Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore books and biography


Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore in Kolkata, c. 1915
Born 7 May 1861
Kolkata, India
Died 7 August 1941
Kolkata, India

Rabindranath Tagore ([ɹobin̪d̪ɾonat̪ʰ ʈʰakuɹ] or [taˈgɔ(ɹ)] ;[α] Bangla: রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর ;[β] 7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941[γ]), also known by the sobriquet Gurudev,[δ] was a Bengali poet, Brahmo Samaj (syncretic Hindu monotheist) philosopher, visual artist, playwright, composer, and novelist whose works reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A cultural icon of Bengal and India, he became Asia's first Nobel laureate when he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature.

A Pirali Bengali Brahmin from Calcutta (Kolkata), India, Tagore first wrote poems at age eight. He published his first substantial poetry—under the pseudonym Bhanushingho ("Sun Lion")—in 1877 and wrote his first short stories and dramas at age sixteen. His home schooling, life in Shilaidaha, and travels made Tagore a nonconformist and pragmatist ; however, growing disillusionment with the British Raj caused Tagore to back the Indian Independence Movement and befriend Mahatma Gandhi. Tagore's life was tragic—he lost virtually his entire family and was devastated to witness Bengal's decline—but his life's work endured, in the form of his poetry and the institution he founded, Visva-Bharati University.

Tagore's works included Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced), and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World). His verse, short stories, and novels—many defined by rhythmic lyricism, colloquial language, meditative naturalism, and philosophical contemplation—received worldwide acclaim. Tagore was also a cultural reformer and polymath who modernised Bangla art by rejecting strictures binding it to classical Indian forms. Two songs from his rabindrasangeet canon are now the national anthems of Bangladesh and India: the Amar Shonar Bangla and the Jana Gana Mana.


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Early life (1861–1901)

Main article: Life of Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1901)
Tagore in 1879, when he was studying in England.
Tagore in 1879, when he was studying in England.

Tagore (nicknamed "Rabi") was born the youngest of fourteen children in the Jorasanko mansion of parents Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi.[ε] After undergoing his upanayan (the sacred thread ceremony, a coming-of-age) rite at age eleven, Tagore and his father left Calcutta on 14 February 1873 to tour India for several months, visiting his father's Santiniketan estate and Amritsar before reaching the Himalayan hill station of Dalhousie. There, Tagore read biographies, studied history, astronomy, modern science, and Sanskrit, and examined the classical poetry of Kālidāsa.[1][2] In 1877, he arose to notability when he composed several works, including a long poem set in the Maithili style pioneered by Vidyapati. As a joke, he maintained that these were the lost works of Bhānusiṃha, a newly discovered 17th-century Vaiṣṇava poet.[3] He also wrote "Bhikharini" (1877; "The Beggar Woman"—the Bangla language's first short story)[4][5] and Sandhya Sangit (1882) —including the famous poem "Nirjharer Swapnabhanga" ("The Rousing of the Waterfall").

Tagore and his wife Mrinalini Devi in 1883.
Tagore and his wife Mrinalini Devi in 1883.

Seeking to become a barrister, Tagore enrolled at a public school in Brighton, England in 1878; later, he studied at University College London, but returned to Bengal in 1880 without a degree. On 9 December 1883 he married ten-year old Mrinalini Devi (née Bhabatarini); they had five children, four of whom later died before reaching full adulthood.[6] In 1890, Tagore (joined in 1898 by his wife and children) began managing his family's estates in Shilaidaha,a region now in Bangladesh. Known as "Zamindar Babu", Tagore traveled across the vast estate while living out of the family's luxurious barge, the Padma, to collect (mostly token) rents and bless villagers; in exchange, he had feasts held in his honour.[7] During these years, Tagore's Sadhana period (1891–1895; named for one of Tagore’s magazines) was among his most fecund, with more than half the stories of the three-volume and eighty-four-story Galpaguchchha written.[4] With irony and emotional weight, they depicted a wide range of Bengali lifestyles, particularly village life.[8]

Santiniketan (1901–1932)

Main article: Life of Rabindranath Tagore (1901–1932)
A photo of Tagore taken in either 1905 or 1906, by fellow Bengali poet Sukumar Ray.
A photo of Tagore taken in either 1905 or 1906, by fellow Bengali poet Sukumar Ray.

In 1901, Tagore left Shilaidaha and moved to Santiniketan (West Bengal) to found an ashram, which would grow to include a marble-floored prayer hall ("The Mandir"), an experimental school, groves of trees, gardens, and a library.[9] There, Tagore's wife and two of his children died. His father also died on 19 January 1905, and he began receiving monthly payments as part of his inheritance; he also received income from the Maharaja of Tripura, sales of his family's jewellery, his seaside bungalow in Puri, and mediocre royalties (Rs. 2,000) from his works.[10] These works gained him a large following among Bengali and foreign readers alike, and he published such works as Naivedya (1901) and Kheya (1906) while translating his poems into free verse. On 14 November 1913, Tagore learned that he had won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the Swedish Academy, it was given due to the idealistic and—for Western readers—accessible nature of a small body of his translated material, including the 1912 Gitanjali: Song Offerings.[11] In 1915, Tagore also accepted knighthood from the British Crown.

