collage his passing, I discovered his


of different experiences that companion of those journeys,
shaped his adult character. in a torn and tattered volume
Their’s was a large family written by Rabindranath
but one that shared a warm Tagore called ‘What is Art?’
and close bonding despite (Kessinger Publications, 2005
the occasional financial edn). Revisiting the pages, I
upheaval. His older brother thought this must have been a
was instrumental in getting favourite read, for the leaves of
him started on art and to make the pages were now frayed and
sure he remained interested brittle. Holding it in my hand,
set him interesting assignments I heard Manjit’s voice again as
that included travel to places he drew parallels between the
of historic and archaeological two lives and journeys. While
significance. As Manjit cycled in distant Birbhum, in another
to destinations through the age, Tagore paid his tribute to
hinterland of the country, he the wandering minstrels, the
often read Tagore’s writings, ‘baul’ through his work, so did
during breaks. The cadmium Manjit celebrate the Sufi saints
yellow mustard fields and fiery and poets. For both, it was the
orange blossoms of ‘polash’ metaphysical aspect of the faith
would make their way to his that mattered, not any religious
canvas but so would be the beat connotation. Interestingly,
and rhythm of tribals he would Sikhism was Manjit’s family’s
encounter en route. Long after religion, Bramhoism, Tagore’s

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 118 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 119
and both eschewed ritualism music, poetry, spiritual thinking dealt them, be it the death of palettes, both were bonded quality to Manjit’s figure which up a strange tableau... What
and religious excesses. is common to both and we a beloved child or separation spiritually, no matter how echoes the tantric frescoes of is representational in Picasso
find in their paintings, some from a loved one. Calm and asymmetrical one was and Himalayan Buddhism. Only the becomes enigmatic, what
Iconographically, too, despite similar compositions that are fortitude marked their approach symmetrical the other. shadow of time intervenes: we is demonstrative in Souza
the fact that Manjit was a similar only in their spiritual towards life, showing a restraint are transported into a seemingly becomes epileptic and what is
trained artist and serigrapher, kinship. Some lives are lived that was remarkable given the About Bawa’s art, J Swaminathan pastoral landscape, where the petrified in Tyeb becomes liquid
with years spent learning the and enriched by internalising tragedies they had to encounter (1928-1994) wrote, “There is a sublime and the risque, the and sparkling in Manjit.”
technique in Delhi and London, pain and here again was on more occasions than one. certain bonelessness, a pneumatic lyrical and the grotesque set In the words of the Poet,
there was a connectedness in another sphere where the two Deliberately opting to live in ‘What is rhythm? It is the
the trajectories that is hard to journeys coalesced. In both isolated places, Santiniketan movement generated and
dismiss. Like Tagore, Manjit’s lives were moments of immense in the case of Tagore and regulated by harmonious
painterly domain encompassed pain and emotional turmoil, Dalhousie in the instance of restriction. This is the creative
the abstract and stylised yet, both dealt with their dark Manjit, their art reflected their force in the hand of the artist.
figurative oeuvre that took despair creatively, there was inner mindscapes that seldom So long as words remain in
little from Western practises, seldom recrimination, on the used imagery from the world uncadenced prose form, they
choosing to espouse all that contrary, there was a looking around, no matter how beautiful do not give any lasting feeling
was Indian, in terms of colour forward that was a statement that outer world was. While of reality. The moment they
palette, imagery, and thought- of their intensely positive their techniques differed in so are taken and put into rhythm
processes. The celebration of attitude towards life, no matter many senses, stylistically and they vibrate with radiance. It
pan-Indic mythology, ethos, how hard the blow life had technically as did their colour is the same with the rose. In
Works of Manjit Bawa (below & right)
the pulp of its petals you may
find everything that went to
make the rose, but the rose
which is maya (or illusion), an
image, is lost; its finality which
has the touch of the infinite is
gone. The rose appears to me
to be still, but because of its
metre of composition it has a
lyric of movement within that
stillness, which is the same as
the dynamic quality of a picture
that has a perfect harmony.
It produces a music in our
consciousness by giving it a
swing of motion synchronous
with its own.’
(From Rabindranath Tagore, What is Art?).

