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Famous Like Me > Writer > T > Rabindranath Tagore

Profile of Rabindranath Tagore on Famous Like Me

Name: Rabindranath Tagore  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 6th May 1861
Place of Birth: Calcutta, West Bengal, British India. [now India]
Profession: Writer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore (Bangla: রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর, Robindronath Ţhakur) (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941) (in the Bangla Calendar, 25 Baishakh, 1268 – 22 Srabon, 1348), also called Gurudev, was a Bengali poet, Brahmo philosopher and nationalist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, becoming the first Asian to win a Nobel Prize.


Tagore was born in Jorasanko, Kolkata (Bangla: কলকাতা), the son of Debendranath Tagore and Sarada devi. Debendranath Tagore formulated the Brahmo faith propagated by his friend, the reformer Raja Rammohun Roy. Debendranath became the central figure in Brahmo society after Ray's death. He continued to lead the Adi Brahmo Shomaj until he died.

Rabindranath, as the youngest of fourteen children, grew up in a vibrant artistic atmosphere, where literary magazines were published and music performance and theaters were presented within the cultural group nucleated by the Jorasanko Tagores. Rabindranath's oldest brother Dwijendranath Tagore was a philosopher and a poet. Another brother, Satyendranath Tagore, was the first Indian member of the Indian Civil Service. Yet another brother, Jyotirindranath Tagore, was a talented musician-composer and playwright. Among his sisters, Swarna Kumari Devi earned fame as a novelist in her own right. Jyotirindranath's wife, Kadambari, about the same age as Rabindranath, was a dear friend and a powerful influence on the budding poet. Her suicide in 1884 left him distraught for years, and left a profound mark on Tagore's literary life.

In 1878 Rabindranath went to England where he studied in a public school in Brighton, and then at the University College, London. He did not complete his degree, however, and left England after just over a year. His exposure to the English culture however would later filter into the Bengali musical tradition to create new forms of music.

On 9 December 1883, Rabindranath married Mrinalini Devi, and the couple had two sons and three daughters, several of whom died at young ages. By this time he had already come into the literary limelight with several works, including a long poem set in the Maithili style pioneered by Vidyapati, which he initially claimed was that of a lost poet called Bhanu Simha. His reputation was further consolidated by works such as Sandhya Sangit (1882) which includes the famous poem Nirjharer Svapnabhanga — "The cry of the waterfall".

In 1890, Tagore went to manage the family estates at at Shelaidaha, an estuarine region in today's Bangladesh, where he lived on a houseboat on the tributary system of the river Padma. Works from this period such as Sonar Tari (1894), Chitra (1896), and Katha O Kahini (1900), further established him as a poet. In addition, he was also establishing a reputation as an essayist, playwright, and his short stories, reflecting the village life that he saw around him, earned him considerable praise.

In 1901, Tagore left Shilaidaha and moved to Santiniketan, where he set up an experimental school. He continued writing, with works such as Naivedya (1901) and kheyA (1906) being published in this period. Unfortunately his wife died in this period, and also a favourite daughter and also a son, leaving him distraught.

By now, he had a large following among Bengali readers. Some translations were also being produced, but were often of mediocre quality. In response to English admirers such as the painter William Rothenstein, Tagore started translating some of his poems in free verse. In 1912, he went to England, carrying a sheaf of his translations. At readings there, these translations moved a number of Englishmen, notably the Anglo-Irish poet WB Yeats and the Englishman CF Andrews. Yeats would later write the preface to the English Gitanjali, and Andrews joined him for a long period in India. The English Gitanjali was later published by the India Society along with a glowing preface by Yeats. In November of that same year he was surprised to find that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, based on such a slender corpus of translated work.

All along, Rabindranath had an artist's eye to his own handwriting, and he embellished the cross-outs and word layouts in his manuscripts with simple artistic leitmotifs. At the age of sixty, he started to paint, and successful art exhibitions were held in much of Europe.