Tagore, photographed in Hampstead, England in 1912 by John Rothenstein.
Tagore, photographed in Hampstead, England in 1912 by John Rothenstein.

In 1921, Tagore and agricultural economist Leonard Elmhirst set up the Institute for Rural Reconstruction (which Tagore later renamed Shriniketan—"Abode of Peace") in Surul, a village near the ashram at Santiniketan. Through it, Tagore sought to provide an alternative to Gandhi's symbol- and protest-based Swaraj movement, which he denounced.[12] He recruited scholars, donors, and officials from many countries to help the Institute use schooling to "free village[s] from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance" by "vitaliz[ing] knowledge".[13][14] In the early 1930s, he also grew more concerned about India's "abnormal caste consciousness" and Untouchability, lecturing on its evils, writing poems and dramas with Untouchable protagonists, and appealing to authorities at Kerala's Guruvayoor Temple to admit Dalits.[15][16]

Twilight years (1932–1941)

Main article: Life of Rabindranath Tagore (1932–1941)
Tagore sits with Albert Einstein during their widely publicized 14 July 1930 conversation.
Tagore sits with Albert Einstein during their widely publicized 14 July 1930 conversation.

In his last decade, Tagore remained in the public limelight, publicly upbraiding Gandhi for stating that a massive 15 January 1934 earthquake in Bihar constituted divine retribution for the subjugation of Dalits.[17] He also mourned the incipient socioeconomic decline of Bengal and the endemic poverty of Calcutta; he detailed the latter in an unrhymed hundred-line poem whose technique of searing double-vision would foreshadow Satyajit Ray's film Apur Sansar.[18][19] Tagore also compiled fifteen volumes of writings, including the prose-poems works Punashcha (1932), Shes Saptak (1935), and Patraput (1936). He continued his experimentations by developing prose-songs and dance-dramas, including Chitrangada (1914),[20] Shyama (1939), and Chandalika (1938), and wrote the novels Dui Bon (1933), Malancha (1934), and Char Adhyay (1934). Tagore took an interest in science in his last years, writing Visva-Parichay (a collection of essays) in 1937. He explored biology, physics, and astronomy; meanwhile, his poetry—containing extensive naturalism—underscored his respect for scientific laws. He also wove the process of science (including narratives of scientists) into many stories contained in such volumes as Se (1937), Tin Sangi (1940), and Galpasalpa (1941).[21]

Tagore (left) meets with Mahatma Gandhi at Santiniketan in 1940.
Tagore (left) meets with Mahatma Gandhi at Santiniketan in 1940.

Tagore's last four years (1937–1941) 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 an extended period. This was followed three years later in late 1940 by a similar spell, from which he never recovered. The poetry Tagore wrote in these years is among his finest, and is distinctive for its preoccupation with death; these more profound and mystical experimentations allowed Tagore to be branded a "modern poet".[22][23] After extended suffering, Tagore died on 7 August 1941 (22 [24][25] his death anniversary is still mourned in public functions held across the Bangla-speaking world.


Tagore (center, at right) visits with Chinese academics at Tsinghua University in 1924.
Tagore (center, at right) visits with Chinese academics at Tsinghua University in 1924.

Owing to his notable wanderlust, between 1878 and 1932, Tagore visited more than thirty countries on five continents;[26] many of these trips were crucial in familiarising non-Bengali audiences to his works and spreading his political ideas. For example, in 1912, he took a sheaf of his translated works to England, where they impressed missionary and Gandhi protégé Charles F. Andrews, Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, Robert Bridges, Ernest Rhys, Thomas Sturge Moore, and others.[27] Indeed, Yeats wrote the preface to the English translation of Gitanjali, while Andrews joined Tagore at Santiniketan. On 10 November 1912, Tagore toured the United States[28] and the United Kingdom, staying in Butterton, Staffordshire with Andrews’ clergymen friends.[29] From 3 May 1916 until April 1917, Tagore went on lecturing circuits in Japan and the United States,[30] during which he denounced nationalism—particularly that of the Japanese and Americans. He also wrote the essay "Nationalism in India", attracting both derision and praise (the latter from pacifists, including Romain Rolland).[31] Shortly after returning to India, the 63-year-old Tagore visited Peru at the invitation of the Peruvian government, and took the opportunity to visit Mexico as well. Both governments pledged donations of $100,000 to the school at Shantiniketan (Visva-Bharati) in commemoration of his visits.[32] A week after his November 6, 1924 arrival in Buenos Aires, Argentina,[33] an ill Tagore moved into the Villa Miralrío at the behest of Victoria Ocampo. He left for Bengal in January 1925. On 30 May 1926, Tagore reached Naples, Italy; he met fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in Rome the next day.[34] Their initially warm rapport lasted until Tagore spoke out against Mussolini on 20 July 1926.[35]