The author is a well-known art critic and
curator of many major international and
national exhibitions.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 120 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 121
concrete effects of which till nearly sank into oblivion. A
today alter more than ever our similar misfortune occurred
daily lives. with Johann Sebastian Bach
(1685-1750), to name only one
Rabindranath Tagore almost was
among many, and he needed
a voice in the desert, despite
to be rediscovered. This seems
his travels and his encounters
quite incomprehensible but at
with many a great man in
the same time – is perfectly
the Occident and the whole
possible, because this is what
world, where he was seen,
often happens to those who are
often wrongly, as a typical
very original and innovative and
representative of the Orient; just
whose ideas are so fundamental
as back home in India, where
that the mentalities of a given
he called for the necessity of
time cannot receive them
change and evolution in his
without a deep questioning of
own cultural, religious and
its own values. As a reformer
political context.
he was hitting hard on our
After his meteoric rise following chains and urging for changes
Tagore: the Nobel Prize in 1913, he inconceivable at that time.

From the 21st Century Perspective Punascha: Tagore’s house in Santiniketan

ILKE ANGELA MARÉCHAL

Inhabitant of his time, advocating Unity and Universality,


underlining the part of the Unconscious as well as the
Subconscious, Tagore did not need to follow the phases and
vagaries of the construction of the new science in order
to herald great truth by which the basic values of his own
tradition had nourished him all along.

A
t the turning point of futures. And this prompted us
the year two thousand, to proceed, without noticing
we entered into a new it, to change our mentalities, if
century. But essentially, as not our consciousness. Seen in
we turned a page toward a retrospect, Rabindranath Tagore,
new millennium that, in many with the immense stature of his
respects, imposed on us radical poetry, literature and creativity,
changes in our ways of living; proved to be deeply rooted –
and more so: a revolution, in even if it was in an unconscious
an unconscious manner, of manner, in his “Zeitgeist”, the
perceiving the world, of feeling acting principal of a time, which
life and of how to envision our gave birth to real upheaval, the

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 122 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 123
known. One could even see it However, Einstein fought all his
as erasure of our normal day to life against Quantum Physics
day logic, the logic of Aristotle, because he could not admit
which is “the logic of Identity”! the dictate of the philosophical
By then we already knew that implications – thus the concrete
when the sun is rising in the deriving from there – of
east and setting in the west, it its findings. Tagore, on the
does not mean it turns around contrary, does not seem to
us. From then on, everything, mention anywhere about the
in fact all matters were no more shock of an encounter with the
taken as what they appeared philosophy of Quantum Physics.
to be but it was believed that Nevertheless, if we go back to
things had a double “identity”, the small list above, imagining
‘particle’ as well as ‘wave’. The it to have been conceived by
‘singular’ disappeared, and our “grand homme”, we will
‘plural’ became the master. have no problem whatsoever
to recognise him in each
Tagore with Sigmund Freud Here we could see a revolution
postulate’s new concept (e.g.
in our human knowledge. Our
What were these main we call globalization, which is the organic vision).
perception of reality made a
upheavals of the time of Tagore a different kind of ‘onslaught’. quantum jump. It obliged us to Inhabitant of his time,
that made our world views Like a volcano it has also led rethink our manner of thinking advocating Unity and
start to move? And where to destruction on the surface and acting, in short, to review Universality, underlining the
is the concurrence with the of some deeply underlying our ‘Ethics’, and even more so part of the Unconscious as well
contribution of Tagore, the upheavals and ruptures. At – to finally invent an Ethic that as the Subconscious, Tagore did
validity of which still surfaces the same time, irreparable was valid for all of us. not need to follow the phases
more and more? We can neither disruption took place in the and vagaries of the construction
be exhaustive nor definitive profoundness of all sections of It is here that Rabindranath
of the new science in order to
here but would like to provide science, soft or hard science, Tagore plays his part. His part
herald great truth by which the
a glimpse of what could be with philosophy being a vitally was that of a forerunner, a role
basic values of his own tradition
a possible answer to these affected part. Let us name too rarely recognized. Amidst
had nourished him all along:
questions, attempted mainly in some actors who brought in his exchanges with the grand
spirits of his time, certainly, “We have in front of us the problem
the spirit of the joy of discovery. great changes earlier by way of one country; the Earth, where
of explanation: Darwin (1809- there was that with Einstein, different races, like individuals,
If the war of 1914-1918 is called 1882), Einstein (1879-1955), so we can see Tagore being would have the faculty to freely
“First World War”, it is because Marx (1818-1883), Freud (1856- someone, like Dante (1265- bloom and at the same time show
1321) in his time, who was solidarity to the federation. What
never before was there a war 1939), and the revolution they matters is to create a unity more
which had such a dimension. brought about in each of their perfectly informed about the powerful, with broader views and
The ruptures and changes it fields turned everything upside advance of science in his days. deeper feelings. …The science
of meteorology knows the truth
provoked on a sociological down about a century ago. when it acknowledges that the
and anthropological level Then, the big voice of thunder
were unprecedented. On the came through the advent of
negative side, it certainly was Quantum Physics. What began
among the forerunners of what then was a series of questioning
today, a hundred years later, against what was believed to be

