Rabindranath Tagoreα[›]β[›] (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941),γ[›] sobriquet Gurudev,δ[›] was a Bengali polymath who reshaped his region's literature andmusic. Author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", he became the first non-European Nobel laureate by earning the 1913Prize in Literature. In translation his poetry was viewed as spiritual and mercurial; his seemingly mesmeric persona, floccose locks, and empyreal garb garnered him a prophet-like aura in the West. His "elegant prose and magical poetry" remain largely unknown outside Bengal.
A Pirali Brahmin from Kolkata, Tagore wrote poetry as an eight-year-old. At age sixteen, he cheekily released his first substantial poems under the pseudonym Bhānusiṃha ("Sun Lion"), which were seized upon by the region's literary grandees as long-lost classics. He graduated to his first short stories and dramas—and the aegis of his birth name—by 1877. As a humanist, universalist internationalist, and strident anti-nationalist he denounced the Raj and advocated for independence from Britain. As an exponent of the Bengal Renaissance he advanced a vast canon that comprised paintings, sketches and doodles, hundreds of texts, and some two thousand songs; his legacy endures also in the institution he founded, Visva-Bharati University.
Tagore modernised Bengali art by spurning rigid classical forms and resisting linguistic strictures. His novels, stories, songs, dance-dramas, and essays spoke to topics political and personal. Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced), and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World) are his best-known works, and his verse, short stories, and novels were acclaimed—or panned—for their lyricism, colloquialism, naturalism, and unnatural contemplation. He penned two national anthems: the Republic of India's Jana Gana Mana and Bangladesh's Amar Shonar Bangla.
Early life (1861–1878)
The youngest of thirteen surviving children, Tagore was born in the Jorasanko mansion in Calcutta to parents Debendranath Tagore (1817–1905) and Sarada Devi (1830–1875).ε[›] Tagore familypatriarchs were the Brahmo founders of the Adi Dharm faith. The fabulously loyalist "Prince" Dwarkanath Tagore, with his European estate managers and his serial visits with Victoria and other occidental royals, was his paternal grandfather; Dwarkanath's ancestors hailed from the village of Pithabhog in modern-day Bangladesh. Debendranath had formulated the Brahmoist philosophies espoused by his friend Ram Mohan Roy, and became focal in Brahmo society after Roy's death.
"Rabi" was raised mostly by servants; his mother had died in his early childhood and his father travelled widely. His home hosted the publication of literary magazines; theatre and recitals of both Bengali and Western classical music featured there regularly, as the Jorasanko Tagores were the center of a large and art-loving social group. Tagore's oldest brother Dwijendranath was a respected philosopher and poet. Another brother, Satyendranath, was the first Indian appointed to the elite and formerly all-European Indian Civil Service. Yet another brother, Jyotirindranath, was a musician, composer, and playwright. His sister Swarnakumari became a novelist. Jyotirindranath's wife Kadambari, slightly older than Tagore, was a dear friend and powerful influence. Her abrupt suicide in 1884 left him for years profoundly distraught.
Tagore largely avoided classroom schooling and preferred to roam the manor or nearby Bolpur and Panihati, idylls which the family visited. His brother Hemendranath tutored and physically conditioned him—by having him swim the Ganges or trek through hills, by gymnastics, and by practicing judo and wrestling. He learned drawing, anatomy, geography and history, literature, mathematics, Sanskrit, and English—his least favorite subject. Tagore loathed formal education—his scholarly travails at the local Presidency College spanned a single day. Years later he held that proper teaching does not explain things; proper teaching stokes curiosity:
|“||[It] knock[s] at the doors of the mind. If any boy is asked to give an account of what is awakened in him by such knocking, he will probably say something silly. For what happens within is much bigger than what comes out in words. Those who pin their faith on university examinations as the test of education take no account of this.||”|
His upanayan initiation at age eleven augured a pivotal trip; in February 1873 he decamped with his father for a months-long tour of the outer Raj. They visited his father's Santiniketan estate and rested in Amritsar en route to the Himalayan Dhauladhars. Their destination was the remote hill station at Dalhousie. Along the way Tagore read biographies; his stridently learned father tutored him in history, astronomy, other modern sciences, and Sanskrit declensions. He read biographies ofBenjamin Franklin and others; they shared Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; and together they examined the poetry ofKālidāsa. In mid-April they reached the station, and at 2,300 metres (7,546 ft) they settled into a house atop Bakrota Hill. Tagore was arrested by the region's deep green gorges, its alpine forests, and its mossy streams and waterfalls. Through the months a frigid regime attended him: daily twilights spent bathing in icy dawn water.
