Author: Tasnia Naureen
A name we are all familiar with from our childhoods, from the songs on the radio to the stories we would study in Bangla classes, is Rabindranath Tagore. In Bengali history and culture he is not just a name, but a pillar of the country’s literature and music. Not only that, his works have spread throughout the globe and earned him the title of Biswakabi. Tagore’s talents range throughout most, if not all, areas of Bengali literature. His philosophy and uniqueness depicted in his writing earned him the Nobel prize in 1913. Although he is given the title of poet, the list of Tagore’s achievements throughout his life goes on and on.
Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7 May, 1861 in Jorasanko, Kolkata. He was the fourteenth child of Maharshi Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. His mother had passed away when Tagore was only a child and his father spent most of his time in North India and England. Thus he spent his childhood days under the care of the servants in the Tagore family. He also had to be home-schooled, where he was taught various subjects such as Mathematics, Language, Biology and Physics. When he reached eleven years of age, Tagore’s father took him on a world tour. During this time, his source of education was his father. Under his schooling, Tagore gained knowledge on history and literature as well. This is where Tagore’s journey into literature starts, as he started writing his own stories and poems from such a young age. In 1877, a criticism of Michael Madhusudan Dutta was published in the Bharati newspaper, which was written by eleven year old Tagore. He then completed his primary education in Oriental Seminary in Kolkata. He attended Bengal Academy and St Xavier’s Collegiate for a while, only to realize traditional schools were too restrictive for him.
In 1878, Rabindranath Tagore traveled to England with the intention of studying law. He attended a public school there, and then took admission in University College of London to pursue a career in law. However, Tagore’s passion for literature still burned strongly. Eventually, he came back to Kolkata without completing his law degree. Back home, he pursued writing while looking after the lands in regions of Bengal owned by the Tagore family. He married Mrinalini Devi, who gave birth to five children. Unfortunately, two of them, Renuka and Shamindranath passed away very young.
Over the years, Rabindranath Tagore has written fifty-two books of poetry, over a hundred short stories, thirteen novels, twenty plays and more than two thousand songs. All his works are meticulously studied to this day, as they have left a lasting impact on Bengali culture and literature. Bangla classes in every school, in almost every grade would teach one of Tagore’s works, whether it is one of his poems or short stories. Tagore’s most famous collection of short stories, Golpa Guccha, includes stories such as ‘Monihara’, ‘Nashtanir’ and ‘Kabuliwala’. The first book of poetry he published was called Kabi Kahini, where we can see how his writing changes as he grows older and wiser. In 1913, he won the Nobel Prize for his most famous book of poetry, Gitanjali, which was translated into English and called ‘The Song Offerings’. Tagore’s poem ‘Shesher Kabita’ was published in Pramatha Choudhuri’s Shobujpatra.
In addition to stories and poems, Rabindranath Tagore was also an excellent playwright. Bengali theatre was still somewhat unheard of during that time, but performances of Tagore’s plays soon became infamous. Tagore paved the way for actors and performers to see theatre as a professional career. He wrote an essay called ‘Rangmancha’, in which he spoke against the European influences in Bengali theatre. It is considered crucial for theatre apprentices to read through this. He wrote plays that had a more serious tone, which depicted the state of society. At the same time, he wrote comedies and dance dramas as well. Tagore’s famous comedic plays include ‘Hashyakautuk’ and ‘Goraya Galad’, while famous dance dramas include ‘Chitrangada’, ‘Shyama’ and ‘Chandalika’. However, Tagore’s talents do not stop there. He mastered music in his lifetime as well. His lyrics are a combination of European and Indian classical music. He not only wrote the lyrics, but composed all his songs. ‘Amar Shonar Bangla’, written by Tagore, was named the national anthem of Bangladesh after independence. It perfectly depicts the love Bengali people have for their beautiful land. In all of his songs, the love that went into them can be clearly seen.
Rabindranath Tagore had an immense role in the socio-political state of India. At the time, the British rule continued their oppression in Bengal and massacred many in Jalianwalabagh, Punjab. Because of this incident, Tagore renounced the title of Knighthood in 1919. He continued his protests against Britain in his writing. Some of his political essays include ‘Crisis of Civilization’, ‘Letter to Russia’ and ‘Kalantar’. Moreover, Tagore had his ambitions set in reforming the conservative education system of India. He established Bishwabharati University in 1918, where students were taught in the traditional way, as well as through nature. In later years, Tagore dabbled in painting. Although his paintings were not very popular, his first exhibition was held in the Pigal Art Gallery, Paris in 1928. After a lifetime of achievements and improvements to the world around him, Tagore passed away on 7 August, 1941.
Thus, it is clear that Rabindranath Tagore’s contribution to not only literature, but music, theatre and society as a whole, has been immense. The Thakurbari in Jorasanko has been converted to Rabindranath Tagore University. The bridge connecting Kolkata and Howrah has been named after him as the Rabindra Bridge. For Bengali writers, earning the Rabindra Award is the highest award they can achieve, which is awarded every year. These are just some of the tributes to the Bishwakabi Rabindranath Tagore. Every year, musical programmes are held in his honour, where the country’s Rabindra Sangeet singers would gather to sing his melodious songs. Even after his demise decades ago, Tagore continues to live on through his spectacular and heartfelt works generation after generation.