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Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, a multitalented personality, can be explained as "here is god's plenty." He was a poet, a novelist, a painter, a social reformer, a composer, a philosopher etc., and was also known as Gurudev. Although his first language was Bengali, he started his writings in Bengali but later translated many of them into English, which became the milestone for his literary career. However, he has written so many poems, short stories, novels, drama etc., but his fame mainly lies on 'Gitanjali' and the national anthem 'Jana Gana Mana'. He had also written the national anthem for Bangladesh, 'Amar Shonar Bangla'. The national anthem of Sri Lanka was also inspired by Tagore's work.

Tagore's Greatness

Rabindranath Tagore was one of the great personalities in the history of Indian English literature as well as in Bengali literature. His contribution to emerging Indian English literature or to Bengali literature is significant and remarkable. However, Tagore did not have the academic struggle due to improper schooling. His conscious mind and ability to penetrate or understand nature as well as life around him made him a great literary figure. He was the first Indian to get the Novel Prize for literature in 1913 and gained a place for modern India on the world literary scene. Even this award of Novel Prize in literature was just the beginning of his recognition globally, for the place to which very few can attain in literary history. He got the Novel Prize for his most popular collection of poems, 'Gitanjali'. It also influenced many great English poets like Ezra Pound and W.B.Yeats. Even once, Yeats said to a distinguished Bengali doctor of medicine that Tagore is the product of the new 'renaissance in India.' His greatness lies in the field of music, and poetry and his songs are sung in all places wherever Bengali is spoken. He was a great man who left behind him a great institution of Vishva Bharti at Shantiniketan.

Tagore's Life and Events

Early life

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was born on 6th May 1861 in Jorasanko Mansion, Calcutta. His father was Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, and his mother was Sarada Devi. It was a coincidence that Tagore and Motilal Nehru (father of Jawaharlal Nehru) were born on the same date. He was the youngest of seven siblings. Due to Tagore's mother died in his early childhood, he was brought up by servants. Rabindranath Tagore, earlier known as Robindronath Thakur (nickname Rabi), was a Rarhi Brahmins with his original sir name kushari. The name of his village is kush, located in Burdwan district West Bengal. Both his grandfather (Prince Dwarakanath) and his father had a strong social background as his grandfather was a friend of Raja Rammohan Roy and his father was the big supporter as well as the strength of Brahmo Samaj in its palmy days.

Art and literature were rooted in his family background. His family was the publisher of literary magazines, as well as they, were active in theatre and fond of classical music. Even Tagore's father employed musicians for teaching classical music to his children. Tagore's siblings were also full of literary mind as his brothers like Dwijendranath was a philosopher and a poet, Jyotirindranath was a musician, composer, and playwright and Swarnakumari (sister) was a novelist. His one of brother named Satyendranath was the 1st Indian appointed as all-European Indian civil service.

Tagore's travelling and his early writing

Like Shakespeare, Tagore has had very less schooling, and he learned more from his travelling, nature, and from society and the lives of human beings. After getting the age of 11 and after his upanayana sanskar in 1873, he first visited Santiniketan and went to Dalhousie with his father. There he read the biographies, history, astronomy, science, Sanskrit and the poetry of Kalidas and others poets variously. During his travelling, he visited Amritsar, where in Golden Temple, he was influenced by the songs of Gurunanak Bani. Later he mentioned these experiences in his autobiography My Reminiscences (1912).

Tagore began his writing at an early stage when he was 15 years old. In 1875 his first publication came that was in prose and verse. Before attaining his 18, he wrote about 7000 lines in verse. His first short story, originally written in Bengali, was "Bhikharini" later; it was translated into English as "The Beggar Woman." That time, he got inspiration from Bengali Vaishnava singers and from Indian devotional poetry. The ancient Indian text like Vedas, the Upnishads, the Purans, Ramayana and Mahabharta was the source of inspiration for Tagore as its influence can be seen upon him. The Indian saints like Guru Nanak and Kabir also influenced him.

Tagore's London life

In spite of Tagore's interest in literature, his father wanted his son to become a barrister. In 1878, he was get admitted to a public school in Brighton, London. But after a very short period, he left school and started an independent study. He studied Shakespeare's plays and Thomas Browne's Religio Medici that influenced him the most. He also read romantics and Victorian poets who inspired him most. They were Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson and Browning.

Tagore's Marriage Life

Rabindranath Tagore

In 1880 Tagore returned to Bengal and had been publishing his poems, novels and short stories regularly. Tagore got married in 1883 to Mrinalini Devi, who was just 10 years old at that time. Later they had five children, but only three of them could survive. The period of 1891-95 is known as the Sadhana period of Tagore's life. These years are the most productive years as he wrote most of the stories of the three volumes of "Galpaguchchha" (84 stories). In these stories, he portrayed the pathetic condition and poverty of rural Bengal. In 1998 Tagore joined his family in ancestral estates in Shelaidaha (now part of Bangladesh). There Tagore owned a boat named Padma, also known as Budgerow. It was a luxurious family barge.