He survived them, returned to Jorosanko, and wrote: he completed a set of major works by 1877, one a jokingly long poem in the Maithili style of Vidyapati. Published pseudonymously, the relevant experts accepted them as the lost works of Bhānusiṃha, a newly discoveredζ[›] 17th-century Vaiṣṇava poet. He debuted the short-story genre in Bengali with "Bhikharini" ("The Beggar Woman"), and his Sandhya Sangit (1882) includes the famous poem "Nirjharer Swapnabhanga" ("The Rousing of the Waterfall"). Servants subjected him to an almost ludic regimentation in a phase he later dryly reviled as the "servocracy". His head was serially water-dunked—to quiet him. He refused food to irk servants; he was confined to chalk circles in puerile parody of Sita's forest trial in the Ramayana; and he was regaled with the horrifically heroic and vituperative exploits of Bengal's outlaw-dacoits. Because the Jorasanko manor was in an area of north Calcutta rife with poverty and prostitution, he was forbidden to leave it for any purpose other than traveling to school. In reaction he became infatuated with the world outside and nature. Of his 1873 visit to Santiniketan he wrote:
|“||What I could not see did not take me long to get over—what I did see was quite enough. There was no servant rule, and the only ring which encircled me was the blue of the horizon, drawn around these [sylvan] solitudes by their presiding goddess. Within this I was free to move about as I chose.||”|
Debendranath fancied his son a prospective barrister, and so in 1878 Rabi took up studies at a public school in Brighton, East Sussex, England. He stayed for some months at a house that the Tagore family owned near Brighton and Hove, in Medina Villas; in 1877 his nephew and niece—Suren and Indira Devi, the children of Tagore's brother Satyendranath—were sent together with their mother, Tagore's sister-in-law, to live with him. He briefly read law at University College London, but again left school and took up freelance bardolatry: study of Shakespeare, Religio Medici, Coriolanus, and Antony and Cleopatra. The raucous raillery of English, Irish, and Scottish folk tunes impressed Tagore, whose own tradition of Nidhubabu-authored kirtans and tappas and Brahmo hymnody was quite chaste. In 1880 he returned to Bengal degree-less; he resolved to hence reconcile European novelty with Brahmo traditions, taking the best from each. In 1883 he married Mrinalini Devi, born Bhabatarini, 1873–1902; they had five children, two of whom died in childhood.
In 1890 Tagore began managing his vast ancestral estates in the Shelaidaha region of Bangladesh; he was joined by his wife and children in 1898. Tagore released hisManasi poems (1890), among his best-known work. As Zamindar Babu, Tagore criss-crossed the riverine holdings in command of the Padma, the luxurious family barge. He was a friendly feudalist who collected mostly token rents; he would bless villagers and in turn was subjected to their impromptu honorary banquets—occasionally of dried rice and sour milk. This period from 1891 to 1895, Tagore's Sadhana period, after one of Tagore's magazines, was his most fecund; in these years he wrote more than half the stories of the three-volume, 84-story Galpaguchchha. Its ironic and grave tales savoured the voluptuous poverty and characterised an idealised conception of rural life in Bengal.
In 1901 Tagore moved to Santiniketan to found an ashram with a marble-floored prayer hall—The Mandir—an experimental school, groves of trees, gardens, a library. There his wife and two of his children died. His father died in 1905. He received monthly payments as part of his inheritance and income from the Maharaja of Tripura, sales of his family's jewelry, his seaside bungalow in Puri, and a derisory 2,000 in book royalties. He gained Bengali and foreign readers alike; he published Naivedya (1901) and Kheya (1906) and translated poems into free verse. In November 1913, Tagore learned he had won that year's Nobel Prize in Literature: the Swedish Academy appreciated the idealistic—and for Westerners—accessible nature of a small body of his translated material focussed on the 1912 Gitanjali: Song Offerings. In 1915, the British Crown granted Tagore a knighthood. He renounced it after the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
In 1921, Tagore and agricultural economist Leonard Elmhirst set up the "Institute for Rural Reconstruction", later renamed Shriniketan or "Abode of Welfare", in Surul, a village near the ashram. With it, Tagore sought to moderate Gandhi's Swaraj protests, which he occasionally blamed for British India's perceived mental—and thus ultimately colonial—decline. He sought aid from donors, officials, and scholars worldwide to "free village[s] from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance" by "vitalis[ing] knowledge". In the early 1930s he targeted ambient "abnormal caste consciousness" and untouchability. He lectured against these, he penned Dalitheroes for his poems and his dramas, and he campaigned—successfully—to open Guruvayoor Temple to Dalits.
Twilight years (1932–1941)
Tagore's itinerary as the "peripatetic litterateur" affirmed his opinion that human divisions were shallow. During a May 1932 visit to a Bedouin encampment in the Iraqi desert, the tribal chief told him that "Our prophet has said that a true Muslim is he by whose words and deeds not the least of his brother-men may ever come to any harm ..." Tagore confided in his diary: "I was startled into recognizing in his words the voice of essential humanity." To the end Tagore scrutinised orthodoxy—and in 1934, he struck. That year, an earthquake hit Bihar and killed thousands. Gandhi hailed it as seismic karma, as divine retribution avenging the oppression of Dalits. Tagore rebuked him for his seemingly ignominious inferences. He mourned the perennial poverty of Calcutta and the rising tide of militant mediocrity—social, cultural, architectural—in Bengal. He detailed these newly plebeian aesthetics in an unrhymed hundred-line poem whose technique of searing double-vision foreshadowed Satyajit Ray's film Apur Sansar. Fifteen new volumes appeared, among them prose-poem works Punashcha (1932), Shes Saptak (1935), andPatraput (1936). Experimentation continued in his prose-songs and dance-dramas: Chitra (1914), Shyama (1939), and Chandalika (1938); and in his novels: Dui Bon(1933), Malancha (1934), and Char Adhyay (1934).
