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Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)


Greatest writer in modern Indian literature, Bengali poet, novelist, educator, and an early advocate of Independence for India. Tagaore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Two years later he was awarded the knighthood, but he surrendered it in 1919 as a protest against the Massacre of Amritsar, where British troops killed some 400 Indian demonstrators. Tagore's influence over Gandhi and the founders of modern India was enormous, but his reputation in the West as a mystic has perhaps mislead his Western readers to ignore his role as a reformer and critic of colonialism.

"When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose touch of the one in the play of the many." (from Gitanjali)

Rabindranath Tagore was born in Calcutta into a wealthy and prominent family. His father was Maharishi Debendranath Tagore, a religious reformer and scholar. His mother, Sarada Devi, died when Tagore was very young – he realized that she will never come back was when her body was carried through a gate to a place where it was burned. Tagore's grandfather had established a huge financial empire for himself. He helped a number of public projects, such as Calcutta Medical College.

The Tagores tried to combine traditional Indian culture with Western ideas; all the children contributed significantly to Bengali literature and culture. However, in My Reminiscences Tagore mentions that it was not until the age of ten when he started to use socks and shoes. And servants beat the children regularly. Tagore, the youngest, started to compose poems at the age of eight. Tagore's first book, a collection of poems, came out when he was 17; it was published by Tagore's friend who wanted to surprise him.

Tagore received his early education first from tutors and then at a variety of schools. Among them were Bengal Academy where he studied history and culture. At the University College, London, he studied law and attended lectures on English literature but left after a year – he did not like the weather. Once he gave a beggar a cold coin – it was more than the beggar had expected and he returned it. In England Tagore started to compose the poem 'Bhagna Hridaj' (a broken heart).

In 1883 Tagore married Mrinalini Devi Raichaudhuri, with whom he had two sons and three daughters. In 1890 Tagore moved to East Bengal (now Bangladesh), where he collected local legends and folklore. Between 1893 and 1900 he wrote seven volumes of poetry, including Sonar Tari (1894, The Golden Boat), and Kanika (1899, Short Poems). This was highly productive period in Tagore's life, and earned him the rather misleading epitaph 'The Bengali Shelley.' More important was that Tagore wrote in the common language of the people. This also was something that was hard to accept among his critics and scholars.

Tagore was the first Indian to bring an element of psychological realism to his novels. Among his early major prose works are Chokher Bali (1903, Eyesore) and Nastanirh (1901, The Broken Nest), published first serially. Between 1891 and 1895 he published forty-four short stories in Bengali periodical, most of them in the monthly journal Sadhana.

Especially Tagore's short stories influenced deeply Indian Literature. 'Punishment', a much anthologized work, was set in a rural village. It describes the oppression of women through the tragedy of the low-caste Rui family. Chandara is a proud, beautiful woman, "buxom, well-rounded, compact and sturdy," her husband, Chidam, is a farm-laborer, who works in the fields with his brother Dukhiram. One day when they return home after whole day of toil and humiliation, Dukhiram kills in anger his sloppy and slovenly wife because his food was not ready. To help his brother, Chidam's tells to police that his wife struck her sister-in-law with the farm-knife. Chandara takes the blame on to herself. 'In her thoughts, Chandara was saying to her husband, "I shall give my youth to the gallows instead of you. My final ties in this life will be with them."' Afterwards both Chidam and Dukhiram try to confess that they were quilty but Chandara is convicted. Just before the hanging, the doctor says that her husband wants to see her. "To hell with him," says Chandara.

In 1901 Tagore founded a school outside Calcutta, Visva-Bharati, which was dedicated to emerging Western and Indian philosophy and education. It become a university in 1921. He produced poems, novels, stories, a history of India, textbooks, and treatises on pedagogy. Tagore's wife died in 1902, one of his daughters died the next year, and in 1907 Tagore lost his younger son.

Tagore's reputation as a writer was established in the United States and in England after the publication of Gitanjali (Song Offerings), about divine and human love. The poems were translated into English by the author himself. In the introduction from 1912 William Butler Yates wrote: "These lyrics – which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention – display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long." Tagore's poems were also praised by Ezra Pound, and drew the attention of the Nobel Prize committee. "There is in him the stillness of nature. The poems do not seem to have been produced by storm or by ignition, but seem to show the normal habit of his mind. He is at one with nature, and finds no contradictions. And this is in sharp contrast with the Western mode, where man must be shown attempting to master nature if we are to have "great drama." (Ezra Pound in Fortnightly Review, 1 March 1913) However, Tagore also experimented with poetic forms and these works have lost much in translations into other languages.