Tagore (first row, third figure from right) meets members of the Iranian Majlis (Tehran, April-May 1932).
Tagore (first row, third figure from right) meets members of the Iranian Majlis (Tehran, April-May 1932).

On 14 July 1927, Tagore and two companions went on a four-month tour of Southeast Asia—visiting Bali, Java, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Penang, Siam, and Singapore. The travelogues from this tour were collected into the work “Jatri”.[36] In early 1930 he left Bengal for a nearly year-long tour of Europe and the U.S. On his return to the UK, while his paintings were being exhibited in Paris and London, he stayed at a Friends settlement in Birmingham. There, he wrote his Hibbert Lectures for the University of Oxford (which dealt with the "idea of the humanity of our God, or the divinity of Man the Eternal") and spoke at London's annual Quaker gathering.[37] There (addressing relations between the British and Indians, a topic he would grapple with over the next two years), Tagore spoke of a "dark chasm of aloofness".[38] He later visited Aga Khan III, stayed at Dartington Hall, then toured Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany from June to mid-September 1930, then the Soviet Union.[39] Lastly, in April 1932, Tagore—who was acquainted with the legends and works of the Persian mystic Hafez—was invited as a personal guest of Shah Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran.[40][41] Such extensive travels allowed Tagore to interact with many notable contemporaries, including Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Romain Rolland.[42][43] Tagore's last travels abroad, including visits to Persia and Iraq (in 1932) and Ceylon in 1933, only sharpened his opinions regarding human divisions and nationalism.[44]


Main article: Literature of Rabindranath Tagore
Tagore's Bangla-language initials are worked into this
Tagore's Bangla-language initials are worked into this "Ra-Tha" wooden seal, which bears close stylistic similarity to designs used in traditional Haida carvings. Tagore often embellished his manuscripts with such art. (

Novels and non-fiction

Tagore wrote eight novels and four novellas, including Chaturanga, Shesher Kobita, , Char Odhay, and Noukadubi. Ghare Baire (The Home and the World)—through the lens of the idealistic zamindar protagonist Nikhil—excoriates rising Indian nationalism, terrorism, and religious zeal in the Swadeshi movement; a frank expression of Tagore's conflicted sentiments, it emerged out of a 1914 bout of depression. Indeed, the novel bleakly ends with Hindu-Muslim sectarian violence and Nikhil's being (probably mortally) wounded.[45] In some sense, Gora shares the same theme, raising controversial questions regarding the Indian identity. As with Ghore Baire, matters of self-identity (jāti), personal freedom, and religion are developed in the context of a family story and love triangle.[46] Another powerful story is Yogayog (Nexus), where the heroine Kumudini—bound by the ideals of Shiva-Sati, exemplified by Dākshāyani—is torn between her pity for the sinking fortunes of her progressive and compassionate elder brother and his foil: her exploitative, rakish, and patriarchical husband. In it, Tagore demonstrates his feminist leanings, using pathos to depict the plight and ultimate demise of Bengali women trapped by pregnancy, duty, and family honour; simultaneously, he treats the decline of Bengal's landed oligarchy.[47]

Tagore's signature.
Tagore's signature.

Other novels were more uplifting: Shesher Kobita (translated twice—Last Poem and Farewell Song) is his most lyrical novel, with poems and rhythmic passages written by the main character (a poet). It also contains elements of satire and postmodernism, whereby stock characters gleefully attack the reputation of an old, outmoded, oppressively renowned poet who, incidentally, goes by the name of Rabindranath Tagore. Though his novels remain among the least-appreciated of his works, they have been given renewed attention via film adaptations by such directors as Satyajit Ray; these include Chokher Bali and Ghare Baire; many have soundtracks featuring selections from Tagore's own rabindrasangit. Tagore also wrote many non-fiction books, writing on topics ranging from Indian history to linguistics. In addition to autobiographical works, his travelogues, essays, and lectures were compiled into several volumes, including Iurop Jatrir Patro (Letters from Europe) and Manusher Dhormo (The Religion of Man).

Music and artwork

"Dancing Girl", an undated ink-on-paper piece by Tagore.

