the heart is hard and parched up
come upon me with a shower of mercy.
When grace is lost from life
come with a burst of song.
When tumultuous work raises its din
on all sides shutting me out from beyond,
come to me, my lord of silence
with thy peace and rest.
When my beggarly heart sits crouched
shut up in a corner,
break open the door, my king
and come with the ceremony of a king
When desire blinds the mind
with delusion and dust
O thou holy one, thou wakeful
come with thy light and thy thunder
Note: Use the song player above to listen to the associated song. You will find more such players below for you to be able to enjoy the song associated with the poem illustrated.
song was sung by Rabindranath Tagore for Mahatma Gandhi, on September
26, 1932, right after Gandhi broke his fast unto death, undertaken to
force the colonial British Government to abjure its decision of
separation of the lower castes as an electorate in India.
Tagore was and will remain one of the greatest poets and philosophers
the world has ever seen. His contribution to Indian literature, music,
arts and drama endeared him not only to Bengalis but to Indians and the
world at large. Through his innumerable songs, poems and stories, he
presented a priceless vessel of creative genius to the nation - a
vessel hardened by his unflinching support for India's freedom not only
from the British but also from social oppression and mediocrity.
Though it is impossible to touch upon all his work in a single article,
we will walk you through the life of Tagore - the poet, decorating the
path with a few of the gems he has produced.
Born on the 7th of May, 1861 in the city Kolkata in what is now West
Bengal, India, Rabindranath Tagore was the youngest of the thirteen
children of Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. He was born into a
rich household, which was also a center of culture in those days. His
family was a leader of the Brahmo Samaj - an offshoot of Hinduism,
which shunned deity worship in any form.
Tagore was mostly not taught in the formal confines of education,
though he did go to a number of schools in his childhood. Most of the
education came from private tutoring at home in the fields of history,
modern science and the Sanskrit language. He was greatly influenced by
his elder brother Jyotirindranath Tagore - a talented musician and
Rabindranath Tagore's first brush with poetry came in the form of a
poem called "Abhilaash" (desire), published anonymously in a magazine,
at the age of thirteen in 1874. In the same year, he successfully
undertook a project of translating the Macbeth into Bengali.
lifelong dalliance with fame started in 1877 with the publication of
"Bhanusingher Padavali" - a long poem written in Brajabhasha - a
dialect popular around Vrindavan - the birth place of Lord Krishna.
This poem was written under the pseudonym Bhanusingh and dealt with the
love that Radha felt for lord Krishna, and the associated passion as
well as the pangs of suffering that she had to undergo.
Marana Re, Tuhu
Mama Shyamasaman. Meghabarana
Tujha, Meghajatajuta, Raktakamalakara,
Rakta-Adhara Puta, Tapabimochana
Karuna Kor Taba Mrityu-Amrita
- an excerpt from "Bhanusingher Padavali",
indicating the despair that Radha feels because of being separated from
her lover, lord Krishna
like my lord Krishna, O Death.
Like my Krishna, your body has the color and your tresses, the
entangling of clouds
Like my Krishna, your beautiful palms are as red as blood, and so are
your sweet lips
But unlike my lord, your compassionate lap soothes the heat of suffering
and unlike my lord, it provides the eternal nectar - the nectar of Death
1878, he went to Britain to study law, in order to become a barrister.
However, the work of Shakespeare seemed more enticing to him then law
and he ended up exploring the writing and work of Shakespeare. In 1880
he came back to India, without completing his degree in law. Once in
India, he went back to pursuing his interest in literature, drama and
music. However, this short exposure to the western culture readied his
mind to form the basis of his future form of music and philosophy as
the fusion of the progressive nature of the western thought process and
the depth and vastness of the Indian culture.
His individualistic style found its first outlet in a collection of
poems published as "Sandhya Sangeet" (Evening Songs) in 1882. During
the years from 1881 to 1885 he achieved a number of firsts - a first
set of devotional songs, his first musical play "Valmiki Pratibha" (The
Genius of Valmiki), his first books - "Rudrachhanda" (The Angry Rhythm)
and "Bhangahriday" (Broken Heart), and embarking upon his first long
novel - "Bauthakuranir Haat" (The Young Queen's Mart).
