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Rabindranath Tagore

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This person won a Nobel Prize
Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore[1] (May 7, 1861-August 7, 1941) was a Bengali poet of India. His name is written as Rabindranath Thakur in Indian languages. He was also a philosopher and an artist. He wrote many stories, novels and dramas, as well as composing music and many songs. His writings greatly influenced Bengali culture during the late 19th century and early 20th century. In 1913, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Asian to win this prize. He was popularly known as Gurudev. His real name was Robindranath Thakur.

Tagore was born in the city of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), at No. 6 Dwarkanath Tagore Lane, Jorasanko Thakur Bari. Tagore was a Bengali Brahmin by birth. He wrote his first poem when he was only eight years old. He published his first large poetry collection in 1877. He wrote his first short story and dramas when he was only 16 years of age.

Tagore's major works included Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced), and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World); and many other literary and art works. He was also a cultural reformer, and modernized Bangla art by rejecting the rigidity of form and style.

Early life (1861 - 1901)

Tagore’s nickname was "Rabi"or''Robi''. He was the youngest of his parent's 14 children. His father was Debendranath Tagore and his mother was Sarada Devi. In February 1873, when he was 11 years old, he went with his father on a tour of India. The tour lasted several months. They visited many places in India including Amritsar in Punjab, and Dalhousie in the Himalayas. Tagore also visited his father’s estate at Shanthiniketan. There he read biographies, studied history, astronomy, modern science, and Sanskrit. He also read works of Kali Das . During this time, he also composed many literary works. One of them was a long poem in Maithili language. People of Mithila speak Maithili language. Tagore wrote this poetry in Maithili language in a style of Vidyapati, a famous poet of Maithili language.

In 1878, he went to London. He enrolled at a public school in Brighton, England. He wanted to become a barrister. Later he studied at University College London. But in 1880, his father called back him from London as he failed in achieving success. His father arranged a marriage for him with Mrinalini Devi, a girl just ten years old(child marriage). The marriage took place on 9 December 1883. They had five children, but four died before reaching full adulthood.

In 1890, Tagore began managing his family’s estates in Shelidah, now in Bangladesh. In 1898, Tagore’s wife and children also came there to live with him. Tagore traveled across the vast estate. He saw the poor people very closely. During 1891 - 1895, he wrote many short stories about life in Bengal, particularly rural life.

Shantiniketan (1901 – 1932)

In 1901, Tagore left Shelidah. He came to Shantiniketan (West Bengal) to build an ashram. He built a prayer hall, a school, and a library. He planted many trees and built a beautiful garden. There, Tagore's wife and two of his children died. His father also died on January 19 1905. By this time, he had started receiving monthly income as part of his inheritance. He also started receiving some royalties for his literary works. He had a large following among readers of the Bengali language, as well as other people who knew his works through translations and reviews.

On November 14 1913, Tagore won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy had selected him based on a small amount of his translated works, and his 1912 work of poems named Gitanjali: Song Offerings.

The British Crown gave him a knighthood in 1915. However, he gave back the title in 1919 as a protest to Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in Amritsar. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was the killing of unarmed people by the troops of the British Raj.

In 1921, Tagore and an agricultural economist Leonard K. Elmhirst set up the Institute for Rural Reconstruction in a village named Surul near his ashram at Shriniketan. An English language translation of Shriniketan would mean an abode (place) of peace. He recruited many scholars and officials from many countries to help the Institute use schooling to "free village[s] from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance". In the early 1930s, he also grew more concerned about India's "abnormal caste consciousness" and differences based on castes. He lectured on the evils of such practices, and also wrote many poems and dramas on these themes. He also appealed to authorities at Kerala's Guruvayoor Temple to admit Dalits inside the temple. Dalits were people lowest in the social system of India. They could not take part in many functions including entry into places of worship of Hindus.

Last years (1932 - 1941)

Even during the last decade of life, Tagore remained publicly active. He criticized Mohandas Gandhi, the Indian leader, for Gandhi’s comments about an earthquake on January 15 1934 in Bihar. Gandhiji had commented that the earthquake had happened on account of God’s will to punish people for practicing casteism. He was also sad at the decline of Bengal and poverty in Kolkata. He wrote a poem of one hundred lines about the poverty of Kolkata. Later on, Satyajit Ray based one of his movies on this poem.

During this period, Tagore wrote fifteen volumes of prose-poems. They covered many aspects of human life. In his last years, Tagore took an interest in science, and wrote a collection of essays. These essays explored biology, physics, and astronomy.

Tagore spent last four years (1937 - 1941) of his life in pain and illness. In late 1937, he lost consciousness. He remained in coma for a long time. Three years later, this happened again. During this period, whenever he felt better, he composed poems. These poems are his best poems. These poems deal with his close encounters with death. After a long period of suffering, Tagore died on August 7 1941, in the same large house in Kolkata where he was born and where he had spent his childhood.


During 1878 and 1932, Tagore visited thirty countries on five continents. His purpose was to make his literary works known to persons who did not know Bengali language. He also spread his thoughts and ideas, including political ideas.

