Rabindranath Tagore: A Bengali Polymath

Rabindranath Tagore: A Bengali Polymath

A man is not solely known by his family background but by his deeds of any kind either it be literary, scientific or social which are beneficial not only for his country or society in which he lives but for the whole humanity without the limitation of boundaries. Such kind of a man was Rabindranath Tagore. We all know that he belonged to a well to do land lord’s family of Bengal but his reputation is not based on his being a son of a landlord family but he is best known for his literary works which have human values in them and so they have an international appeal crossing the limitation of the boundaries. Tagore got Nobel Prize not because he was the son of a prominent family of Kolkata but because of his literary works and his devotion to literature.

• Rabindranath Tagore was a prolific personality. He was a poet. Writer, music composer, philosopher, social reformer, educationist, painter and much more.

• Due to his wide knowledge in a wide field, Tagore is called the Bengali polymath.

• As an intellectual he contributed lot in reshaping the Bengali literature and music as well as Indian art. In fact he gave a modern face to Indian art.

• In 1913 Tagore got the Nobel Prize in Literature for his “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful” poetry of Gitanjali and thus he became the first non-European and the first Indian to receive the Noble Prize in literature for his lyrical songs included in the collection of poetry, Gitanjali.

• Tagore’s poetic songs are spiritual in contents. They are short lyrics but they are full of spiritual meaning.

• Due to his respect Tagore is lovingly known as Gurudev, kabiguru, and biswakabi.

Born in a landlord’s family of Burdwan district of Kolkata on 7th May 1861, Tagore was not interested in traditional education of attending the classes. He often skipped his classes and wandered out side near about the river in Bolpur where his family visited often. Since he was not interested in schooling he was tutored at home.

Since he was not satisfied with the western education system as an educationist, he founded an experimental school in Shantiniketan where he wanted to impart education to his students based on Upanishad. He wanted to merge the western and eastern education traditions. He believed that students can learn in a more natural way by fostering their imagination. This small school, later on became Vishwa- Bharti University in1921.

Rabindranath Tagore spent ten years in Shantiniketan, managing the school and guiding the students but he left the school in 1912 to deliver a series of lecture in Europe, America and in South Asia. Tagore was bestowed with Knight Hood by the British government in recognition of his service to education but he returned the knighthood in protest of the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 and advocated for the Indian independence. He was a very close friend of Mahatma Gandhi and many times participated in the movement for the independence of India.

Rabindranath Tagore was basically a Bengali writer. He wrote in Bangla and then translated himself into English. Through his translation of his poetic and other works his fame reached to the western countries and he became popular in the West.

Although Tagore wrote successfully in all literary genres, he was first of all a poet. Among his fifty and odd volumes of poetry are

Manasi (1890) [The Ideal One],

Sonar Tari (1894) [The Golden Boat] ,

Gitanjali (1910) [Song Offerings],

Gitimalya (1914) [Wreath of Songs],

and Balaka (1916) [The Flight of Cranes].

Tagore also wrote plays. His major plays are:

Raja (1910) [The King of the Dark Chamber],

Dakghar (1912) [The Post Office] ,

Achalayatan (1912) [The Immovable],

Muktadhara (1922) [The Waterfall],

and Raktakaravi (1926) [Red Oleanders].

He is also the author of several volumes of short stories and a number of novels, among them Gora (1910), Ghare-Baire (1916) [The Home and the World], and Yogayog (1929) [Crosscurrents] are very famous. Besides these, he wrote musical dramas, dance dramas, essays of all types, travel diaries, and two autobiographies, one in his middle years and the other shortly before his death in 1941. Tagore also left numerous drawings and paintings, and songs for which he wrote the music himself.

Thus we see that Rabindranath Tagore not only wrote poetry in Bengali and translated it into English but also successfully tried his hands on almost all the genres of literature like novels, dramas, short stories, musical drama, dance drama, essays of every type, letters, criticism, autobiographies, memoirs etc. It was his greatness that he gave national anthem to India and Bangladesh. Besides this Tagore is also best known for his musical compositions. We can conclude by saying that Rabindranath Tagore pursued writing, teaching and activism throughout his life. In 1920 when he was in his sixties, Tagore took up paint and brush and produced great works of art which made him one of the greatest painters and artists not only in India but also in Europe. Such a talented man and great personality was Rabindranath Tagore. He died on 7th August 1941.

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Prof. (Dr.) Asghar Ali Ansari

School of Languages, Literature & Society 

Jaipur National University, Jaipur, India