Tagore was an accomplished musician and painter, writing around 2,230 songs. They compose rabindrasangit (Bengali: রবীন্দ্র সংগীত—"Tagore Song"), now an integral part of Bengali culture. Tagore's music is inseparable from his literature, most of which—poems or parts of novels, stories, or plays alike—became lyrics for his songs. Primarily influenced by the thumri style of Hindustani classical music, they ran the entire gamut of human emotion, ranging from his early dirge-like Brahmo devotional hymns to quasi-erotic compositions.[48] They emulated the tonal color of classical ragas to varying extents; while at times his songs mimiced a given raga's melody and rhythm faithfully, he also blended elements of different ragas to create innovative works.[49] For Bengalis, their 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". Music critic Arther Strangeways of The Observer first introduced non-Bengalis to rabindrasangit with his book The Music of Hindostan, which described it as 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."[50] Among them are two such works: Bangladesh's Amar Sonaar Baanglaa (Bengali: আমার সোনার বাঙলা) and India's Jana Gana Mana (Bengali: জন গণ মন); Tagore thus became the only person ever to have written the national anthems of two nations. In turn, rabindrasangit influenced the styles of such musicians as sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, the sarodiya Buddhadev Dasgupta, and composer Amjad Ali Khan.[49]

Much of Tagore's artwork dabbled in primitivism, including this pastel-coloured rendition of a Malanggan mask from northern New Ireland.
Much of Tagore's artwork dabbled in primitivism, including this pastel-coloured rendition of a Malanggan mask from northern New Ireland.

At age 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[51]—were held throughout Europe. Tagore—who likely exhibited protanopia ("color blindness"), or partial lack of (red-green, in Tagore's case) colour discernment—painted in a style characterised by peculiarities in aesthetics and colouring schemes. Nevertheless, Tagore took to emulating numerous styles, including that of craftwork by the Malanggan people of northern New Ireland, Haida carvings from the west coast of Canada (British Columbia), and woodcuts by Max Pechstein.[52] Tagore also had an artist's eye for his own handwriting, embellishing the scribbles, cross-outs, and word layouts in his manuscripts with simple artistic leitmotifs, including simple rhythmic designs.

Theatrical pieces

Tagore's experience in theatre began at age sixteen, when he played the lead role in his brother Jyotirindranath's adaptation of Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. At age twenty, he wrote his first drama-opera—Valmiki Pratibha (The Genius of Valmiki)—which describes how the bandit Valmiki reforms his ethos, is blessed by Saraswati, and composes the Rāmāyana.[53] 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.[54] Another notable play, Dak Ghar (The Post Office), describes how a child—striving to escape his stuffy confines—ultimately "fall[s] asleep" (which suggests his physical death). A story with worldwide appeal (it received 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".[55][56]

His other works—emphasizing fusion of lyrical flow and emotional rhythm tightly focused on a core idea—were unlike previous Bengali dramas. His works sought to articulate, in Tagore's words, "the play of feeling and not of action". In 1890 he wrote Visarjan (Sacrifice), regarded as his finest drama.[53] The Bangla-language originals included intricate subplots and extended monologues. Later, his dramas probed more philosophical and allegorical themes; 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 an Adivasi ("untouchable") girl.[57] Lastly, among his most famous dramas is Raktakaravi (Red Oleanders), which tells of a kleptocratic king who enriches himself by forcing his subjects to mine. The heroine, Nandini, eventually rallies the common people to destroy these symbols of subjugation. Tagore's other plays include Chitrangada, Raja, and Mayar Khela. Dance dramas based on Tagore's plays are commonly referred to as rabindra nritya natyas.

Short stories

A drawing by Nandalall Bose illustrating Tagore's short story
A drawing by Nandalall Bose illustrating Tagore's short story "The Hero", an English-language translation of which appeared in the 1913 Macmillan publication of Tagore's The Crescent Moon.

The four years from 1891 to 1895 are known as Tagore’s "Sadhana" period (named for one of Tagore’s magazines). This period was among Tagore 's most fecund, yielding more than half the stories contained in the three-volume Galpaguchchha, which itself is a collection of eighty-four stories.[4] Such stories usually showcase Tagore’s reflections upon his surroundings, on modern and fashionable ideas, and on interesting mind puzzles (which Tagore was fond of testing his intellect with). Tagore typically associated his earliest stories (such as those of the "Sadhana" period) with an exuberance of vitality and spontaneity; these characteristics were intimately connected with Tagore’s life in the common villages of, among others, Patisar, Shajadpur, and Shilaida while managing the Tagore family’s vast landholdings.[4] There, he beheld the lives of India’s poor and common people; Tagore thereby took to examining their lives with a penetrative depth and feeling that was singular in Indian literature up to that point.[58] In "The Fruitseller from Kabul", Tagore speaks in first person as town-dweller and novelist who chances upon the Afghani seller. He attempts to distil the sense of longing felt by those long trapped in the mundane and hardscrabble confines of Indian urban life, giving play to dreams of a different existence in the distant and wild mountains: "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 .... ".[59] Many of the other Galpaguchchha stories were written in Tagore’s Sabuj Patra period (1914–1917; also named for one of Tagore's magazines).[4]

A 1913 illustration by Asit Kumar Haldar accompanying
A 1913 illustration by Asit Kumar Haldar accompanying "The Beginning", a prose-poem appearing in Tagore's The Crescent Moon.

