The Political Consciousness of Tagore

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A prominent Indian intellectual, whose name I desist from mentioning since his identity is not germane to what this post is about , had come to Stonybrook for an invited lecture many years ago. In the course of his talk, he contended that in the nineteenth/twentieth century there were far greater intellectual figures than Rabindranath Tagore (he took one name) but none of them gained world acclaim since they did not possess the marketing savvy of Tagore and were not as willing as him to kowtow to the British.

Aghast at this accusation aimed at Tagore’s patriotism,coming from someone who should definitely know better, I was about to raise that point when the floor was thrown open for audience questions. But then I stepped back, reminded of one of my father’s maxims “You can only argue with someone who is half-right. If someone is fully wrong, it’s simply not worth your time.”

Coming back home, I continued the discussion with a friend who said that he agreed with this prominent intellectual. It seemed he had grown up hearing this. After all was not Jana Gana Mana composed for King George by Tagore? Was he not an admirer of the British throughout his life? Was he not opposed to the Indian national movement of Mahatma Gandhi?

No this post is not about the Jana Gana Mana controversy. For those who still want to believe that rubbish, regardless of Tagore’s own clarification in his letter to Pulin Behari Sen [Link] and refuse to consider the small matter of his returning his Knighthood (which presumably would have been a big deal for someone supposedly enamored of the British) in protest against the Jalianwalah Massacre as proof enough of his anti-imperialism then it is beyond me or, for that matter, any kind of rational discourse to convince them otherwise.

What this post is about is Tagore’s idea of patriotism and a clarification of what is perceived to be his opposition to the freedom struggle.

The foundation of Tagore’s world-view was education. He firmly believed that independence from the British, in itself, would be meaningless and merely lead to replacing a foreign oppressor with home-grown ones as long as Indians stayed mired in superstition, ritualism and were closed to new ideas. Given this, he was strongly opposed to Gandhi’s philosophy of  “Education can wait, Swaraj cannot” because he believed that the ends (independence) did not justify means (mass boycott of education).

He was also disturbed by Gandhi’s use of religion and his invocation of India’s past glories as a means to galvanize the masses. This stemmed from Tagore’s opposition to the concept of nationalism as defined by “pride” and cultural chauvinism, having seen how it had led to untold suffering in the first half of the twentieth century both in Asia and in Europe, most egregiously from “nationalist” movements in Japan and Germany.

In addition, Gandhi’s use of religion and his call to revive a simpler pastoral lifestyle were to Tagore retrograde steps. Rabindranath favored a more open, international and ultimately secular outlook (There is a lot of literature on Tagore’s idea of God, which can be simplified grossly as something akin to the Bhakti movement’s tenets—a strong personal relationship of love with a Supreme Being ) for the next generation of Indians and was worried about the direction Gandhian philosophy, if followed to the letter, would take India.

Tenets of Gandhism related to suppression of sexual desire and Gandhi’s strong strictures on “proper Indian life” and propensity for moralizing were to Tagore unreasonable restrictions on personal freedom, a concept as near to him as education.

Tagore’s criticism of Gandhian struggle was not just motivated by ideology but also by pragmatics. In Bengal, the cloth trade had a strong Muslim presence and when Congress leaders exhorted people to burn clothes produced by British mills, many of the Muslim merchants refused on economic grounds—-they had inventory of Manchester products and local Indian cloth being more expensive and of bad quality was not commercially viable. Tagore was of the opinion that unless Indian industry had products that could compete in the market on their quality alone, it was unreasonable to expect people who had invested in the cloth trade to reject British-made goods just out of patriotism. Tagore felt that we first needed to make Indian industry competitive rather than take the easy way out and just burn foreign products , something which he felt, given the delicate communal fabric of Bengal and given the way the cloth trade worked, would wreak havoc.

He was right. Gandhian politicians appealing to emotion and rhetoric moved through the countryside.  Muslims who refused to play along and burn their stock were branded as anti-nationals. In many places, shopkeepers and merchants, most of them who happened to be Muslims, were forced to burn British cloth through community pressure. Muslim leaders then dove in inflaming communal feeling, which was never far from the surface, with the message— “This is the way it is going to be for Muslims in independent India”. Things went south pretty soon, something that was doubly painful for Tagore because he was personally at the forefront of the 1905 struggle against the partition of Bengal, a time when Hindus and Muslims had risen as one against the British, possibly for the last time.

It was Tagore’s opposition to Gandhian struggle and his aversion for “nationalism” as “chest-thumping war-mongering” that has led to the popular impression that he was not a patriot, something that he was well aware of.   As  an artistic riposte, he wrote a novel “Ghare Baire” (The Home And The World) which had as its  “villain” a seductive rabble-rousing Gandhian politician (Sandip) whose appeal is based on populist oratory but who remains inherently self-centered  and had as its hero an old-world, staid, rather dull zamindar  (Nikhlilesh) whose opposition to the coercive methods of Sandeep is seen by his wife as “unpatriotic” and his ideal of constructive patriotism misunderstood as weakness.  Despite their ideological tension however, neither Gandhi nor Tagore doubted the other’s patriotism and the immense love and respect they had for each other is well documented. It was however lesser minds, many with an agenda of their own, who have kept persisting with this take down of Tagore.

As the final testament of Tagore’s patriotism, it is worth noting that he was, unlike many of his critics, no latte-drinking “intellectual” blowing hot air in a coffee house. In 1905, he was involved, hands-on, in a different kind of Swadeshi—- the promotion of local industry and local education as an alternative to the British. As part of his belief that Indians need to be educated not as clerks of the British but as technically competent individuals capable of building the nation on their own through entrepreneurship , he became one of the leading lights behind the National Council of Education, responsible for the foundation of Jadavpur University as an alternative to the more British Calcutta University.

While his experiments with alternative models of education, based on his concept of the freedom of the mind, in Santiniketan are well-documented what is however less universally known is his ceaseless work for tribal uplift in the area around Santiniketan, especially his initiatives for cooperative banks. Since there was no government help (Mahatma Gandhi arranged for some donors),  he would himself raise money, performing his dance dramas, even when his health was poor. This may come as a shock to people who think of a mystic of a rich family who wrote romantic poetry and theorized about politics, science and art,  but there were few intellectuals, then and now, who have done as much constructive and positive work for the promotion of education among tribals as him without of course the shameless publicity and political ambition that characterizes much of social work today.

Whether there were may have been greater talents than Tagore in India, I cannot say since I myself had not read the person the “literary figure” mentioned and talent is in any ways a very subjective concept. However I am fairly confident that  it would be difficult to find someone who was as visionary and as genuinely patriotic as Kobiguru Rabindranath Tagore.

[Those interested in reading a scholarly analysis of the Gandhi-Tagore schism are encouraged to read Dr. Amartya Sen’s “The Argumentative Indian”]

99 thoughts on “The Political Consciousness of Tagore

  1. Greatbong, this was a welcome change (in my own opinion) from the recent posts on popular topics.

    A few days ago I tweeted some of my own views on similar topics. I’ve always felt that Tagore’s Mahamanav was more all-encompassing and humane then either Nietzsche’s Ubermensch or GB Shaw’s Superman. Tagore was a nationalist, after he was a humanist and this bears keeping in mind.