In 1912 he went to England. Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote the preface to English translation of his work, Gitanjali (Song Offerings). Tagore also met Ezra Pound, Robert Bridges, Ernest Rhys, Thomas Sturge Moore, and many other figures.

From May 1916 until April 1917, Tagore gave many lectures in Japan. Shortly after returning to India, the 63-year-old Tagore visited Peru at the invitation of the Peruvian government. At the same time, he also visited Mexico. Both governments pledged donations of $100,000 to the school at Shantiniketan.

On May 30 1926, Tagore reached Naples, Italy; he met fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in Rome the next day. On July 20 1926, Tagore criticized and spoke out against Mussolini.

In July 1927, Tagore and two friends went on a four-month tour of Southeast Asia. They visited Bali, Java (island), Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Penang, Siam, and Singapore. Later on, he wrote a book named “Jatri” (The Traveler). In this book, he wrote about experiences of his travels.

In early 1930 he left Bengal for a nearly yearlong tour of Europe and the U.S. In Paris and London, displays of his paintings took place. During this period, he wrote his Hibbert Lectures for the University of Oxford. He also met Aga Khan III. He also toured Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany from June to mid-September 1930; and then the Soviet Union.

Tagore's travels gave him opportunity to talk with many notable persons of his time. They included Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Subhas Bose and Romain Rolland.

Tagore's last trips abroad were his visits to Iran and Iraq in 1932, and Ceylon in 1933. His visit to Iran was as a personal guest of Shah Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran.


People know Tagore mainly as a poet. But his literary works include novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, dramas, and thousands of songs. He was also an expert painter.

Novels and non-fiction

Tagore wrote eight novels and four short novels (novellas). These include: “Gora”, Chaturanga, Shesher Kobita, Char Odhay, and Noukadubi. Ghare Baire (The Home and the World). These works covered a variety of themes.

Tagore’s novels remain among the least-appreciated of his works. However, recently many movies have used the stories from these novels. Many movies also have soundtracks featuring selections from Tagore's Rabindra sangeet.

Tagore also wrote many non-fiction books. These also covered many subjects including history of India, linguistics, essays and lectures, autobiography, and details of travels by him.

Music and artwork

Tagore was also an excellent musician and painter. He wrote around 2,230 songs. People call these songs as Rabindra Sangeet. Translated into English language, Rabindra Sangeet would mean "Tagore Song". These songs are now a part of present day culture of Bengali people. His many poems and songs are parts of his novels and stories.

His songs and music cover many aspects of human emotion, from devotional hymns to songs of love. In most of Bengali speaking families, people sing Rabindra Sangeet. Music critic Arther Strangeways of The Observer first introduced his songs to non-Bengalis. He did this through his book named The Music of Hindostan. The book describes Tagore Song as a "vehicle of a personality ... [that] go behind this or that system of music to that beauty of sound which all systems put out their hands to seize." Among Rabindra Sangeet are two great works, which are now national anthems of two different countries, India and Bangladesh. Thus, Tagore is the only person in the world to have written the national anthems of two nations. They are: Bangladesh's Amar Sonaar Baanglaa and India's Jana Gana Mana. Rabindrasangit influenced the styles of such musicians like Vilayat Khan, Buddhadev Dasgupta, and composer Amjad Ali Khan

At age 60, Tagore took an interest in drawing and painting. Successful displays of his drawings and paintings took place in France and London. He made drawings and painted using many styles from different parts of the world. His styles included craftwork by the Malanggan people of northern New Ireland, Haida carvings from the Pacific Northwest region of North America, and woodcuts by Max Pechstein. Sometimes, Tagore used his handwritings in artistic styles on his manuscripts.

Theatrical pieces

When he was only a boy of 16 years, he had performed in a drama organized by his brother, Jyotirindranath Tagore. When Tagore was 20 years old, he wrote a drama named Valmiki Pratibha (The Genius of Valmiki). This described the life of Valmiki, his change from a robber to a learned person, his blessing by goddess Saraswati, and his writing of the Ramayana.

Another notable play by him is Dhaka Ghar (The Post Office), describes how a child tries to escape from his confinement, and falls asleep. This sleeping is suggestive of death. This play received reviews in many parts of Europe. In 1890 he wrote Visarjan (Sacrifice). Many scholars believe this to be his finest drama. The Bangla-language originals included intricate subplots and extended monologues. He wrote many other drams on a variety of themes. In Tagore's own words, he wrote them as "the play of feeling and not of action". Rabindra Nritya Natya means dance dramas based on Tagore’s plays.

Short stories

Tagore wrote many stories during the period from 1891 to 1895. Galpaguchchha (Bunch of Stories) is a three volume collection of eighty-four of his stories. Tagore wrote about half of these stories during the period 1891 to 1895. This collection continues to be very popular work of Bangla literature. These stories have been used for many movies and theatrical plays.

Tagore drew inspiration and ideas for writing his stories from his surroundings, from the village life of India. He saw the poor people very closely during travels to manage his family’s large landholdings. Sometimes he used different themes to test the depth of his intellect.