Tagore's Golpoguchchho (Bunch of Stories) remains among Bangla literature's most popular fictional works, providing subject matter for many successful films and theatrical plays. Satyajit Ray's film Charulata was based upon Tagore's controversial novella, Nastanirh (The Broken Nest). In Atithi (also made into a film), the young Brahmin boy Tarapada shares a boat ride with a village zamindar. The boy reveals that he has run away from home, only to wander around ever since. Taking pity, the zamindar adopts him and ultimately arranges his marriage to the zamindar's own daughter. However, the night before the wedding, Tarapada runs off—again. Strir Patra (The Letter from the Wife) is among Bangla literature's earliest depictions of the bold emancipation of women. The heroine Mrinal, the wife of a typical patriarchical Bengali middle class man, writes a letter while she is traveling (which constitutes the whole story). It details the pettiness of her life and struggles; she finally declares that she will not return to her husband's home with the statement Amio bachbo. Ei bachlum ("And I shall live. Here, I live"). In Haimanti, Tagore takes on the institution of Hindu marriage, describing the dismal lifelessness of married Bengali women, hypocrisies plaguing the Indian middle classes, and how Haimanti, a sensitive young woman, must—due to her sensitiveness and free spirit—sacrifice her life. In the last passage, Tagore directly attacks the Hindu custom of glorifying Sita's attempted self-immolation as a means of appeasing her husband Rama's doubts. Tagore also examines Hindu-Muslim tensions in Musalmani Didi, which in many ways embodies the essence of Tagore's humanism. On the other hand, Darpaharan exhibits Tagore's self-consciousness, describing a young man harboring literary ambitions. Though he loves his wife, he wishes to stifle her own literary career, deeming it unfeminine. Tagore himself, in his youth, seems to have harbored similar ideas about women. Darpaharan depicts the final humbling of the man via his acceptance of his wife's talents. As many other Tagore stories, Jibito o Mrito provides the Bengalis with one of their more widely used epigrams: Kadombini moriya proman korilo she more nai ("Kadombini died, thereby proved that she hadn't").


Bāul folk singers in Santiniketan during the annual Holi festival.
Bāul folk singers in Santiniketan during the annual Holi festival.

Tagore's poetry—which varied in style from classical formalism to the comic, visionary, and ecstatic—proceeds out a lineage established by 15th- and 16th-century Vaiṣṇava poets. Tagore was also influenced by the mysticism of the rishi-authors who—including Vyasa—wrote the Upanishads, the Bhakta-Sufi mystic Kabir, and Ramprasad.[60] Yet Tagore's poetry became most innovative and mature after his exposure to rural Bengal's folk music, which included ballads sung by Bāul folk singers—especially the bard Lālan Śāh.[61][62] These—which were rediscovered and popularised by Tagore—resemble 19th-century Kartābhajā hymns that emphasize inward divinity and rebellion against religious and social orthodoxy.[63][64] During his Shilaidaha years, his poems took on a lyrical quality, speaking via the maner manus (the Bāuls' "man within the heart") or meditating upon the jivan devata ("living God within"). This figure thus sought connection with divinity through appeal to nature and the emotional interplay of human drama. Tagore used such techniques in his Bhānusiṃha poems (which chronicle the romanticism between Radha and Krishna), which he repeatedly revised over the course of seventy years.[65][66]

Later, Tagore responded to the (mostly) crude emergence of modernism and realism in Bengali literature by writing experimental works in the 1930s.[67] Examples works include Africa and Camalia, which are among the better known of his latter poems. He also occasionally wrote poems using Shadhu Bhasha (a Sanskritised dialect of Bangla); later, he began using Cholti Bhasha (a more popular dialect). Other notable works include Manasi, Sonar Tori (Golden Boat), Balaka (Wild Geese—the title being a metaphor for migrating souls),[68] and Purobi. Sonar Tori's most famous poem—dealing with the ephemeral nature of life and achievement—goes by the same name; it ends with the haunting phrase "শূন্য নদীর তীরে রহিনু পড়ি / যাহা ছিল লয়ে গেল সোনার তরী" ("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."). However, internationally, Gitanjali (Bengali: গীতাঞ্জলি) is Tagore's best-known collection, winning him his Nobel Prize.[69] Song VII (গীতাঞ্জলি 127) of Gitanjali:

