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Revisiting the Life and Times of Rabindranath Tagore on his Birth Anniversary

I love revisiting the biographies of great personalities. I am a voracious reader and like to share whatever knowledge I gain from reading.

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore

Extract from *Rabindranath Tagore's "Gitanjali",* where *Tagore prays for the country,*

Where the *mind is without fear*

and the *head is held high,*

where *knowledge is free*.

Where the *world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls*.

Where *words come out from the depth of truth,*

where *tireless striving stretches its arms toward pefection.......... "*

Birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore

May 7th marked the 160thbirth anniversary of poet laureate, one of the luminaries of India, Shri Rabindranath Tagore. Also called Gurudev, he was a man of many talents. His exemplary ideals inspire us even today. He upheld the glory of India through his immense literary works and patriotic ideals.

He infused change in the Literature of Bengal by modernizing them. His poems are appreciated for their lyricism, naturalism, and deep contemplation. The characters in his stories not only enchanted the readers but stayed fresh in their memory. So powerful and colorful was the imagery he used.

‘Jana gana mana’ the national anthem of India originally composed in Bengali by the poet laureate, Rabindranath Tagore.

Early Life

Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7th 1861, in a traditional art loving, brahmin family in Bengal. His ancestors were zamindars, leaders in the society and forerunners in the fields of education and culture in their region. They lived in a huge three storied palace in Calcutta. The orthodox Hindus called them ‘Pirali’ and considered caste deviants, because they used to mix and interact with the Muslim community. Rabindranath’s grandfather Dwarkanath Thakur’s was well known in India and abroad. His father Devendranath Thakur, a landlord, was also very famous. His mother’s name was Sharda Devi. He was the youngest of 14 children born to the couple and called Ravi in his childhood.

Ravi spent his childhood in the ancestral palace in simplicity. He preferred simple cotton clothes which he wore even in winter. His eating habits were simple. Initially he was admitted to the Bengal academy and later shifted to St. Xavier’s School. He never enjoyed studying indoors and would always try to run out in the open. He felt school was jail and gave up going to school for good. But his studies continued. He indulged in self-study and studied Bengali, Sanskrit, History, Geography, Science, English, Music, Art etc. Since he was very intelligent, he could master his subjects very quickly.

At the age of eleven, on a tour to Bolpur with his father, he stayed at Shantiniketan, the ashram created by his father. Here his father taught him Sanskrit, English, Mathematics and Astrology. After returning from the tour, Ravi was completely transformed. The very next year his mother passed away in 1875.

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm but to add color to my sunset sky”

— Rabindranath Tagore

At the age of fifteen, Rabindranath recited poems composed by him publicly at a gathering at a Hindu fair. Rabindranath was a talented actor, and a gifted singer too. Since his early childhood days he would write and sing the songs he composed in a melodious voice. The people who listened to him admired his musical talent.

These poems were patriotic and were widely lauded by the people at the gathering. Later he composed poems like Vanphool, Bhanusingher Padawali. The latter was published in the famous Bengali monthly, Bharati in 1877. It was hard to believe that a young boy of 16-17 age could compose such beautiful poetry.

Visit Abroad

In 1877 he was sent to England for higher studies. There during his academic sojourn, he studied Literature, Music and dance, at the university in London. He got involved in social activities and carefully observed the lifestyle and culture of the city.

In 1880, Rabindranath came back to India. The two collection of songs composed by him, Sandhya Sangeet and Prabhat Sangeet were published. They were highly acclaimed. He also wrote several poems and books for children which became popular.

After his marriage to Mrinalini Devi in 1883, his musical and literary talents continued to grow. Soon he was recognized as a great thinker, reformer along with being a literary genius. His ideological evolution continued unabated though he had to face a lot of criticism for his reformist thinking. His own aversion to class room-based education made him arrange for home-based education for his five children.

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Shantiniketan-A Dream Come True

In spite of his frequent tours of the villages and countryside as part of his duties as a zamindar, he would often take time to enjoy the beautiful landscape on the banks of the river Padma. He grew very fond of the village life and always tried to solve the problems of the villagers. He believed that children should be nurtured and educated in the free atmosphere of natural surroundings. The ancient system of Gurukul appealed to him and he founded the school of his dreams at Shantiniketan.

