- Born: 7 May 1861, Kolkata
- Died: 7 August 1941, Kolkata (aged 80)
- Profession: Bengali poet, novelist, musician, painter and playwright
- Recognition: 1st Nobel Prize winner from Asia - received for Literature (1913)
- National contribution: Wrote Bangladesh's anthem Amar Shonar Bangla & India's anthem 'Jana Gana Mana'
- Hasani? Didn't know that! Prolific painter also - but he suffered from red-green colour blindness
- Work include: Gitanjali ("Song Offerings"), Gora ("Fair-Faced"), and Ghare-Baire ("The Home and the World")
Rich family heritage
রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর was a Bengali poet, novelist, musician, painter and playwright who reshaped Bengali literature and music. As author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", he was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. His poetry in translation was viewed as spiritual, and this together with his mesmerizing persona gave him a prophet-like aura in the west but his "elegant prose and magical poetry" still remains largely unknown outside the confines of Bengal.
grandfather was Prince dwarkanath tagore and his father was Maharshi debendranath tagore. His grandafather's wealth exposed the family to western learning and culture and allowed his dad to pursue his devotion to spirituality and find out about God from western and indian philosophers. He would ultimately turn to the Upanishads for inspiration and guidance. This had an immense effect on young Robindronath - as did his family's close tie with his grandad's friend Raja rammohun roy, the leading reformer and monotheist of the day.
A Pirali Brahmin from Kolkata, Tagore was already writing poems at age eight. At age sixteen, he published his first substantial poetry under the pseudonym Bhanushingho ("Sun Lion") and wrote his first short stories and dramas in 1877. Tagore denounced the British Raj and supported independence. His efforts endure in his vast canon and in the institution he founded, Visva-Bharati University.
Tagore modernised Bengali art by spurning rigid classical forms. His novels, stories, songs, dance-dramas, and essays spoke to political and personal topics. 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 acclaimed for their lyricism, colloquialism, naturalism, and contemplation. Tagore was perhaps the only litterateur who penned anthems of two countries - Jana Gana Mana, the Indian national anthem and Amar Shonar Bangla, the Bangladeshi national anthem.
The youngest of thirteen surviving children, Tagore was born in the Jorasanko mansion in Kolkata of parents Debendranath Tagore (1817–1905) and Sarada Devi (1830–1875). Tagore family patriarchs were the Brahmo founding fathers of the Adi Dharm faith. He was mostly raised by servants, as his mother had died in his early childhood; his father travelled extensively.
Robindronath came from a distinguished and cultured family. One of his brother was a philosopher and poet, another a composer and playwright, another was the first Indian member of ICS, and even his sister was a successful novelist. One of Robindronath's son was sent to America to study agriculture and animal husbandry in the University of Illinois at Urbana.
From dream world to reality
Tagore left Calcutta on 14 February 1873 to tour India with his father for several months. His father was a religious man and he'd often retreat to the Himalayas for meditation. They visited his father's Santiniketan ashram and stopped in Amritsar before reaching the Himalayan hill station of Dalhousie. There, young "Rabi" read biographies and was home-educated in history, astronomy, modern science, and Sanskrit.
the Tagore family used to organise literary conferences where they invited prominent writers, journalists, and thinkers which they had titled 'Bidvajjan Samagam'. The organisers of these conferences were Dwijendranath, Satyendranath, and Jyotirindranath.
Small but influential spell in UK reading law
Noticing Robindronath's disinterest to formal education in India, his elder brother Satyendranath suggested to his dad that he should be sent to UK to become a barrister. Thus both Robindronath and his brother sailed to UK and enrolled him at a public school in Brighton, East Sussex, England in 1878. He read law at University College London, but left school to explore Shakespeare and more. he returned degreeless to Bengal in 1880.
He wrote his first drama-opera—Valmiki Pratibha (The Genius of Valmiki) - at the age of twenty. His UK influence shown in it as he set some of his lyrics to western tunes.
On 9 December 1883 he married Mrinalini Devi (born Bhabatarini, 1873–1902); they had five children, two of whom died before reaching adulthood.