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 124 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 125
atmosphere of the earth is one and thinks it could be what India, These few citations simply are
the same, although it influences
as an example, has to offer to meant to say: Let us go and
the different parties of the universe
in different manners. Likewise the world. Nowadays Europe look for that what the visionary
we must know that man’s soul gets down to it and maybe in Tagore has to say to us today.
is One, coming to life through tomorrow the whole world will. His book “Sâdhanâ” (1913)
differences necessary for the fertility
Our master, in the worst case, is certainly to be kept among
of its fundamental unity. This
truth, as soon as we understand could be the “climate change”, our Bibles, just as the notions
it disinterestedly, will help us to if our wisdoms will not have that follow are to be used as
respect all the real differences bent our egoisms beforehand. stepping stones:
between men, while staying
conscious of our personality, The Individual (and with it the
Let’s listen again to Tagore:
while being aware of the fact that individuation dear to Carl Gustav
perfection of unity does not consist “… We must know: every nation Jung, 1875-1961), Spontaneity,
in conformity but in harmony”. is part of humanity and everybody Creativity, Independence,
– (italics by the author). (Tagore has to answer this question: what Cooperation, Power of Invention,
Educateur: Appel en faveur d’une do you have to offer to man, which Faculty of the Spirit of Universality,
Université Internationale, mai new ways of happiness have you Evolution (even in religion), – all
1921, p143/4; éditions Delachaux discovered? As soon as a nation these living and current concepts of
our era of “Yes we can” have been
& Niestle S.A., Neuchâtel et Paris,
1922).
loses the vital force necessary for
this discovery – it becomes a dead
weight – a paralysed member of the
marvellously highlighted already by
Tagore.
‘Blessed am I that I am born to this land’:
There would be so many body of Universal Man. Simply to
Stephane Hessel (1917-), who
A Biographical Sketch of Tagore
subjects, battles and keywords exist is not a glory.
associated with Tagore for participated in writing the PURBA BANERJEE
“It’s a law of life to destroy that
which to find in Our “Zeitgeist” which is dead …it does not allow
Universal Declaration of
parallels, evolutions, resonances immobility … This makes me say Human Rights in 1948, would
Rabindranath Tagore’s life spanned over eight decades.
– just as if times finally have that the main truth of our time are like to see the “Declaration
these currents of a new life which of Independence” of Nations Tagore started his carrier as a poet and turned out to be a
come where our mentalities drive us to act. …But at the bottom
have acquired the necessary be complemented by a powerful literati, educator, painter, social reformer and a
of the soul there is a tendency
enlargement in order to, in the to want to embellish humanity “Declaration of Interdependence”. philosopher of his times.
with one’s own individuality as Tagore, at his time, already was
future, taking care seriously
ornament.