Title page of the 1913 Macmillan edition of Tagore's Gitanjali.
Title page of the 1913 Macmillan edition of Tagore's Gitanjali.
আমার এ গান ছেড়েছে তার সকল অলংকার,
তোমার কাছে রাখে নি আর সাজের অহংকার।
অলংকার যে মাঝে পড়ে মিলনেতে আড়াল করে,
তোমার কথা ঢাকে যে তার মুখর ঝংকার।

তোমার কাছে খাটে না মোর কবির গর্ব করা,
মহাকবি তোমার পায়ে দিতে যে চাই ধরা।
জীবন লয়ে যতন করি যদি সরল বাঁশি গড়ি,
আপন সুরে দিবে ভরি সকল ছিদ্র তার।
Amar e gan chheŗechhe tar shôkol ôlongkar
Tomar kachhe rakhe ni ar shajer ôhongkar
Ôlongkar je majhe pôŗe milônete aŗal kôre,
Tomar kôtha đhake je tar mukhôro jhôngkar.

Tomar kachhe khaţe na mor kobir gôrbo kôra,
Môhakobi, tomar paee dite chai je dhôra.
Jibon loe jôton kori jodi shôrol bãshi goŗi,
Apon shure dibe bhori sôkol chhidro tar.

Free-verse translation by Tagore (Gitanjali, verse VII):[70]

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

Tagore's poetry has been set to music by various composers, among them classical composer Arthur Shepherd's triptych for soprano and string quartet.

Political views

Main article: Political views of Rabindranath Tagore
Tagore (at right, on the dais) hosts Mahatma Gandhi and wife Kasturba at Santiniketan in 1940.
Tagore (at right, on the dais) hosts Mahatma Gandhi and wife Kasturba at Santiniketan in 1940.

Marked complexities characterise Tagore's political views. Though he criticised European imperialism and supported Indian nationalists,[71][72][73] he also lampooned the Swadeshi movement, denouncing it in "The Cult of the [74] Instead, he emphasized self-help and intellectual uplift of the masses, stating that British imperialism was not a primary evil, but instead a "political symptom of our social disease", urging Indians to accept that "there can be no question of blind revolution, but of steady and purposeful education".[75][76] Such views inevitably enraged many, placing his life in danger: during his stay in a San Francisco hotel in late 1916, Tagore narrowly escaped assassination by Indian expatriates—the plot failed only because the would-be assassins fell into argument.[77] Yet Tagore wrote songs lionizing the Indian independence movement and renounced his knighthood in protest against the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.[78] 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. Despite his tumultuous relations with Gandhi, Tagore was also key in resolving a Gandhi-Ambedkar dispute involving separate electorates for untouchables, ending a fast "unto death" by Gandhi.[79][80]

Tagore also criticised orthodox (rote-oriented) education, lampooning it in the short story "The Parrot's Training", where a bird—which ultimately dies—is caged by tutors and force-fed pages torn from books.[81][82] These views led Tagore—while visiting Santa Barbara, California on 11 October 1917—to conceive of a new type of university, desiring to "make [his ashram at] 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."[83] The school—which he named Visva-Bharati[ζ]—had its foundation stone laid on 22 December 1918; it was later inaugurated on 22 December 1921.[84] Here, Tagore implemented a brahmacharya pedagogical structure employing gurus to provide individualised guidance for pupils. Tagore worked hard to fundraise for and staff the school, even contributing all of his Nobel Prize monies.[85] Tagore’s duties as steward and mentor at Santiniketan kept him busy; he taught classes in mornings and wrote the students' textbooks in afternoons and evenings.[86] Tagore also fundraised extensively for the school in Europe and the U.S. between 1919 and 1921.[87]

Impact and legacy

A bust of Tagore in the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Memorial's Tagore Memorial Room (Ahmedabad, India).
A bust of Tagore in the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Memorial's Tagore Memorial Room (Ahmedabad, India).

Tagore's post-death impact can be felt through the many festivals held worldwide in his honour—examples include the annual Bengali festival/celebration of Kabipranam (Tagore's birthday anniversary), the annual Tagore Festival held in Urbana, Illinois in the United States, the Rabindra Path Parikrama walking pilgrimages leading from Calcutta to Shantiniketan, and ceremonial recitals of Tagore's poetry held on important anniversaries.[88][89][28] This legacy is most palpable in Bengali culture, ranging from language and arts to history and politics; indeed, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen noted that even for modern Bengalis, Tagore was a "towering figure", being a "deeply relevant and many-sided contemporary thinker".[89] Tagore's collected Bangla-language writings—the 1939 Rabīndra Racanāvalī—is also canonized as one of Bengal's greatest cultural treasures, while Tagore himself has been proclaimed "the greatest poet India has produced".[90] He was also famed throughout much of Europe, North America, and East Asia. He was key in founding [91] Tagore's works were widely translated into many European languages—a process that began with Czech indologist Vincent Slesny[92] and French Nobel laureate André Gide—including Russian, English, Dutch, German, Spanish, and others. In the United States, Tagore's popular lecturing circuits (especially those between 1916–1917) were widely attended and acclaimed. Nevertheless, several controversies[η] involving Tagore resulted in a decline in his popularity in Japan and North America after the late 1920s, contributing to his "near total eclipse" outside of Bengal.[93]

