‘Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high’. It was but the great Rabindra Nath Tagore who led us into the heaven of freedom with his powerful words. Penned before India’s independence, this poem continues to be the dream towards which the country awakens. This, along with his many great works is proof that the pen wields much more power than the sword, for the words that emerge from its tip, can pierce the soul.
The great poet, writer, story teller and leader was born on May 7th, 1861; and after his so called mortal-term, has lived immortaly ever since. This year, the world would mark his 52nd birth anniversary. Meets would be held, passages of his work would be discussed and authors and people inspired by his word will come together. We too at BR, will remember him, not just for what he did in his lifetime, but for all that he left behind after his mortal demise.
They say, that the story of each leader has behind it an influential background. For Rabindranath Tagore, it was perhaps his birth into a distinguished Pirali Brahmin Bengali family that made all the difference. He was named Rabindranath Thakur, a name where Thakur would later be anglicized as Tagore. He despised formal education, and without a mother, and a father who toured often, he had his schooling mainly conducted at home. His father, Debendranath Tagore was the founder of the renowned Brahmo Samaj. With such parentage he was brought up and coached by his siblings, who taught him the languages of Bengali, English and Sanskrit. These siblings too later emerged as famed literary figures and philosophers, leaving their impressions in the world of literature. The works of Bengali poets such as Chandidas, Jaideva, Bidyapati greatly influenced Tagore early in life and so did various literary journals which were present in his house. Soon, at the tender age of eight, he too began writing.
He would also write under the pseudonym of Bhanusinger Padabali for a while, a fact that was realized much later. In fact, when literary greats stumbled on to Bhanusinger’s work, they thought they had unravelled another great writer, only to find out that it was Rabindranath himself. By 1890 he had started contributing to various renowned literary journals of his time, but wasn’t satisfied with just that. So, later on, in the year 1901 he founded the kind of school he admired, called Shantiniketan, a place where he started to impart a combination of the traditional ashram and Western education. It was a novel model and even today continues to be a great place for learning.
To many he came to be known as the Myriad Minded Man of India, such was the diversity and strength of his writing. In fact many say that he influenced the west with Indian thought as much as he influenced Indian literature with western thinking. His work won him much appreciation and in 1912 he went to Britain for the English translation of ‘Gitanjali’. This book published under the Yeats auspices won him the Nobel Prize for literature, making him the first non-European to be conferred with such an honor. He later used the funds to improve upon the school building. Two of the songs he wrote were chosen by two countries as their national anthems. They were Jana Gana Mana, chosen by India and Amar Shonar Bangla, by Bangladesh.
He left behind various great contributions to the treasure chest of stories, poetry and music. Poetry was his forte, and some of his renowned work in the area includes Manasi, Sonar Tari, Gitanjali, The Gardener, The Fugitive, and Fruit Gathering. His plays include Raja, Dakghar, Achalayatan and Muktadhara. He also wrote short stories, novellas and novels, which include names like Gora, Ghare-Baire and Yogayog. Other than these he also wrote musical dramas, dance dramas, essays, travelogues and two autobiographies. He was knighted in the year 1915, such was the immensity of his contribution, but Rabindranath Tagore repudiated that honor in 1919, after the Jallianwalabagh massacre that killed many Indians. He was a man who travelled extensively. In those times he had visited over 30 countries set on five continents.
Though he died in 1941 in the same house where he had been born, he left a lot behind. He left behind the image of a man with a flowing white beard that made him look saintly. He left behind words that can touch the right chords at heart even today. He left verses that are relevant even in the changing times of now. And he left behind powerful ideas that can change one’s outlook. Thanks to Rabindranath Tagore, these are the priceless treasures with which we live on.