Tagore's remit expanded to science in his last years, as hinted in Visva-Parichay, 1937 collection of essays. His respect for scientific laws and his exploration of biology, physics, and astronomy informed his poetry, which exhibited extensive naturalism and verisimilitude. He wove the process of science, the narratives of scientists, into stories in Se (1937),Tin Sangi (1940), and Galpasalpa (1941). His last five years were marked by chronic pain and two long periods of illness. These began when Tagore lost consciousness in late 1937; he remained comatose and near death for a time. This was followed in late 1940 by a similar spell. He never recovered. Poetry from these valetudinary years is among his finest. A period of prolonged agony ended with Tagore's death on 7 August 1941, aged eighty; he was in an upstairs room of the Jorasanko mansion he was raised in. The date is still mourned. A. K. Sen, brother of the first chief election commissioner, received dictation from Tagore on 30 July 1941, a day prior to a scheduled operation: his last poem.
|“||I'm lost in the middle of my birthday. I want my friends, their touch, with the earth's last love. I will take life's final offering, I will take the human's last blessing. Today my sack is empty. I have given completely whatever I had to give. In return if I receive anything—some love, some forgiveness—then I will take it with me when I step on the boat that crosses to the festival of the wordless end.||”|
Between 1878 and 1932 Tagore set foot in more than thirty countries on five continents; these trips acquainted foreigners with his works and his polemics. In 1912 he took a sheaf of his translated works to England, where they impressed missionary and Gandhi protégé Charles F. Andrews, Irish poet William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, Robert Bridges, Ernest Rhys, Thomas Sturge Moore, and others. Yeats wrote the preface to the English translation of Gitanjali; Andrews joined Tagore at Santiniketan. In November 1912 Tagore began touring the United States and the United Kingdom, staying in Butterton, Staffordshire with Andrews's clergymen friends. From May 1916 until April 1917, he lectured in Japan and the United States and denounced nationalism. His essay "Nationalism in India" was scorned and praised; it was admired by Romain Rolland and other pacifists.
Shortly after returning home the 63-year-old Tagore accepted an invitation from the Peruvian government. He travelled to Mexico. Each government pledged US$100,000 to his school to commemorate the visits. A week after his 6 November 1924 arrival in Buenos Aires, an ill Tagore shifted to the Villa Miralrío at the behest of Victoria Ocampo. He left for home in January 1925. In May 1926 Tagore reached Naples; the next day he met Mussolini in Rome. Their warm rapport ebbed when Tagore pronounced upon Il Duce's fascist finesse. He had earlier enthused: "[w]ithout any doubt he is a great personality. There is such a massive vigour in that head that it reminds one of Michael Angelo’s chisel." A "fire-bath" of fascism was to have educed "the immortal soul of Italy ... clothed in quenchless light".
On 14 July 1927 Tagore banded with two companions to embark on a four-month tour of Southeast Asia: Bali, Java, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Penang and Siam, Singapore. The resultant travelogues compose Jatri (1929). In early 1930 he left Bengal for a nearly year-long tour of Europe and the United States. Upon returning to Britain—and as his paintings exhibited in Paris and London—he lodged at a Birmingham Quaker settlement. He wrote his OxfordHibbert Lecturesι[›] and spoke at the annual London Quaker meet. There, addressing relations between the British and the Indians—a topic he would tackle obsessively over the next two years—Tagore spoke of a brooding "dark chasm of aloofness". He visited Aga Khan III, stayed at Dartington Hall, toured Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany from June to mid-September 1930, then went on into the Soviet Union. In April 1932 Tagore, captivated by the legends and works of the Persian mystic Hafez, was hosted by Reza Shah Pahlavi. The well-heeled Tagore chatted with certain persons: Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Romain Rolland.Persia and Iraq (in 1932) and Sri Lanka (in 1933) were Tagore's final foreign sojourns, and his views on the fissiparous freedoms afforded by communalism and nationalism only deepened.
Known mostly for his poetry, Tagore wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, dramas, and thousands of songs. Of Tagore's prose, his short stories are perhaps most highly regarded; he is indeed credited with originating the Bengali-language version of the genre. His works are frequently noted for their rhythmic, optimistic, and lyrical nature. Such stories mostly borrow from deceptively simple subject matter: commoners. Tagore's non-fiction grappled chthonic history, linguistics, and uttermost spirituality. He wrote autobiographies. His travelogues, essays, and lectures were compiled into several volumes, including Europe Jatrir Patro (Letters from Europe) and Manusher Dhormo (The Religion of Man). His brief chat with Einstein, "Note on the Nature of Reality", is included as an appendix to the latter. On the occasion of Tagore's 150th birthday an anthology (titled Kalanukromik Rabindra Rachanabali) of the total body of his works is currently being published in Bengali in chronological order. This includes all versions of each work and fills about eighty volumes.
Music and art
Tagore composed 2,230 songs and was a prolific painter. His songs compose rabindrasangit ("Tagore Song"), which merges fluidly into his literature, most of which—poems or parts of novels, stories, or plays alike—were lyricised. Influenced by the thumristyle of Hindustani music, they ran the entire gamut of human emotion, ranging from his early dirge-like Brahmo devotional hymns to quasi-erotic compositions. They emulated the tonal color of classical ragas to varying extents. Some songs mimicked a given raga's melody and rhythm faithfully; others newly blended elements of different ragas. Yet about nine-tenths of his work was not bhanga gaan, the body of tunes revamped with "fresh value" from select Western, Hindustani, Bengali folk and other regional flavours "external" to Tagore's own ancestral bequest. In gauging the emotive force and range of ragas, he was rapt:
|“||[...] the pathos of the purabi raga reminded Tagore of the evening tears of a lonely widow, while kanara was the confused realization of a nocturnal wanderer who had lost his way. In bhupali he seemed to hear a voice in the wind saying 'stop and come hither'.Paraj conveyed to him the deep slumber that overtook one at night’s end.||”|
Tagore influenced sitar maestro Vilayat Khan and sarodiyas Buddhadev Dasgupta and Amjad Ali Khan. His songs are immensely popular and undergird the Bengali ethos to an extent perhaps rivaling Shakespeare's impact on the English-speaking world. It is said that his songs are the outcome of five centuries of Bengali literary churning and communal yearning. Dhan Gopal Mukerji has said that these songs transcend the mundane to the aesthetic and express all ranges and categories of human emotion. The poet gave voice to all—big or small, rich or poor. The poor Ganges boatman and the rich landlord air their emotions in them. They birthed a distinctive school of music whose practitioners can be fiercely traditional: novel interpretations have drawn severe censure in both West Bengal and Bangladesh.
