Rabindranath Tagore’s Nationalism

The Biography of Famous Personalities of India will tell you about the controversies, the dark sides of a person that you may have never heard of.

Rabindranath Tagore’s Nationalism

Nationalism And Tagore

Though Rabindranath was never actively involved in politics, he never detached himself from current events either. On the contrary, he was unique in his attitude towards nationalism. He inaugurated the meeting of the Congress party that took place in Kolkata (former Calcutta) in 1896 by singing ‘Bande Mataram’ to his own tune.

He composed his celebrated piece ‘Shivaji’s Utsav’ at this time, inspired by the Shivaji Festival introduced by Maharashtra’s Balgangadhar Tilak. In many articles that he contributed to Sadhanu, Bangadarshan, and Bharati, he commented on the contemporary political situation.

During the movement against the partition of Bengal that took place in 1905, he fiercely opposed the division of Bengal. In an essay published in Bangadarshan, he expressed his views on the subject forcefully. He also composed oh the occasion a famous song celebrating the unity of Bengal: ‘Let Bengal’s soil, water, air, and fruits be One and blessed, O Lord’.

He also introduced a number of schemes to alleviate the sufferings of his poor tenants. Among them were innovative projects in the fields of education, health, water supply, road construction and repair, and financial schemes to free peasants from the burden of loans. However, although Rabindranath wrote on behalf of the movement for self-rule, he never supported extreme nationalism or terrorist activities.

Among the diverse forms of creative work Rabindranath is associated with, his songs are perhaps the most outstanding. His ear for music came from his family’s love of it and he was able to cultivate his gift for songs and dances in the distinctive musical environment of the Tagore home.

Mingling western and eastern influences, experimenting continuously with diverse tunes, and blending them in new ways with his exquisite lyrics, Tagore created his own unique form of music, something that is imbued with his own nature. Gradually, his distinctive form of music, Rabindra Sangit, became immensely popular and has now transcended time.

The Jorasanko Tagore’s home was always a major centre of activity for contemporary literature and art. Cultivated people from home and abroad would visit the Jorasanko regularly. It was thus that the famous art critic Ananda Koomaraswamy and Sister Nivedita became intimate with the members of the family. Koomaraswamy translated some of Rabindranath’s poems for the modern review.

The famous historian Jadunath Sarker also translated some of Rabindranath’s works for that magazine. Sister Nivedita translated his famous short story ‘Kabuliwala ’ in the January 1912 number of the periodical. This story overwhelmed the English painter William Rothenstein with emotion.

In June 1912, Rabindranath arrived in England, accompanied by his son Rathindranath and daughter- in-law Pratima Devi.

The poet had already met Rothenstein in Kolkata (former Calcutta) in 1911. Rabindranath handed over to him some of his own translations of his poems. He met in the artist’s house some of England’s most famous poets and scholars. Notable among them were the Anglo-Irish poet WB Yeats and the Englishmen CF Andrews. Yeats later wrote the preface to the English Gitanjali, thereby facilitating Rabindranath’s reception in the west.

Andrews eventually become a disciple of both Rabindranath and Gandhi. Yeats listened to Rabindranath’s reading of his poems. Later, the India Society published the book along with Yeats’s excellent Preface. Subsequently, Rabindranath’s Chitrangada, Malini and Dak Ghar were translated into English. His reputation as an outstanding poet kept growing in the European continent with these translations.

From England Rabindranath went to America. He had sent his son there previously to study agriculture and animal husbandry in the University of Illinois at Urbana. In the process, the poet had exchanged letters with some of the faculty members of this institution who had then invited him to visit their campus and lecture to them.

He now addressed them as a philosopher and humanist. These lectures have been collected in the book titled Sadhana (1913). From America the poet went back to England where he gave some more lectures. In 1913, he returned home. In November of that year news came that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize, the greatest prize the world had to offer for literature.

Through continuous study, correspondence, and world tours Rabindranath always kept himself informed about the intellectual developments, scientific innovations, and political changes taking place everywhere. This had an impact on his outlook and on his work.

The meditative strain of Gitanjali could be seen in Gitimalya and Gitali but his work now took another turn. His new approach to writing could be seen in the work he contributed to the periodical called Sabujpatra. This periodical took recourse to the language of everyday life not only to convey progressive ideas but also for literary expression. Influenced by it, Rabindranath changed his poetic idiom and began experimenting with new forms of writing.

Most of the poems of Balaka were published in this periodical. Going beyond the meditative universe of the Gitanjali poems, in these poems Rabindranath articulated his altered vision of a world in motion. The insights Rabindranath had gained in his travels in the west l$y behind the new perspective that he adopted in this book.

Before the Balaka poems, Rabindranath’s essentially romantic temperament flitted restlessly at times between aspects of happiness and sorrow and separation and union in human relationships and at times seemed to be bent on a search for the eternal sources of beauty. The two sides of his personality were reconciled in the Balaka poems. The main theme of his Sandhya Sangit collection, for example, was unhappiness and anguish at not being able to reconcile himself with the world. In Prahbat Sangit he had called out to nature and humanity.

In Kadi O Komal nature and man’s hopes and aspirations had attracted him, although he was preoccupied here with humanity as a whole as well. In Sonar Tari he had quested after beauty by detaching himself from the world of humanity. In the Manasi, Sonar Tari, and Chitra volumes Rabindranath sought a way between the finite and the infinite.

Rabindranath’s distinctive achievement was his blending of eastern thought and western ideas in his modes of expression as well as his views about life. Bergson’s ideas about vitalism had also impacted on his early thought. Balaka is thus a book containing an altered perspective on life.

Along with new ideas and emotions, Rabindranath brought to these poems new forms of expression and techniques of Verse. Notions about a world in motion brought to his consciousness the sense of an immense force at work in the world. Now he began to use free verse and experiment with diction and rhythms as perhaps can be seen in the English translations.

Taken together, Shantiniketan ashram and School and Visva-Bharati are the main embodiments of Rabindranath’s educational philosophy. Of the three, the first is more purely spiritual; the second one is devoted to giving students an education and introducing them to a school of life, and the third is designed to establish a bridge between the east and the west through humanistic and useful study.

In addition, Tagore wanted to unite purposeful education with the pursuit of the ideal life. The education imposed by the British on India at this time was one that was divorced from the realities of life. To overcome this split, he had established Sriniketan. The poet managed to associate many educationists and scholars both from home and abroad with Shantiniketan. Among them were Sylvain Levi, Moritz Winternitz, Vincent Lesny, Sten Konow, Carlo Formica, Giuseppe Tucci, Dr. Harry Timbers, etc. The poet also became an intimate friend of the world famous philosopher Romain Rolland.