    Why? Because history is subjective. As Carl Sagan rightly points out, much of history deals with creating a feeling of nationalism and distorting the “truth” to suit local whims.

    “Ghare Baire” taught me more about human psychology than any other book save perhaps, “Crime and Punishment.” Read as a political commentary it is one of the most nuanced books I have read in my life (and I acomparing with the one-sided visions of Orwell in “Animal Farm” and 1984). I have learned more about the different sides and angles of the First Parition of Bengal, the Swadeshi Andolan, and the seeds of Partition from this book that any other.

    It takes courage to point out that the history we read is not always fair or balanced. Kudos to you for this post (more than any other).

  2. I think the clothburning etc scenario mentioned here is more associated with the Anti-Partition (of Bengal) Swadeshi movement, which predates Gandhi. Tagore’s opposition to the mindless Swadeshists just proves he was a smart man.
    Who is this famous “Indian intellectual”? I am curious.

  3. No Kinjal. It was very much part of non-cooperation movement. Swadesi movement of 1905 was not destructive but constructive. Cloth bonfires came much later and with it communal tension and rioting in the Bangla countryside.

  4. Marvelous post Arnab – if I was to write this, I would make exactly the same points, though not as lucidly as you do. I think at least some of the blame for this revisionist assessment of Tagore and his nationalism can be apportioned to, ironically really (ironical since this is about who’s a greater nationalist), our old friends the left-leaning Bengali intelligentsia.

    If you just look at the other stanzas of Jana Gana Mana (the ones we don’t usually sing), it’s just so obvious it wasn’t written for King George – you really wonder if those who make such claims have any familiarity with the poetry of Tagore or Bengali literary culture in general.

    Somehow a lot of these folks seem unable to conceive of political engagement beyond crude and explicit chokhey angul diye dekhiye dewa – a la some of Mrinal Sen’s films. Didn’t Satyajit Ray have to face similar criticism about how his films had little to say on contemporary society an politics in Bengal?

  5. Succinct analysis. I have a lot more respect and reverance for Tagore than I do for Gandhi.

    IMHO, Tagore was honest, spiritual, a staunch nationalist and progressive reformer, and thanks to his faith in the Bhakto movement, he had originally dedicated his “Jana Gana Mana” ode to Sri Krishna (not some King George V). Just read the lyrics of the national anthem closely and you will see what I mean.

    While I dare say that Gandhi appeared to many as a self-righteous appeaser of Muslim League bullies who buckled before terror and when Indians did not comply with his suicidal views, he threw a fit (and emotionally blackmailed the nation by going onto a fast-unto death).

    But I disagree with (Tagore’s?) “bonfire of cloth” argument that seeks to exculpate the Muslim League for partition, ironically in a typically Gandhian way. If you looked at the big picture all over India, Hindu cloth merchants dominated the Manchester cloth market and yet, many chose to burn their imported clothes without getting anti-national about it. Sorry, that excuse just doesn’t cut it !!!

  6. Pratap Rao,

    Muslim merchants were poorer and had more to lose from burning their stock. And the cloth trade was dominated by the Muslims—darzis, whole-sale suppliers, retailers. And Sri Krishna ? Tagore–a Bramho? Where did that come from?

  7. ‘You can only argue with someone who is half-right. If someone is fully wrong, it’s simply not worth your time.” Fantastic.

    Special post this one. Loved it. :) :)

  8. Thalassa,

    I had actually written about Tagore being criticized for his “bourgeois” depiction of poverty (the same criticism Ray faced) in this post and how unjustified that too was but removed it because the piece was getting too big and just wanted to focus on one point.

  9. Thanks for pointing out the many facets of Tagore, which are alien to the present generation. Few months ago, I had a heated argument with some of my friends about the Jana Gana Mana controversy. But as your father rightly said, “If someone is fully wrong, it’s simply not worth your time”. After the economic liberalization, the views and activites of Tagore became more relevant. Hope the present day intellectuals will recognize this fact someday.

  10. Serious Hindu-Muslim tensions in Bengal were simmering way before 1860s (before Tagore was born). It just found a new narrative and definition under the British political governance. Tagore was aware of it.

    “The delicate communal fabric” in Bengal part is quite a imaginary fabric in the minds of the you know who class of people.

  11. The way Tagore , Netaji and many other great men of India had visualized Independent India to be is completely different from what we were eventually given by the Gandhis and Nehrus. Freedom could have come a few years later – without India being partitioned and with much better and progressive leadership. But that would have meant some big posts in the Indian/Pakistani leadership circles slipping out of the hands of certain people so we were hurried into an independence for which we were not 100% ready.

    A comparison can be drawn with a project team in any of India’s IT Companies. If you say ‘Yes Boss’ to everything the manager says, you’ll have more say in everything than your more deserving colleagues/teammates even though their ideas or efforts could be much better and more significant.

    Tagore was not a man of armed revolution. Nor was he a man of shrewd politics. He knew his strength lay in what he writes and his contribution to Bengal and India through his writing and related activities can not be undermined by anyone. Not a single person in this whole universe had ever had the guts to simply refuse to accept the British Kingdom’s highest civilian honour i.e the knighthood.

    Those who think or say Tagore wrote ‘Jana Gana Mana’ to please King George should actually read about Tagore before reaching any such conclusion. In fact, it can be argued that it was the ‘father of the nation’ who had gone to practise law overseas for better career prospects and future and it wasn’t until he was thrashed and kicked out of the train by the Goras that the patriot inside him suddenly woke up.

    Gandhian philosophy is like a Company’s Top Management’s – holding meetings and issuing press statements while the grass root level employees keep working their guts out. The people on top reap the benefits which the people at the bottom sow. It serves the purpose of some people but doesn’t do anything to a nation as a whole.

    @GB : May be the whole comment of mine is not exactly in sync with the tone of your post, but I just said what I felt.

    All in all, a very nice post.

  12. We live in cynical times. There is absolutely no need to doubt the motives and intentions of great men like Tagore and Gandhi. Every national hero that time had his own way of expressing his selfless nature for the country , Gandhi did that through non-violence , Tagore did it through education which was a brilliant departure from the “factory” system introduced by the British(these factories produced clerks those days , it produces engineers and doctors today), Bose did it by giving us our first army , people like Bhagat Singh laid down their lives selflessly . It doesn’t mean one was right and the other was wrong . They were all right .

    Gandhi was portrayed as some sort of manipulative guy in The Legend of Bhagat Singh who stole ideas from Bhagat Singh . All this is uncalled for.
    What happens these days is we are unable to accept all these different methods as right. On the contrary we must be grateful that there was not just one movement for independence , as we can learn a lot from each of these national heroes.

    They all had one thing common , viz selfless motive .