His young years were highly influenced by his sister-in-law, Kadambari
- wife of his brother, Jyotirindranath Tagore. The two were very close,
with Kadambari Devi actively encouraging Tagore to write poetry and
drama. Since Tagore's mother died when he was very young, Kadambari
partially filled the void, in some ways a maternal figure and later, a
friend and possibly a muse for Tagore's early work. In fact he had
dedicated many pieces of his work to Kadambari Devi. However, it is
commonly believed that when Tagore got married in 1883 to Mrinalini
Devi, Kadambari possibly felt heart-broken which eventually led to her
committing suicide in 1884. This event left an indelible mark in
Tagore's mind and he felt highly devastated and lonely. In fact, it is
said, that the complexities of the relationships between him, Kadambari
Devi and Jyotirindranath Tagore, was explored by Rabindranath Tagore in
his novella, Nashtanir in 1901. Kadambari Devi's death was the
beginning of a series of tragedies in the form of deaths of many a
close ones, that Tagore had to endure through his long life. Shortly
after the death of Kadambari Devi, he composed this poem:
Hai Kotha Jabe ! Ononto
Ojana Desh, Nitanto Je Eka Tumi, Poth
Kotha Pabe ! Hai
Kotha Jabe ! Mora
Keho Shathe Rohibo Na, Mora
Keho Kotha Kohibo Na. Mora
Boshe Kandibo Hethaey, Shunne
Cheye Dakibo Tomaey; Moha
She Bijon Majhe Hoyto Bilapdhoni Majhe
Majhe Shunibare Pabe Hai
Kotha Jabe !
where will you go!
In that endless, unknown land, and you alone, all alone,
How will you find your way!
Alas, where will you go!
None of us will be there for you
None of us to chat and talk to
We shall sit here and shall weep,
Gazing off into the void, we'll call to you;
Amidst that vast, that lonely place perhaps our lamentations
You might chance to hear from time to time,
Alas, where will you go!
- translated by Rabindranath Tagore
From 1884 to 1890, Rabindranath Tagore produced more masterpieces
like the musical play "Mayar Khela" (Game of Illusion), a collection of
essays on literary criticism, a five act drama "Rajo-o-Rani" (King and
Queen) and the play "Visarjan" (Sacrifice).
The years from 1891 to 1895 are marked as the "Sadhana Period" (period
of contemplation) for the poet and saw him produce some of his most
well-known work. Fate probably conspired to help him by having him
manage his family estates in Shilaidaha (now in Bangladesh) where he
found a lot of time by himself where he could give shape and firm up
his ideas, philosophies and style of writing. It was in this period
that he wrote the famous short stories, "Post Master", "Khsudito
(Hungry Stones) and others. He wrote the famous musical play
Chitrangada during this period. He also wrote a major portion of a the
collection of 84 stories - "Galpaguccha" which was published in 1890.
began writing poems for what would later become the famous collection,
"Sonar Tori" (The Golden Barge). These poems mark a definite change in
the Tagore's style of poetry, when he started to use colloquial Bengali
in place of the formal literary idiom which was the conventional mode
of verse. His other work at the time include "Chitra" and "Katha o
Kahini" (Tales and Stories). All of these poems and writings were
influenced by the life of rural Bengal.
Joto Chao Toto Lao
Achhe? - Aar Nai, Diyechhi Bhore. Etokaal
Loey Chhinu Bhule Shokoli
Dilam Tule Thore
Bhithore - Ekhon
Amare Laho Koruna Kore
Nai, Thain Nai - Chhoto She Tori Amari
Sonar Dhane Giyechhe Bhori. Shrabongogono
Megh Ghure Phire, Shunnyo
Nodir Teere Rohinu
Pori - Jaha
Chhilo Niye Gelo Sonar Tori
- excerpt from the poem "Sonar Tori"
take as much as you can load.
Is there more? No, none, I have put it aboard.
My intense labour here by the river -
I have parted with it all, layer upon layer;
Now take me as well, be kind, take me aboard.
No room, no room, the boat is too small.
Loaded with my gold paddy, the boat is full.
Across the rain-sky clouds heave to and fro,
On the bare river-bank, I remain alone -
What I had has gone: the golden boat took all.
