Let’s learn about Rabindranath Tagore.
Rabindranath Tagore is considered one of the greatest minds of the modern era. His creativity knew no limit. He was a poet, a writer, a lyricist, a writer, a composer, a philosopher, and a social reformer as well. He represented India and its values at the international level. He became the first non-European to win a Nobel prize in literature.
Born on May 7, 1861, Tagore was the youngest of his thirteen siblings. His family was long-time residents of the city of Burdwan. A few years before his birth, his family moved to the then capital of India, Kolkata. Tagore’s birth happened in the JoraSanko mansion. Rabindra hailed from a rich family. He lost his mother at the age of three and was brought up mostly by servants. His father was an active traveller. Back in the days travelling was a lengthy business. In the absence of his parents, Rabindra looked up to his elder siblings.
Two of his elder siblings named Dwijendranath and Jyotirindranath inspired him the most. Dwijendranath was a philosopher and a poet while Jyotirindranath was a musician and a composer. Rabindra started learning musical instruments at the young age of five and by the age of eight, he wrote his first poem.
The absence of parents also meant no pressure to attend school. Rabindra hated attending school. According to him schools and education systems were meant to suppress curiosity. His education journey at the local presidency college lasted only a day. The Jorasanko Mansion also hosted a variety of important and talented guests. These guests included some of the country’s best musicians, writers, and thinkers. Rabindra made a habit of learning from these greats. Through this process, Rabindra ended up learning Geography, anatomy, history, drawing, literature, mathematics, Sanskrit, and English.
A healthy mind resides in a healthy body. Rabindra’s elder brother Hemendranath knew this saying. He made sure that Rabindra prioritizes his body as much as his mind. He made him swim across the river Ganga. He also taught Judo and Gymnastics. Thanks to him, Rabindra maintained a healthy and toned body throughout his life.
In 1873, Rabindra with his father left Calcutta for a national tour. They visited the Golden Temple of Amritsar, their property at Shanti Niketan. They halted in the hill city of Dalhousie. The city library piqued Rabindra’s interest. While in Dalhousie, Rabindra completed lots of biographies and books on Sikhism. This tour had a profound impact on him. In the future, he would go on to write six poems dedicated to Sikhism.
At the age of sixteen, he returned to Jorasanko. He published his first poem but under a pseudonym. He later convinced experts to believe that the poem was from a poet of the past. He used the pseudonym of Bhanusimha (Sun Lion). A year later, he published his first story under his name. The short story was named Bhikarini (a woman beggar). The same year he also published two other poems.
His father always wanted him to become a barrister. Against his wish, Rabindra was enrolled in a public school in Sussex, England. Rabindra took this opportunity to get familiar with western poetry. As an assignment, he researched the works of Shakespeare. But soon he knew this was not his way. After a year in England, he came back to India.
As an adult, he was now expected to do some earning. Though his poetry was popular in the Bengal region, the rest of India was still in the dark about his excellence. This meant that his poetic skills were not financially viable. Even though he belonged to a rich family he also had 12 siblings. As a result, he started managing his ancestral estate lands. His job was to collect taxes and rent money from farmers.
This period helped him understand the environment of rural India. Rabindra was a soft-spoken man with an appealing vocabulary. He would help farmers in need and relax taxes if a situation arises. This made him popular amongst the villagers. He would be often invited to their houses. His future stories would contain thorough details of the village and its poverty.
Far away from the hustle and bustle of Calcutta, the peaceful village life helped Rabindra’s productivity. From the year 1891 to 1895, he wrote one-third of his total work.
These experiences gave him a lot of confidence as a leader and an orator. He moved to their property of Shantiniketan and opened a marble floor ashram. The campus also had a prayer hall, a school, a garden, and a library. After his father died in 1905, Rabindra sold a lot of the property that he got from his inheritance. At the same time, he gained readers from all over India. His poems Naivedya and Kheya got translated into multiple languages.
Tagore had already lost his wife in 1902. He decided to use this money for a world tour.
He started from the east. He visited the nations of Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
In 1910 he completed his most recognized poem named ‘Gitanjali’. The word Gitanjali meant an ode to songs. He travelled back to Europe with his translated copy of ‘Gitanjali. In 1913, he got to know that he had won the Nobel prize for literature for his work in Gitanjali. This made him even more popular. Nations, one after the other, began inviting him over. Many important people across the world became admirers of his poetry. He visited Iraq at a special request of the tribal chief. He visited Sweden to collect his Nobel. This is where he met with the likes of Albert Einstein and Bernard Shaw. His talks with Einstein on God’s existence are considered a historic jewel.
He then went on to the continents of America. He visited Argentina and was hosted by Victoria Ocampo. He then moved toward North America, first visiting Mexico and then America. He loved the freedom of expression American culture provided. He kept visiting America many more times in the future.
In 1915, Rabindranath Tagore was awarded a knighthood by the royal family of Britain. Four years later he denounced the title following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. This marked his entry into the political scenario. Afterwards Shantiniketan hosted some of the biggest national leaders of the time including Gandhi. Rabindranath’s political ideology was unique for his time. On one hand, he was against imperialism, on the other he also rejected Gandhi’s national movements. Tagore opposed the idea of handmade goods. He wanted to gain freedom through development and education.
The last five years of his life were very painful. He suffered from regular illness including two months of comatose. But the pain inspired him even more. These last years produced the best of his works. Even in pain, he kept outpouring his creativity. His friend A.K Sen received his last poem a day before his death. On the day of 30th July 1941, Tagore slept through the eternal night.
Rabindranath Tagore was born with a silver spoon. But he never let this fact become clutches to his creativity. Two nations, India and Bangladesh, have their national anthems written by Tagore. The depth of his work is beyond measure. His ability to say so much with so few words remains unmatched. The sweetness with which they are written and the deep meanings that they hold leave you spellbound. The more you read his words the more you learn from them. This is why the world fondly remembers him as ‘Gurudev’ aka teacher.