For Bengalis, the songs' appeal, stemming from the combination of emotive strength and beauty described as surpassing even Tagore's poetry, was such that the Modern Review observed that "[t]here is in Bengal no cultured home where Rabindranath's songs are not sung or at least attempted to be sung ... Even illiterate villagers sing his songs". Arthur Strangways of The Observer introduced non-Bengalis to rabindrasangit in The Music of Hindostan, calling it a "vehicle of a personality ... [that] go behind this or that system of music to that beauty of sound which all systems put out their hands to seize."
In 1971, Amar Shonar Bangla became the national anthem of Bangladesh. It was written—ironically—to protest the 1905 Partition of Bengal along communal lines: lopping Muslim-majority East Bengal from Hindu-dominated West Bengal was to avert the region's pyrolatrous demise. Tagore saw the partition as a ploy to upend the independence movement, and he aimed to rekindle Bengali unity and tar communalism. Jana Gana Mana was written in shadhu-bhasha, a Sanskritised register of Bengali, and is the first of five stanzas of a Brahmo hymn that Tagore composed. It was first sung in 1911 at a Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress and was adopted in 1950 by the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of India as its national anthem.
At sixty, Tagore took up drawing and painting; successful exhibitions of his many works—which made a debut appearance in Paris upon encouragement by artists he met in the south of France—were held throughout Europe. He was likely red-green color blind. The result: his hale paintings betrayed fey colour schemes and off-beat aesthetics. Tagore limned scrimshaw from northern New Ireland, Haida carvings from British Columbia, and woodcuts by Max Pechstein. His artist's eye for his handwriting were revealed in the simple artistic and rhythmic leitmotifs embellishing the scribbles, cross-outs, and word layouts of his manuscripts. Certain of Tagore's song lyrics corresponded with particular paintings in a sort of sensuous synaesthesia.
At sixteen, Tagore led his brother Jyotirindranath's adaptation of Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. At twenty he wrote his first drama-opera: Valmiki Pratibha(The Genius of Valmiki). In it the glory-bound pandit Valmiki repudiates sin, is blessed by Saraswati, and compiles his summative fable: the Rāmāyana. Through it Tagore vigorously explores a wide range of dramatic styles and emotions, including usage of revamped kirtans and adaptation of traditional English and Irish folk melodies as drinking songs. Another play, Dak Ghar (The Post Office), describes the child Amal defying his stuffy and puerile confines by ultimately "fall[ing] asleep", hinting his physical death. A story with borderless appeal—gleaning rave reviews in Europe—Dak Ghar dealt with death as, in Tagore's words, "spiritual freedom" from "the world of hoarded wealth and certified creeds". In the Nazi-besieged Warsaw Ghetto, Polish doctor-educator Janusz Korczak had orphans in his care stage The Post Office in July 1942. In The King of Children, biographer Betty Jean Lifton suspected that Korczak, agonising over whether one should determine when and how to die, was easing the children into accepting death. In mid-October, their Nazi caretakers sent them to Treblinka.
|“||[...] but the meaning is less intellectual, more emotional and simple. The deliverance sought and won by the dying child is the same deliverance which rose before his imagination, [...] when once in the early dawn he heard, amid the noise of a crowd returning from some festival, this line out of an old village song, "Ferryman, take me to the other shore of the river." It may come at any moment of life, though the child discovers it in death, for it always comes at the moment when the "I", seeking no longer for gains that cannot be "assimilated with its spirit", is able to say, "All my work is thine" [...].||”|
—W. B. Yeats, Preface, The Post Office, 1914.
His other works fuse lyrical flow and emotional rhythm into a tight focus on a core idea, a break from prior Bengali drama. Tagore sought "the play of feeling and not of action". In 1890 he released what is regarded as his finest drama: Visarjan (Sacrifice). It is a thanatological and thespianised rendition ofRajarshi, an earlier novella of his. "A forthright denunciation of a meaningless [and] cruel superstitious rite[s]", the Bengali originals feature intricate subplots and prolonged monologues giving play to historical events in seventeenth-century Udaipur. The Maharaja of Tripura, himself of spiritual bent, is pitted against the primeval ukases and sanguinary piety staged by the head priest Raghupati. His latter dramas probed themes more philosophical and allegorical in nature; these included Dak Ghar. Another is Tagore's Chandalika (Untouchable Girl), which was modeled on an ancient Buddhist legend describing how Ananda, the Gautama Buddha's disciple, asks water of a tribal girl.