- translated by William Radice
In the following ten years, he worked on his serial novels, "Chokher
Bali" (Sand in
the Eye, or Eyesore) and "Naukadubi" (The Boat Wreck). He also wrote
and poems, many of which were to be a part of "Gitanjali" (Offering of
Songs) - a collection of 157 devotional poems published in 1910.
Tagore - the Educationist
In 1901 he shifted to Shantiniketan where he founded a
school-cum-ashram which was to later become a center for experimental
nature-integrated education, based on the ancient system of forest
schools in India. Rabindranath Tagore succesfully implemented his ideas
on unshackled education through his school in Shantiniketan, which went
on to become a university in 1921. Even today, Shantiniketan is the
foremost center of learning for the arts and music.
The running of Shantiniketan created financial troubles for him in the
initial years when he had to sell parts of his property and family
jewelry. His wife, Mrinalini, and daughter, Renuka, died within a span
of six months in 1902, after which he composed a collection of poems,
"Smaran" (In Memoriam), which he dedicated to the memory of his late
wife. The death of his father in 1905 saw him inherit part of the
family estates. This and royalties from his work helped him tide over
the financial difficulties. In 1907, after the death of his son,
Samindranath, he withdrew from most public life, leaving the affairs of
running the Shantiniketan school to his colleague.
Since the British government never helped with the finances of the
school, most of whatever he earned - royalties, lecture honoraria, and
rents from his estate, and even the prize money from the Nobel prize he
got, was poured into running the school - to ensure that his ideals of
education being the foundation stone of a strong nation was eventually
His political views were articulated in various lectures, essays, poems
and songs that he composed or wrote. He was closely associated with the
Indian National Congress during this time. In 1896, he set to tune, the
poem "Vande Mataram" (Mother, I bow to thee), which was originally
composed by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in 1882, as a part of the novel
Anandamath. Tagore sang the song in the 12th session of the Indian
National Congress in 1896. This song later went on to be adopted as the
national song of India.
In 1905, Lord Curzon formally partitioned Bengal, ostentatiously to
improve administration. The real motive, apparently, was to separate
the Muslims from Hindus and hopefully to weaken the national movement,
at the forefront of which, were Bengali Hindus, who were in a majority
in the western part of Bengal and a minority in the eastern part.
Rabindranath Tagore strongly opposed this decision and strongly
demanded the annulment of the partition. In 1906, he composed the song
"Amar Shonar Bangla" (My Golden Bengal), which became a rallying song
meant to unify the people of Bengal against the partition. The
partition was finally withdrawn amongst large scale protests in 1911.
As a result of the angst of the people caused by the partition, the
"Swadeshi Movement" (Swadeshi means of one's own country) started
in 1905, led by leaders like Aurobindo Ghosh, Lokmanya Bal
Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai, which entailed the boycotting of
foreign goods in favor of indigenously produced goods. Rabindranath
Tagore vociferously supported the movement and wrote many patriotic
songs and poems in support of the movement. However, when the movement
took on the color of violence and rifts started between Hindus and
Muslims, he felt heartbroken and withdrew from the movement
He was critical of the later part of the Swadeshi movement and wrote
"Byadhi o Pratikar" (The disease and its cure) in protest of the highly
confrontationalist path that the Swadeshi movement was taking, and its
resultant violence that many agitated youth were participating in.
He began concentrating on the wholesome development of the rural
society - specially of the people of estates owned by him. He
encouraged the youth of Bengal to engage in the uplift of society
by means of education and service.
Tagore and the World
While Rabindranath Tagore was already popular amongst the people of
Bengal, he was also being recognized not only by the rest of India but
also by the world. The fact that many of his poems and stories were
available translated in English helped a lot. Most of these
translations had been carried out by Tagore himself, though others too
were involved at times. In 1912, Tagore traveled to London and met
William Rothenstein, a famous painter. With Tagore were the
translations of a few of his poems from Gitanjali. He had carried out
the translations during his journey from India to London. At a
gathering of literary personalities in London, William Butler Yeats
read out the translated poems and the poems were greatly appreciated.
Amongst the great personalities Tagore met at that time were Bertrand
Russel, Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells.