He had to make a number of sacrifices to achieve his dream. After selling his house at Puri and his wife Mrinalini Devi’s jewels he was able to start the school which was his dream. The school that was founded in 1901 by Rabindranath today has grown into a renowned university, the Vishwa Bharati University.

Education was mostly imparted under the cool shade of trees. Gurudev himself used to teach the children. Soon the school became popular as more and more students joined and qualified teachers and volunteers joined. Students were charged nominal fees and teachers were paid nominal wages. There was a cordial atmosphere and life was simple. Apart from academics, activities like gardening, sports, social service were included.

Patriotic Causes and Nationalist Service

A series of tragic events in Rabindranath’s life engulfed him in sorrow. The passing of his wife, his daughter, his son, and his father. This is reflected in his poems ’Smaratn’, ‘Kheya’.

At the peak of the nationalist movement at the start of the 19th century, the British Raj decided to divide Bengal as a ploy to cause a rift in the people and weaken the movement. This move was strongly opposed by various leaders including Rabindranath Tagore. He decided on a unique method to unify the Hindu and Muslim communities by celebrating the festival of Raksha Bandhan mainly celebrated by Hindus. In this festival the sister ties a sacred thread on to her brother’s wrist and he in turn pledges to protect her from all dangers.

Following Tagore’s call, hundreds of Hindus and Muslims in Kolkata and Dhaka took to the streets to tie Raki threads as a symbol of unity and solidarity. After which the decision to divide Bengal was withdrawn. In this way he dedicated himself to patriotic causes and nationalist service but kept himself away from party politics. Even while serving for greater causes, his literary activities continued.

Nobel Prize for Literature for Gitanjali

He was constantly engaged in writing poems, songs, novels and plays. The National Anthem ’Jana Gana Mana’ and the songs of Geetanjali were composed during this time. During his visit abroad in 1910, he met prominent writers and thinkers who encouraged him to get the songs and poems translated to English. This collection of work was published under the title ‘Geetanjali'.

The western literary world was completely captivated by his works. After Omar Khayyam’s work, Geetanjali was the first poetic work which had impressed poetry lovers the world over. From England, Tagore left for America. After exhibiting his poetic ability there, he returned to India in 1913. His travel to the West had gained him recognition all over the world.

He was honored among the best poets of the world. In 1913 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his intensely sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse ‘Gitanjali’. He utilized the prize money on improvement projects at Shantiniketan and also opened a village co-operative bank so that the villagers could get loans at lesser rates of interest.

Spirit of Nationalism

A great friendship developed between Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore when the former visited Shantiniketan. This bond grew stronger with time. In year 1915 the British Government conferred upon him the title of ‘Sir’. As the spirit of nationalism spread and several patriotic movements began, the First World War began.

Rabindranath Tagore returned the title of ‘Sir’ in1919 to protest against the killing of hundreds of innocent and unarmed Indians in the Jallianwallah Bagh tragedy. The returning the title was accompanied by a letter severely criticizing the atrocities perpetuated upon innocent Indians. This letter still remains among the collection of his memorable writings.

Establishment of the Vishwa Bharati at Shantiniketan

Between 1920 and 1930 Rabindranath Tagore visited several nations of the East and the West several times. He firmly believed that peace and happiness was possible only through cordial relations among the citizens of different nations. It was on this principle that he established the Vishwa Bharati at Shantiniketan 1921, to bring together the educational representatives of all the nations of the world together. The motto of the Vishwa Bharati University was ‘Yatra mrinal Vishwambhavatyeka Nidam’, that is ‘where the universe becomes a single nest’. He gave several lectures on the religion of humanity under ‘Hibert Lectures’ which became very popular.

Literary Laureate Turned Artist

About his daily routine, Tagore used to rise very early in the morning. He liked to watch the beautiful sunrise. Breakfast usually consisted of toast and tea and right after breakfast, he would get down to write. While writing he did not like to meet anybody, so much was his concentration and dedication. Writing a song was like child’s play for him. It flowed naturally. He was a vegetarian and led a very simple life.

During the latter part of his life he got interested in fine arts and created thousands of art works of excellence. Whenever he felt restless, he would start drawing with whatever he found. If he did not get paper, he would draw on the covers of magazines. When he could not find colors, he would use ink. In this manner he created thousands of beautiful and profound works of art.