Raktakarabi ("Red" or "Blood Oleanders") features a curtained and kingly kleptocrat who regally bilks the anthropoid simulacra of Yakshapuri—benumbed by alcohol and numbered in nomenclature—via coerced gold mining. The naive maiden-heroine Nandini dotingly rallies her subject-compatriots to ultimately baffle the avarice of the sardar-nomenklatura—with the roused raja's own belated help. Skirting the "good-vs-evil" trope, the work pits a vital and joyous lèse majesté against a necrotic, monotonous fealty of a vacuous varletry, a microcosmic and allegorical cockfight akin to Animal Farm or Gulliver's Travels.As ever, the lithe and sublime Bengali original, prized at home, long failed to spawn a "free and comprehensible" translation, and its archaic and sonorous didacticism earned few plaudits abroad.Chitrangada, Chandalika, and Shyama are other key plays that have dance-drama adaptations: Rabindra Nritya Natya.
Tagore wrote eight novels and four novellas, among them Chaturanga, Shesher Kobita, Char Odhay, and Noukadubi. Ghare Baire (The Home and the World)—through the lens of the idealistic zamindarprotagonist Nikhil—repudiates the ravening frog-march of nativism, terrorism, and religious querulousness among less reputable segments of the Swadeshi movement. A frank expression of Tagore's conflicted sentiments, it calved off a 1914 bout of depression. The novel ends in grody Hindu-Muslim interplay and Nikhil's likely mortal capital wounding.
Gora, championed by many Bengali critics as his finest tale, raises controversies regarding connate identity and its ultimate fungibility. As with Ghare Baire matters of self-identity (jāti), personal freedom, and religion are lividly vivisected and contextualised solely by family and romance. In it an Irish boy orphaned in the Sepoy Mutiny is raised by Hindus as the titular "whitey". Ignorant of his foreign provenance he fixedly castigates religious backsliders out of love for the autochthons and solidarity with them against his hegemon-compatriots. The cultural castaway falls for a Brahmo girl, compelling his worried foster father to reveal his distant origins and admonish his nativist zeal. As a "true dialectic" evincing "arguments for and against strict traditionalism", it tackles the colonial conundrum by "portray[ing] the value of all positions within a particular frame [...] not only syncretism, not only liberal orthodoxy, but the extremest reactionary traditionalism he defends by an appeal to what humans share." Among these Tagore highlights "identity [...] conceived of as dharma."
In Jogajog (Relationships), the heroine Kumudini—bound by the ideals of Śiva-Sati, exemplified by Dākshāyani—is torn between her pity for the sinking fortunes of her progressive and compassionate elder brother and his foil: her rakishly rebarbative roue of a husband. Tagore flaunts his feminist leanings; pathos depicts the plight and ultimate demise of women trapped by pregnancy, duty, and family honour; he simultaneously trucks with the pyrrhic putrescence of Bengal's preterite landed gentry. The story revolves around the underlying rivalry between two families—the Chatterjees, aristocrats now on the decline (Biprodas) and the Ghosals (Madhusudan), representing new money and new arrogance. Kumudini, Biprodas' sister, is caught between the two as she is married off to Madhusudan. She had risen in an observant and sheltered traditional home, as had all her female relations.
Others were uplifting: Shesher Kobita—translated twice as Last Poem and Farewell Song—is his most lyrical novel, with poems and rhythmic passages written by a poet protagonist. It contains elements of satire and postmodernism; stock characters gleefully attack the reputation of an old, outmoded, oppressively renowned poet who, incidentally, goes by the suitably dyspeptic nameRabindranath Tagore. Though his novels remain among the least-appreciated of his works, they have been given renewed attention via film adaptations by Ray and others: Chokher Bali and Ghare Baireare exemplary. In the first, Tagore fulminantly inscribes coeval Bengali society via its heroine: a rebellious widow who would live for herself alone. He pillories the custom of perpetual mourning on the part of widows, who were not allowed to remarry, who were consigned to seclusion and loneliness. It is of choleric melancholy, a stirring tale of deceit and sorrow arising from dissatisfaction and sorrow. Tagore wrote of it: "I have always regretted the ending".
The latter work illustrates Tagore's conflicted mind, between the ambiguous munificence of Western culture and line-item revolution against it. These moieties are portrayed in two of the main characters: Nikhil, who is rational and opposes violence; and Sandip, who as sumpter to his goals will not be stopped. These rivals are key in understanding the history of his region and its contemporary problems. There is much controversy over whether Tagore was representing Gandhi in Sandip. But many argue that Tagore would not even venture to personify Sandip as Gandhi because Tagore could—grudgingly—offer a sort of derogatory devotion to Gandhi's antiquarian ardor, and Gandhi was sententiously anti-violence while the libertine Sandip would employ violence—in any respect—to twin body and soul.
Tagore's three-volume Galpaguchchha comprises eighty-four stories that reflect upon the author's surroundings, on modern and fashionable ideas, and on mind puzzles. Tagore associated his earliest stories, such as those of the "Sadhana" period, with an exuberance of vitality and spontaneity; these traits were cultivated by zamindar Tagore’s life Patisar, Shajadpur, Shelaidaha, and other villages. Seeing the common and the poor, he examined their lives with a depth and feeling singular in Indian literature up to that point. In "The Fruitseller from Kabul", Tagore speaks in first person as a town dweller and novelist imputing exotic perquisites to an Afghan seller. He channels the lucubrative lust of those mired in the blasé, nidorous, sudorific morass of subcontinental city life: for distant vistas. "There were autumn mornings, the time of year when kings of old went forth to conquest; and I, never stirring from my little corner in Calcutta, would let my mind wander over the whole world. At the very name of another country, my heart would go out to it [...] I would fall to weaving a network of dreams: the mountains, the glens, the forest [...]."