His plays, "Dak Ghar" (Post Office) and "Raja" (King) were translated
into English and became popular. The Royal Albert Hall in London saw
the dramatized version of his short story "Dahlia" (the dramatized
version was named The Queen of Arakan). Amongst all this adulation,
Tagore went on to visit the United States where he delivered a number
of lectures on metaphysical aspects. These lectures were later to
become a part of his book "Sadhana: The Realisation of Life".
The India Society of London published a collection of translated poems
by Rabindranath Tagore under the title "Gitanjali". This original was a
slender volume, with a beautiful introduction by Yeats. Later, the
final collection had 103 translated poems, out of which 52 poems were
from the originally published "Gitanjali" in Bengali, while the rest 51
were collected from other works of Tagore. These translations, as
always, were not literary translations but a free-form verse writing,
capturing the essence of the poems. The Gitanjali became immensely
popular in the western world and publishers and journals around the
world published translated versions of many more of his poems and plays.
Tumi Kemon Kore
Gaan Koro He Guni
Ami Obaak Hoye Suni, Kebol Suni
Surer Alo Bhubon Phele Chheye
Surer Haowa Chole Gogon Beye
Pashan Toote Byakul Bege Dheye
Bohiya Jay Surer Suro Dhwoni
Mone Kori Omni Sure Gai
Konthe Amar Sur Khuje Na Pai
Koite Ki Chai Koite Kotha Bandhe
Har Mene Je Poran Amar Kande
Amay Tumi Phelechho Kon Phande
Choudike Mor Surer Jal Buni
- poem 22 from the original "Gitanjali" in Bengali
of thy music illumines the world.
The life breath of thy music runs from sky to sky.
The holy stream of thy music breaks through all stony obstacles and
My heart longs to join in thy song,
but vainly struggles for a voice.
I would speak, but speech breaks not into song,
and I cry out baffled.
Ah, thou hast made my heart captive
in the endless meshes of thy music, my master!
- translated by Rabindranath Tagore, poem 3 in the
translated version of "Gitanjali"
On November 14, 1913, Rabindranath
Tagore got to know of his being awarded the Nobel prize in literature -
making him the first Asian Nobel Laureate. The citation said that he
was awarded the Nobel prize
of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with
consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own
English words, a part of the literature of the West"
The very same year, he was also awarded the honorary D. Litt. degree by
the Calcutta University. In 1915, the British Crown bestowed knighthood
on him. His work continued to be translated in most major European
languages and even in Arabic.
The World of Tagore
Through all the awards, accolades and fame that he kept receiving,
Tagore kept on with his profusion of novels, poems, plays and essays.
Poems and Music
As explained throughout this article, his profusion of poems was what
saw him catapulted to the zenith of fame and popularity. While
"Gitanjali" remains his most popular collection of poems - all
devotional in nature, his other famous collections include "Manasi",
"Sonar Tori", "Balaka" and "Purobi". Through his poems, he painted
through words, the varying emotions of the human mind - from sorrow to
joy, from hatred to love. He portrayed the life of rural Bengal as well
as he displayed the confusion of urban Bengal. He also very
passionately brought the theme of patriotism in many of his poems,
urging the youth to serve the country.
His poetic language varied with the times he lived in - starting from
the archaic literary form in which he used the formal written language
to the colloquial style of writing. His poems display the versatile
nature of Tagore - he adapted the concepts of modern poetry, when many
modern poets began to question the relevance of Tagore's work as years
went by, thus proving that his importance in the literary world would
be cemented forever - the poems "Camelia" and "Africa" are examples of
his poems from his latter body of work.
While part of his poetic work was standalone and was written for the
purpose of writing poetry, a major part was integral to his other
bodies of work, like novels and plays. His musical plays have a huge
collection of poems, expressing the emotions of the characters.
Rabindranath Tagore set to tune many of his poems, thus leaving us with
a sea of songs, most of which are still in popular use in India. It is
said that he composed nearly 2300 songs. These songs are categorized
into four groups - worship, love, nation and nature and together are
known as "Rabindra Sangeet" (Music of Rabindranath).
