Nobel Laureate – Rabindranath Tagore
“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.” (Rabindranath Tagore.)
A pioneer in the field of education, Rabindranath Tagore proved by example to the world that formal education is not all that important and that “wholesome education consists in training of all the senses along with the mind instead of cramming the brain with memorized knowledge”. He is one of the greatest poets of modern India, and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He holds credit for having written the national anthem for two countries, India and Bangladesh.
1861: Born on May 7th at Jorasanko (Tagore House) in Calcutta, West Bengal.
1883: Married Bhabatarini (later known as Mrinalini) on 9th December at the age of twenty two.
1901: Founded School of Shanthiniketan (now known as Visva Bharathi University), near Bolpur in West Bengal.
1913: Won Nobel Prize for Literature.
1915: Knighthood bestowed on him by the British Crown (which he renounced in 1918, after the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre).
1921: Founded Institute for Rural Reconstruction ‘Sriniketan’ (Abode of Peace) along with agricultural economist, Leonard Elmhirst, near Shantiniketan.
1937: Fell ill and was often in and out of coma.
1941: Died on 7th August at Jorasanko (Tagore House) in Calcutta, West Bengal, at the same place where he was born.
The Tagore Genealogy:
The Tagore Family Tree spans over three hundred years of illustrious and noted businessmen, social and religious reformers, and great aficionados of literature, art and music. The Tagore family came into prominence during the Bengal Renaissance that started during the age of Hussein Shah (1493 – 1519). The original name of the Tagore family was Banerjee. Being Brahmins, their ancestors were referred to as ‘Thakurmashai’ or ‘Holy Sir’. During the British rule, this name stuck and they began to be recognized as Thakur and eventually the family name got anglicized to Tagore.
Nilmani Tagore: The family of Rabindranath Tagore can be traced to Nilmani Tagore who was the brother of Darpanarayan Tagore, the first ancestor to gain prominence. Nilmani, due to family troubles, broke up with his brother and shifted to Jorsanko, and thereafter all his descendants came to be known as the Jorsankan family.
Dwarkanath Tagore (1794 – 1846), Nilmani’s grandson, played a leading role in the cultural development of his family and being a prominent businessman and industrialist amassed a lot of wealth and became one of the richest men in the society. He was popularly known as “Prince” Dwarkanath Tagore.
Debendranath Tagore (1817 -1905), son of Dwarakanath Tagore was more inclined towards a unique and different type of faith, and started the Brahmo religion which was further strengthened by his son Rabindranath, who took the Brahmo Samaj to greater heights by starting a separate, more tolerant faith with its own unique rituals, a religion which is even today followed by the more progressive minds in society.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) was the youngest of the fourteen children of Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi, most of who were active in society as poets, economists, scholars, scientists and theatre personalities. It is not difficult therefore to understand where Rabindranath got his inspiration from! Born and brought up in such an illustrious family, Rabindranath Tagore also emerged as an extremely talented and prolific writer on the Indian canvas, leaving an indelible footprint in the sands of time.
His Early Years:
Born in a prominent family of West Bengal, whose reputation as connoisseurs and scholars of the arts and sciences was no secret in the society of that time, Rabindranath developed an early interest in literature and by the age of twelve had already started reading biographies, history, poems, and other works. His early schooling was informal and was taught by private tutors in his palatial home. At the age of 18, in 1879, he enrolled himself at the University College in London to study law, but, at the insistence of his father came back to India the next year itself. He helped to manage the family’s estates. He married Mrinalini in 1883 and they went on to have four children. His wife and two of his children died at a very early age.
Tagore, A creative Genius:
Dramas, poetry, short plays, music, novels and painting – Tagore was proficient in them all and produced some of the finest works in his lifetime. He wrote in the Bengali language, which have since been translated into English and other languages. The collection of his poems, stories, novels, plays and essays have been compiled into 26 volumes. He also wrote the lyrics for and composed more than 2,000 songs. His works are an expression of the divine and poetic spirit seen in nature. His works also attempt to peek into the minds of the ordinary Bengali folk.