The Golpoguchchho (Bunch of Stories) was written in Tagore's Sabuj Patra period, which spanned the years 1914–1917 and was named for another of his magazines. These yarns are celebrated fare in Bengali fiction and provide much fodder for film and theatre. The Ray film Charulata echoed the controversial Tagore novella Nastanirh (The Broken Nest). In Atithi, which was made into another film, the little Brahmin boy Tarapada shares a boat ride with a village zamindar. The boy relates his flight from home and his subsequent wanderings, as was his wont. Taking pity, the elder adopts him; he fixes the boy to marry his own daughter. The night before his wedding, Tarapada runs off—again. Strir Patra (The Wife's Letter) is an early treatise in female emancipation. Mrinal is wife to a Bengali middle class man: prissy, preening, patriarchal. Travelling alone she writes a letter, which comprehends the story. She details the pettiness of a life spent entreating his viraginous virility; she resiles married life; she apostrophises, Amio bachbo. Ei bachlum: "And I shall live. Here, I live."
Haimanti assails Hindu arranged marriage and foregrounds their often dismal domesticity, the hypocrisies plaguing the Indian middle classes, and how Haimanti, a young woman, due to her insufferable sensitivity and free spirit, foredid herself. In the last passage Tagore blasts the reification of Sita's self-immolation attempt; she had meant to appease her consort Rama's doubts of her chastity. Musalmani Didi eyes recrudescent Hindu-Muslim tensions and, in many ways, embodies the essence of Tagore's humanism. The somewhat auto-referential Darpaharan describes a fey young man who harbours literary ambitions. Though he loves his wife, he wishes to stifle her literary career, deeming it unfeminine. In youth Tagore likely agreed with him. Darpaharan depicts the final humbling of the man as he ultimately acknowledges his wife's talents. As do many other Tagore stories, Jibito o Mrito equips Bengalis with a ubiquitous epigram: Kadombini moriya proman korilo she more nai—"Kadombini died, thereby proving that she hadn't."
Tagore's poetic style ranges from classical formalism to the comic, visionary, and ecstatic, yet proceeds from a lineage established by 15th- and 16th-century Vaishnava poets. His ken was the atavistic mysticism of the rishi-authors of the Upanishads à la Vyasa, the Bhakti-Sufi mystic Kabir, and Ramprasad Sen. Tagore's most innovative and mature poetry embodies his exposure to Bengali rural folk music, which included mystic Baul ballads, and especially those of the bard Lalon. These, rediscovered and repopularised by Tagore, resemble 19th-century Kartābhajā hymns that emphasise inward divinity and rebellion against bourgeois bhadralok religious and social orthodoxy. During his Shelaidaha years, his poems took on a lyrical voice of the moner manush, the Bāuls' "man within the heart" and Tagore's “life force of his deep recesses", or meditating upon the jeevan devata, the demiurge, the "living God within". This figure connected with divinity through appeal to nature and the emotional interplay of human drama. Such tools saw use in his Bhānusiṃha poems chronicling the Radha-Krishna romance; they were revised repeatedly over the course of seventy years.
Tagore reacted to the halfhearted uptake of modernist and realist techniques in Bengali literature by writing matching experimental works in the 1930s.These include Africa and Camalia, among the better known of his latter poems. He occasionally wrote poems using Shadhu Bhasha, a Sanskritised dialect of Bengali; he later adopted a more popular dialect known as Cholti Bhasha. Other works include Manasi, Sonar Tori (Golden Boat), Balaka (Wild Geese, a name redolent of migrating souls), and Purobi. Sonar Tori's most famous poem, dealing with the fleeting endurance of life and achievement, goes by the same name; hauntingly it ends: Shunno nodir tire rohinu poŗi / Jaha chhilo loe gêlo shonar tori—"all I had achieved was carried off on the golden boat—only I was left behind." Gitanjali (গীতাঞ্জলি) is Tagore's best-known collection internationally, earning him his Nobel.
Song VII of Gitanjali:
আমার এ গান ছেড়েছে তার
Tagore's free-verse translation:
My song has put off her adornments.
"Klanti" (ক্লান্তি; "Weariness"):
ক্লান্তি আমার ক্ষমা করো প্রভু,
Gloss by Tagore scholar Reba Som:
Forgive me my weariness O Lord
Tagore's poetry has been set to music by composers: Arthur Shepherd's triptych for soprano and string quartet, Alexander Zemlinsky's famous Lyric Symphony, Josef Bohuslav Foerster's cycle of love songs, Leoš Janáček's famous chorus "Potulný šílenec" ("The Wandering Madman") for soprano, tenor, baritone, and male chorus—JW 4/43—inspired by Tagore's 1922 lecture in Czechoslovakia which Janáček attended, and Garry Schyman's "Praan", an adaptation of Tagore's poem "Stream of Life" from Gitanjali. The latter was composed and recorded with vocals by Palbasha Siddique to accompany Internet celebrity Matt Harding's 2008 viral video. In 1917 his words were translated adeptly and set to music by Anglo-Dutch composer Richard Hageman to produce a highly regarded art song: "Do Not Go, My Love". The second movement of Jonathan Harvey's "One Evening" (1994) sets an excerpt beginning "As I was watching the sunrise ..." from a letter of Tagore's, this composer having previously chosen a text by the poet for his piece "Song Offerings" (1985).