Tagore collated various musical styles not only from Bengal but from
around India and even from Europe. While the tunes of some songs are
based on the folk music of Bengal, others float on the style of
Carnatic music from south India. Many of his songs strictly adhere to
the Ragas of classical music while others are free-floating blends of
various Ragas to form a unique style. There are a few songs based on
popular western dance rhythms and even church music. Some of these
inspired tunes are replicas of the originals, while others have been
remodeled by him to suit his style or the emotion he wanted to portray.
have I wanted to lose my self
and bare my heart at your feet.
To clasp your feet and say out loud
secretly, my friend how I love you.
There you were the Lord of heavens
How could I tell you of my love?
In my secret heart did I think: though afar and away from you
All my life will I worship you in solitary seclusion
None will know of my deep love
None will see the tears that flow
Now that you come and ask me today
How do I say aloud how much I love you
Together, these songs express the entire gamut of human emotions. One
can always find a song appropriate for any particular occasion or any
particular emotion. That is probably why even today, around a century
away from the time these songs find relevance in everyday life. Movies
and soaps widely use them in soundtracks. Not only Bengali movies, but
also mainstream Hindi movies use music based on the songs of Tagore.
One encounters them very frequently on television, radio and even on
the lips of the common public. Experts continually experiment with the
songs - by stylizing them to suit the occasion - but the underlying
emotion and basis of tune always remains the same since they touch the
very soul of the listener.
Novels and Short stories
Tagore wrote a number of novels and novellas, with each depicting a
facet of Indian life at the time it was written, seen through the
socio-politcal lens of Tagore. "Ghare Baire" (The Home and the World)
depicts Tagore's angst at the means that the freedom movement had
employed through his portrayal of a rich home in feudal India, and its
interaction with a machiavellian freedom fighter.
On the other hand, "Gora" depicts the conflicts inherent in the
changing social and religious outlook of India - the demands of a
deep rooted Hindu outlook pitted against the apparent liberalism of the
In the novel "Chokher Bali" (Sand of
the Eye, or Eyesore), Tagore explores the state of widows in India. He
paints the desires and longings of an educated widow through the
interplay of relationships and sexuality.
His novel, "Shesher Kobita" (The Last Poem), written in 1928, at the
age of 67, was a beautiful attempt by Tagore to showcase his hold over
the skills of story-telling, irrespective of the society he belonged to
at that time. It was a modern approach to outline the ways of the
educated men and women of the time, their aspirations and their broader
outlook to issues of marriage, love and loyalty. His stlye of writing
was also like never before, with sparkling conversations, interspersed
with modern poetry. In the novel, he even goes to the extent of
including a character by the name of Rabi Thakur (his own name, called
in affection), who is made a subject of ridicule by the male
protagonist, since the protagonist believes that a poet should never
outlive his age since his writing can never continually reflect the
changing aspirations and outlook of society. By writing the novel in
this manner, Tagore was able to underline the fact that he could never
be made to be extinct, as some modern poets of the time had been
hinting at, through various fora.
The novella "Nastanir" (Broken Nest) provided an insight into the
relationship that Tagore shared with his brother and brother's
wife but more importantly provided a very modern view of the separated
concepts of attraction, love and marriage.
While Tagore's novels were beautiful, it was his plethora of short
stories that really showcased Tagore's talent in prose better. The
stories written around the time he was in Shilaidaha reflected the life
and aspirations of the poor people of rural India. Some of these
stories were "Kabuliwalah" (The Fruitseller from Kabul), "Khshudita
Pashan" and "Atithi".
"Kabuliwalah" explores the longing borne out of being torn away from
one's native land in the lap of nature by the dictates of earning
livelihood. It also effectively questions some deep rooted notions and
prejudices existing in the society. "Atithi" depicts the transient
nature of the poet himself through the story of a runaway child, who is
adopted by a Zamindar (nobleman) and who again runs away when the
Zamindar arranges the marriage of his daughter to him. It portrays the
longing for shackle-free living and a sense of non-permanence in
attachment, that Tagore too might have felt at the time.
In the short stories in his later years, Tagore explores the human
psyche deeply and touches upon various socially relevant issues.
"Haimanti" shows the shallowness of the institution of marriage and how
the married woman must stifle her sensitiveness and spirit of freedom
in order to save her marriage and yet she must prove her virtuosity to
her husband, like Sita had to do for lord Rama in the Ramayana.