He died in the Jorasanko house on 7 August 1941 (22 Shravan 1348), a day that is still mourned in public functions across the Bangla-speaking world.


Poetry dominates Tagore's literary reputation, but he also wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, and drama. He also wrote numerous songs and composed all of them himself.


Internationally, Gitanjali is his most famous collection of poetry. However, in Bengal, some other works almost equally well known include Manasi, Sonar Tori, Bolaka and Purobi. The most famous poem in Sonar Tori (Golden boat) is a poem of the same name, dealing with ephemeral nature of life. The poem ends with the haunting যাহা ছিল লয়ে গেল সোনার তরী (Jaha Chhilo loye gelo Shonar Tori - All I had the golden boat left with). In Dui bigha jomi (Two acres of land), Tagore deals with the plight of the downtrodden and the greed of the rich, culmunating in Rajar hosto kore shomosto goriber dhon churi (The hand of the kind steals from all the poor). Sonar Tori also contains the delightful Hing Ting Chhot, comic in form but revealing the crippling lack of vision and knowledge that Tagore found permeated his society: Durbodh ja chhilo kichu hoye gelo jol, shunno akasher moto ottonto nirmol (Oh yes now all has been explained, like the nullity of the open sky).

Tagore's versatility as an artist can perhaps most clearly seen as how he continued to change his poetic style. He started out in late 19th century, writing in Shadhu Bhasha (A sankritized form of Bangla), seamlessly moved to Chalit (more popular form) in the twentieth century. Balaka marks a start of an epoch, exemplified in the most well known of the Balaka poems:

Ore nobin, ore amar kacha
Ore shobuj, ore obhujh
Adh morader gha mere tui bhacha


O young, o the tender
O green, o unknowing
Hit the halfdead back to life

Later, when new poetic ideas started to evolve in Bengal, partly by young poets to break free from Tagore's influence, it was as if Tagore joined them, creating his own new poetic identity. Africa and Camalia, perhaps most well known of his later poems, are points in the case.


He was also an accomplished musician, and his most enduring legacy to Bangla may be his 2,000 songs, now known as Rabindra Sangeet which are part of the Bengali cultural heritage in both West Bengal, India, and Bangladesh. Tagore's music cannot really be seperated from his literature, because almost all of it was music for his songs, and they were oftened initially written as poems or written as a part of a novell, story or play.

His songs have been chosen as national anthems of two nations: "jana gana mana" (জন গণ মন) in India and aamaar sonaar baanglaa (আমার সোনার বাঙলা) in Bangladesh. In 1913, he won the Nobel Prize in literature, the first non-European to receive this honor, for his English translation of his work Gitanjali (গীতাঞ্জলি, "An offering of song"). Here is song seven from the text,

Original text in Bangla and Roman scripts(গীতাঞ্জলি 127):

আমার এ গান ছেড়েছে তার সকল অলংকার
তোমার কাছে রাখে নি আর সাজের অহংকার
অলংকার যে মাঝে পড়ে মিলনেতে আড়াল করে,
তোমার কথা ঢাকে যে তার মুখর ঝংকার।

তোমার কাছে খাটে না মোর কবির গর্ব করা,
মহাকবি তোমার পায়ে দিতে যে চাই ধরা।
জীবন লয়ে যতন করি যদি সরল বাঁশি গড়ি,
আপন সুরে দিবে ভরি সকল ছিদ্র তার।


AmAr e gAn chheRechhe tAr sakal alaMkAr
tomAr kAchhe rAkhe ni Ar sAjer ahaMkAr
alaMkAr Je mAjhe paRe milanete ARAl kare,
tomAr kathA DhAke Je tAr mukhara jhaMkAr.

tomAr kAchhe khATe nA mor kabir garba karA,
mahAkabi, tomAr pAye dite chAi Je dharA.
jIban laye Jatan kari Jadi saral bA.Mshi gaRi,
Apan sure dibe bhari sakal chhidra tAr.