As "Zamindar Babu", Tagore criss-crossed the holdings while living out of the family's luxurious barge, the Padma, to collect (mostly token) rents and bless villagers, who held feasts in his honour. These years—1891–1895: Tagore's Sadhana period, after one of Tagore’s magazines, after the periodical called sadhana, edited by his bhatiza (Dwijendranath's son Sudhindranath)—were his most fecund. During this period, more than half the stories of the three-volume and eighty-four-story Galpaguchchha were written.With irony and gravity, they depicted a wide range of Bengali lifestyles, particularly village life. But now he had had the opportunity to come close to the life of ordinary people and survey the life of the poor from up close. The poet now descended from the world of the imagination to the real world.
In 1901, Tagore left Shilaidaha and moved to Shantiniketan to found an ashram (place of religious retreat). Here his wife, two children and father died. It was in Shantiniketan that Robindronath wrote his Gitanjali: Song offerings in 1912.
First Asian Nobel Prize winner
On 14 November 1913, Tagore learned that he had won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature for his Gitanjali, becoming the first Asian Nobel laureate. The Noble Prize for Literature is awarded by the Swedish Academy (Sweden) in honor of Alfred Noble, the inventor of dynamite who had donated large part of his will to institute nobel prizes (in literature, peace, physics, chemistry, and medicine) since 1901.
In 1915, Tagore was knighted by the British Crown. He later returned his knighthood in protest of the massacre of unarmed Indians in 1919 at Jallianwala Bagh (in Amritsar, where more than 379 peaceful protestors were massacred by British army on the Punjabi New Year in April 13th).
Travelled to over thirty countries
Between 1878 and 1932, Tagore visited more than thirty countries on five continents including...Canada, Peru, Mexico, Indonesia, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Soviet Union, Iraq.
In England he stayed in at a friends in Birmingham at wrote his famous Oxford lectures in 1931.
He promoted his works and his political view of unity in diversity and mingled with many high profile celebrities such as Albert Einstein, William Yeats (who wrote the preface for the English translation of Robindronath's Gitanjali), Benito Mussolini (Italian fascist politician), George Bernard Shaw, Henri Bergson (french philosopher) and many more.
Inspired by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
During a May 1932 visit to a Bedouin encampment in the Iraqi desert, the tribal chief told him that:
Our prophet has said that a true Muslim is he by whose words and deeds not the least of his brother-men may ever come to any harm ...
A tribal chief of Iraq
Tagore noted in his diary:
I was startled into recognizing in his words the voice of essential humanity.
Fighting for the 'Untouchables'
To the end, Tagore scrutinized orthodoxy. He upbraided Gandhi for declaring that a massive 15 January 1934 earthquake in Bihar—leaving thousands dead—was divine retribution brought on by the oppression of Dalits. (meaning 'Broken people' and referring in to the lower caste of Hindu system often considered the 'untouchables' or 'outcaste'.)
In 1921, Tagore and agricultural economist Leonard Elmhirst set up the Institute for Rural Reconstruction, later renamed Shriniketan—"Abode of Welfare"—in Surul, a village near the ashram at Santiniketan. Through it, Tagore bypassed Gandhi's symbolic Swaraj protests, which he despised. He sought aid from donors, officials, and scholars worldwide to "free village[s] from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance" by "vitalis[ing] knowledge". In the early 1930s, he targeted India's "abnormal caste consciousness" and untouchability. Lecturing against these, he penned untouchable heroes for his poems and dramas and campaigned—successfully—to open Guruvayoor Temple to Dalits.
Wrote and composed Bangladesh's anthem "Amar Shonar Bangla"
On 16 October 1905 Bengal was divided into two parts - East Bengal and West Bengal, by the British Empire to separate the Muslims and Hindus respectively so as to undermines India's fight against British rule. This partition of Bengal, known as 'Bongobhanga' was announced by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon.