R
of the problematics and its advocate. It is for us still to abindranath Tagore once expressed, “I am a shy individual brought
possibilities of which Tagore, “When man ceases to act out of make it come true. up in retirement from my young days. And yet my fate takes every
his own will and is driven only
his ideas and acts, already had by habit, he becomes a sort of On the road which is ours, we opportunity to drag me into a crowded publicity. I often wish that I
made us see the importance parasite, for he loses his means to fortunately are with companions had belonged to that noiseless age when artists took their delight in their
as well as the inescapable accomplish the task assigned to and are helped by the light of work and forgot to publish their names. I feel painfully stupid when I am
him, which is to say ‘make possible
solutions. forerunners. handled by the multitude who by celebrating some particular period of
that which seems impossible’ and
◆ my life indulge in their avidness of some sort of a crowd ritual which is
May these few notions which follow the road of progress, man’s The author is a poet, essayist, translator
true destiny. and interpreter. She manages an mostly made of unreality.”
follow as examples open innovative publishing enterprise called
slightly a door which others will “Those who could not reach interior Anima Viva Lingua. Rabindranath Tagore’s eventful life was as diverse and fascinating as his
independence in themselves are rich creative variety. Not only was he a poet, novelist, playwright, song
then open widely. In Towards
bound to lose it also in the exterior
Universal Man (Gallimard, world. They are not aware of man’s writer and painter, Tagore himself a famous school drop-out, went on to
Paris, 1964 ; Visva Bharati, true function, namely to transform become an outstanding educator of his time. As part of his anti-colonial
Santiniketan, 1961) many the impossible into possible educational experiments Rabindranath set up two unique schools, Patha
through one’s own capacity to work
times we find elaborated this Bhavana and Siksha Satra and also an international university, Visva-
miracles and not to limit oneself
“Unity in diversity, the One in to that which was, but to progress Bharati at Santiniketan. This write-up seeks to offer a brief chronology of
the number” of which Tagore towards that which has to be.” Tagore’s life.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 126 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 127
1890: Assigned the job of Kantharodh (The Throttled) at a
managing the Tagore Estate at public meeting in Calcutta.
Silaidah (now in Bangladesh).
1899: Moved to Santiniketan
1891: Birth of second daughter with his wife and children.
Renuka.
1901: Revived Bankim Chandra
1892: Advocated education Chattopadhyay’s monthly
in mother tongue, rather than journal, Bangadarshan.
in English. He criticized the Established a school
prevalent system of English for children called the
education in India in his essay brahmacharyashrama on the
Sikhshar Herfer (Vagaries of model of ancient Indian forest
Education). school at Santiniketan with
Sarada Devi Maharshi Debendranath Tagore 1894: Birth of youngest approval of his father. Wrote the
daughter Mira. Elected Vice- poems of Naivedya.
1861: Rabindranath Tagore ‘Hindumelar Upohar’ (The gift President of Academy of 1902: Mrinalini Devi, his wife,
Tagore with daughter Madhurilata and
the fourteenth child of his of the Hindumela) at the Hindu Bengali Letters and became the son Rathindranath
died.
parents Maharshi Debendranath Mela, which is considered to be editor of Sadhana, the new
family journal of the Tagore 1903: His second daughter,
Tagore and Sarada Devi born at his first public appearance. town adjacent to their estate in
family. Renuka, expired.
Jorasanko, Calcutta on the 7th of East Bengal.
1878: Stayed with his elder
May. 1895: He started a Swadeshi 1903-1904: He started taking
brother Satyendranath Tagore 1896: Birth of youngest son
1863: Tagore’s father bought in Ahmedabad just before his store in Calcutta for the serious interest in the political
Samindranath.
seven acres of barren land departure for his studies at the promotion of indigenous goods problems of the country
from the zamindars of Raipur, University College of London as and business among the youth 1898: Sedition Bill passed; and wrote his seminal essay
Birbhum, West Bengal which a student of Law. of Bengal, and a jute-pressing arrest of Bal Gangadhar ‘Swadeshi Samaj’ (Our State and
later came to be known as factory in Kushtia, the district Tilak; Tagore read his paper Society, 1904).
1879: First visit to London.
Santiniketan.
Tagore with Mrinalini Devi Padma boat at Silaidah (now in Bangladesh)
1880: Returned to India without
1873: Traveled to the Western
completing his formal course of
Himalayas with his father. On
study. His first book Sandhya
their way to the Dalhousie
Sangit (Evening Songs) was
Hills, Rabindranath stayed at
published.
Santiniketan for the first time
with the Maharshi. This is 1881: Wrote his first musical
where he wrote his first drama drama Valmiki Pratibha.
Prithvirajer Parajay (The Defeat
1883: Married to Mrinalini Devi.
of Prithviraj). Unfortunately no
copy of this work exists. 1884: Sister-in-law Kadambari
Devi committed suicide.
1874: First publication of
his poem Abhilasha in 1886: Birth of first child,
Tattwabodhini Patrika. Madhurilata.
1875: Death of his mother. 1888: Birth of elder son
Recited his own patriotic poem Rathindranath.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 128 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 129
1907: Youngest son, 1922: On February 6, the
Samindranath, died. Tagore, Institute of Rural Reconstruction
disillusioned over the political was established in Sriniketan
exploitation of the Hindu-Muslim with the participation from
conflict, withdrew himself from Rathindranath Tagore, Leonard
the swadeshi andolan. Elmhirst and William Pearson.
1908: Presided over the Bengal 1924: Visited China and Japan.
Provincial Congress session Almost immediately after
in Pabna, East Bengal and returning from this trip he sailed
delivered his speech in Bengali, for South America, particularly
breaking away from the for Peru. However he fell ill and
tradition of delivering speeches was confined to Buenos Aires
in English at these sessions. as the guest of Victoria Ocampo
Mira: Tagore’s youngest daughter
where he engaged himself in
1910: Bengali Gitanjali
the art of doodling connecting
1905: His father, Debendranath published.
the accidental erasures in his
Tagore, died at the age of 88. 1912: Met British painter writings which finally gave birth
Launch of the Swadeshi Andolan William Rothenstein in England. Youngest son Samindranath to his paintings.
(Independence movement) Rothenstein was instrumental
protest against Lord Curzon’s 1913: Gitanjali, Crescent 1916: Traveled to the USA via 1924-1925: Began a political
in arranging for the publication
proposal to partition Bengal. Moon, The Gardener and China and Japan giving lectures debate with Gandhiji on the
of the English Gitanjali, with
Tagore advocated the policy of Chitra published by Macmillan, on Nationalism. Charkha campaign which
an introduction by W.B. Yeats,
constructive non-cooperation London. Tagore was awarded invited tremendous criticism
by the India Society of London.
against the British Raj. Visited USA for the first time. the Nobel Prize for Literature as 1918: Foundation stone of
Gandhi – a sculpture
the first Asian recipient of the Visva-Bharati, an international by Ramkinkar Baej at Santiniketan.
award. university was laid.
Tagore at his house Punascha
1915: Received Knighthood. He 1919: Renounced his
met Gandhi for the first time at Knighthood in protest of the
Santiniketan. Stayed in the Surul Jalianwalla Bagh Massacre,
village near Santiniketan, and where an unarmed gathering
wrote his novel Ghare Baire was brutally shot by the British
(Home and the World). Brigadier-General, Reginald
Dyer, killing nearly 1000 people
The Nobel Medallion
and injuring more than 1500.

