Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore – a legend

9 May

Today (May 9, 2010)  is the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the legendary Bengali poet, philosopher, educationist, essayist, musician, novelist and playwright.

Wikipedia rightly refers to the person who alone reshaped Bengali literature and gifted with worldwide respect as a “Bengali polymath.” The word polymath means a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning. His life and writings is a subject by itself but I here make an attempt to put down some of the interesting or lesser known facts about him.

  • Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 for Gitanjali.
  • Rabindranath loved and admired Gandhi Ji and it was he who named the father of the nation “Mahatma” which is Sanskrit for great soul.
  • Tagore is the only poet to have penned the national anthems of two countries – “Jana Gana Mana” for India and “Amar Shonar Bangla for Bangladesh”
  • He started writing peoms as early as when he was just 8. His first work was published when he was 16 under the pseudonym Bhanusingho. In 1877, he wrote the Bengali language’s first short story – Bhikarini.
  • Rabindranath studied at home when he was young and left for England to study law in 1878. However, he did but it was the works of Shakespeare that attracted him more. He returned degreeless to Bengal in 1880.
  • His most productive years was perhaps when he worked as the Zamindar or landlord in Shilaidaha (now in Bangladesh) during 1891 – 1905. He lived out of his family’s luxurious barge – the Padma.
  • His political views was complex. He opposed imperialism and supported Indian nationalists evident in many of his works. However, he also Rabindranath Tagore was under constant surveillance of the British intelligence of the pre-independence era that viewed the Nobel laureate as a close associate of underground revolutionaries.
  • 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.
  • During his stay in San Francisco in 1916, some Indian expatriates had hatched a plot to assassinate the poet during his stay there as they were enraged by his views on the style of the revolution in India at that time and considered him as an agent of the British Government. The two people entrusted with the job had an argument at the hotel lobby where Tagore was staying and the plot failed. The poet was informed of the threat to his life and although he did not take it seriously, he was given security escorts who accompanied him everywghere.  Read more on this.
  • Tagore traveled extensively across 5 continents to more than 30 countries! uch extensive travels allowed Tagore to interact with many notable contemporaries, including Henri Bergson,Victoria Ocampo, Aga Khan III, Benito Mussolini, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Romain Rolland.
  • On 22nd December 1901, Rabindranath Tagore established his school at Santiniketan with five students (including his eldest son) and an equal number of teachers. He originally named it Brahmacharya Ashram in the tradition of ancient forest hermitages.On 22nd December 1901, Rabindranath Tagore established his school at Santiniketan with five students (including his eldest son) and an equal number of teachers. He originally named it Brahmacharya Ashram in the tradition of ancient forest hermitages. The Vishwa Bharati University, as it is known today is a central university with more than 6,500 students.
  • In 1905, Lord Curzon decided to divide Bengal into two parts. Rabindranath Tagore strongly protested against this decision. Tagore wrote a number of national songs and attended protest meetings. He introduced the Rakhibandhan ceremony , symbolizing the underlying unity of undivided Bengal.
  • Tagore had a good grasp of modern – post-Newtonian – physics, and was well able to hold his own in a debate with Einstein in 1930 on the newly emerging principles of quantum mechanics and chaos. His meetings and tape recorded conversations with his contemporaries such Albert Einstein and H.G. Wells, stand as cultural landmarks, and show the brilliance of this great man. Read more on this. After seeing Tagore and Einstein in conversation, one journalist remarked – “It was interesting to see them together—Tagore, the poet with the head of a thinker, and Einstein, the thinker with the head of a poet. It seemed to an observer as though two planets were engaged in a chat. “
  • In 1940 Oxford University arranged a special ceremony in Santiniketan and awarded Rabindranath Tagore with Doctorate Of Literature. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore passed away on August 7, 1941 in his ancestral home in Calcutta.


Check out the Google Timeline on Rabindranath Tagore here.

Tagore – his life and works is a subject by itself and requires a lifetime to grasp and understand completely. Today, on his birthday I just tried to learn a bit more of this great Bengali. However here is an attempt by another renowned Bengali – Satyajit Ray to understand the greatness of Rabindranath Tagore.

On 7th August 1941, in the city of Calcutta,
a man died.
His mortal remains perished,
but he left behind him a heritage,
which no fire could consume.
It is a heritage of words and music
and poetry,
of ideas and ideals.

And it has the power
to move us, to inspire us,
today and in the days to come.
We, who owe him so much,
salute his memory.

Satyajit Ray wrote the above lines as an introduction to his film on Rabindranath Tagore, made on the eve of birth centenary celebration of Tagore, in the year 1961. He called the film simply Rabindranath Tagore, probably, being aware that he is unable to encompass in its entirety the richness of the personality of Rabindranath Tagore.

External Links: 1) Rabindranath Tagore in Wikipedia
2) Biography of Tagore in

Some of his quotes:

  • A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.
  • Age considers; youth ventures
  • Beauty is truth’s smile when she beholds her own face in a perfect mirror.
  • Bigotry tries to keep truth safe in its hand with a grip that kills it.
  • By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.
  • Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
  • Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.
  • Depth of friendship does not depend on length of acquaintance.
  • Do not say, ‘It is morning,’ and dismiss it with a name of yesterday. See it for the first time as a newborn child that has no name.
  • Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.
  • Emancipation from the bondage of the soil is no freedom for the tree.
  • Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.
  • Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on.
  • Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.
  • Facts are many, but the truth is one.

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