Tagore, through Spanish translations of his works, also influenced leading figures of Spanish literature, including Chileans Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, Mexican writer Octavio Paz, and Spaniards José Ortega y Gasset, Zenobia Camprubí, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. Between 1914 and 1922, the Jiménez-Camprubí spouses translated no less than twenty-two of Tagore's books from English into Spanish. Jiménez, as part of this work, also extensively revised and adapted such works as Tagore's The Crescent Moon. Indeed, during this time, Jiménez developed the now-heralded innovation of "naked poetry" (Spanish: «poesia desnuda»).[94] Meanwhile, Ortega y Gasset wrote that "Tagore's wide appeal [may stem from the fact that] 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". Indeed, Tagore's works were—alongside works by Dante Alighieri, Miguel de Cervantes, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Plato, and Leo Tolstoy—published in free editions around 1920. Modern remnants of a once widespread Latin American reverence of Tagore were discovered, for example, by an astonished Salman Rushdie during a trip to Nicaragua.[95] But over time, Tagore's talents came to be regarded by many as over-rated, leading Graham Greene to say in 1937 that "I cannot believe that anyone but Mr. Yeats can still take his poems very seriously."[93]

Bibliography (partial)

— Bangla-language originals —
* Manasi 1890 (The Ideal One)
* Sonar Tari 1894 (The Golden Boat)
* Gitanjali 1910 (Song Offerings)
* Gitimalya 1914 (Wreath of Songs)
* Balaka 1916 (The Flight of Cranes)
* Valmiki Pratibha 1881 (The Genius of Valmiki)
* Visarjan 1890 (The Sacrifice)
* Raja 1910 (The King of the Dark Chamber)
* Dak Ghar 1912 (The Post Office)
* Achalayatan 1912 (The Immovable)
* Muktadhara 1922 (The Waterfall)
* Raktakaravi 1926 (Red Oleanders)
      Literary fiction
* Nastanirh 1901 (The Broken Nest)
* Gora 1910 (Fair-Faced)
* Ghare Baire 1916 (The Home and the World)
* Yogayog 1929 (Crosscurrents)
* Jivansmriti 1912 (My Reminiscences)
* Chhelebela 1940 (My Boyhood Days)
— English-language translations —
* Chitra (1914)[20]
* Creative Unity (1922)
* Fruit-Gathering (1916)
* Gitanjali: Song Offerings (1912)
* Glimpses of Bengal (1991)
* I Won't Let you Go: Selected Poems (1991)
* My Boyhood Days (1943)
* My Reminiscences (1991)
* Nationalism (1991)
* The Crescent Moon (1913)[96]
* The Fugitive (1921)
* The Gardener (1913)
* The Home and the World (1985)
* The Hungry Stones and other stories (1916)[97]
* The Post Office (1996)
* Sadhana: The Realisation of Life (1913)
* Selected Letters (1997)
* Selected Poems (1994)
* Selected Short Stories (1991)
* Songs of Kabir (1915)[98]
* Stray Birds (1916)[99]
      Works in Engligh
* Thought Relics (1921)[100]

See also

  • Rabindranath Tagore (film)—a biographical documentary by Satyajit Ray.


Image:Example.of.complex.text.rendering.svg This article contains Indic text.
Without rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes or other symbols instead of Indic characters; or irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts.
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Rabindranath Tagore
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Rabindranath Tagore

     α.   ^  Narrow (Indian English) IPA transcription: [ɹobin̪d̪ɾonat̪ʰ ʈʰakuɹ].

     β.   ^  Romanized transliteration from Tagore's name in Robindronath Ţhakur.

     γ.   ^  In the Bangla Calendar: 25 Baishakh, 1268 – 22 Srabon, 1348.

     δ.   ^  "Gurudev" translates as "divine mentor".[101]

     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 (Bengali: কলকাতা), near Chitpur Road.[102]

     ζ.   ^  Etymology of "Visva-Bharati": from the Sanskrit term for "world" or "universe" and the name of a Rigveda goddess ("Bharati") associated with Saraswati, the Hindu patron goddess of learning.[103] "Visva-Bharati" also translates as "India in the World".