If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.

— Rabindranath Tagore

End of an Era of a Literary Genius

On his 70th birthday he was presented with a book in which writers, poets, scientists, leaders from across the world paid tribute to him. He was the first non-European to ever win a Nobel prize. He passed away at the age of 80 on August 7, 1941 leaving behind a legacy of rich literary work to enrich the lives of generations to come.

Final thoughts

Rabindranath Tagore was a poet, writer, musician, actor, philosopher, journalist, teacher, painter, social reformer and leader. There has perhaps not been any other person in world history who has been so versatile in so many different fields.

With his great artistic and literary accomplishments, Tagore along with Gandhi is recognized as one of the architects of modern India. While Mahatma Gandhi played a key role in the freedom struggle of India, Tagore upheld the glory of India in the literary domain by winning the Nobel Prize.

No Fear -Rabindranath Tagore (Powerful Life Poetry)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.



VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 20, 2021:

Thanks Vanita, for mentioning this novel of Rabindranath Thakur. I hadn't read it. will try to get and read it. I loved his short stories. I love the fact that all the women protagonists in his stories are such strong characters. And this was at a time when the status of women was not so advanced in our society.

Vanita Thakkar on May 20, 2021:

Thanks, Vidyaji. Delighted that you enjoyed my songs.

My favourite novel by Rabindranath Thakur is “Nauka Doobee”. His insight into human tendencies and his presentation of subtleties of human relationships was so unique, graceful and touchy !! He was indeed a great everything - philosopher, poet, writer, composer, .... artist.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 18, 2021:

Hi Vanita, I visited your channel. You have such a lovely voice. You have sung the songs of Tagore so beautifully. Loved it. Thanks for sharing.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 18, 2021:

Thanks for the visit and the lovely comments Vanita. Rabindranath Tagore was an extraordinary and gifted man. His literary output of poems, songs, stories, art is unbelievable. I love Rabindra sangeet too and listen to it often. Thanks for sharing the links. I am glad you enjoyed reading this article about him. Revisiting his biography was enlightening and uplifting for me also. Have a great day, stay blessed.

Vanita Thakkar on May 18, 2021:

I revere, I love the works of the great Ravindranath Thakur (Tagore is the English version of the actual surname “Thakur”) and love reading about him as well. He is fondly called Robi Thakur by Bengalis. I grew up among people who love him, worship him, follow him .... He influenced Indian Art and Culture in an immensely widespread and long-lasting manner.

I enjoyed reading this article and got reminded of so many things I have read and learnt and gained from my love for Gurdev Rabindranath Thakur.

I love singing Rabindra Sangeet. Some recordings / live performances are available online. Sharing a couple of links ....

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 12, 2021:

Hi Brenda, I very much appreciate your visit and comments. Yes Brenda. Rabindranath Tagore's life is truly inspiring. Though he was born in a rich zamindar family, he preferred to live a simple life. He loved nature and hated the concept of classroom education. He preferred educating in natural surroundings. This concept he followed in Shantiniketan which has turned into a world renowned University now. His literary work helped him to go on after the terrible tragedies he faced of losing his parents and two children. Revisiting his biography uplifted my spirits too. Take care, have a great day.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 12, 2021:

Hi Linda, thanks for the visit and the nice comments. Much appreciated. Rabindranath Tagore was a fascinating and inspiring personality. He was a multifaceted artist, social reformer, philoshoper, patriot, all rolled into one. Rarely can we see so many qualities in a single person. It was so enjoyable writing about his glorious life. Have a great day.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 12, 2021:

Hi Chitrangada, thanks for the comments. Much appreciated. Rabindranathji was a literary giant. I love reading his poems, stories. 'Kabuliwala', 'Choker Bali'and others are so heart warming and realistic. Rabindra sangeet is soul soothing. I often listen to it. Shantiniketan is a great example of his contribution to social causes like education. His patriotism and love of nature is reflected often in his poems. Truly a noble soul. Stay safe and have a great day.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 12, 2021:

Thanks Ravi for the visit and the nice comments. Much appreciated. Rabindranathji did India proud with his accomplishments. The legacy of literary work that he has left behind makes him truly immortal. It will continue to inspire generations to come. I felt so uplifted writing about him. Stay safe, have a great day.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 12, 2021:

Thank you so much Gyanendra for the visit and nice comments. Rabindranathji's life is truly inspiring. He was a spiritual leader of the highest order. He lives on through his beautiful poems, songs, stories, and paintings. Shantiniketan is a constant reminder of his greatness. Have a good day.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 12, 2021:

Is that so, I never heard of it. Nobody is perfect, emgee. Even great men are human basically. But he did have patriotic fervor which his poems and songs prove. He contributed to the country in his own way. Winning the Novel prize is proof of his greatness. Have a good day.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 12, 2021:

Thanks Lorna for your nice comments. Much appreciated. Rabindranath Tagore was a literary genius. His poems, songs, quotes are truly beautiful. Apart from them his stories are enthralling too. I enjoyed writing about him as I admire him a lot. Stay safe. Have a great day.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 12, 2021:

Thanks Pamela for the kind words. Yes Tagore was a rare gem. There are so many facets to his personality that is amazing. Every time I read his biography I get inspired. I enjoyed writing about him too. Take care, have a great day.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 12, 2021:

This man is amazing and wise. This is a very interesting, well-written article, Vidya. I enjoyed reading it and learned so much.

Lorna Lamon on May 12, 2021:

An incredible man who achieved so much and left such a lasting impression. The quotes are timeless and beautiful. Thank you for sharing this enlightening article which I enjoyed reading Vidya.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on May 12, 2021:

After reading your article, I was reminded of a discussion I had with justice Katju of the SC. I learned that Rabindranath Tagore wrote the Jana Gana Mana in honor of King George on his visit to India and the same was recited in his presence by the Congress party. Later he denied it but that was many years later when he was criticized for it but I have checked up what justice Katju said is correct. Just about shows that great people also have blind spots.

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on May 11, 2021:

I have Gitanjali with me. I've taught 'This is My Prayer to Thee my Lord to students during my teaching years in the School in Kathmandu.

I was fascinated by Where the Mind is without Fear when I was kid.

Rabindra Nath was a spiritual man of highest level.

Thank you very much for refreshing my mind again through your brilliant article about this great figure.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on May 11, 2021:

Amazing story about an extraordinary man Vidya. Guru Rabindra Nath Tagore was a legend in every way and a jewel for India. Thanks for sharing such valuable information about him.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on May 11, 2021:

Excellent article about Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.

He was a man of immense, diverse and exemplary qualities, as we all know. You have rightly observed that he is one of the architects of modern India.

His contributions towards literature is unparalleled, as also his works as a social reformer and philosopher.

I love listening to, as well as singing Rabindra sangeet.

Thank you for sharing this wonderful information about him with the readers.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on May 11, 2021:

What a wonderful and full life he lived.

With 14 children it is amazing that he did so well with his studies, especially after not attending school.

Having 5 of his own, and then losing his family had to hurt his heart but he kept going.

This is a very interesting article.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 11, 2021:

What a fascinating and impressive man. Thank you for sharing the information about Rabindranath Tagore, Vidya.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 11, 2021:

Thanks Flourish for the visit and comments. Much appreciated. Rabindranath Tagore was multi talented and his contribution to art and literature is invaluable. I enjoyed revisiting his biography and writing about it. Have a great day.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 11, 2021:

Thanks Peggy for pinning my article. I had planned to do a series on great visionaries. After Gandhi and Vivekananda, I remembered Tagore on his birth anniversary whom I admire a lot, and decided to write about him. Have a great day.

VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on May 11, 2021:

Thanks Misbah. Tagore was a true visionary. He valued humanity over everything else as his quotes reflect. He believed in the universal brotherhood of mankind. Rarely can we find a leader so talented and so humble.

Misbah Sheikh from — This Existence Is Only an Illusion on May 11, 2021:

Vidya, I know a lot about Rabindranath Tagore before as well. But your hub contains so many things I was unaware of. I like that he made efforts to unify Hindus and Muslims. Thanks for sharing knowledge. God Bless you

Peace and Love

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 11, 2021:

I pinned this to my Interesting People board. What an amazing man! Thanks for enlightening us.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 11, 2021:

Thank you for sharing more about this Indian poet.

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