Rabindranath Tagore

Foundation of Visva Bharti Santiniketan

Further, Tagore shifted to Santiniketan in 1901 and founded an ashram. There his wife died in 1902, and also his two children died there. His father also died in 1905. Actually, Tagore was against classroom schooling. According to him, classroom schooling is a parrot's training, where a bird is caged and force-fed textbook pages to death. When he visited Santa Barbara in 1917, he got the idea of a new method of teaching.

He founded Visva Bharti in 1918, although it was inaugurated 3 years later. There was a brahmacharya system in the school, and the gurus used it to guide their students (emotional, intellectual, and spiritual). The teaching was done under the trees. Tagore contributed his Nobel Prize money to Santiniketan. He used to teach the students as well as used to write textbooks for students. He made Santiniketan a connecting bridge between India and the world as well as made it a centre for the study of humanity. He fundraised for the school in Europe and the USA.

Rabindranath Tagore

Establishment of Shriniketan

In 1921 Shriniketan (abode of welfare) was established by Tagore and Leonard Elmhurst (agricultural economist) in Sural village. Through this institute, Tagore strengthens Gandhi's Swaraj protest against the British. He also lectured against caste discrimination and untouchability. He opened the Guruvayoor temple for Dalits.

Tagore's later years and his foreign tour

In later years Tagore visited many countries. He was an unofficial ambassador of India because only his presence and speech were used to increase the prestige of India. However, his involvement was not in politics, but he had good and friendly relations with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Gradually with time, he became more influential as well as a legendary figure.

Tagore's last years and death

In his last five years, he suffered from chronic pain and long illness and died on 7th August 1941 at the age of 80 in the room of Jorasanko Mansion where he had grown up. In the words of Dr Edward Thompson's "not a man only but an age had made its way at last into history. He had summed up in himself as a whole age, in which India moved into the modern world".

Tagore's awards

Tagore got many awards. In 1913 he got the Nobel Prize in literature. In 1915 he got knighthood honor by King George V but renounced the award after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. Later in March 2004, the Nobel Prize was stolen from Visva-Bharti, and the same year in the month of December, two replicas of the Nobel Prize, one of gold and another of bronze was presented by Swedish Academy. However, in 2016 the sheltered of the thieves was caught, and the prize was recovered.

Tagore's source of income

His sources of income were book royalties (2000 rupees), monthly payments from Shantiniketan as part of his inheritance, and from the maharaja of Tripura as he sold the Jewellery of his family and from his bungalow of Puri.

According to Bengalis critics, Tagore is the greatest writer. He left behind him a bulk of writings in all genres like poetry, prose both in Bengali and English translation, novels (3 full novels), and short stories in which 50 short stories were translated into English, several lectures, essays on various topics, letters and the plays. However, he had written in all genres, but he was top in his poetry.

Tagore as a poet

His greatest collection of poems, Gitanjali, consists of 100 poems. He expressed his thoughts and feelings about man, god and nature in the songs of Gitanjali. These songs are mainly poems of devotion to god. Devotional poetry occupies a very important place in the Indian tradition. Those who write it can never be proud or arrogant. They can never think that they are superior to others. The songs in 'Gitanjali' are the best examples of devotional poetry in the modern age. Basically, these songs are the poet's meditation on the relationship between god, human beings and nature. They are also called bhakti and mystical poems. W.B Yeats says in his essay on Gitanjali, "I read Rabindranath everyday; to read one line of his is to forget all the troubles of the world".

Some poems of 'Gitanjali' are;

Heaven of Freedom, this poem is in the coursebook of schools and colleges where the students used to recite it. Another poem is the Cresent Moon; it is basically the child poem. In this poem, Tagore describes the beauty, innocence, humor and all mystic quality of a child. In this poem, Tagore portrays the thought and feelings of a child. In another poem, The Bhagavata, he explains the childhood stage of Krishna.

In this poem, superior, he explains the older child. Tagore's Authorship is a poem of fancy. In the poem The Last Bargain, a child wins because the king with his power, the rich man with his money, and the fair maid with her beauty all looses because they cannot hire the poet.

Love occupies a very important place in the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore. The borderline between human love and the love of god becomes indistinct to many occasions in his poetry. The loss of distinction charms the readers. The devotion to god expresses itself in love for him on many occasions. 'The Gardner' is a very important collection of love poems by Rabindranath Tagore. After Gitanjali, the Gardner consists of large collections of poetry. They are also the love poem like Gitanjali but the love for human beings, not for divine power.

