Tagore's contribution: 'A new radical canon in Indian writing'

May 08, 2020

Rabindranath Tagore, who composed the National Anthem of India and won the Nobel Prize for Literature, was a multitalented personality in every sense. He was a Bengali poet, Brahmo Samaj philosopher, visual artist, playwright, novelist, painter and a composer. He was also a cultural reformer who modified Bengali art by rebuffing the strictures that confined it within the sphere of classical Indian forms. Though he was a polymath, his literary works alone are enough to place him in the elite list of all-time greats. Even today, Rabindranath Tagore is often remembered for his poetic songs, which are both spiritual and mercurial. He was one of those great minds, ahead of his time, and that is exactly why his meeting with Albert Einstein is considered as a clash between science and spirituality. Tagore was keen in spreading his ideologies to the rest of the world and hence embarked on a world tour, lecturing in countries like Japan and the United States. Soon, his works were admired by people of various countries and he eventually became the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize. Apart from Jana Gana Mana (the National Anthem of India), his composition ‘Amar Shonar Bangla’ was adopted as the National Anthem of Bangladesh and the National Anthem of Sri Lanka was inspired by one of his works.

The youngest of thirteen surviving children, Tagore was born in the Jorasanko mansion in Calcutta, India to parents Debendranath Tagore (1817–1905) and Sarada Devi (1830–1875  The Tagore family came into prominence during the Bengal Renaissance that started during the age of Hussein Shah (1493–1519). The original name of the Tagore family was Banerjee. Being Brahmins, their ancestors were referred to as “Thakurmashai”or “Holy Sir”. During the British rule, this name stuck and they began to be recognised as Thakur and eventually the family name got anglicised to Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore With Sir Maurice Gwyer and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan at Sinha Sadan after the Oxford University Convocation on 7 August 1940

Works

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 with history, linguistics, and 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. In 2011, Harvard University Press collaborated with Visva-Bharati University to publish The Essential Tagore, the largest anthology of Tagore’s works available in English; it was edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarthy and marks the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth.

Literary Works

During his lifetime, Rabindranath Tagore wrote several poems, novels and short stories. Though he started writing at a very young age, his desire to produce more number of literary works only enhanced post the death of his wife and children. Some of his literary works are mentioned below:

Short stories – Tagore began to write short stories when he was only a teen. He started his writing career with ‘Bhikharini’. During the initial stage of his career, his stories reflected the surroundings in which he grew. He also made sure to incorporate social issues and problems of the poor man in his stories. He also wrote about the downside of Hindu marriages and several other customs that were part of the country’s tradition back then. Some of his famous short stories include ‘Kabuliwala’, ‘Kshudita Pashan’, ‘Atottju’, ‘Haimanti’ and ‘Musalmanir Golpo’ among many other stories.

Novels – It is said that among his works, his novels are mostly under-appreciated. One of the reasons for this could be his unique style of narrating a story, which is still difficult to comprehend by contemporary readers, let alone the readers of his time. His works spoke about the impending dangers of nationalism among other relevant social evils. His novel ‘Shesher Kobita’ narrated its story through poems and rhythmic passages of the main protagonist. He also gave a satirical element to it by making his characters take jibes at an outdated poet named Rabindranath Tagore! Other famous novels of his include ‘Noukadubi’, ‘Gora’, ‘Chaturanga’, ‘Ghare Baire’ and ‘Jogajog’.

Poems – Rabindranath drew inspiration from ancient poets like Kabir and Ramprasad Sen and thus his poetry is often compared to the 15th and 16th Century works of classical poets. By infusing his own style of writing, he made people to take note of not only his works but also the works of ancient Indian poets. Interestingly, he penned down a poem in 1893 and addressed a future poet through his work. He urged the yet to be born poet to remember Tagore and his works while reading the poem. Some of his best works include ‘Balaka’, ‘Purobi’, ‘Sonar Tori’ and ‘Gitanjali’.

Tagore’s Stint as an Actor

Tagore wrote many dramas, based on Indian mythology and contemporary social issues. He began his drama works along with his brother when he was only a teen. When he was 20 years old, he not only did pen the drama ‘Valmiki Pratibha’, but also played the titular character. The drama was based on the legendary dacoit Valmiki, who later reforms and pens down one of the two Indian epics – Ramayana.

Tagore the Artist

Rabindranath Tagore took up drawing and painting when he was around sixty years old. His paintings were displayed at exhibitions organized throughout Europe. The style of Tagore had certain peculiarities in aesthetics and coloring schemes, which distinguished it from those of other artists. He was also influenced by the craftwork of the Malanggan people, belonging to the northern New Ireland. He was also influenced by Haida carvings from the west coast of Canada and woodcuts by Max Pechstein. The National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi houses as many as 102 art works of Tagore.

Establishment of Shantiniketan

Gandhi-Tagore

·Rabindranath’s father had bought a huge stretch of land in Shantiniketan. With an idea of establishing an experimental school in his father’s property, he shifted base to Shantiniketan in 1901 and founded an ashram there. It was a prayer hall with marble flooring and was named ‘The Mandir.’ The classes there were held under trees and followed the traditional Guru-Shishya method of teaching.

Rabindranath Tagore hoped that the revival of this ancient method of teaching would prove beneficial when compared to the modernized method. Unfortunately, his wife and two of his children died during their stay in Shantiniketan and this left Rabindranath distraught. In the meantime, his works started growing more and more popular amongst the Bengali as well as the foreign readers. This eventually gained him recognition all over the world and in 1913 Rabindranath Tagore was
awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming Asia's first Nobel laureate.

Every year, many events pay tribute to Tagore: Kabipranam, his birth anniversary, is celebrated by groups scattered across the globe; the annual Tagore Festival held in Urbana, Illinois; Rabindra Path Parikrama walking pilgrimages from Calcutta to Shantiniketan; and recitals of his poetry, which are held on important anniversaries. Bengali culture is fraught with this legacy: from language and arts to history and politics. Amartya Sen deemed Tagore a "towering figure", a "deeply relevant and many-sided contemporary thinker".Tagore’s Bengali originals— the 1939 Rabindra Rachanavali—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".


About our guest author -

Mr.Abhinav Mukerji

"I can’t claim myself a Rabindranath expert, but the little I got to know about this legendary person in my life, the philosophy of life I got to read in his writings or listen in his songs, literally gave me the courage to follow my heart and live my best life. My purpose of writing this article is to remind you about those philosophies, that can really transform your life"

Inspired Influencer

An insider who is always curious to learn something new and spread the knowledge around.