  13. You ‘suggest’ that Gandhi’s decisions to boycott resulted in greater loss for Muslims than Hindus which in turn led to all the riots. You cannot possibly have any source to justify the whole paragraph . This over simplification can be interpreted in many mischievous way. If I were you I would delete it.

  14. Tagore came from the foremost industrialist Bengali hindu family of that tiime with brilliant scholars as brothers and other relatives. So, it was natural that he would be progressive. Then, he lived through the Bengal renaissance that made him more equipped to handle nationalism with a reformer’s mind.
    Gandhi, on the other hand had not seen all this. Only heard. So, he had to rely on his own thoughts and leadership skills. But, politically Gandhi was more attuned to the power of the moment and seized on it more than once.
    Tagore had more to do as his heart lay in the education of the masses and that was tough going. Far more tougher than rousing the masses to mouth slogans. Essentially, a difference between a reformer and a social worker cum politician.
    Also, as the nation raged against the british, Tagore was struggling to make ends meet in Shantiiniketan. You see, there were no Lalit Modis then!!!
    Somoyta pailen koi??

  15. Dear Greatbong

    Thank you for your response.

    1) The argument can be made that Hindu merchants were just as poor, if not poorer than Muslim merchants. (The rich bania stereotype is countered by the fact that rich merchants funded and armed the Muslim League too). Hindu tailors, suppliers and retailers who dominated the cloth-trade nationwide had as much to lose from a ban on imported cloth. Perhaps the latter put their nationalistic sentiments above petty monetary interests, while the other side looked for (and found) a ready-made excuse to wage war to establish a Caliphate (Khilafat).

    2) While being nominally Brahmo, Tagore chose not to be buttonholed into a sectarian identity. As his thinking expanded and as the Brahmo influence waned nationwide, Tagore embraced a larger Hindu worldview, as evidenced in his poems, plays and writings:

    • Tagore’s Bhanusimha poems chronicle the romance between Radha and Krishna
    • Tagore’s drama-opera – Valmiki Pratibha (The Genius of Valmiki) – describes how the bandit Valmiki reforms his ethos, is blessed by Saraswati, and composes the Ramayana.
    • As you rightly noted, Tagore’s poetry is heavily influenced by the Bhakti movement – that proceeds from a lineage established by 15th- and 16th-century Vaishnava poets.
    • It is an understatement to say that Tagore was awed by the mysticism of the Rishis who- including Ved Vyasa – received the Vedas and the Upanishads through intense meditation.
    • And yes, the Deity that Tagore refers to as India’s Eternal Guiding Spirit (Bharat Bhagya Vidhata) could be the “Nirguna” Brahma of his Brahmo influences or the “Saguna” Sri Krishna of his Vaishnava Bhakti influences – both of which are – philosophically speaking – as Hindu/Vedic as they get.

    Here are two paragraphs – excerpts from a related article ‘Tagore and Jana Gana Mana’ by Monish Chatterjee – that lay to rest any doubts on who Tagore composed his beautiful ode to:

    “The mythology surrounds the 1911 visit to India by King George V. To commemorate the occasion, the Indian National Congress (INC) approached Tagore for a poem of welcome. As Yeats (his Irish admirer of many years) recalled later, Tagore was deeply troubled by the assignment. Early one morning, he composed a very beautiful poem and handed it over to his colleagues. He suggested that it was a poem addressed to God , and that they should give it to the Congress people. At the Calcutta Congress session which began on December 16, 1911, the second day was apparently devoted entirely to welcoming King George V. Jana Gana Mana was sung on this occasion. Thereafter, the newspaper reports maintained that it was sung as a salute to the King Emperor (George V). Since Tagore did not immediately refute the allegation, the perception spread that the song was a eulogy to the monarchy. Obviously nothing could be farther from the truth.

    As with many of his Puja or devotional songs, if there was a divine entity to whom Tagore addressed many of his heartfelt yearnings for communion and eternal play, it was a Monarch infinitely greater than any mortal King Emperor could ever aspire to be. The Lord of India’s Destiny, to whom Jana Gana Mana is officially addressed, is the perennial Bhagya Vidhata of India who has, from the very dawn of civilization, guided India through great triumphs and tragedies. The Lord of India is therefore India’s eternal guiding spirit, and could never be merely the king of a colonial empire.”

  16. @shyam

    Do you agree with the following points (all of which are backed by Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and British historians)?

    1) The population of Pre-Partition Bengal was predominantly Muslim
    2) Muslims were generally poorer.
    3) Videshi clothing products were generally cheaper than swadeshi goods (note that the charka was NOT sustainable for a subsistence farmer).
    4) “The annulment of the first Partition of Bengal brought disillusionment among most Muslims in Bengal”. (one of scores of refs – Bengal: Past and Present, Calcutta Historical Society, vol 11)
    5) Even in Bengal, the INC was a party of Hindus who were disproportionately represented.

    If so I do not see why it is a gross misstatement. In addition, the link between burning Western goods and adverse effects (real or perceived) on the Muslim populace is directly asserted in Tagore’s “Ghare Baire”

  17. “Swadesi movement of 1905 was not destructive but constructive. Cloth bonfires came much later and with it communal tension and rioting in the Bangla countryside.”

    That first sentence is a very loaded claim, which I’m not sure many historians would agree with, and the second is possibly inaccurate. While I do not disagree with the basic premise of your post, I should have liked to see some more research put into it. “Ghare Baire” is very much a critique of the post-1905 bhodrolok led (read high caste east bengali jomidar) Swadeshi movement. Forced cloth burning was a strategy invented by these people (which needless to say did not endear them with their subjects), which may have been adopted by Gandhi later. It is basically Tagore signing off from something he had enthusiastically accepted at first. He writes this in 1916 (?) but bases it on an earlier period. Gandhi was probably carrying stretchers in the South African ambulance corps then.

  18. Ghare Baire was written in 1916 and it was a critique of what we know called Gandhian mode of politics which actually pre-dated Gandhi (hence your confusion). Note that Tagore never held Gandhi personally responsible but was less enamored of the Congress and the “spontaneous” acts of patriotism that was being foisted on the people at that time.

  19. Sure. let’s stop quibbling about the difference between “gandhian” and “pre-gandhi” then, but it should still be interesting to know why you think that mode of politics was “constructive, not destructive”.

  20. The Swadesi movement that Tagore took part in tried to 1)build local industry like soap-manufacturing and 2) tried to promote technical education. At the same time, they took to the streets with Tagore leading the way tying Rakhis (Aban Thakur describes this beautifully) [I mention this to show that this was a political movement and not merely a social-economic one]. In contrast, Congressi/Gandhian struggle was about “stopping stuff” —paralysis, boycott, bonfires with little in terms of positive ideas for India’s future or alternative structures to the British.

  21. @ Arnab
    Debendranath Thakur (Rabindranath’s father) was a Brahmo Samaji, who translated the Katha Upanishad in Bangla.
    Rabindranath had significant influence of Brahmo Samaj on him.

    @ Milkmiracle

    1. Bengali speaking people were Muslim majority by 1875.
    Undevided Bengal (which included present day Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar was not.