Tagore's political thought was tortured. He largely opposed imperialism and supported Indian nationalists. His views have their first poetic release inManast, mostly composed in his twenties. Evidence produced during the Hindu–German Conspiracy Trial and latter accounts affirm his awareness of theGhadarites, and stated that he sought the support of Japanese Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake and former Premier Ōkuma Shigenobu. Yet he lampooned theSwadeshi movement as brahminised barbermongering and philosophical ordure; his muscular rebuke to it was "The Cult of the Charka", an acrid 1925 essay. He exhorted the masses to eschew calumnious victimological foppery and hew instead to self-help and mental uplift; he attributed the congenital presence of British grifters to a condign "political symptom of our social disease". He held that even for reprobate peons at a loose end "there can be no question of blind revolution"; he would that they took to a "steady and purposeful education".
Such views enraged many. He escaped a ghastly assassination—and only narrowly—by Indian expatriates during his stay in a San Francisco hotel in late 1916; the plot failed when his would-be assassins fell into argument. Yet Tagore wrote songs lionizing the Indian independence movement and renounced his knighthood. Two of Tagore's more politically charged compositions, "Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo" ("Where the Mind is Without Fear") and "Ekla Chalo Re" ("If They Answer Not to Thy Call, Walk Alone"), gained mass appeal, with the latter favoured by Gandhi. Given to criticising certain aspects of Gandhian activism, Tagore was yet key in resolving a Gandhi-Ambedkar dispute involving separate electorates for untouchables and thereby mooting at least one of Gandhi's fasts "unto death". Tagore retorted rote classroom schooling: in "The Parrot's Training", a bird is caged and force-fed textbook pages—to death. Tagore, visiting Santa Barbara in 1917, conceived a new type of university: he sought to "make Santiniketan the connecting thread between India and the world [and] a world center for the study of humanity somewhere beyond the limits of nation and geography." The school, which he named Visva-Bharati,η[›] had its foundation stone laid on 24 December 1918 and was inaugurated precisely three years later. Tagore employed a brahmacharya system: gurus gave pupils personal guidance—emotional, intellectual, spiritual. Teaching was often done under trees. He staffed the school, he contributed his Nobel Prize monies, and his duties as steward-mentor at Santiniketan kept him busy: mornings he taught classes; afternoons and evenings he wrote the students' textbooks. He fundraised widely for the school in Europe and the United States between 1919 and 1921.
Tagore's relevance can be gauged by the honours paid him: Kabipranam, Tagore's birth anniversary; the annual Tagore Festival held in Urbana, Illinois; gruelingRabindra Path Parikrama walking pilgrimages from Calcutta to Santiniketan; austere recitals of Tagore's poetry held on important anniversaries. Bengali culture is fraught with this legacy: from language and arts to history and politics. Amartya Sen scantly deemed Tagore a "towering figure", a "deeply relevant and many-sided contemporary thinker". Tagore's Bengali source—the 1939 Rabīndra Rachanāvalī—is canonised as one of his nation's greatest cultural treasures, and he was roped into a reasonably humble role: "the greatest poet India has produced".
Tagore was famed throughout much of Europe, North America, and East Asia. He co-founded Dartington Hall School, a progressive coeducational institution; in Japan, he influenced such figures as Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata. Tagore's works were widely translated into English, Dutch, German, Spanish, and other European languages by Czech indologist Vincenc Lesný, French Nobel laureate André Gide, Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, former Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, and others. In the United States, Tagore's lecturing circuits, particularly those of 1916–1917, were widely attended and wildly acclaimed. Some controversiesθ[›] involving Tagore, possibly fictive, trashed his popularity and sales in Japan and North America after the late 1920s, concluding with his "near total eclipse" outside Bengal. Yet a vestigial Latin reverence of Tagore was discovered by an astonishedSalman Rushdie during a trip to Nicaragua.
Via translations Tagore influenced Chileans Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, Mexican writer Octavio Paz, and Spaniards José Ortega y Gasset, Zenobia Camprubí, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. In the years 1914–1922 the Jiménez-Camprubí pair wrought twenty-two Spanish translations of Tagore's English corpus; they heavily revised the The Crescent Moon and other key titles. In this years Jiménez contrived landmark "naked poetry". Ortega y Gasset wrote that "Tagore's wide appeal [owes to how] he speaks of longings for perfection that we all have [...] Tagore awakens a dormant sense of childish wonder, and he saturates the air with all kinds of enchanting promises for the reader, who [...] pays little attention to the deeper import of Oriental mysticism". Tagore's works circulated in free editions around 1920—alongside those of Plato, Dante,Cervantes, Goethe, and Tolstoy.