Much of Tagore's ideology come from the teaching of the Upahishads and from his own beliefs that God can be found through personal purity and service to others. He stressed the need for new world order based on transnational values and ideas, the "unity consciousness." "The soil, in return for her service, keeps the tree tied to her; the sky asks nothing and leaves it free." Politically active in India, Tagore was a supporter of Gandhi, but warned of the dangers of nationalistic thought.

Unable to gain ideological support to his views, Tagore retired into relative solitude. Between the years 1916 and 1934 he travelled widely. From his journey to Japan in 1916 he produced articles and books. In 1927 he toured in Southeast Asia. Letters from Java (Java Jatrir Patra), which first was serialized in Vichitra, was issued as a book, Jatri, in 1929. He fully acknowledged the Soviet economic development in Russiar Chithi (1931, Letters from Russia), but criticized the lack of freedom in Communist system. On the orders from Stalin, Izvestia shelved Tagore's interview, which did not appear until 1988. Tagore's view that British policy in India compared unfavorably with Russian policies concerning education, led to the banning of his book by the British Raj.

All his life, he was deeply interested in the goings-on in the Western world. In the United States he traveled in 1912-13, 1916-17, 1920-21, 1929 and 1930. His Majesty, Riza Shah Pahlavi, invited Tagore to Iran in 1932. On his journeys and lecture tours Tagore attempted to spread the ideal of uniting East and West. While in Japan he wrote: "The Japanese do not waste their energy in useless screaming and quarreling, and because there is no waste of energy it is not found wanting when required. This calmness and fortitude of body and mind is part of their national self-realization."

Tagore wrote his most important works in Bengali, but he often translated his poems into English. At the age of 70 Tagore took up painting. He was also a composer, settings hundreds of poems to music. Many of his poems are actually songs, and inseparable from their music. Tagore's 'Our Golden Bengal' became the national anthem of Bangladesh. Only hours before he died on August 7, in 1941, Tagore dictated his last poem. His written production, still not completely collected, fills nearly 30 substantial volumes. Tagore remained a well-known author in the West until the end of the 1920s. Though his popularity has waned, his many writings continue to be read and translated.

For further reading: Rabindranath Tagore by Krishna Kripalani (1962); Rabindranath Tagore by H. Banerjee (1971); Rabindranath Tagore by B.C. Chakravorty (1971); An Introduction to Rabindranath Tagore by V.S. Naravene (1977); The Humanism of Rabindranath Tagore by M.R. Anand (1979); Rabindranath Tagore by S. Ghose (1986); The Unversal Man by S. Chattopadhyay (1987); Sir Rabindranath Tagore by K.S. Ramaswami Sastri (1988); Gandhi and Tagore by D.W. Atkinson (1989); Rabindranath Tagore by K. Basak (1991); Rabindranath Tagore by E.J. Thompson (1991)

Selected works:

  • Kabi-Kahini, 1878
  • Balmiki-pratibha, 1881
  • Bhagna-Hridaya, 1881
  • Ruda-Chanda, 1881
  • Valmiki-Pratibha, 1881
  • Sandhya-Sangit, 1882
  • Prabhat-Sangit, 1883
  • Bau-thakuranir Hat, 1883
  • Rajashi, 1887
  • Raja-O-Rani, 1889
    - The King and the Queen (translated by R. Tagore, 1914) / Devouring Love (tr. 1961)
  • Visarjan, 1890
    - Sacrifice (tr. 1917)
  • Manasi, 1890
  • Europe Yatrir Diary, 1891, 1893 (2 vols.)
  • Chitrangada, 1892
  • Goray Galad, 1892
  • Sonar Tari, 1894
    - The Golden Boat (translated by Bhabani Bhattacharya, 1930)
  • Ghoto-Galpa, 1894-95
  • Kanika, 1899
  • Katha, 1900
  • Kalpana, 1900
  • Naibedya, 1901
    - Noibedya = Altar Offering (translation by Brother James, 1984)
  • Nastanirh, 1901
    - The Broken Nest (translated by Mary M. Lago and Supriya Sen, 1971) / Three Novellas: Nashtanir, Dui Bon, Malancha (translated by Sukhendu Ray, with an introduction by Bharati Ray, 2010)
  • Sharan, 1902 (Memory)
  • Chokher Bali, 1903
    - Eyesore (tr. 1914) / A Grain of Sand (translated by Sreejata Guha, 2003)
  • Chimakumar Sabha, 1903 / 1908
  • Baul, 1905
  • Nauka-dubi, 1905
    - The Wreck (translated by J.G. Drummond, 1921)
    - Haaksirikko (suom. J. Hollo, 1922)
  • Kheya, 1906
  • Gora, 1907-09
    - Gora (translated by Sujit Mukherjee, 1998; Radha Chakravarty, 2009)
    - Gora 1-2 (suom. J. Hollo, 1925)
  • Sarodotsav, 1908
    - Autumn Festival (tr. 1921)
  • Sishu, 1909
  • Prayaschitta, 1909
  • Raja, 1910
    - The King of the Dark Chamber (translated by Rabindranath Tagore, 1914)
    - Pimeän kammion kuningas ja muita draamoja (suom. J. Hollo, 1924)
  • Gitanjali, 1910
  • Raja, 1910
  • Achalayatan, 1912
  • Galpaguccha, 1912
    - A Bunch of Stories (translated by Monika Varma, 1966)
  • Chinnapatra, 1912 (expanded ed.  Chinnapatrabali, 1960)
    - Glimpses of Bengal: Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranagh Tagore, 1885 to 1895 (tr. 1921)
  • Biday Abhishap, 1912
    - The Curse at Farewell (translated by Edward Thompson, 1924)
  • Gitanjali, 1912
    - Gitanjali (translated by Rabindranath Tagore, with an introd. by W.B. Yeats, 1912) / Gitanjali (translations by Brother James, 1983) / Song Offerings (translated by Joe Winter , 2000) / Show Yourself to My Soul (translated by James Talarovic, 2002) / Gitanjali: Song Offering  (translated by William Radice, with an introduction and a new text of Tagore’s translation based on his manuscript, 2011)  
    -  Uhrilauluja (suomentanut Eino Leino, 1917) / Lauluja (suomentanut Eino Leino, 1989) 
  • Jivansmriti, 1912
    - My Reminiscenes (translated by Surendranath Tagore, 1917)
    - Elämäni muistoja (suom. J. Hollo, 1923)
  • Dak Ghar, 1912
    - The Post Office (tr. 1914; Devabrata Mukerjea, 1917; Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, 1996) / The Post Office = Dakghar (translated by William Radice, 2008)
  • The Gardener, 1913 (translated by Rabindranath Tagore)
    - Puutarhuri: suorasanaisia runoelmia (suomentanut Eino Leino, 1913)
  • Utsarga, 1912
  • The Crescent Moon, 1913 (translated by Rabindranath Tagore)
  • The Hungry Stones and Other Stories, 1913 (translated from the original Bengali by various writers)
  • Chitra, 1914
    - Chitra (translated by R. Tagore, 1913)
  • Giti-malya, 1914
    - Gitimalya = Garland of Songs (translations by Brother James, 1984)
  • Songs of Kabir, 1915 (translated by Rabindranath Tagore and Evelyn Underhill)
  • Japan: A Lecture, 1916
  • The Message of India to Japan, 1916
  • Falguni, 1916 (The Cycle of Spring)
  • Ghare Baire, 1916
    - The Home and the World (translated by Surendranath Tagore, 1919) / The Home and the World = Ghare baire (translated by Nivedita Sen, 2004)
    - Koti ja maailma (suomentanut J. Hollo, 1937)
  • Balaka, 1916
    - A Flight of Swans (translated by Aurobindo Bose, 1955)
  • Chaturanga, 1916
