A playwright, poet, painter, Rabindranath Tagore is a household name till date. He was born into a family of intellectuals. His father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, was a philosopher and a renowned face of the Brahmo Samaj movement. Despite being born in a different era, Tagore and his philosophies transcend time and are still relevant. He espoused humanism, environmentalism, and an anti-imperial attitude. The mentioned tenets are what the world urgently needs today.
Tagore fancied writing from a surprisingly young age. When merely eight years old, he started composing poems. One can’t help but marvel at what this amateur quill would produce in the future. Tagore broke the tradition of Sanskrit- oriented literature and introduced vernacular, informal language in his prose instead. This is one of the reasons why he garnered popularity in Bengali society.
A collection of his poems, Manasi was published in 1890. This was the first time he experimented with different rhythms. It is a lesser- known fact that most of his pieces were composed of songs rather than poems. His most famous composition, Gitanjali, is how the West came to know of him. Published in 1910, Gitanjali won him the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1913. He made history by becoming the first- ever non-European Nobel Laureate.
It is important to note that Tagore was not exactly a fan of the West. Even in his formative years, he received a significant part of his formal education through homeschooling. To pursue higher studies, he moved to England, only to drop out later. Tagore was incredibly averse to traditional methods of teaching. He actively entertained an anti-Western attitude and was openly against the British colonial empire. The following is also abundantly expressed in his philosophy on education.
He had little faith in Western ways of teaching. In his opinion, it reduced knowledge to just a few books. He held that nature played a vital role in an individual’s development. Expeditions, excursions, and interactions with the natural environment were bound to boost creativity. Tagore had already established the importance of nature, which is much-needed even in the 21st century.
Besides being an environmentalist, he was a humanist too. He believed in cultivating a healthy relationship between a teacher and a student. Tagore also clearly defined professional ethics. He opined that a teacher was not meant to assume a position of formidable authority. Rather, a teacher should set an example of a model citizen worth looking up to. He stressed cultural studies and native language. For him, education involved not only intellectual but also economic and spiritual growth. Shantiniketan, the institute founded by Tagore, was based on these principles. For his endeavors in the field of education, people lovingly called him Gurudev, meaning a teacher, mentor, or spiritual guide.
The Bard of Bengal was multi-faceted. The emotional sensitivity exhibited by Tagore is unparalleled. His works make it abundantly clear that he possesses the ability to capture human emotions better than anyone else. His short stories speak of the unspeakable. Kabuliwala, is one such story. It is an emotional journey of an Afghan vendor witnessing a child, Mini, grow into a mature woman. He watches as the child-like innocence of Mini fades away and soon sees her in bridal attire.
Rabindranath Tagore's works served as an accurate portrayal of the condition of women in the 20th century. In one of his most critically acclaimed novels, Chokher Bali, the female protagonist, Binodini, is a widow who is banished from various Vidhwa Ashrams (asylum for widows) since she is educated and rebellious. The novel deals with relationships, infidelity, young adults, and their impulsivity. The above was turned into a film adaptation in 2003 and later in 2015.
Tagore offered an array of cleverly written plays as well. Some of them were politically incorrect. He would casually mock Bengali commercial theatre for how exaggerated and decorated they were. His plays were written such that they relied more on rasa (literary devices in Indian Literature). His famous plays include Valmiki-Pratibha and Prakritir Pratisodh. It is common knowledge that he composed the national anthem of both Bangladesh and India. Jana Gana Mana involved verses that invoked deities like Kali, which were redacted later.
Every year, his birthday is commemorated on the 25th day of Boisakh (Bengali month), as Rabindra Jayanti. A revolutionary. A philosopher. A rebel. In practically every cultural fest organised in India, Tagore's legacy lives on.
Pratha Editorial Team