    2. In undevided Bengal, Muslims were “generally” not poorer, if you were to include the Hindu Vanavasi’s of Midnapore, Birbhum, Purlia and modern day areas of Jharkhand and Orissa, that formed part of undevided Bengal. They were just not counted as Hindus. This is propaganda promoted by the British, and lapped up by “you know who” historians/intellectuals thereafter.

    3. Charkha was not sustainable.

    4. The annulment of the first Partition of Bengal brought disillusionment amongst Muslims. True. There lies the problem.

    5. The “Bengal Renaissance” was primarily a “Hindu Renaissance”. The power-center was rapidly shifting from the Muslims to the British, and the Hindu community was using every freedom and opportunity possible to be on a resurgence in Bengal after 600 years of Islamic rule.
    The Islamic community of Bengal, instead, chose to move a step backward, using the Faraizi Movement to radicalize and de-educate itself further.

    Under these circumstances, it was natural that the INC, which was a eclectic mix of English educated elites, intellectuals and political activists, would be populated mostly by Hindus.

  22. Good post. It does not detract from your main point, but the way you related Ghare Baire to Gandhian movement can be a little confusing chronologically. Ghare Baire was written and serially published in 1915-16. Gandhi came back from South Africa in 1915. He was not involved in Indian politics at all during 1905-1907, the period Ghare Baire depicts, and was not much of a factor in 1915-1916 either. Gandhi could not have influenced Sandeep, but Sandeeps influenced Gandhi. Ghare Baire is not so much an artistic riposte to Gandhian struggle as a prescient warning of where it might end up.

  23. As I told Kinjal, Gandhian struggle pre-dated Gandhi. People think that Gandhi started it but thats not actually correct. Tagore’s problem was with what we know as Gandhian agitation of intransigence.

  24. Greatbong- agreed with many of tagore’s visions ,but all the things like indigenous industry , alternate education , personal space etc. all come when the individual rights are not suppressed ,i think it is well documented that many of the individual rights were suppressed, the biggest damage that british did to indians was shattering the self-confidence.Self-confidence comes only with freedom ,alternate education models was surely a great idea , if freedom was to come only after educating all the country men with the substitutes to british education , then i think even to this day we would not have had freedom.
    Having said that gandhi’s vision was to lay the foundation(swaraj) , tagore’s vision was to build the house.

  25. Any article in which Tagore criticizes British directly?

    It is said that Jana Gana Mana was written more out of protest and rebellion than adoration towards the monarchy. But the fact remains that when asked to write a song to welcome George V Tagore came up with Jana Gana Mana…. (George V thought it was written for him) Even Tagore gave a clarification much later.

    Even Sandip’ personal character tarnishes the image of a swadeshi leader for no apparent reason…

  26. apart from forced nationalistic principles of marching and demonstrating protests…tagore’s method of education can bring enlightenment was the most pertinent method of building a new and young nation….i never understood gandhi or his viewpoint…perhaps he acted a bit more instinctively….and going by indian sentiments….a long robed songwriter novelist zamindar’s never looked as much a nationalist as a scantily clad gujrati popular icon was….tagore was never a politician….thankfully

  27. @Utsav Chakravarti

    You’ve agreed with my substantive assertions except for the point that Muslims were generally poorer. However, you don’t cite a reference. What are your sources? Further you counter my referenced assertion that Muslims were poorer with the following argument:

    “This is propaganda promoted by the British, and lapped up by “you know who” historians/intellectuals thereafter.”

    In other words, you’ve already reached a conclusion. I can provide numerous other sources, but you’ve already prejudged historians that do not agree with your conclusion.

  28. @ Milkmiracle

    My sources,

    Census of India, 1872
    Calcutta, Printed at the Bengal secretariat press, 1872.
    copy available at: The library of Congress, Wash. DC
    LC Control No.: 07018899

    Census of India, 1881
    Calcutta, Printed at the Bengal secretariat press, 1883.
    copy available at: The library of Congress, Wash. DC
    LC Control No.: 07018901

    Census of India 1891
    Calcutta, Printed at the Bengal secretariat press, 1893.
    Beaureu of Internation Research, Harvard College Library

    I already had a bit of info with me from beforehand, as I had helped a friend make a presentation for a Ranking Member on the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Bangladesh, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), and Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC), in 2007.

  29. @GreatBong I can appreciate your backing of Tagore in the cloth burning issue since Indians didnot produce at that time clothes that were of comparable quality and price..But have you ever given a thought as to how difficult it was for a native to set up industrial level businesses (not merchant or trade level) in India…Two of the biggest reasons that India’s share of World GDP went from 25 percent to less than 1 were: a) deliberately making sure that no indutries grow up in India b) Using India’s produce and taxes to finance rest of the empire..That’s why “white colonies” like Aus,NZ,SA, Canada were given home rule and India was not…Taking stock of such a situation I myself can back Gandhi that Education can wait, Freedom cannot…Just dig up some infos about how much trouble Jamshedji Tata had to go through the open the first steel plant in India… and for decades it remained the only steel plant in India

  30. Wow! Amazing analysis, and a refreshing change not to see Shree Sehgal as the blog opens. I also (for the benefit of everyone who is commenting on this particular article) think you should clarify that this article is not about a judgemental comparision between G and T but more of a article which shows how much Mr. T was an evolved person in the political arena and not just a poet penning poems and creating paintings in the leafy environs of Shantiniketan

  31. The Hindu-Muslim problem in Bengal predated both Tagore and the bifurcation. In fact initially various prominent Hindu intellectuals supported British in order to free Bengal from Muslim influence. So the Swadeshi movement caused the Muslim misgivings is incorrect. Also you can discount the nationalism all you want, but we got ruled by British so long only because we lacked it.

    In support of Tagore I will say that just because he did not speak out against something does not mean that he supported it.

  32. @Yahoo, I agree that it is not G vs T. But in all such articles (or atleast in comments that follow) it comes across as a comparison. In order to show one in positive light the other one does get some drift. Especially now that it is becoming all too fashionable to blame G for all the ills. We are very fortunate people to have such leaders before the independence. Since then we ran out of luck.

  33. “In support of Tagore I will say that just because he did not speak out against something does not mean that he supported it”

    Dear Gandhi-bakht,

    Which part of “returning Knighthood and writing a letter to the Queen condemning Jallianwalah Bagh”, “participating in the Swadesi movement against the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon” does not involve “speaking out”?

    Various Hindu intellectuals supported the British? Care to elaborate?? I dont think anywhere Arnab said that the Hindi-Muslim problems did not exist before Tagore? Again which part of “delicate communal fabric” did you not understand?

  34. Nationalism and Tagore: According to the Webster’s dictionary, the meaning of the word is: ‘loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.’