In "Strir Patra" (The Letter from the Wife) he takes up the issue of
emancipation of women and the drudgery of a married woman's life. The
last line from the story summarizes Tagore's view of what a woman
"Ami Banchbo. Ei Banchlum" (I shall
live. And now, I live)
Similarly "Jibito-o-Mrito" (Living and Dead) portrays the difficult
life of a widow and the various superstitions that became a barrier to
free living of women of those days. This story too ends with a haunting
line, when the widow commits suicide in the end:
"Kadombini Moriya Proman Korilo She More Nai"
(By dying Kadambini proved that he did not die)
In "Musalmanir Golpo" he explores the hypocrisies of religious
fundamentalism and depicts how eventually humanity is what enlivens a
person and not the narrowness of religious rigidity.
"Darpaharan" (Humbling of Pride) provide peeks at Tagore's own past -
his self-doubts, his growth as a broad-minded individual from a holder
of a prejudiced view of women. Other famous short stories include
"Samapti" (The End), "Postmaster" and "Monihara" (Necklace of Pearls) -
these three being bundled into a single collection titled "Teen Kanya"
(The Three Ladies).
A very common thread running through most of his stories and novels is
his portrayal of the Indian woman. The stories are aligned to underline
the need to liberate women from the boundaries of superstition,
religion and subjugation.
Even today, movie makers and television producers often base their work
on the novels and short stories of Tagore, each individual wanting to
present this same story in his or her own style. Most of his novels and
many of his short stories have already been presented on the movie
screen and television screen a number of times in varying forms - not
only in Bengali but also in Hindi.
Dramas and Musical Plays
Starting with "Valmiki Pratibha" (The
Genius of Valmiki) in 1881 to "Shyama" in 1939, he wrote more than 30
dramas - some as musical operas and some as prose. His style as a
playwright tended towards allegory and symbolism, subtly revealing his
views on society, religion and life. Differing from the commonly
tread path of conventional Bengali drama he created dramatic canvases
of philosophy through his unique lyrical and rhythmical way of story
In his musical play, "Chandalika" (Untouchable Girl), he beautifully
showcases the problem of untouchability, which at that time, so
plaugued the followers of the Hindu religion, in the backdrop of the
three way conflict of love, asceticism and social taboos. Similarly in
another musical play, "Tasher Desh" (Kingdom of Cards), through a
highly allegorical medium, Tagore displays his apprehension of a
stifled society shackled by rules and norms.
On the other hand, he also dabbled in the complexities and travails of
love in the musical plays of "Shyama", "Shapmochan" (Release of the
Curse) and "Mayar Khela" (Game of Illusion). In the musical drama
"Chitrangada", Tagore uses the mythological tale from Mahabharata, of
Arjuna (one of the protagonists of Mahabharata) and Chitrangada -
princess of Manipur - to uphold his vision of woman as a partner rather
than a goddess or a mere pet. He ends the play with the female
protagonist (Chitrangada) proclaiming her nature thus:
Nohi Debi, Nohi Samanya Nari.
Puja Kari More Rakhibe Urdhe
She Nohi Nohi
Hela Kari More Rakhibe Pichhe
She Nohi Nohi.
Jodi Parshe Rakho More
Shommoti Dao Jodi Kothino Brote
Pabe Tobe Tumi Chinite More.
Aaj Shudhu Kori Nibedon
Ami Chitrangada Rajendranandini
- ending of the musical play "Chitrangada"
Chitrangada, I am the empire's princess
Not a goddess, not one of ordinary prowess
By worshipping me and keeping exalted
That's not me, not me.
By neglecting me and keeping inept
That's not me, not me
If you keep my at your side
During strife, wealth abide,
Promise, if under a severe vow,
Take me as companion for thou
Me, you'll know, that is how.