Here I am giving the list of Tagore's poetry in Bengali with English translated name.

Poetry in Bengali English translation
Bhanusimha Thakur Padavali Songs of Bhanusima Thakur
Manasi The Ideal One
Sonar Tari The Golden Boat
Gitanjali Song Offerings
Gitimalya Wreath of Songs
Balaka The flight of Cranes

Some facts about Tagore that makes him a great poet are:

  • His philosophical and spiritual quest
  • His meaningful love for nature
  • His artistic skill and poetic craftsmanship
  • His scriptures and happy choice of idioms, phrases and symbols
  • Evolution of music in his poetry
  • The kind of transcendental atmosphere that he seeks to create in his poetical writings.

Tagore as a novelist

If we talk about the novel and short stories of Rabindranath Tagore, we can say that he was the novelist of ideas. The following lines of Ralph fox suited to the Tagore:

"The novelist therefore has a special responsibility both to the present and the past of his country. What he inherits from the past is important, because it shows the sections of his country's cultural heritage which have meaning today. What he says of the present is important, because he is assumed to be expressing what is most vital in the spirit of his time. It may be objected that the novelist is not concerned with other people's attitude to his work. What he inherits what he expresses is strictly his own offair."

Names of Tagore fictions in Bengali and their English translations

Fictions in Bengali English Translation
Nastanirh The Broken Nest
Gora Fair-Faced
Ghare Baire The Home and the World
Yogayog Crosscurrents

Tagore, all the novels were written in Bengali, but three novels, The Wreck (1921), Gora (1923) and The Home and the World (1919), were translated into English. We can trace a spirit of humanism and universalism in his novels as there is an influence of ancient grantha like Upnishadas on it. Due to his deep consciousness, he was well aware of his surrounding as well as the problems of mankind. He had deep sympathy for the poor and downtrodden.

His novels are basically the social novel which portrays the problems of human life. Like in The Wreck, he portrays the problems of marriage. The novel is full of uncertainty and chances. There were two marriage parties sailing on a boat. Unfortunately, the boat is drowned, and only two people on the boat could be saved. They are Kamala, one of the brides, and Ramesh, one of the bridegrooms. However, in the end, Kamala meets his husband, and the story ends happily.

Gora is a political novel. In this novel, Tagore conveyed his vision about an individual's role in British India through the protagonist of the novel Gora. At the starting of the novel, Gora is presented as a Hindu patriot who rebels against the exploitation and injustice of British rule. He follows Hinduism so much blindly that he accepts all its orthodox and superstitious traditions. For example, he breaks his relations with his friend by marrying him to an inter-caste girl. But by the end of the novel, when the truth reveals about his birth and his birth parents, he realizes that human love is the greatest religion. He enlightens and gets free from all shackles and says:

That which day and night I have been longing for, but which I could not be, today, at last, I have become. Today I am really an Indian! In me, there is no longer any opposition between Hindu, Musalman, and Christian. Today every cast in India is my cast.

The home and the world is also a political novel. Through this novel, Tagore portrays the different ways of freedom fighters for independence of the country and, by the end, also suggests the right way. The novel revolves around the three characters Bimla, Sandip and Nikhil. Nikhil adopts the non-violence way for the freedom struggle, and Sandip follows the violent way. Bimala, who is the wife of Nikhil first influenced by Sandip's ways of freedom struggle and also develops relations with him. But finally, she comes back and accepts the non-violence way of her husband, Nikhil. In this novel, Tagore conveys the method of non-violence is the right way that every Indian should follow for their struggle for independence.

Tagore's short stories

Apart from these novels, Tagore has also written many short stories. His short stories are considered the best stories in world literature. Tagore conveys in the short stories the pathos, beauty, and sublimity of life through the simple characters and incidents of human life. He portrayed love, human relationship, supernatural things and the relation between man and nature. In his story 'Cabuliwallah' he shows the affection of a father for his daughter.

Homecoming is a tragic story of Phatik, who, after going to Calcutta, always remember his home and wants to come back. There is a feeling of nostalgia. He was unable to come out from this feeling and finally fell ill that proved fatal for him. In the story The Night and the Skeleton, he portrays supernatural suggestions. He portrays the social problems in My Fair Neighbor, in which he exposes the cast system; in Babus of Nayanjore, he portrays the family fights, and in the Wife's Letter, he discloses the modern woman. He portrays the romance in his story The Hungry Stone and Victory. So overall, Tagore wrote short stories in a different area that influenced the development of the Indian English novel. His novels, as well as short stories, are basically social and realistic in nature. Through these writings, Tagore exposes the evils and drawbacks of society and at the same time also gives suggestions about a man or society that how these should be.