Free-verse translation by Tagore (English Gitanjali VII):

My song has put off her adornments. She has no pride of dress and decoration.
Ornaments would mar our union; they would come between thee and me; their jingling would drown thy whispers.

My poet's vanity dies in shame before thy sight.
O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet. Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.


Of Rabindranath's prose, perhaps most highly regarded are his short stories. He is credited with maturing the art of short story writing in Bangla, and is still widely recognized as one of the great masters of the art. His short stories are written in a prose that is rythmic, often to the point of being poetic. However, his stories are mostly rooted in the life of ordinary people.

Rabindranath's গল্পগুচ্ছ (Golpoguchchho or "Bunch of stories") remains one of the most popular books of fictions in Bangla literature. Its continual influence on Bengali culture can hardly be over estimated. It has provided subject matter for numerous successful films and theaters, its characters among the most well known to Bengalis, and remains a point of cultural reference. The aclaimed film director Satyajit Ray based his film Charulata (The Lonely Wife) on Nashtanir (The Broken Nest). This famous story has a autobiographical element to it, following to some extent the relation between Rabindranath and his sister-in-law, Kadambari Devi. Ray has also made memorable films of Samapti, Postmaster and Monihara, bundling them together as Teen Kanya (Three daughters). Atithi is another poignantly lyrical Tagore story. Tarapada, a young brahmin boy, catches a boat ride with a village zamindar. It turns out that he has ran from his home and has been wandering around ever since. The zamindar adopts him, and finally arranges a marraige to his own daughter. The night before the wedding Tarapada runs away again. Strir Patra (The letter from the wife)has to be one of the earliest depictions in Bangla literature of such bold emancipation of women. Mrinal is the wife of a typical Bengali middleclass man.The letter written while she is traveling (which consists all of the story) describes her petty life and struggles, and finally declares that will not return to his patriarchial home. The final line declares, "Amio bachbo. Ei bachlum" (And I shall live. Here, I live). In Haimanti, Tagore takes on the institution of Hindu marraige. He describes, ala Strir Patra, the dismal lifelessness of Bengali women after they are married off, the deep hypocracies of the Indian middle class, and how Haimanti, a sensitive young woman, has to pay for her sensitiveness and free spirit with her life. In the last passage, Rabindranath directly attacks the Hindu custom of glorifying Sita's entering in fire to appease her husband Rama's doubts, as depicted in the epic Ramayana. Tagore takes a look at the Hindu-muslim problem in Musalmani didi, and it embodies in many ways the essence of Tagore's humanism. Darpaharan on the other hand, is interestingly self conscious. It describes a young man with literary amibitions who loves his wife but wants to stiffle her own literary career as he deems it unfeminine. Rabindranath himself, in his youth, seems to have harbored similar ideas about women. The story depicts the final humbling of the man and acceptance of his wife's talents. As many other Tagore stories, Jibito o Mrito provides the Bengali's with one of their more widely used epigrams Kadombini moriya proman korilo she more nai (Kadombini died, and thus proved that she hadn't).

Tagore's plays have a equally central position in Bengali literature. All of his plays have been repeatedly staged and reinterpreted over the years. His most famous play, perhaps, is Roktokorobi, which is the name of a red flower. The play depicts a kingdom where the king lives behind a iron curtain, and the people are subjected to cruelty and death at the slightest pretext. People are forced to work in the mines to make the king and his cronies more wealthy. The play follows Nandini, the heroine, who leads the people and finally the king himself towards the destruction of this artifact of subjugation. However, this ultimate victory is preceded by numerous deaths, most importantly that of Ranjan, Nandini's lover and Kishore and young boy devoted to her. This is a play Rabindranath worked hard on, and at least eleven revisions of it have been located. What motivated Rabindranath to write Roktokarabi is not clear, some suggesting his recent visit to the mines of Bombay, some to his dislike of what he saw in the west, and some other think that he was motivated by a woman to create the character of Nandini. Other plays of Tagore include Chitrangada, Raja, Valmiki-Pratibha and Mayar Khela.