Today I'll only make a petition --
I'm Chitrangada; the empire's princess
- translated by Rabindranath Tagore
- picture of performance of "Chitrangada"
with Tagore watching, with background of the song "Ami Chitrangada"
"Rakta Karabi" (Red Oleanders) turned out to be Tagore's most popular
play in prose. In this complex symbolic play, he tackles the subject of
subjugation of people to meet the greed of the ruler and how both greed
and subjugation is destroyed by the presence of an unfearing free
spirit. Another highly allegorical play was the "Dakghar" (Post
Office), where Tagore explores the psyche of a sick and dying child,
bound to his room with only a window being his contact to the outside
world with his only wish of meeting the royal physician, which is
ultimately met at the time of his death. Through his beautiful play,
Tagore brings forth the concept of spiritual freedom and the way one
remains bound throughout life.
Tagore's plays are frequently performed and adapted for new
experimental versions in the world of drama even today. And their
popularity extends to lands beyond India.
An less known facet of Rabindranath Tagore is his penchant for the
brush. Throughout his manuscripts one can find examples of his talent.
He skillfully managed to convert the cross-outs in his writings into
abstract art. Tagore formally took up the brush at the age of sixty and
in his unique coloring and visual style, had many successful
exhibitions both within and outside India.
Rabindranath Tagore remained an enigma
to many, as far as his political views were concerned. Though he was a
patriot to the core, his views were often criticized and even ridiculed
- probably because they never aligned with the conventional view of
His love for his country is sufficiently underlined in numerous
patriotic songs he wrote in his lifetime. Two of these songs are now
national songs of two countries. As already
mentioned, Bangladesh adopted "Amar Sonar Bangla" as its national song,
though the origin of this song lay in Tagore's protest of the Biritish
decision of the partitioning of Bengal in 1905.
India adopted Tagore's song, "Jana Gana Mana" as its national song.
This song was first sung in 1911 at the Calcutta session of the Indian
National Congress. The national song adopted the first two stanzas of
the a five stanza song written in Sanskrit.
Jana Gana Mana
Adhinayaka Jaya Hey
Bharata Bhagya Vidhata
Punjaba Sindhu Gujarata Maratha
Dravida Utkala Banga
Vindhya Himachala Yamuna Ganga
Uchhala Jaladhi Taranga
Tava Shubha Namey Jagey
Tava Shubha Ashisha Mangey
Gahey Tava Jaya Gatha
Jana Gana Mangala Dayaka Jaya Hey
Bharata Bhagya Vidhata
Jaya Hey Jaya Hey Jaya Hey
Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey !
- the Indian national song
the ruler of the minds of all people,
Dispenser of India's destiny.
Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sind,
Gujarat and Maratha,
Of the Dravida and Orissa and Bengal;
It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,
mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges and is
chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea.
They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise.
The saving of all people waits in thy hand,
Thou dispenser of India's destiny.
Victory, victory, victory to thee.
While many doubted Tagore's patriotism, he suitably demonstrated
otherwise by rejecting the knighthood bestowed on him by the British
monarchy in protest of the Jalianwala Bagh killings in Punjab by
British forces, in 1919.
Tagore's view of national love was based on education and liberation
from oppression of all kinds - body or soul - as against the popular
notion of nationalism being to drive away the British any which way. In
fact, Tagore openly criticized Mahatma Gandhi's means of a mass
movement based on stirring people's emotions by creating the dream of
"Swaraj" (self rule). Tagore believed that until the people of India
defeated the ills of superstition, illiteracy and bigotry, ejecting a
foreign oppressor would simply result in a new oppressor - this time
from within the nation. When Gandhi called for the boycott of British
educational institutions as a part of the non-cooperation movement in
1921 with the slogan "Education can wait but not Swaraj", Tagore
completely opposed this call since he believed that it was only through
education that the strength of the nation could be built. To this end,
he not only built and expanded the school at Shantiniketan in spite of
huge financial difficulties but also took up the cudgels of reaching
education to the people of India, which saw to the setting up of the
National Council of Education, that later led to the foundation of the
Jadavpur University - a more Indianized university than the largely
British influenced Calcutta university.