    - Chaturanga: A Novel (translated by Asok Mitra, 1967)  / Quartet (translated by Kaiser Haq, 1993)
  • Fruit Gathering, 1916 (translated by R. Tagore)
    - Rakkauden laulu (suom. Hannele Pohjanmies, 2002)  / Rakkauden lahja (suom. Hannele Pohjanmies, 2006) / Hedelmäpuutarha (suomentanut Hannele Pohjanmies, 2007) / Tähtitaivaan runot (suom. Hannele Pohjanmies, 2008)
  • Sadhana: The Realisation of Life, 1916 
    - Sadhana: elämän oleellistaminen (suom. J. Hollo, 1926)
  • Stray Birds, 1916
    - Villilintuja: elämänviisautta (suomentanut Pertti Seppälä, 2002)
  • Personality, 1917 (lectures delivered in America)
    - Persoonallisuus (suomentanut J. Hollo, 1928)
  • Sacrifice, and Other Plays, 1917
  • Nationalism, 1917
  • Letters, Extracts from Old Letters of Rabindranath Tagore, 1917
  • Mashi and Other Stories, 1918 (translated by various writers)
  • Stories from Tagore, 1918
  • Lover’s Gift and Crossing, 1918
  • The Parrots Training, 1918 (translated by Rabindranath Tagore)
  • Palataka, 1918
  • Japan-Jatri, 1919
    - A Visit to Japan (tr. 1961)
  • Arup Ratan, 1920  
  • Greater India, 1921 (translated by S. Ganesan)
  • The Fugitive, 1921
  • Creative Unity, 1921
  • Lipika, 1922
    - Lipika: Prose Poems (translated by Aurobindo Bose, 1977)
  • Mukta-dhara, 1922
    - Mukta-dhara (tr. 1950)
  • Poems, 1923
  • Letters from Abroad, 1924
  • Griha-prabesh, 1925
  • Broken Ties and Other Stories, 1925
  • Rabindranath Tagore: Twenty-Two Poems, 1925 (translated by E.J. Thompson)
  • Raktakaravi, 1925 (Red Oleanders)
  • Chirakumar sabha, 1926
  • Natira Puja, 1926
    - Natir Puja (tr. 1950) / Two Buddhist Plays: The Court Dancer & Chandalika, 1993 (transcreated from Bengali by Shyamasree Devi)
  • Fireflies, 1928
  • Letters to a Friend, 1928 (edited by C.F. Andrews)
  • Tapati, 1929
  • Sesher Kabita, 1929
    - Farewell, My Friend (translated by K.R. Kripalani, 1946)
  • Mahua, 1929
    - The Herald of Spring (tr. 1957)
  • Jatri, 1929
  • Yoga-Yog, 1928-29
    - Nexus (translated by Hiten Bhaya, 2003) / Relationships = Jogajog (translated by Supirya Chaudhuri, 2006)
  • The Religion of Man, 1930 (the Hibbert Lectures for 1930)
    - Ihmiskunnan uskonto (suomentanut Heikki Eskelinen, 1990)
  • The Child, 1931
  • Russiar-Chiti, 1931
    - Letters from Russia (tr. 1960)
  • Punascha, 1932
  • Mahatmahi and the Depressed Humanity, 1932
  • The Golden Boat, 1932
  • Gitabitan, 1932 (3 vols.)
  • Sheaves, Poems and Songs, 1932 (selected and translated by Nagendranath Gupta)
  • Dui Bon, 1933
    - Two Sisters (tr. 1945) / Three Novellas: Nashtanir, Dui Bon, Malancha (translated by Sukhendu Ray, with an introduction by Bharati Ray, 2010)
  • Chandalika, 1933
    - Chandalika (translated by Shyamasree Devi, in Two Buddhist Plays, 1993)
  • Bansari, 1933
  • Malancha, 1934
    - The Garden (translated by Malosree Sandel, 2005) / Three Novellas: Nashtanir, Dui Bon, Malancha (translated by Sukhendu Ray, with an introduction by Bharati Ray, 2010)
  • Char-adhayay, 1934
    - Four Chapters (tr. 1950)
  • Bithika, 1935
  • Shes Saptak, 1935
  • Shyamali, 1936
    - Syamali (tr. 1955)
  • Patra-put, 1936 
    - Patraput (translated by Sisir Chattopadhyaya, 1969)
  • Collected Poems and Plays, 1936
  • Khap-Chada, 1937
  • Chadar Chabi, 1937
  • Senjuti, 1938
  • Prantik, 1938
  • Chandalika, 1938
    - Two Buddhist Plays: The Court Dancer & Chandalika (transcreated from Bengali by Shyamasree Devi, 1993)
  • Prahasini, 1939
  • Pather Sanchay, 1939
  • Shyama, 1939
  • Taser desh, 1939
    - Card Country = Taser desh, 1939 (translated by William Radice, 2008)
  • Visva Bharati, 1939-59
  • Nava-Jatak, 1940
  • Sanai, 1940
  • Chele bela, 1940
    - My Boyhood Days: An Autobiographical Sketch (translated by Marjorie Sykes, 19--) / Boyhood Days (translated by Radha Chakravarty, 2007)
  • Roga sajya, 1940
  • Arogya, 1941
  • Janma-dine, 1941
