; Bengali: ), also written Ravndrantha hkura (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941),sobriquet Gurudev
, was a Bengali polymath who reshaped Bengali literature
, as well as Indian art
with Contextual Modernism
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Author of Gitanjali
and its “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse”, he became in 1913 the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature
. Tagore’s poetic songs were viewed as spiritual and mercurial; however, his “elegant prose and magical poetry” remain largely unknown outside Bengal. He is sometimes referred to as “the Bard
A Pirali Brahmin from Calcutta with ancestral gentry roots in Jessore, Tagore wrote poetry as an eight-year-old. At the age of sixteen, he released his first substantial poems under the pseudonym Bhnusiha (“Sun Lion”), which were seized upon by literary authorities as long-lost classics. By 1877 he graduated to his first short stories and dramas, published under his real name. As a humanist, universalist internationalist, and ardent anti-nationalist, he denounced the British Raj and advocated 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 also endures 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 acclaimedor pannedfor their lyricism, colloquialism, naturalism, and unnatural contemplation. His compositions were chosen by two nations as national anthems: India’s Jana Gana Mana and Bangladesh‘s Amar Shonar Bangla. The Sri Lankan national anthem was inspired by his work.
Our passions and desires are unruly, but our character subdues these elements into a harmonious whole. Does something similar to this happen in the physical world? Are the elements rebellious, dynamic with individual impulse? And is there a principle in the physical world which dominates them and puts them into an orderly organization?
Interviewed by Einstein, 14 April 1930.
Between 1878 and 1932, Tagore set foot in more than thirty countries on five continents. In 1912, he took a sheaf of his translated works to England, where they gained attention from missionary and Gandhi protg 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. He 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 Miralro 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 ended when Tagore pronounced upon Il Duce‘s fascist finesse. He had earlier enthused: “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 and two companions began a four-month tour of Southeast Asia. They visited Bali, Java, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Penang, Siam, and 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 Britainand as his paintings were exhibited in Paris and Londonhe lodged at a Birmingham Quaker settlement. He wrote his Oxford Hibbert Lectures and spoke at the annual London Quaker meet. There, addressing relations between the British and the Indians a topic he would tackle repeatedly over the next two years Tagore spoke of a “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, intrigued by the Persian mystic Hafez, was hosted by Reza Shah Pahlavi. In his other travels, Tagore interacted with Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Romain Rolland. Visits to Persia and Iraq (in 1932) and Sri Lanka (in 1933) composed Tagore’s final foreign tour, and his dislike of communalism and nationalism only deepened. Vice-President of India M. Hamid Ansari has said that Rabindranath Tagore heralded the cultural rapprochement between communities, societies and nations much before it became the liberal norm of conduct. Tagore was a man ahead of his time. He wrote in 1932, while on a visit to Iran, that “each country of Asia will solve its own historical problems according to its strength, nature and needs, but the lamp they will each carry on their path to progress will converge to illuminate the common ray of knowledge.”