Rabindranath Tagore’s Travels and Work

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 Travels and Work


Tagore visited more than thirty countries on five continents. Many of these trips were crucial in familiarising non-Bengali audiences to his works and spreading his political ideas. For example, in 1912, he took a sheaf of his translated works to England, where they impressed missionary and Gandhi protege Charles F. Andrews, Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, Robert Bridges, Ernest Rhys, Thomas Sturge Moore, and others.

W. B. Yeats wrote the preface to the English translation of Gitanjali, while Andrews joined Tagore at Shantiniketan. On November 10, 1912, Tagore toured the United States and the United Kingdom, staying in Butterton, Staffordshire with Andrews’ clergymen friends.

From May 3,1916 until April 1917, Tagore went on lecturing circuits in Japan and the United States,during which he denounced nationalism — particularly that of the Japanese and Americans. He also wrote the essay “Nationalism in India”, attracting both derision and praise.

Shortly after returning to India, the 63-year-old Tagore visited Peru at the invitation of the Peruvian government, and took the opportunity to also visit Mexico. Both governments pledged donations of $100,000 to the school at Shantiniketan (Visva-Bharati) in commemoration of his visits. A week after his November 6,1924 arrival in Buenos Aires, Argentina,an ill Tagore moved into the Villa Miralrfo at the behest of Victoria Ocampo. He left for Bengal in January 1925. On May 30, 1926, Tagore reached Naples, Italy; he met fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in Rome the next day. Their initially warm rapport lasted until Tagore spoke out against Mussolini on July 20, 1926.

On July 14, 1927, Tagore and two companions went on a four-month tour of Southeast Asia — visiting Bali, Java, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Penang, Siam, and Singapore. The travelogues from this tour were collected into the work “Jatri”. In early 1930 he left Bengal for a nearly year-long tour of Europe and the US. On his return to the UK, while his paintings were being exhibited in Paris and London, he stayed at a friends settlement in Birmingham.

There, he wrote his Hibbert Lectures for the University of Oxford which dealt with the “idea of the humanity of our God, or the divinity of Man the Eternal” and spoke at London’s annual Quaker gathering. There addressing relations between the British and Indians, a topic he would grapple with over the next two years, Tagore spoke of a “dark chasm of aloofness”. He later visited Aga Khan III, stayed at Dartington Hall, then toured Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany from June to mid-September 1930, then the Soviet Union. Lastly, in April 1932, Tagore — who was acquainted with the legends and works of the Persian mystic Hafez — was invited as a personal guest of Shah Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran.

Such extensive travels allowed Tagore to interact with many notable contemporaries, including Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Subhas Bose and Romain Rolland.Tagore’s last travels abroad, including visits to Persia and Iraq in 1932 and Ceylon in 1933, only sharpened his opinions regarding human divisions and nationalism.

Tagore’s Work

“When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose touch of the one in the play of the many. ” – from Gitanjali

Rabindranath’s achievement as a writer can only be viewed correctly in the context of his whole life since his philosophy and his poetics changed as he moved from one phase of his life to another. Through constant study and ceaseless experimentation he mastered the transformations that had taken place in world literature, culture, civilization, philosophy and knowledge over the ages. Consequently, one can trace the content and form of his art evolving ceaselessly. The result can be seen in his countless poems, songs, short stories, novels, essays, plays, musical dramas, dance dramas, travel narratives, letters, and the innumerable speeches that he delivered at home and abroad.

Rabindranath’s philosophy of life itself lay on solid foundations that were built on his own ideas despite his openness to changes coming from the outside world.

Remarkably, his creativity always tended to flow into ever-new channels. He was a poet not only of his age but also for all ages. Certainly, his genius was a transcendent one. His arrival in Bangla literature heralded a new era.

His literary reputation is disproportionately influenced by regard for his poetry; however, he also wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, dramas, and thousands of songs.

Of Tagore’s prose, his short stories are perhaps most highly regarded; indeed, he is credited with originating the Bangla-language version of the genre. His works are frequently noted for their rhythmic, optimistic, and lyrical nature. However, such stories mostly borrow from deceptively simple subject matter — the lives of ordinary people.

Tagore was the first Indian to bring an element of psychological realism to his novels. Among his early major prose works are Chocher Bali (1903) and Nashtanir (1901) published first serially. Between 1891 and 1895, he published forty-four short stories in Bengali periodical, most of them in the monthly journal Sadhana.

Tagore’s reputation as a writer was established in the United States and in England after the publication of Gitanjali. The poems were translated into English by the author himself. In the introduction from 1912 William Butler Yates wrote: “These lyrics – which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention – display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long.”