Names of Tagore's Dramas in Bengali with English translated name

Drama in Bengali English Translation
Valmiki-Pratibha The Genius of Valmiki
Kal-Mrigaya The Fatal Hunt
Mayar Khela The Play of Illusions
Visarjan The Sacrifice
Chitrangada Chitrangada
Raja The King of the Dark Chamber
Dak Ghar The Post Office
Achalayatan The Immovable
Muktadhara The Waterfall
Raktakarabi Red Oleanders
Chandalika The Untouchable Girl

Tagore wrote only one book originally in English, Thought Relics (1921). All his other books are translations.

Tagore's Biographies in Bengali and their English translation

Biographies in Bengali English Translation
Jivansmiriti My Reminiscences
Chhelebela My Boyhood Days

List of Tagore's English translation with publishing year:

  1. Chitra (1914)
  2. Creative Unity (1922)
  3. The Crescent Moon (1913)
  4. The Cycle of Spring (1917)
  5. Fireflies (1928)
  6. Fruit-Gathering (1916)
  7. The Fugitive (1916)
  8. The Gardener (1913)
  9. Gitanjali: Songs offerings (1912)
  10. Glimpses of Bengal (1920)
  11. The Home and the World (1921)
  12. The Hungry Stones (1916)
  13. I Won't Let You Go: selected poems (1991)
  14. The King of the Dark Chamber (1914)
  15. Letters From an Expatriate in Europe (2012)
  16. The lover of god (2003)
  17. Mashi (1918)
  18. My Boyhood Days (1943)
  19. My Reminiscences (1917)
  20. Nationalism (1917)
  21. The Post Office (1914)
  22. Sadhana: The Realization of Life (1913)
  23. Selected Letters (1997)
  24. Seleted Poems (1994)
  25. Selected Short Stories (1991)
  26. Songs of Kabir (1915)
  27. The Spirit of Japan (1916)
  28. Stories from Tagore (1918)
  29. Stray Birds (1916)
  30. Vocation (1913)
  31. The Wreck (1921)

There are so many movies and serials made on Tagore's novels and short stories in both Bengali and Hindi. Some of his Bengali movies are:

  1. Natir Puja by Tagore himself in 1932
  2. Gora by Naresh Mitra in 1938
  3. Noukadubi by Nitin Bose
  4. Bou Thakuranir Haat by Naresh Mitra in 1953
  5. Kabuliwala by Tapan Sinha in 1957
  6. Kshudhita Pashan by Tapan Sinha in 1960
  7. Teen Kanya by Satyajit Ray in 1961
  8. Charulata based on Nastanirh, by Satyajit Ray in 1964
  9. Megh O Roudra by Arundhati Devi in 1969
  10. Ghare Baire by Satyajit Ray in 1985
  11. Chokher Bali by Rituparno Ghosh in 2003
  12. Shasti by Chashi Nazrul Islam in 2004
  13. Shuva based on Shuvashini, by Chashi Nazrul Islam in 2006
  14. Chaturanga by Suman Mukhopadhyay in 2008
  15. Naukadubi by Rituparno Ghosh in 2011
  16. Elar Char Adhyay based on Char Adhyay, by Bappaditya Bandyopadhyay in 2012

Some Hindi movies and serials are:

  1. Sacrifice based on Balidan by Nanand Bhojai and Naval Gandhi in 1927
  2. Milan based on Nauka Dubi by Nitin Bose in 1946
  3. Dak Ghar by Zul Vellani in 1965
  4. Kabuliwala by Bimal Roy in 1961
  5. Uphaar based on Sampati by Sudhendu Roy
  6. Lekin based on Kshudhit Pashaan by Gulzar in 1991
  7. Char Adhyay by Kumar Shahani in 1997
  8. Kashmakash based on Nauka Dubi by Rituparno Ghosh in 2011
  9. Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (anthology TV series) by Anurag Basu in 2015
  10. Bioscopewala based on Kabuliwala by Deb Medhekar in 2017.

Apart from these, several Bengali movies were made on Rabindranath Tagore like; in 1961, Satyajit Ray wrote as well as directed the film Rabindranath Tagore. In 2002 Tagore was portrayed by Jisshu Sengupta in the movie Chhelebela. In 2007 Sayandip Bhattacharya played the role of Tagore in the movie Chirosakha He. In 2011 Samadarshi Dutta played the role of Tagore in the movie Jeevan Smiriti. In 2015 Parambrata Chatterjee portrayed Tagore in the movie Kadambari.


Rabindranath Tagore loved India, and he loved the whole world. He thought Bengal to be a beautiful part of India and the whole of India to be a beautiful part of the world. In the words of K.R Srinivasan Iyengar, Rabindranath Tagore was essentially an internationalist. He interpreted the heart of India to the whole world, and this heart of India had only love for the entire mankind.

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