1920: Left for England on a


lecture tour to raise funds for
Visva-Bharati. During this trip
he traveled to France, Holland
and America.

1921: Visited England, France,


Switzerland, Germany, Sweden,
Austria and Czechoslovakia.

INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 130 INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 2/2010 131
from people like Prafulla he met Romain Rolland), 1931: Letters from Russia
Chandra Ray and others for Austria, England, Norway, published.
his non-participation in it. He Sweden, Denmark, Germany
1932: He led the massive
replied with an essay titled (where he met Albert Einstein), protest meeting against the
‘Swaraj Sadhan’ (Attaining Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hijli Detention Camp shooting
Swaraj) where he argued Greece and Egypt. incident and condemned “the
the futility of the practice of
1927: Staged Natir Puja in concerted homicidal attack,
Charkha as a means to attain
Calcutta where he acted the role under cover of darkness,
Swaraj.
of the Buddhist monk. Went on defenseless prisoners
1925: Mahatma Gandhi visited for a trip to South East Asia, undergoing the system of
Santiniketan. Tagore turned including, Myanmar, Singapore, barbaric incarceration and
down his request to join his Java, Bali, Malaya, and Siam. a nerve-racking strain of an
political campaign. indefinitely suspended fear”.
1928: Took up painting. Tagore had his last overseas
1926: Traveled to Italy as the
1930: Made his eleventh foreign visits to Persia and Iraq.
guest of Mussolini, though
his choice was misguided by tour. Delivered the Hibbert 1937: Hall of Chinese Studies,
others. Mussolini told him, “I Lectures in Oxford (published or the Cheena Bhavana, was
am an Italian admirer of yours, as the book Religion of Man). inaugurated in Santiniketan.
who has read every one of His solo exhibition of painting Tagore fell seriously ill.
your books translated into was held in France followed by
1938: Exhibition of his paintings
the Italian language”. He also other exhibitions in England,
held in London.
traveled to Switzerland (where Germany, Switzerland, and USA.
1940: Oxford University
Tagore on his last birthday. Kshitimohan Sen reading Tagore’s essay: Crisis in Civilization confered Doctorate on Tagore
through a special convocation
at Santiniketan. Tagore wrote
a letter to Mahatma Gandhi
requesting him to take charge of
Visva Bharati.
1941: His final lecture, Crisis in
Civilisation, written during the
heydays of the Second World
War, was read on his eightieth
birthday at Santiniketan. He was
taken to Calcutta being seriously
ill on the 25th July from
Santiniketan. Tagore breathed
his last on the 7th of August at
the age of eighty.

The author has assisted in the setting up
of the Maharshi Debendranath Tagore
Memorial Museum at Santiniketan and is
presently engaged in research at Rabindra
Bhawan.
‘The Night has ended’: Illustrated poem with translation, Baghdad, 1932

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