    He never played the ‘super-nation’ sentiments, yet presented India’s unique historical role in the past an future in very clear terms. After all, a true ‘Bharatiya’ can never become a chauvinist. Tagore may have been against the idea of the English word ‘Nationalism’ but he was definitely a staunch promoter and supporter of Indian-ness and the Indian nation. Nationalism in those days became a dirty word because of Japan and German situations, that is one thing but deep love for one’s country , its history, heritage, ideals and people can also be nationalism and he was a great nationalist in that sense.

    Just few examples [please excuse my typos and errors] (there are plenty of them, and I just could easily access few) will clearly show his ‘nationalism':
    1. His devotion for his motherland:
    ‘O Amar desher maati, tomar paey thekai matha” [Oh the soil of my land, I bow down to your feet]. Is this less than ‘Vandemataram’?

    2. His description of Bharat:
    ‘He mor chittah punya tirthe jaogre dhire, Ei Bharater mahamanaver sagar teere” [Oh my mind, please slowly awaken at the sacred pilgrimage, on the beaches of the ocean of the mahamanav (great humanity), this Bharat”

    3. His ideal for Bharat:

    ‘Chitta jetha bhoy shunya…….Bharatere sey swarge karo Jagorito”

    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 towards perfection;
    Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the
    dreary desert sand of dead habit;
    Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought
    and action–
    Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country [Bharat] awake.

    4. His characterization of the Indian national and social life :

    “He Bharat, nripatire shikhaecho tumi
    Tyajite mukutdanda sinhasanbhumi,
    Dharite daridrabesh; Shikhaecho veere
    Dharmajuddhe pade pade khamite orire,
    bhuli joy parajoy shar snharite.
    Karmire shikhale tumi yog-jukta chite
    sarbaphalspriha Brahme dite upahar.
    Grihire shikhale griha kariete bistaar
    Pratibeshi Atmabandu atithi anathe.

    Bhogere bendhecho tumi sanjamer sathe,
    Nirmal bairegye dainya korecho ujjwal,
    Sampadere punya karma korecho mangal,
    shikhaecho swartha tyaji sarva dukhe sukhe
    Sansar rakhite nitya Brahmer mukhe.” [Naibedya, 94]
    [I cannot translate it without corrupting it.. hence some hints for those who do not understand Bangla: the post-fix ‘re’ means ‘to’. Karmi-re=to the karmi (karmayogi), Grihire – to the householder, bairagye:to the renouncer. Korecho = have made; Shikhaecho = have taught]

    5. Wake up call to his fellow citizens:
    “Ekada a Bharater kon bana tale
    Ke tume mahapran, kee anandabale
    Ucchhari uthile ucche, ‘Shono (listen) Viswajan,
    Shono amriter putra jato devgan
    Divyadhambashi, ami jemnechi thare
    Mahanta purush jinni andharer pare
    Jyotirgomoy. Tare jene, tar pane chahi
    Mrityure langhite paro, onyo path nahi’.

    Arbar [again] e Bharte ke dibe ani [who will bring]
    Se [that] maha ananda mantra, se udatta vani
    Sanjeevani, swarge marte sey[that] mrityunjay
    Param ghosana, sei ekanta nirbhay
    Annanta amrita varta”. [Naibedya, 60]

    6. His longings and call for freedom, but not losing the ideals of Bharat:
    “Patita Bharate tumi kon jagarane
    Jagaibe Mahesh, [when and how are you going to awaken fallen Bharat, Oh Lord Shiva]
    kon mahakshane, [at what great moment?]
    Se mor kalpanatita [that is beyond my imagination]. Kee thar kaj,
    Kee thar bhakti dev, kee tahar saaj,
    Kon pathe taar path, kon mahimay
    Darabe se sampader Shikhar simay [will be at the peak of prosperity]
    Tomar Mahimjyoti karate prakash
    Navin Bharate! [to express the light of your greatness to ‘the renewed Bharat’]

    Aaji nishaar akash
    Je adarshe rachiache aloker mala,
    Sajaechy apnar andhakar thala,
    Dhariache dharitire upar,
    Se adarsha prabhater nahe Maheswhar!
    [lose translation: the ideal which is imminent today is not the one to bring the awaited dawn, Oh Lord]

    Jagia uthibe [will be awakened] Prachee [the East – Bharat] je arunaloke [that first ray of sun]
    Se Kiran nai aji nishither chokhe [ that ray is missing in the eyes of the dark night today i.e. during this dark night of foreign rule] [Naibedya, 63]

    7. Finally he writes how the West is in the path of destruction and ‘nikhil-plabi ananda aloke – the light of peace, joy and happiness which will be flooding the universe is waiting for the ‘Brahma-muhurta’ to be revealed by India [purva sindhu teer].

    “Ei Paschimer kole raktaragrekha
    Nahe kabhu somyarashmi aruner lekha
    Tabo nava prabhater.
    E shudhu darun sandhyar pralaydipti. Chitar aagun
    Paschimsamudratate kariche udgar
    Visphulinga, swarthadeepta lubdha savyatar
    Mashal hoite loye shesh agnikana.

    Ei smshaner majhe shaktir sadhana
    Tabo aradhana nohe he viswapalak.
    Tomar nikhilplabi ananda-alok
    Hoyto lukaye ache purva Sindhu tire
    Bahu dhoirje namra stabdha dukher timire
    Sarbarikta ashru shikta dainyer dikkshay
    Deerghakaal – Brahmo muhurter pratikshay.” [Naibedya 66]

    What Rabindranath thought about Muslims during Swadeshi: “ Another very important factor which was making it almost impossible for the Muhammedans could not confine their patriotism to any country. I had very frankly asked many Muhammedans whether, in the event of any Muhammedan power invading India, they would stand by the side of their Hindu neighbors to defend their common land. I could not be satisfied with the reply I got from them.” (Pakistan or Partition of India, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, p 268-69)

  35. well, the point is, who had his say in the end?

    End of the day, populism and cheap publicity is what works. Can that be changed ? May be it can, and that’s the hope I that we need at the moment.

  36. Arnab:
    An interesting point of view, but one which is open to a whole spectrum of views and opinions, none of them necessarily fully right or wrong, as long as they are well-researched. A few quick observations though:

    Comparisons between Tagore & Gandhi are odious since their core competencies if you will, were as different as chalk and cheese. How does one compare two well-known contemporaries, one of whom was primarily a poet par excellence and the other a canny politician with pronounced moral overtones?

    Given that Prof. Amartya Sen’s family has long been based in Shantiniketan and that he grew up there, steeped in Rabindrik traditions if you will, I wouldn’t consider him an objective commentator on matters relating to Tagore, despite his considerable erudition (in any case, erudition and objectivity are not quite mutually dependant variables).

    Tagore’s yearning to be recognized by his literary contemporaries in the West and his political naivete in certain respects are well known. While he had prevailed upon Yeats to translate some of his poems into English, the scorn which he elicited from contemporaries like George Bernard Shaw and Graham Greene are fairly well documented, with the former cheekily calling him ‘Stupendranath Begorr’ and the latter dismissing him as ‘inconsequential’.