Tagore also was against Gandhi's ideals of self-denial as a means of
spiritual liberation and as a guideline for the Indian way of living,
since Tagore believed that liberation needs to come through
enlightening one's soul through self inquiry and not by following any
Tagore was also against the notion of nationalism taking on a color of
chauvinism in the form of extreme pride for one's roots, culture or
past glory. He instead believed in the wholesome development of the
mind and thus, the nation. This is why he not only opposed the form of
nationalism promoted by the mainstream political leaders of the
Congress as well as the violent revolutionary movement. He believed
that it was this animal-like nationalist feeling which was the cause of
the strife and war which enveloped most of the first half of the 20th
century. Tagore wrote "Chitto Jetha Bhoyshunnyo" (Where the mind is
without fear) in his collection of poems, "Gitanjali":
Where the mind is without fear and the
head is held high; Where
knowledge is free; Where
the world has not been broken
up into fragments by narrow
domestic walls Where
words come out from the
depth of truth; Where
tireless striving stretches its
arms towards perfection; Where
the clear stream of reason has not
lost its way into the dreary desert
sand of dead habit; Where
the mind is lead forward by thee into
ever-widening thought and action- Into
that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my
Though he was a very staunch supporter of indigenous industry, he
opposed the blind boycott and burning of foreign textile items that
were the main source of livelihood for many people in the country.
Tagore believed that the indigenous industry needed to be built and
made competitive instead of simply destroying the competition. He
himself worked tirelessly on developing cooperative banks and helping
in uplifting of tribals in the estates he owned.
In spite of the fact that Tagore was opposed to most of the views and
methods of Mahatma
Gandhi, he respected and loved Gandhi as much as Gandhi revered Tagore.
Both viewed each other as great patriots and saints and a lot has
always been written about their camaraderie. This is what Tagore had to
say about Gandhi:
ascetic himself, he does not frown on the joy of others, but works for
the enlivening of their existence day and night. He exalts poverty in
his own life, but no man in India has striven more assiduously than he
for the material welfare of his people.
His religious views were shaped by his upbringing in a household which
followed the way of the Brahma Samaj - belief in God as an infinite
singularity, omnipresent and omniscient, and the self as originating
from this singularity and eventually dissipating into it. Brahma Samaj
followers did not believe in idol worship and shunned all forms of
ritualism and superstition. Tagore, because of his conditioning,
believed in the same premises and used to preach the importance of
knowledge over all else and of love rather than rivalry in various
Tagore's Tryst with God
On the topic of death, Tagore said:
Death is not extinguishing the light; it
is putting out the lamp because dawn has come
His later life was marked by two phases of painful illness, which
severely restricted his travels within and outside India. However, he
spent a lot of time in thought and introspection and his poems of these
last years, from 1937 to 1941 are filled with symbolization of death,
realization and sometimes even the hope of recovery.
He also explored the world of science and he compiled a collection of
essays called Visva Parichay, which was book on science for children
and general readers. He underscored the need for a holistic approach to
education where science was an integral part of humanities and
vice-versa. His last few works too included references to science or
The end came on the 7th of August, 1941, two months after he turned 80,
in the same house that he spent his childhood in. He was cremated in
the banks of river Ganga, which was preceded by a procession through
the streets of Calcutta, where an ocean of admirers accompanied his
body, becoming a single mass of sorrow and tears.
Tagore left the world but the world will remember him as the medium of
Devi Saraswati - the Hindu goddess of learning - for it was through
Tagore that she must have shown the world a way to live through love.
Tobu Mone Rekho
Jodi Dure Jai Chole.
Jodi Puratono Prem Dhaka Pore Jae Nobopremojale
Tobu Mone Rekho...
Jodi Thaki Kachhakachhi,
Dekhite Na Pao Chhayar Moto Achhi Na Achhi
Jodi Jol Aashe Ankhipate
Ek Din Jodi Khela Theme Jae Modhurate
Tobu Mone Rekho...
Ek Din Jodi Badha Pore Kaje Sharodo Prate
Jodi Poriya Mone
Chholochholo Jol Nai Dekha Daie Noyonokone
Tobu Mone Rekho
- a poem from the collection "Manasi", in the form
it is popularly sung
remember me If I should move far away
If the old love should be lost in the mazes of a new passion
Even so, remember me...
And if although I am near
My presence, like a shadow, is shrouded with doubt
Your eyes might cloud with tears
And if one lonely night this game should end
Even so, remember me...
If, on an autumn moon, the final blow should fall
And if, remembering me,
tears do not glisten in the corners of your eyes
Even so, remember me...