Tagore once said to study a banyan tree, you should not only know its main stem, but also trace the growth of greatness in its further soil. Likewise to understand him properly we need to dig deeper into his life and works. He was a man of many facets. He excelled as a teacher, philosopher, thinker, writer, educationist, reformer, journalist, painter and many more. As this year marks the 155th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, who is popularly known as Gurudev a revisit into his life will be more refreshing.These are times when the debate on intolerance has hit the country like never before. Due to the same,Tagores alternative vision of peace, harmony and the spiritual unity of humankind seem more relevant now than ever.
A versatile genius by birth Tagore was born on 7th May 1861 in Bengal. His was a family of thinkers, reformers, socio-cultural leaders and intellectuals. Though Tagore is best known as a poet, he was a philosopher, social reformer, great artist and also an independent spirit. Moreover he was also the first Indian and also the first non European to win Nobel Prize for literature.
Despite the fact that he was one of the most learned idealists of 20th century and his ideas greatly influenced the 19th century youth; his thoughts on nationalism and politics were widely misinterpreted by his own countrymen. In spite of being a diehard fan of western system of education he was a staunch critic of British colonialism in India.
A visionary educationist himself, Tagore first established a school for modernizing Indianeducation system. In this endeavor he takes the policy of taking only the good from everything. His Shanthinikethan School was started with the intention to form an ancient model school; he later converted it into Viswabharathi University for making it a centre of international culture. He believed that highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.
An ardent traveler and reader of the same degree, Tagores thoughts and works reflected many elements that he acquired from both. As a traveler he studied and documented the life, culture and ideas of many and this in turn had a profound influence over his life and his works. The journeys that he undertook helped him to make friendships with stalwarts like Albert Einstein, W. B. Yeats, H.G. Wells and Ezra Pound. He kept a fine relation with Raja Rammohan Roys family and was also a friend of great social reformer Sree Narayana Guru.
His knowledge of Upanishath and materialistic works of Vaishnav poets and some contemporary lyricists of Bengal influenced his works a lot. The thorough base in Upanishath helped him to create a fresh era in the Bengal literature. His clarity of ideas and simplicity of words attracted the young generation. He was just eight years old when he started writing poetry. At the age of 16, he came out with his first collection of poems under the pseudonym Bhanusimha. At present he is credited with a thousand poems; eight volumes of short stories; almost two dozen plays and playlets; eight novels; and many books and essays on philosophy, religion, education and social topics.
Most of his works were translated to English. Indian society translated Gitanjali to English. For this, W. B. Yeats wrote an introduction. There he said I have carried the manuscript of this translation about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of Omni buses and in restaurants and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics displayed in their thoughts the world I had dreamt fall my way long. The work of supreme culture they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes.
Tagores perception on literature was different. He was induced with nationalist feelings and he wrote political poems and essays even in his early days. His writings proved path breaking and revolutionary. Tagore was also the only person to write the national anthems of three countries - India, Bangladesh and Srilanka. All the three were written in Bengali language. Nama Nama Srilanka Matha (Sri Lankas national anthem) was later translated to Sinhalese and adopted as national anthem. He thus not only became the voice of India but also the whole world. Tagore was also a journalist. He worked as an editor of Bangadarshan, a Bengali literary magazine founded by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.,/p>
In 1905, he participated actively in Swadeshi movement by writing patriotic songs against injustice and the irrationality of British act of partitioning Bengal. But soon the movement turned violent. General Dyer ordered to open fire on innocent women, men and children who were gathered in Jallianwala bagh as part of Baishaki festival. But General Dyer was praised for his brave act. He was portrayed as the hero of Jallianwala bagh. As a protest against this misconduct Tagore returned his Knighthood which was given to him by the British Raj. Most of us still believe that he returned the knighthood due to the massacre. But his return of knighthood was against the British governments act of admiring Dyer for his deed. Tagores return of knighthood made the intelligentsia all over the world criticize the British.
Tagore had a role in the Round Table Conference also. His guidance was sought in the first round table conference held in London and he interceded with ideas. He criticized communalism and stood up for equality. He was against McDonalds communal awards. Tagore was also the unifying force among national leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subash Chandra Bose. He was a devoted friend of Gandhiji and he named Gandhi as Mahatma. For him Gandhi was his political father even though there were differences in their ideologies. He often spoke about the pride of Indians and their sacrifice, to overthrow a despotic power. He denounced the idea of feudalism and supported ideals of communism.
Tagore was a lover of art too. He had a great role in modernizing Bengali art. His paintings are well known even in western countries. He said in art man reveals himself and not his objects. In Viswabharathi there is an art museum which showcases his art pieces. His paintings are a big attraction in Bengal today.
I would like to conclude this article with his quote:
The small wisdom is like water in a glass: clear, transparent, pure.
The great wisdom is like the water in the sea: dark, mysterious, impenetrable.
He was a man of great wisdom, eternal, infinite and the one.
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