His novels have received perhaps the least critical acclaim of all of his prose. Rabindranath's novels include Bou Thakurani'r Haat, Chaturanga, Gora, Shesher Kobita, Ghore Baire, Char Odhay, Noukadubi etc. Ghore Baire is an examination of the rising nationalistic fealing in India and the dangers of it. This novel clearly depicts Tagore's distrust of nationalism, specially when associated with a religious element. Gora in some sense has the same theme, raising a deep question of the Indian identity. Shesher Kobita is his most lyrical novel, probably more widely read as a collection of poems and rythmic passages rather than as a novel on its own.

His non-fiction includes Iurop Jatrir Patro (Letters from Europe), Manusher Dhormo (The religion of man) and numerous other works.

Public life

Tagore wrote a number of songs in support of the Indian independence movement. He renounced the knighthood conferred by the British Crown in 1915 in protest against the 1919 Jaliyaanwala Bagh Massacre (Amritsar), where, without warning, British soldiers opened fire upon an unarmed gathering of civilians, killing over 500 innocent men, women and children.

He felt strongly that the nation could be uplifted only through widespread education. Writing of the rote-oriented education system introduced in India under the British Raj, he once said:

We pass examinations, and shrivel up into clerks, lawyers and police inspectors, and we die young ... Once upon a time we were in possession of such a thing as our mind in India. It was living. It thought, it felt, it expressed itself. But it has been thrust aside, and we are made to tread the mill of passing examinations, not for learning anything, but for notifying that we are qualified for employment under organisations conducted in English. Our educated community is not a cultured community, but a community of qualified candidates.

These views crystallized in the experimental school at Santiniketan, (শান্তিনিকেতন, "abode of peace") in West Bengal in 1901, where his father had left a landed estate in his possession. This school, established in the traditional Brahmacharya structure of the student living together with his Guru in a self-sustaining community, became a magnet for a talented International group of scholars, artists, linguists, and musicians. Tagore spent prodigious amounts of energy obtaining funds for this school (contributing all his Nobel monies). Today this institution is known as Visva Bharati University(বিশ্বভারতী, 'India in the World"), a Central University under the Government of India.


Tagore's richest legacy for today's polarized world is perhaps his eloquent denunciation of Nationalism, which he perceived, in the shadows of our last great war, as one of the largest threats to humanity. "A nation," he wrote, ". . . is that aspect which a whole population assumes when organized for a mechanical purpose", a purpose often associated with a "selfishness" that "can be a grandly magnified form" of personal selfishness.

His international travels sharpened his understanding of the shallowness of human divisions. Once when visting a Bedouin camp in today's battleground of Iraq, the chief told him, "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..." Tagore noted in his diary: 'I was startled into recognizing in his words the voice of essential humanity.' (Dutta/Robinson p.317).

During his intensive travels in Europe, America and the Far East, he gradually formed a vision of the unity of East and West. Subsequently, he was profoundly shocked by the intense nationalism he found breeding in Germany and other nations before the Second World War. In a series of lectures on Nationalism that were enthusiastically received in much of Europe, but not so much in the United States, he said

The moment is arising when you also must find a basis of unity which is not political. ... There is only one history - the history of man. All national histories are chapters in the larger one.

This internationalism and sensitivity to the fundamental unity of man is perhaps Tagore's lasting legacy to the world. However, among the Bangla-speaking people of West Bengal and Bangladesh, his literary legacy continues to inform an unusually vivid artistic and cultural life.

Loss and replacement of the Nobel Prize

In 2004, thieves broke into Shantiniketan in India and took off with the Nobel Prize Medal that had been displayed in the museum. Despite an extensive search, authorities failed to retrieve the medal. The medal was later replaced by a new set awarded by the Nobel comittee.

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Rabindranath Tagore