    Tagore made an ill-advised trip to Italy just before the Second World War and while there, appeared to endorse the notorious fascist, Benito ‘Il Duce’ Mussolini. One must give him credit though for managing to wriggle out of that one with his image in India largely intact. Indians in general and Bengalis in particular will bristle at the suggestion that their icons and role models may have feet of clay.

    This topic is an interesting one and the various shades of it can be expounded on at great length. I have just touched on a couple of aspects to highlight the various shades here.

  37. Sorry GB cannot agree with this blog, may be I misunderstood. I read your blogs from years now so I feel certain attachment and apnapan.

    Why was comparison with Gandhi needed, you could have only written about Tagore and his philosophy. I really doubt -in mainstream- anyone doubts Tagore’s patriotism or intellect.
    You started the first papa about prominent intellect …so it would make sense to me if you refuted his charge.
    Seems to me in general (just not you) Gandhi is easy target

  38. tagore is underrated…he is forgotten by the masses…& its sad to see mamta using tagore for polirical gains,it makes things worse…have always been an admirer of tagore…& i am saddened when people question his patriotism…

  39. Arnab,
    thanks for this eloquent tribute to a man we owe a lot of our present identity to; including our names!
    I have personally learnt a lot from your post and the lively discussions it has resulted in. Will forward this on to our daughter.

  40. Thanks Arnab, for a refreshing different topic.

    Tagore’s Zamindari back ground has always made him a target of being branded anti-national and pro-British. However, if one goes in the poor heartland of Birbhum and reads into his interactions with the poor local people, it would be evident about how much he did to uplift their cause.
    It’s obvious that such steps made him unpopular with the British and hence, he got no financial help for his university from the then government and had a tough time to make it survive.

  41. Thanks for the post.

    Internet is helping us understand & form opinions about our forefathers, rather than remain with whatever we learn in school.

    Tagore was truly a towering figure, with awe-inspiring ideas.

  42. Sam, it has been a favorite hobby of a section of Bengalis to glorify their ilk at the expense of other popular Indian heroes. That is why, comparisons with Dravid and Tendulkar become imminent when discussing Ganguly (wow!). And I believe something similar is happening here by juxtaposing Gandhi with Tagore!!

    Sorry GreatBong, but I was really disappointed in this blog, and I read each and everyone of them that was published on this site! God knows, the world needed to know the true Tagore, but not at the expense of one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Indian ever lived. But thanks all the same, for some very illuminating facets on Tagore. Having visited Shantiniketan a couple of times, it was a rather happy recollection…

  43. Lovely post! I’m glad you brought out the aspect of Tagore not being just an armchair intellectual but an active proponent of Swadeshi in his own way – something which few outside bengal would know about.
    However, would like to add one thing, Ghaire Baire was as much a critique of Nikhilesh (the well-meaning but indecisive, impractical landlord, sticking to his ‘principles’ till the end)as of Sandip.

  44. In his letter to Subhash Chandra Bose (1937), Rabindranath wrote:

    “The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman [Muslim] can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ [the nation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram – proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating.”

  45. First! i-pod, baby! :) Enjoy reading your movies and cricket based blogs, but when you write based on your impressions, its in a different league altogether.

  46. On a slightly tangential note, when i was studying in the U.S., authors like pankaj mishra and kiran nagarkar who were visiting faculty repeatedly made absurd claims that indian leaders like gandhi were actually anti-liberal, that complete anarchy prevails even today and muslims in india have practically no means to social advancement. And this is the truth the western media too perpetuates.

  47. i want to study tagore’s work …what’s the best approach ….suggest books and movies. What are his must read work ..best way/time to visit shanti niketan…

  48. @ driftwood

    It is not the Intellectual’s/academicians fault. They have to pay their bills and get their awards too.
    There is a lot of money flowing into the academia through Agha Khan Foundation, Saudi Da’awa groups.

    How many Universities in America have funding from Hindu philanthropic organizations? How many Hindu groups donate to international groups like Amnesty International, or HRW? Instead the Hindus would build 4 temple in every county.

    Nothing wrong with it..but you gotta give.

    How can you expect people like Pankaj Mishra or Angana Chatterjee to tow a intellectually neutral line.

  49. This is a great piece and is a welcome change from most of your other writings. I have to congratulate you on your book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Look forward to you writing about new topics. Wishing you all the best and look forward to many more interesting blogs & books to come.

  50. I do not understand the fuss behind Jana Gana Mana. Why are we so hell=bent on proving to each other whom the song was meant for? Is it important? Since childhood, the song has had a very deep, significant meaning for me. Listening to it never fails to move me. It stands as a tribute to my nation. Why do I care who it was written for? What matters is how I interpret it.

  51. A subject close to my heart. I think what really affects me most are Tagore’s latter works where he has emphasized on humanism …..man beyond boundaries political, social and religious. He opposed the institutionalization of various “sects” of mankind. There he was a century or more ahead of the common world.

    My dear “Anon” …… you have missed the whole bloody point.

    Someone on this blog also wanted to know how to go about learning more about Tagore. I think a good start would be to read his non-fiction essays and some select communiques with fellow intellectuals. Then one may move on to his short stories. (Bengali is preferred but you can do with English translations too).

  52. GB, great post and a very welcome change from the past few posts. It is a pleasure to read your blog because of the quality of your writing and more importantly the erudite comments given by the people who follow this blog.

    Tagore’s patriotism is something we need not really question. However, his ideas were probably a little ahead of those times and were not appreciated in entirety by the average Indian. To that extent, Nehru’s thinking was more in sync with Tagore’s as is reflected in some of the initiatives he took during his stint as the PM (setting up of IITs, heavy industries etc which served our country very well to say the least). Gandhiji as you rightly pointed out had his finger on the pulse of the masses and built his movement around it, something which Nehru and Tagore with their vision and thinking would have been unable to do.

    @anon: I dont think GB has in any way downgraded Gandhiji’s contribution to our freedom struggle. He has just presented the two facets of nationalism espoused by these two great gentlemen.

    Anant

  53. I liked your piece on Tagore … it is substantive, yet lucid. It is also nice to see that so many of your generation are interested in such things. The biggest legacy of Tagore, as Amartya Sen has succinctly put it:”The question he persistently asks is whether we have reason enough to want what is being proposed, taking everything into account. Important as history [or tradition] is, reasoning has to go beyond the past. It is in the sovereignty of reasoning – fearless reasoning in freedom – that we can find Rabindranath Tagore’s lasting voice”.

    A factoid: Idealist Tagore kept a large part of his Nobel Prize money in an Indian co-operative bank (not in any established British bank) and lost most of it as the co-op bank failed.

    Baba

  54. I am taking a wild guess!!! It may have been Dr.Rmachandra Guha , who had penned India After Gandhi…..Greatbong–Was it him?