Robindronath Tagore wrote and composed আমার সোনার বাঙলা (Amar Shonar Bangla) in 1905, and later the Indian anthem জন গণ মন (Jana Gana Mana) in 1911, to rekindle the unified spirit of Bengal, to raise public consciousness against this communal and political divide.
The first ten lyrics of Amar Shonar Bangla became adopted as the national anthem of Bangladesh in 1971 during the Liberation War.
India adopted Jana Gana Mana as it's national anthem in 1950.
Tagore's poetry masterpiece.
It's a collection of poems. Gitanjali itself means 'song offerings'. Many of Tagore's poem emphasised the divinity "within" a person, the 'jevan data' and 'moner manush', and he was heavily influenced by rishis (Hindu hymn composers to whom apparently the Vedas were revealed through 'higher consciousness') Baul (folk) music and lyrics especially those of Fokir Lalon Shah (ফকির লালন সাঁই - a Bengali philsopher poet, c. 1774–1890).
Other notable poems of Robindronath Thakur include:
- Sonar Tori (Golden Boat)
- Balaka (Wild Geese)
- Nirjharer Swapnabhanga (The Rousing of the Waterfall)
Stories converted to films by Satyajit Ray
Thakur wrote his three volume magnum opus during the Golpoguchchho (Bunch of Stories) 1890s. It contains eighty four stories dealing with social observation made by Thakur of village life of commoners and zamindars alike.
Some of these stories are:
- Nastanirh (The Broken Nest) - exploring the life of Bangladesh's "bodhrolok", or wealthy people. It contains a character called Bhupati who is blind to his wife Charu's loneliness and dissatisfaction and only realises what he lost once his cousin Amal comes and evokes passionate feelings in Charu. Satyajit Ray converted this story into his controversial 1964 film Charulata.
- Atithi - a story of a Brahim boy who hitches a boat ride with a zamindar after running away from his home. The zamindar feels sorry for him and fixes his daughter's marriage to the boy only for the boy to run away again the night before the wedding.
- Strir Potra (The Letter from the Wife) - a wife writes to her middle class husband whilst travelling detailing the pettiness and struggles of her life and finally revealing she is not coming back to him and declaring Amio bachbo. Ei bachlum: "And I shall live. Here, I live"
- Musalmani Didi - examines Hindu-Muslim tension.
- Darpaharan - a husband becomes humble and acknowledges his wife's talent.
He wrote "Bhikharini" (The Beggar Woman, 1877) — the Bengali language's first short story.
Robindronath Tagore has composed more than 2,000 songs.
After he composed his poems and had set them to music, he would have his students sing them for him. They would sing the songs in unison in the moonlight under the open sky. Almost all of the plays Rabindranath wrote in the latter part of his life were composed in Santiniketan. His students would act them out after he had written them. He also used to compose musical plays and dance dramas for the seasonal festivals organised here.
রবীন্দ্র সংগীত or "Tagore songs" are traditional songs created by Robindronath expressing the human emotions and situations of everyone from rich to poor. Be they the boatman of the River Ganges or zamindars, their trial and tribulations are contained in the lyrics of these songs. Even illiterate villagers sing his songs. Modern Rabindra Sangeet singers in Bangladesh are still passionate and loyal to their traditional practices and heavily dislike modern twist to these songs.
Coma leads to death
Tagore's last four years 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.
After extended suffering, Tagore died on 7 August 1941 in an upstairs room of the Jorasanko mansion in which he was raised.
The last person to see Tagore alive was Amiya Kumar Sen (brother of Sukumar Sen, the first chief election commissioner); Tagore dictated his last poem to Sen, who wrote it down. Sen later donated the resulting draft to a museum in Kolkata.
Life and death and the world itself were manifested to him as one. That is why he had composed the following lines in a song that encapsulates his philosophy of life: 'Full of sorrow, full of death, and the pain of separation/Still bliss, happiness, and delight keep emerging within us'.
- Visva-Bharati - university founded by Robindronath
- Page dedicated to Robindronath Tagore on the official Noble Prize website
Photos and works of Robindronath Thakur