Tagore's poetry is very varied, and covers many styles. He drew inspiration from 15th - and 16th century poets, as also from ancient writers like Vyasa. Bengal’s Baul folk singers also influenced his style of poetry. He wrote many poems when he was at Shelidah managing his family’s estates. Many of his poems have a lyrical quality. These poems tell about the "man within the heart" and the "living God within". Over the next 70 years, he repeatedly revised his style of writing poetry. In 1930s, he wrote many experimental works of poetry, and also used modernism and realism in his works.

One of his poems has words like: "all I had achieved was carried off on the golden boat; only I was left behind.". Tagore is known around the world for his ‘‘Gitanjali’’ (Song Offerings), his best-known collection, winning him his Nobel Prize. A free-verse translation by Tagore of a verse of Gitanjali reads as follows:

"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 the feet. Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music."


Tagore is the only person to have written anthems for three states.[2]


Political views

Tagore’s political views were complex. He criticized European colonialism, and supported Indian nationalists. But, he also criticized the Swadeshi movement of many nationalist leaders of India. Instead, he emphasized self-help and intellectual uplift of the masses. He requested Indians to accept that "there can be no question of blind revolution, but of steady and purposeful education". Many people did not like his thinking. In late 1916, some Indians wanted to kill him when he was staying in a hotel in San Francisco, USA. They did not kill him as they started arguing with Tagore, and then dropped the idea to kill him. Tagore also wrote many songs praising the Indian independence movement. He also returned the British honor of Knighthood as a protest against the 1919 Amritsar massacre. In Amritsar, troops of the British Raj had opened fire on unarmed civilians killing many persons. Despite his not very cordial relations with Gandhi, Tagore played a key role in resolving a Gandhi-B. R. Ambedkar dispute involving separate electorates for untouchables. Untouchables were people considered lowest in the social order.

Tagore was also critical of traditional style of education. While on a visit to Santa Barbara, California on 11 October 1917, he visualized a new type of education. He thought of a new type of university which he desired to be set up at Santiniketan. On 22nd December 1918, work for building the new university began. It started functioning from 22nd December 1921. He named the university: Visva-Bharati University. Tagore worked hard to raise funds for the university, and toured many parts of Europe and USA for this purpose. He gave all his Nobel Prize monies to this university. The university gave personal guidance to all students. Students lived close to nature, and teacher-student relationship followed pattern of gurukul system of ancient India. In his own words, he wanted this university to become “a world center for the study of humanity ... somewhere beyond the limits of nation and geography."

He also had a dream for the future India. He wanted India’s freedom from the British rule. He dreamt of an India: “Where the mind is without fear”.

His legacy

Even after many decades of his death, Tagore’s legacy continues in many ways. People hold many festivals in his honor in many parts of the world. Examples include:

  • The annual Bengali festival/celebration of Kabipranam - Tagore's birthday anniversary - held in Urbana, Illinois in the United States.
  • The Rabindra Path Parikrama walking pilgrimages leading from Calcutta to Shantiniketan, and ceremonial recitals of Tagore's poetry held on important anniversaries.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who is also a Bengali, once noted that even for modern Bengalis, Tagore was a "towering figure", being a "deeply relevant and many-sided contemporary thinker".

Tagore's collected 1939 Bangla-language writings (Rabīndra Racanāvalī) are one of Bengal's greatest cultural treasures, while Tagore himself has been proclaimed "the greatest poet India has produced".

He was also famed throughout much of Europe, North America, and East Asia. Translations of his works are available in many languages of the world, including Russian, English, Dutch, German, Spanish, and many others. In the United States, Tagore gave many lectures during 1916 and 1917. Many people attended those lectures.

Between 1914 and 1922, the Jiménez-Camprubí spouses translated at least twenty-two of Tagore's books from English into Spanish. These Spanish translations influenced many leading figures of Spanish literature. Some of them are Chile Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral of Chile; Mexico Octavio Paz of Mexico; and José Ortega y Gasset, Zenobia Camprubí, and Juan Ramón Jiménez of Spain

Various composers, including classical composer Arthur Shepherd’s, have set Tagore’s poetry to music.

Related pages

Notes and references

  1. 'Rabindranath Tagore' Bengali: রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর
  2. 2.0 2.1, Bangladesh, Amar Shonar Bangla আমার সোনার বাংলা; retrieved 2012-9-21.
  3. National Anthem - Know India. Nation Portal of India. Government of India.
  4. Bhatt, P.C., ed. (1999). Constituent Assembly Debates. XII. Lok Sabha Secretariat.
  5. Volume XII. Tuesday, the 24th January 1950. Online Transcript, Constituent Assembly Debates
  6. Ganpuley's Memoirs.1983. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.p204
  7. Rajendra Rajan (May 4 2002). "A tribute to the legendary composer of National Anthem". The Tribune.
  8. "Controversy over Jana Gana Mana takes a new turn" (HTML). Rediff. Retrieved 2008-06-08.
  9. "Who composed the score for Jana Gana Mana? Gurudev or the Gorkha?" (HTML). Rediff. Retrieved 2008-06-08.
  11. National Anthem: From "Namo Namo" to "Sri Lanka Matha" ,, Retreived 2012-04-09

Other websites

Media related to Rabindranath Tagore at Wikimedia Commons