  55. during gurudev’s vivit to the ussr he was impressed with their education system. here is an english translation of a letter written by him in bengali….(i found it in a website):
    In stepping on the soil of Russia, the first thing that caught my eye was that in education, at any rate, the peasant and the working classes have made such enormous progress in these few years that nothing comparable has happened even to our highest classes in the course of the last hundred and fifty years…. The people here are not at all afraid of giving complete education even to Turcomans of distant Asia; on the contrary, they are utterly in earnest about it….
    in another part of the letter he declares that the russians have created a society that we all have been dreaming of since long….
    it appears to me that he was appreciating the socialist ideals of ussr

  56. Arnab,

    Nice article. I’m sure your mention of the opposition to Gandhi’s MO of mixing relgion and politics must have been somewhat of a surprise to many. :)

    In Bengal, the cloth trade had a strong Muslim presence and when Congress leaders exhorted people to burn clothes produced by British mills, many of the Muslim merchants refused on economic grounds—-they had inventory of Manchester products and local Indian cloth being more expensive and of bad quality was not commercially viable.

    What’s yr source for this, if you don’t mind me asking?

  57. I will be reading the comments section fully later. The discussions seem to be really interesting from my casual glance through it.

    But more importantly, Arnab, Thank You for this post.

    I’ve forwarded the link to this already to many of my friends with whom I’ve had some discussions on Tagore. I didn’t have enough info earlier about him and his outlook earlier (I grew up in UP, and unfortunately Tagore is mentioned only in passing as opposed to Gandhi in the books). As a result, was never able to push my view across forcefully enough. Now, however, I know better.

    Thank you once again.
    Somdeep

  58. Why restore some symmetry by saying “immense love and respect they had for each other is well documented”? It is quite obvious that Tagore was not only much smarter than Gandhi, he was also a much nicer person.

  59. Greatbong,
    Few questions though:
    1. Tagore wanted to strengthen local industries, but the rulers would not have allowed it. British loot of India was not just restricted to the loot of wealth of Raj families, creating a market for their product after destroying India’s traditional system was a part of their loot (Bengal’s traditional garments industry was deliberately destroyed). How did Tagore expect to fight that? Did he even foresee the problem?

    2. I agree with educating the masses part. But was his model replicable across the big India? Even if this is possible, it would have taken at least a century long focus to educate the great Indian masses. In his times, in other provinces, education was really undervalued because becoming part of British clark community was less attractive in those parts of India.

    3. Tagore was correct in criticising Gandhi’s approach towards Hindu religion. But think of MKG’s popularity from Kanya Kumari to NWFP and Gujrat to Meghalaya. As evidenced by current popularity of Gandhism after Gandhi’s death, Indians never cared much for his ism. It is his talk of Ram-rajya, saintly way of life, admiration from a group of western intellectuals and myths around him created by a clique of political leaders that contributed to his popularity. People made a Baba out of him. Why did it happen this way? Because those factors appealed to the traditional belief systems held by masses (Hindu masses, he was no Ghazi to appeal to Muslim masses, a fact that he probably consciously overlooked). A strong education would have helped the rise of a modern-minded leader, but that would have taken years.

    Every time I look at Bengal Renaissance and the towering figures that shaped it, I find that Utsav’s previous comment of “Hindu Renaissance” is making sense.
    Keep up the good posts.

  60. Thought provoking!
    Even more interesting is the debate it has started vis a vis T Vs G. I do think there is a much broader spectrum of scope for arguements on this.

    But i have to say it is much better than some of the lame blogs we have seen from you of late.

    Keep it going, GB!

  61. “You can only argue with someone who is half-right. If someone is fully wrong, it’s simply not worth your time.”

  62. Dear Sir,

    It could actually be very true.

    Like for example, a lot of idiots till today consider Kurt Cobain to be the father of grunge.

    Its the same thing as there are probably tons and tons of great blogs, much better than yours, but you are among the few to receive 90 comments because u marketed it and others did not care

    Apart from that:

    History as we know it, is like how the person mentioned it. I totally agree that there would have been a thousand other Rabindranath Tagore’s during that time, but the man with the power, the money to market/advertise himself eventually becomes more popular.

    Similar with any form of art/culture.

    Its the same reason why Elvis Presley became more famous than Chuck Berry and those millions other amazing blues musicians at that time. Now no one’s doubting Elvis, but lets face it, the others were better.

  63. Tagore was good at poetry. He stuck to that, and did well as a poet.
    Gandhi was good at leadership…stuck to that..mostly..and did great.
    That’s what made them the greatest at what they were good at.
    Sorry for aiming at the gonads, greatbong,
    you are good at Mithun-da and reviewing C-grade horror movies..
    pls stick to that.

  64. You seem to appreciate facts and objectivity, so the following query is in that vein.

    Tagore did NOT COMPOSE ‘Jana Gana Mana’ for King George – Agreed.

    But he sung it upon the arrival of King George (let us say even then he did not mean the Vidhata to be George: that would be no less than a Heresy, given his writings and all – this too Agreed)

    So, why did he choose to sing THAT song? Wasn’t he capable of writing some traditional Indian welcome song? Or was he informed on such short notice?
    So, did he think like: ‘Hey look, I could just sing this song and pretend that the Vidhata I am referring to is George when it in reality is God. Saves me much time and effort & of course the fools wouldn’t ask me to explicitly clarify. And how amusing it would be to be praising the Indian Lord in front of the ruling lord of India while he thinks it is him that I am praising? !!’

    Or if you want us to believe, it was in his total naivety that, he recited the ‘God poem’ upon arrival of the King (notice: I am not saying to welcome him), with the repercussions of such an act totally not occurring to him, why then did he not clarify immediately after?
    Was it because, later, when he realized the misunderstanding (that so happened to surface!), he was so intimidated by George the mighty that he chose the golden path of silence?

    Or, given the fact that he happened to compose it when he was actually asked to praise His Majesty, was he just playing double games?

    Please explain.

    P.S:
    • My sources have been your Wiki link and that excerpt from Monish Chatterjee’s article in one of your comments
    • If you reply to this and seem interestd I have some more issues
    • And this does not seem to mean much to you nowadays but .. BIGGG fan!!

  65. Well you have more than wit. Not all who opposed Gandhi were unpatriotic people. Thats a different matter. Tagore was probably the greatest genius in the world along with da vinci. Probably the learned man who lectured that Tagore was not good forgot simple mathematics. The number of things in which Tagore excelled . Being a non Bengali i knew that Tagore was a painter much latter in life but that did not increase my esteem for him for you cannot increase infinity. For heavens sake, in a world hell bent on proving west better than east, he made the west realise who is the boss by translating only one of his book. He was equally good in Bengali, English

  66. I dont see why praise for Tagore has to have its basis in derision of Gandhi just as i did not understand, a few years ago, why every arguement to reinstate Ganguli in the Indian team had a anti-Tendulkar sub-script.I am not alleging parochialism. Maybe, it just is a coincidnce, or probably it reads that way.