His Important works:
Dramas and Plays: At the age of twenty Tagore wrote his first drama, Valmaki Pratibha which was followed by Visarjan and Chandalika. His plays include Raktakaravi (Red Oleander), Chitrangada, Raja, and Mayar Khela.
Short Stories: Tagore started writing short stories from the age of sixteen when he penned “Bhikarini” (The Beggar Woman). From 1891 – 1895, more famously known as the “ Sadhana” period, Tagore wrote a number of short stories which he compiled together in the three volume “Galpagucchaccha” (a collection of eighty stories), which showcases the life of rural folk. Most memorable are the Cabuliwallah, Kshutita Pashan, Atithi, and Nastanirh.
Novels: His novels are the least acknowledged of his works and include Chaturanga, Gora, Ghare Baire, Noukabudi, and Shesher Kobita.
Poetry: Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913, Gitanjali is Tagore’s best known collection of poetry. His other famous works are Manasi, Sonar Tori, Balaka, and Purobi. His style of writing starts with the traditional sanskritized dialect of te Bengali language and later moves on to newer styles and form, thereby developing a unique identity.
Music and Artwork: An accomplished composer and musician, Tagore wrote more than 2000 songs which are part of Rabindra Sangeeth and has today become the focal point of Bengali culture. Aamaar Sonaar Banglaa and Janaa Ganaa Manaa, two of his poems have been given pride of place as the national anthems of Bangladesh and India respectively.
In his later years, Tagore took to painting, with exhibitions being arranged in many parts of the world including Paris and other countries throughout Europe.
Tagore, the Educationist:
Not satisfied by the colonial system of education imposed by the British rule in India, Tagore felt the need for a national system of education which would encourage the promotion of creativity, freedom and joy of India’s cultural heritage. Keeping this in mind and to enable education to be available to all classes of society, he founded the Ashram School in 1901 at Shanthi Niketan on the basis of ancient Indian forest schools. Local dialect was given preference over English as he felt that it would be easier for the children to assimilate knowledge better. Apart from educating the senses of the intellect, he felt it was also important to educate the feelings and according to him, the ideal school ” He was against bookish knowledge and felt that “They dehumanize and make us unsocial….Let the students gather knowledge and materials from different regions of the country, from direct sources and from their own independent efforts.”
School of Shantiniketan:
Founded in 1863 by Debendranath Tagore, Shanthiniketan (Abode of Peace) was originally started as a meditation centre. Rabindranath Tagore later established the Ashram School and in 1921 expanded it into the Visva Bharati University, his aim being to impart universal education in a traditional atmosphere and reintroduced the ancient gurukul system of learning. The greatness and diversity of this university is understood and revered even today by educationists and is a true reflection of our glorious heritage. Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, Ex Prime Minister of India, Smt. Indira Gandhi, noted filmmaker, Satyajit Ray are some of the noted luminaries this university has produced.
- Rabindranath Tagore was the only person to have written the national anthem for two countries, India and Bangladesh.
- He was also the first person to win the Nobel Prize for literature, even though his work was written in a non European language.
- He was knighted in 1915, but he surrendered his Knighthood in 1918, as a protest, after the Jalianwala Bagh massacre carried out by General Dyer.
- Even today, the University of Shanthi Niketan has retained the ashram style of teaching together with the more contemporary style of the western world.
Tagore’s dignity and strength of character and the beauty of his art remain etched even today in the minds of the people of Bengal and serve as an inspiration to people the world over. His respect for women, his love for open spaces and his patriotism towards his country are a lasting legacy he has left behind. Even today the beacon that is Tagore’s legacy shines brightly, not only on the people of India, but also across the border in Bangladesh. His songs will remain evergreen and his stories will continue to make an impact on future generations.