Tagore was deemed overrated by some. Graham Greene doubted that "anyone but Mr. Yeats can still take his poems very seriously." Several prominent Western admirers—including Pound and, to a lesser extent, even Yeats—foreswore Tagore's work. Yeats, disgusted with the scribbling colonial's irksome subliminal complexity and the seeming perennial mediocrity of his self-rendered English translations, railed against that "Damn Tagore [...] We got out three good books, Sturge Moore and I, and then, because he thought it more important to know English than to be a great poet, he brought out sentimental rubbish and wrecked his reputation. Tagore does not know English, no Indian knows English."William Radice, who "English[ed]" his poems, asked: "What is their place in world literature?" He saw him as "kind of counter-cultur[al]," bearing "a new kind of classicism" to heal the zetetic "collapsed romantic confusion and chaos of the 20th [c]entury." The translated Tagore was "almost nonsensical". His subpar English offerings thus eclipsed the seemingly peerless Bengali originals—and hence in part effaced his trans-national appeal:
|“||[...] anyone who knows Tagore's poems in their original Bengali cannot feel satisfied with any of the translations (made with or without Yeats's help). Even the translations of his prose works suffer, to some extent, from distortion. E.M. Forster noted [of] The Home and the World [that] "[t]he theme is so beautiful," but the charms have "vanished in translation," or perhaps "in an experiment that has not quite come off."||”|
List of works
|* ভানুসিংহ ঠাকুরের পদাবলী||Bhānusiṃha Ṭhākurer Paḍāvalī||(Songs of Bhānusiṃha Ṭhākur)||1884|
|* মানসী||Manasi||(The Ideal One)||1890|
|* সোনার তরী||Sonar Tari||(The Golden Boat)||1894|
|* গীতাঞ্জলি||Gitanjali||(Song Offerings)||1910|
|* গীতিমাল্য||Gitimalya||(Wreath of Songs)||1914|
|* বলাকা||Balaka||(The Flight of Cranes)||1916|
|* বাল্মিকী প্রতিভা||Valmiki-Pratibha||(The Genius of Valmiki)||1881|
|* বিসর্জন||Visarjan||(The Sacrifice)||1890|
|* রাজা||Raja||(The King of the Dark Chamber)||1910|
|* ডাকঘর||Dak Ghar||(The Post Office)||1912|
|* অচলায়তন||Achalayatan||(The Immovable)||1912|
|* মুক্তধারা||Muktadhara||(The Waterfall)||1922|
|* রক্তকরবী||Raktakaravi||(Red Oleanders)||1926|
|* নষ্টনীড়||Nastanirh||(The Broken Nest)||1901|
|* ঘরে বাইরে||Ghare Baire||(The Home and the World)||1916|
|* জীবনস্মৃতি||Jivansmriti||(My Reminiscences)||1912|
|* ছেলেবেলা||Chhelebela||(My Boyhood Days)||1940|
|* Thought Relics||1921[original 1]|
|* Chitra||1914[text 1]|
|* Creative Unity||1922[text 2]|
|* The Crescent Moon||1913[text 3]|
|* The Cycle of Spring||1919[text 4]|
|* Fruit-Gathering||1916[text 5]|
|* The Fugitive||1921[text 6]|
|* The Gardener||1913[text 7]|
|* Gitanjali: Song Offerings||1912[text 8]|
|* Glimpses of Bengal||1991[text 9]|
|* The Home and the World||1985[text 10]|
|* The Hungry Stones||1916[text 11]|
|* I Won't Let you Go: Selected Poems||1991|
|* The King of the Dark Chamber||1914[text 12]|
|* The Lover of God||2003|
|* Mashi||1918[text 13]|
|* My Boyhood Days||1943|
|* My Reminiscences||1991[text 14]|
|* The Post Office||1914[text 15]|
|* Sadhana: The Realisation of Life||1916[text 16]|
|* Selected Letters||1997|
|* Selected Poems||1994|
|* Selected Short Stories||1991|
|* Songs of Kabir||1915[text 17]|
|* The Spirit of Japan||1916[text 18]|
|* Stories from Tagore||1918[text 19]|
|* Stray Birds||1916[text 20]|
- ^ α: Bengali: রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর,
pronounced [ɾobind̪ɾonat̪ʰ ʈʰakuɾ] ( listen); Hindi: [rəʋiːnd̪rəˈnaːt̪ʰ ʈʰaːˈkʊr] ( listen).
- ^ β: Romanised from Bengali script:
- ^ γ: Bengali calendar: 25 Baishakh, 1268 – 22 Srabon, 1348 (২৫শে বৈশাখ, ১২৬৮ – ২২শে শ্রাবণ, ১৩৪৮ বঙ্গাব্দ).
- ^ δ: Gurudev translates as "divine mentor".
- ^ ε: Tagore was born at No. 6 Dwarkanath Tagore Lane, Jorasanko—the address of the main mansion (the Jorasanko Thakurbari) inhabited by the Jorasanko branch of the Tagore clan, which had earlier suffered an acrimonious split. Jorasanko was located in the Bengali section of Calcutta, near Chitpur Road.
- ^ ζ: ... and wholly fictitious ...
- ^ η: Etymology of "Visva-Bharati": from the Sanskrit for "world" or "universe" and the name of a Rigvedic goddess ("Bharati") associated withSaraswati, the Hindu patron of learning. "Visva-Bharati" also translates as "India in the World".
- ^ θ: Tagore was no stranger to controversy: his dealings with Indian nationalists Subhas Chandra Bose and Rash Behari Bose, his yen for Soviet Communism, and papers confiscated from Indian nationalists in New York allegedly implicating Tagore in a plot to overthrow the Raj via German funds. These destroyed Tagore's image—and book sales—in the United States. His relations with and ambivalent opinion of Mussolini revolted many; close friend Romain Rolland despaired that "[h]e is abdicating his role as moral guide of the independent spirits of Europe and India".
- ^ ι: On the "idea of the humanity of our God, or the divinity of Man the Eternal".