     η.   ^  Tagore was mired in several notable controversies, including his dealings with Indian nationalists Subhas Chandra Bose[93] and Rash Behari Bose,[104] his expressions of admiration for Soviet-style Communism,[105][106] and papers confiscated from Indian nationalists in New York allegedly implicating Tagore in a plot to use German funds to overthrow the British Raj.[107] The latter allegation caused Tagore's book sales and popularity among the U.S. public to plummet.[104] Lastly, his relations with and ambivalent opinion of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini revolted many, causing Romain Rolland (a close friend of Tagore's) to state that "[h]e is abdicating his role as moral guide of the independent spirits of Europe and India".[108]


  1. ^ ^ ^ ^ a b c d e ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ a b "Chitra at Project Gutenberg"
  2. ^ Asiatic Society of Bangladesh 2006.
  3. ^ ^ Indo-Asian News Service 2005.
  4. ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ a b Tagore Festival Committee 2006.
  5. ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ a b ^ ^ ^ ^ a b ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ a b ^ ^ ^ ^ a b c ^ ^ ^ "The Crescent Moon"
  6. ^ "The Hungry Stones"
  7. ^ "Songs of Kabir"
  8. ^ "Stray Birds"
  9. ^ "Thought Relics"
  10. ^ ^ ^ ^ a b ^ ^ ^ ^



  • Asiatic Society of Bangladesh (2006), "Tagore, Rabindranath", Banglapedia [April 5, 2006].
  • Cameron, R (2006), "Exhibition of Bengali film posters opens in Prague", Radio Prague [April 5, 2006].
  • Chakrabarti, I (2001), "A People's Poet or a Literary Deity", Parabaas [April 5, 2006].
  • Chakravarty, A (1961), A Tagore Reader, Beacon Press, ISBN 0-8070-5971-4.
  • Dasgupta, A (2001), "Rabindra-Sangeet As A Resource For Indian Classical Bandishes", Parabaas [April 5, 2006].
  • Dutta, K & Robinson, A (1995), Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-14030-4.
  • Dutta, K (editor) & Robinson, A (editor) (1997), Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-16973-6.
  • Dyson, KK (2001), "Rabindranath Tagore and his World of Colours", Parabaas [April 5, 2006].
  • Frenz, H (editor) (1969), "Rabindranath Tagore—Biography", Nobel Foundation [April 5, 2006].
  • Hatcher, BA (2001), "Aji Hote Satabarsha Pare: What Tagore Says To Us A Century Later", Parabaas [April 5, 2006].
  • Hjärne, H (1913), "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1913", Nobel Foundation [April 5, 2006].
  • Indo-Asian News Service (2005), "Recitation of Tagore's poetry of death", Hindustan Times [April 5, 2006].
  • Kämpchen, M (2003), "Rabindranath Tagore In Germany", Parabaas [April 5, 2006].
  • Meyer, L (2004), "Tagore in The Netherlands", Parabaas [April 5, 2006].
  • Mukherjee, M (2004), "Yogayog (Nexus) by Rabindranath Tagore: A Book Review", Parabaas [April 5, 2006].
  • Radice, W (2003), "Tagore's Poetic Greatness", Parabaas [April 5, 2006].
  • Robinson, A (1997), "Tagore, Rabindranath", Encyclopædia Britannica [April 5, 2006].
  • Roy, BK (1977), Rabindranath Tagore: The Man and His Poetry, Folcroft Library Editions, ISBN 0-8414-7330-7.
  • Sen, A (1997), "Tagore and His India", New York Review of Books [April 5, 2006].
  • Sil, NP (2005), "Devotio Humana: Rabindranath's Love Poems Revisited", Parabaas [April 5, 2006].
  • Tagore, R & Pal, PB (translator) (1918), "The Parrot's Tale", Parabaas [April 5, 2006].
  • Tagore, R (1977), Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore, Macmillan Publishing, ISBN 0-02-615920-1.
  • Stewart, T (editor, translator) & Twichell, Chase (editor, translator) (2003), Rabindranath Tagore: Lover of God, Copper Canyon Press, ISBN 1-55659-196-9.
  • Tagore Festival Committee (2006), "History of the Tagore Festival", College of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign [April 5, 2006].
  • Urban, HB (2001), Songs of Ecstasy: Tantric and Devotional Songs from Colonial Bengal, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-513901-1.

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Rabindranath Tagore
  • Chaudhuri, A (2004), The Vintage Book of Modern Indian Literature, Vintage.
  • Deutsch, A & Robinson, A (1989), The Art of Rabindranath Tagore, Monthly Review Press, ISBN 0-233-98359-7.
  • Deutsch, A (editor) & Robinson, A (editor) (1997), Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-59018-3.
  • Tagore, R (2000), Gitanjali, Macmillan India Ltd, ISBN 0-333-93575-6.

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