Tagore’s essay is a powerful and thought-provoking exploration of the relationship between humans and nature. It is a reminder that we can learn a lot from the forest about how to live in a more harmonious and sustainable way. Read More Inter 2nd Year English Summaries.
The Religion of the Forest Summary
Rabindranath Tagore (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941) was a Bengali polymath who worked as a poet, writer, playwright, composer, philosopher, social reformer and painter. He reshaped Bengali literature and music as well as Indian art with Contextual Modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Author of the “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful” poetry of Gitanjali, he became in 1913 the first non-European and the first lyricist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Tagore’s poetic songs were viewed as spiritual and mercurial; however, his “elegant prose and magical poetry” remain largely unknown outside Bengal.
A Bengali Brahmin from Calcutta with ancestral gentry roots in Burdwan district and Jessore, Tagore wrote poetry as an eight-year-old. At the age of sixteen, he released his first substantial poems under the pseudonym Bhanusilha (“Sun Lion”), which were seized upon by literary authorities as long-lost classics.
Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7th May 1861, in the Jorasanko mansion in Calcutta, India. He was the man who rejuvenated Bengali music and literature in the late 19th and early 20th century and them their recognition into this world. He was the first non-European to win Noble Prize for his work in Literature. He is the person who gave the national anthem of India and Bangladesh. Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair- Faced) and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World) are some of his best known works.
The ideal of perfection preached by the great sages of ancient India in their hermitage still dominates the minds of the Indian people. The legends in our great epics bore all through their narratives the message of the forest dwellers.
The history of the Northmen or Norsemen of Europe is a resonance with the music of the sea. The sea plays a significant role in their life. It represents some ideals of life which still guide their history and inspire the creations of that race. Nature represents herself through the sea, her aspect of danger and obstacles which imbibes the spirit of fight into the soul of men. The man fought and won and this spirit of fight still inspires a man to fight against disease and poverty, the tyranny of matter and of man. This is true to the life of the people who live by the sea.
But in the plain land of Northern India men had no barrier between their life and Nature. Forests came into a close living relationship with men in their work and leisure, in their daily necessities and meditation. So the view of the truth of the life of these men did not manifest the difference but the unity of all things in Nature. When the world seems alien to us, then its mechanical aspect becomes prominent in our mind. The machine also has its place in the world. Human beings may be used as machines and made to yield powerful results.
The view of this world is explained through the Sanskrit word ‘Sachchidananda’ which states that Reality has three phases. The first phase is ‘Sat’ which states the fact that things exist and the fact that relates us to all things through the relationship of common existence. The second phase is ‘Chit’ which states that we know and this relates to all things through knowledge. The third phase is ‘Ananda’ which is the fact that we enjoy and this unites us with all things through love.
According to the true Indian view, our consciousness of the world merely as the sum total of all things that exist is imperfect. It becomes perfect when our consciousness realises all things as spiritually one with it. During the reign of Vikramaditya, the age of India’s forest retreats passed. But even in that age of pomp and prosperity the love and reverence with which poet Kalidasa sang about the hermitage show the dominant ideal of India. In Kalidasa’s “Shakuntala” the hermitage overshadowed the magnificence of the king’s palace and it clearly expressed the idea of recognition of the relationship of man with the conscious and unconscious creation alike.
While describing the hermitage in ‘Kadambari’ Bana tells of the postures of salutation in the flowering creepers while bowing in the wind, of the sacrifice offered by the trees by scattering their flowers, of the grove resonance with the lessons chanted by the learners and of the wild-fowl enjoying their food. All these descriptions tell us that the hermitage was the place where the wide difference of feelings of man and the rest of the creation had been bridged.
In the western dramas, Nature is almost always a trespasser but in all our famous Sanskrit dramas Nature has always an important function to impart the peace of the eternal to human emotions.
‘Ritu-Samhara’ is obviously a work of Kalidasa’s immaturity. The youthful love- song in it does not reach the sublime reticence found in ‘Shakuntala’ and ‘Kumara- Sambhaba’. But the tune of sensual outbreaks is set to the varied harmony of Nature’s symphony. In the third canto of ‘Kumara-Sambhaba’ the violent outbreaks of passion caused by Madana, the god of love, to set free a sudden flood of desire in the serenity of the ascetics’ meditation, was shown against the background of universal life. The whole of the ‘Kumara-Sambhaba’ poem, portrayed on a vast canvas tells of the eternal wedding of love, its wooing and sacrifice, its fulfilment and the birth of the brave one (Kartikeya) who destroyed the evil demon.
In Kalidasa’s time, the kings became self-seeking epicureans. At that time India reached the pinnacle of glory. But it is evident from Kalidasa’s poems that the very magnificence of wealth and enjoyment worked against the idea that sprang forth from the sacred serenity of the forest. These poems contain the voice of warnings against the gorgeous unreality of the age. The poet yearned for the purity and simplicity of India’s past age of spiritual striving.
Kalidasa opens his poem ‘Raghuvamsa’ amid the scenes of simplicity and self- denial. In the end, we find the palace of magnificence and the extravagance of self- enjoyment. With a calm restraint of language, the poet tells of the kingly glory crowned with purity. He begins his poem in the serenity of sunrise and he describes the end in the background of evening brightened with the splendour of the sun which at last fades into the darkness of night. In this beginning and in this ending there lies hidden the message of the forest. All through the narrative there runs the idea that the future would be glowed gloriously only when there would be in the atmosphere the calm of self-control, purity and renunciation.
In the end, Tagore argues that we need to develop a deeper relationship with the forest and with the natural world as a whole. He writes that “we need to learn to live in harmony with nature, to respect all living things, and to care for the planet that we call home.“