Tagore wrote eight novels and four novellas, including Chaturanga, Shesher Kobita, Char Odhay, and Noukadubi.

His novel Ghare Bair depicts through the lens of the idealistic zamindar protagonist Nikhil — excoriates rising Indian nationalism, terrorism, and religious zeal in the Swadeshi movement; a frank expression of Tagore’s conflicted sentiments, it emerged out of a 1914 bout of depression. Indeed, the novel bleakly ends with Hindu- Muslim sectarian violence and Nikhil’s being mortally wounded.

In some sense, Gora shares the same theme, raising controversial questions regarding the Indian identity. As with Ghore Baire, matters of self-identity, personal freedom, and religion are developed in the context of a family story and love triangle.

Another powerful story is Yogayog, where the heroine Kumudini — bound by the ideals of Shiva-Sati, exemplified by Dakshayani — is tom between her pity for the sinking fortunes of her progressive and compassionate elder brother and his foil: her exploitative, rakish, and patriarchical husband. In it, Tagore demonstrates his feminist leanings, using pathos to depict the plight and ultimate demise of Bengali women trapped by pregnancy, duty, and family honour; simultaneously, he treats the decline of Bengal’s landed oligarchy.

Other novels were more uplifting: Shesher Kobita is his most lyrical novel, with poems and rhythmic passages written by the main character, a poet. It also contains elements of satire and postmodernism, whereby stock characters gleefully attack the reputation of an old, outmoded, oppressively-renowned poet who, incidentally, goes by the name of Rabindranath Tagore.

Though Tagore’s novels remain among the least- appreciated of his works, they have been given renewed attention via film adaptations by such directors as Satyajit Ray. Tagore also wrote many non-fiction books, writing on topics ranging from Indian history to linguistics. In addition to autobiographical works, his travelogues, essays, and lectures were compiled into several volumes.

At age sixty, Tagore took up drawing and painting; successful exhibitions of his many works — which made a debut appearance in Paris upon encouragement by artists he met in the south of France were held throughout Europe. Tagore — who likely exhibited protanopia (color blindness), or partial lack of colour discernment — painted in a style characterised by peculiarities in aesthetics and colouring schemes.

Tagore also had an artist’s eye for his own handwriting, embellishing the scribbles, cross-outs, and word layouts in his manuscripts with simple artistic leitmotifs, including simple rhythmic designs.

Tagore s experience in theatre began at age sixteen, when he played the lead role in his brother Jyotirindranath’s adaptation of Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. At age twenty, he wrote his first drama- opera Valmiki which describes how the bandit Valmiki reforms his ethos, is blessed by Saraswati, and composes the Ramayana.

Through it, Tagore vigorously explores a wide range of dramatic styles and emotions, including usage of revamped kirtans and adaptation of traditional English and Irish folk melodies as drinking songs.

Another notable play, Dak Ghar describes how a child striving to escape his stuffy confines ultimately “falls asleep” which suggests his physical death. A story with worldwide appeal it received rave reviews in Europe. Dak Ghar dealt with death as, in Tagore’s words, “spiritual freedom” from “the world of hoarded wealth and certified creeds”.

His other works — emphasizing fusion of lyrical flow and emotional rhythm tightly focused on a core idea — were unlike previous Bengali dramas. His works sought to articulate, in Tagore’s words, “the play of feeling and not of action”.

In 1890, he wrote Visarjan regarded as his finest drama. The Bangla-language originals included intricate subplots and extended monologues. Tagore’s Chandalika was modeled on an ancient Buddhist legend describing how Ananda — the Gautama Buddha’s disciple — asks water of an Adivasi, untouchable girl.

Lastly, among his most famous dramas is Raktakaravi , which tells of a kleptocratic king who enriches himself by forcing his subjects to mine. The heroine, Nandini, eventually rallies the common people to destroy these symbols of subjugation.

Tagore’s Golpoguchchho remains among Bangla literature’s most popular fictional works, providing subject matter for many successful films and theatrical plays. Satyajit Ray’s film Charulata was based upon Tagore’s controversial novella, Nastanirh (The Broken Nest).

In Atithi, the young Brahmin boy Tarapada shares a boat ride with a village zamindar. The boy reveals that he has run away from home, only to wander around ever since. Taking pity, the zamindar adopts him and ultimately arranges his marriage to his own daughter. However, the night before the wedding, Tarapada runs off again.

Strir Patra is among Bangla literature’s earliest depictions of the bold emancipation of women. The heroine Mrinal, the wife of a typical patriarchical Bengali middle class man, writes a letter while she is traveling which constitutes the whole story. It details the pettiness of her life and struggles; she finally declares that she will not return to her husband’s home.