  • Sabhyatar-Sankat, 1941 (Crisis in Civilization)
  • Galpasalpa, 1941
  • Sesh Lekha, 1941 (Last Poems)
  • Atma Parichaya, 1945
    - Of Myself: Atmaparichay (translated by Devadatta Joardar and Joe Winter, 2006)
  • Rolland and Tagore, 1945
  • Three Plays, 1950 (translated by Marjorie Sykes)
  • More Stories from Tagore, 1951
  • A Tagore Testament, 1954 (translated by Undu Dutt)
  • Our Universe, 1958 (translated by Indu Dutt)
  • The Runaway and Other Stories, 1959
  • Wings of Death, 1960 (translated by Aurobindo Bose)
  • Chinnapatrabali, 1960 (Glimpses of Bengal)
  • Galpaguccha, 1960-62 (4 vols.)
  • A Tagore Reader, 1961 (edited by Amiya Chakravarty)
  • Towards Universal Man, 1961
  • On Art and Aesthetics, 1961
  • Boundless Sky, 1964
  • The Housewarming, 1964
  • Rabindra racanabali, 1964-1966 (27 vols.)
  • Rabindranathera galpaguccha, 1970
  • Imperfect Encounter, 1972
  • Later Poems, 1974 (translated by Aurobindo Bose)
  • The Housewarming, 1977
  • Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Poems, 1985 (translated by William Radice)
  • Three Plays, 1987 (translated and with an introduction by Ananda Lal)
  • Drawings and Paintings of Rabindranath in the Collection of Nandan Museum, 1988 (edited by Jayanta Chakrabarti)
  • Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Short Stories, 1991 (translated by William Radice)
  • Selected Songs of Rabindranath Tagore, 1992  (translated by Abu Rushd)
  • The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, 1994-2007 (4 vols., edited by Sisir Kumar Das)
  • Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore, 1997 (edited by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson)
  • The Heart of God: Prayers of Rabindranath Tagore, 1997 (selected and edited by Herbert F. Vetter)
  • The Mahatma and the Poet: Letters and Debates between Gandhi and Tagore, 1915-1941, 1997 (compiled and edited with an introduction by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya)
  • Talks in China, 1999 (rev. & enl. ed., edited by Sisir Kumar Das)
  • On the Shores of Eternity: Poems from Tagore on Immortality and Beyond, 1999  (new English versions by Deepak Chopra)
  • My Dear Master: Rabindranath Tagore and Helene Meyer-Franck/Heinrich Meyer-Benfey Correspondence, 1920-1938, 1999 (edited by Martin Kämpchen and Prasanta Kumar Paul)
  • Selected Short Stories, 2000  (edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri et al.)
  • Particles, Jottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems, 2000 (translated with an introduction by William Radice)
  • Selected Writings on Literature and Language, 2001 (edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri et al.)
  • Rabindranath Tagore: Final Poems, 2001 (selected and translated by Wendy Barker and Saranindranath Tagore)
  • Selected Writings for Children, 2002 (edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri)
  • Vision of History: Two Essays, 2003 (translated by Sibesh Bhattacharya, Sumita Bhattacharya)
  • Lover of God, 2003 (translated by Tony K. Stewart and Chase Twichell)
  • Tagore-Geddes Correspondence, 2004 (edited by Bashabi Fraser)
  • Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Poems, 2004 (edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri)
  • The Skeleton and Other Tales of the Supernatural, 2005 (translated by Joyasree Mukerji)
  • My Life in My Words, 2006 (selected and edited by Uma Das Gupta)
  • Purabi: The East in Its Feminine Gender, 2007 (translated by Charu C. Chowdhuri)
  • He = Shey, 2007 (translated by Aparna Chaudhuri)
  • The Golden Boat: Selected Poems, 2008 (translated by Joe Winter)
  • I Won’t Let You Go: Selected Poems, 2011 (translated by Ketaki Kushari Dyson)
  • The Essential Tagore, 2011 (edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty)

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