Tagore – India’s First Polymath

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One man that is synonymous with Indian Literature is Rabindranath Tagore. He is instrumental in shaping Indian and Bengali literature, music and art with Contextual Modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By spurning rigid classical forms and resisting linguistic strictures, Tagore modernized Bengali art.

He authored the book Gitanjali which is a collection of poems and is a part of the  UNESCO Collection of Representative Works. This book was largely responsible for him to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and he became the first Indian and first non-European Nobel laureate in doing so.

Famously known as the “Bard of Bengal”, his stories, novels, songs, dance-dramas, and essays covered topics which were both political and personal. He is also the only person in the world whose compositions were chosen by two nations as national anthems- Jana Gana Mana of India and Amar Shonar Bangla of Bangladesh.

Early Life                                                                                            

Born on 7th May 1861 in Jorasanko Mansion in Calcutta, He was the youngest son of Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. He was educated at home, and although he was sent for formal education to England at the age of seventeen, he did not complete his studies there. While he did not complete his studies but he started writing verses in the late 1870s and then returned to India.

He started composing works of art at a tender age and began publishing poems under the pseudonym Bhanusimha by the age of sixteen. He also wrote in 1877 the short story, ‘ Bhikharini ‘ and in 1882 the collection of poems, ‘ Sandhya Sangit. ‘

Inspiration

He took inspiration from reading Kalidasa’s classical poetry and began to come up with his classical poems. His brothers & sisters and other influences also inspired him in his artworks.

He had always despised formal schooling, showing no interest in learning from his school. He was subsequently enrolled at University College in London to learn the law.  But he once again dropped out and showed interest in learning several works of Shakespeare, which he eventually did on his own.

In 1891 he went to East Bengal (Bangladesh) to manage his family estates, where he often stayed in a houseboat on the Padma river in close contact with village folk which later became the keynote of much of his later writing. Most of his best short stories, which examine “modest life and their little miseries,” date back to the 1890s and have a poignancy that is peculiar to him, laced with gentle irony. His meeting with Einstein in 1930 was considered as a clash between science and spirituality and is considered one of the most stimulating, intellectually riveting conversations in history.

Shantiniketan

Rabindranath’s father in Santiniketan had purchased a huge stretch of land. With the concept of setting up an experimental school in the estate of his father, He moved base to Santiniketan in 1901 and established an ashram there. It had a prayer hall and was named the ‘The Mandir’.

He loved the concept of traditional Guru-Shishya method of teaching and therefore the classes were held under trees. His idea being that revival of this ancient method of teaching would prove beneficial as compared to the modernized method.

Literary Works

The artistic output of Rabindranath Tagore informs you a lot about this person of the renaissance. The quality, variety, and quantity are unbelievable and mind-boggling. As a writer, Tagore worked mainly in Bengali, but he translated many of his other works into English after his achievements with Gitanjali.

He has written over 1,000 poems; eight volumes of short stories; nearly two dozen plays and play-lets; eight novels; and many books and essays on religion, philosophy, education, and social themes.His other love besides words and drama was music. He wrote over 2,000 songs and composed both music and lyrics.

He in his 60s took up drawing and painting. His artworks were being displayed at exhibitions organized throughout Europe. Many of his paintings can be found in museums today such as the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi which houses as many as 102 of his artworks.

Last Days

Tagore was in continuous pain for the last four years of his life and bogged down by two lengthy bouts of illness. He entered a comatose condition in 1937, which reappeared after three years. He died on August 7, 1941, in the same Jorasanko mansion in which he was brought up after a prolonged period of suffering.

Legacy

He was not only a creative genius but a visionary who changed the way Bengali literature was viewed, which left an everlasting impression on many. He was renowned throughout much of Europe, East Asia & North America. His works were widely translated into English, Spanish, German, Dutch, and other European languages. His lecturing circuits particularly those of 1916-1917 in the United States, were wildly attended and critically acclaimed.

He was a remarkable person and one of the first of our planet to combine East and West, and ancient and modern knowledge. He truly is a superb representative of our country – India and exemplifies ideals of Goodness, Meaningful Work, and World Culture.

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