    No once is casting aspersions on Tagore’s patriotism, but one must also understand that when the Indian freedom movement was reaching its zenith, he had moved on to Internationalism. Tagore had no doubt served as an inspiration to the Swadeshi movement but by the 20’s, very much like BC Pal, Annie Beasant, MA Jinnah and Surendranath Banerjea, he did not approve of the hape that the mass movement was taking. Maybe, it was also the time for consitutional methods of the so called moderates to be backed by mass movements. A lot of these leaders did not probably consider the masses politically ready yet or like Tagore, felt that eduction and rural reconstruction were priorities, justifiably so if you looked around in the 1920s. In the meanwhile, Gandhi, rightly or wrongly, saw religion (Non Cooperation-Khilafat)as a unifying force just as Sardinian nationalism was at the root of the movement for Italian reunification (which should have been contradictory). Once unified we should have come out of the shackles of religion, but we lack any knid of political maturity.

    Tagore may have been a poet, an artist, an internationalist and a philosopher but at the root of all his prose and poetry and paintings, the philosophy of internationalism and programs for the revitalistaion of everything from performing arts to education to the villages, lay humanism. His critics and his admirers fail to point out that he was essentially a humanist. Even his criticism of the west in his essay Nationalism(1916) around dehumanization brought on by tremendous success in science and technology.

    For me Tagore is what he stated in the following lines:

    He mor chitta, punya tirthe jagore dhire ei bharater maha-manaber sagoro-tire.

  67. @Vikram Naidu

    In the 4 th stanza of the original poem Bharat Bhagyavidhata is addressed as “Mata” (Mother).[“Snehamoyee Tumi Mata” – “You are the affectionate mother” – in translation] It is rather tough to imagine the bearded George V as a “Mata” – isn’t it ? Give up guys – don’t try to create a controversy where none exists. This issue has been settled long ago. Find new ones to comment on!!

  68. Great post Arnab. You almost touched everything on Tagore’s political views.

    There are many amongst us who believe that at best Tagore was confused in his political views, which I think is wrong. I remember once talking to a university professor in Varanasi in the mid-90s who said that he was in romance with the Western ways till Jalianwallah Bagh happened. Even that is suspect because he didn’t want India to see him on the wrong side by accepting the Knighthood!

    I believe that he was opposed to Western imperialism but not their positives like education and development. It was quite obvious why he loathed blind followers of the Swadeshi Movement led by Gandhi because he believed that India would not wake up unless there is a social and economic upliftment of rural poor which was possible through education.

    This alone is enough to show how much Tagore loved his country, a country that is not defined by boundaries, but is made by its people. No wonder his Chitto jetha bhayashunyo or Where the mind is without fear is an immortal nationalistic poem. No matter however creative a man may be, it would be next to impossible to pen nationalistic poem if he is not a nationalistic himself with a revolutionary inside his heart.

  69. Tagore: Seeking God in Pursuit of Self
    By Ujjwal Bhattacharya

    “To realize his cosmic manifestation and thus free our soul from its bondage of the limitedness of the immediate,” as Tagore wrote in his letter to William Rothenstein. The above statement played a central role in his works, and particularly in his three collections of devotional poems, Geetanjali, Geetimalya and Geetali. (The English collection Geetanjali is not identical with the Bengali one. 52 poems out of 103 in the English text were selected from the Bengali volume; others were taken from earlier works. For the sake of convenience, poems quoted here have been taken from his English text of Geetanjali and other collections, though they differ radically from the original poems very often.)

    In a song Tagore wrote:

    My heart sings at the wonder of my place
    in this world of light and life;
    at the feel in my pulse of the rhythm of creation
    cadenced by the swing of endless time.

    Let us compare it with the definition of Language in Japanese, as it was presented in a discourse between the German philosopher Heidegger and the Japanese professor Tezuka Tomio:

    Heidegger: What is the Japanese word for “language”?

    Tomio: (after further hesitation) It is “Koto ba.”

    Heidegger: And what does that say?

    Tomio: ba means leaves, including and especially the leaves of a blossom-petals. Think of cherry-blossoms or plum blossoms.

    Heidegger: And what does Koto say?

    Tomio: This is the question most difficult to answer. But it is easier now to attempt an answer because we have ventured to explain Iki: the pure delight of the beckoning stillness. The breath of stillness that makes this beckoning delight come into its own is the reign under which that delight is made to come. But Koto always also names that which in the event gives delight, itself, that which uniquely in each unrepeatable moment comes to radiance in the fullness of its grace.

    Expression of the pure delight of the beckoning stillness – we find a similar explanation in Bhartrihari’s (450-510 A.D.) Vakyapadiya, where he distinguishes three levels of language or Shabda: Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari. Vaikhari is the manifested form of the language, Madhyama is the intermediate stage, and below that is the innermost stage of Pashyanti, which is the level of direct intuition. The manifested language is in Metaphor, is in the framework of Space and Time, whereas the level of ultimate intuition is beyond all that. Prof. Ranajit Guha, in his recent treatise in Bengali Kabir Nam O Sarbanam, observes that Nietzsche has also points out that Language is the illusion of metaphors, hence, unable to express the Truth. The bondage of the limitedness of the immediate is the reason of Tagore’s yearning for the ultimate truth; poetry becomes the evidence of the dilemma of his pursuit.

    In one of his last poems (27 July, 1941), Tagore writes:

    The sun of the first day
    Put the question
    To the new manifestation of life-
    Who are you?
    There was no answer.
    Years passed by.

    The last sun of the last day
    Uttered the question
    on the shore of the western sea
    In the hush of evening-
    Who are you?
    No answer came again.

    The poet tries to create a framework of discourse with the god to realize and overcome this dilemma. It is a gradual process that goes through Geetanjali, over Geetimalya, and ultimately to Geetali. In the second poem of Geetanjali he says:
    My desires are many and my cry is pitiful, but ever didst thou save me by hard refusals; and this strong mercy has been wrought into my life through and through.

    And two poems later:

    Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield but to my own strength. Let me not cave in.

    The poet is not sure of him. In a letter to his son Rathindranath, he complains of severe pain, and a creeping depression. He feels that he has not been able to fulfil the promises he made, also to himself. In the poem 39 of Geetanjali he says:

    The song that I came to sing remains unsung to this day.

    I have spent my days in stringing and in unstringing my instrument. The time has not come true, the words have not been rightly set; only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.

    Already in the poems of Geetanjali, we see that the frustration starts making place for realization. Poem 18 is an example:

    In the deep shadows of the rainy July,
    with secret steps, thou walkest, silent as
    night, eluding all watchers.

    Oh my only friend, my best beloved,
    the gates are open in my house-
    do not pass by like a dream.

    This was the period during which there was a Tagore-mania in countries like Germany, and yet the poet was suffering from melancholy. But the recovery came and found its expression in poems. Geetimalya was published in 1914, four years after Geetanjali. On 7 October, 1914, he wrote in a letter:

    My period of darkness is over once again. It has been a time of great trial to me, and I believe it was absolutely necessary for my emancipation. I am that I am being lifted from the sphere where I was before…
    (Letters to a Friend, ed. C. F. Andrews, London, 1928, pp 47)

    And this new realization finds its expression in the poems of Geetimalya:

    This is my delight, thus to wait and watch at the wayside where shadow chases light and the rain comes in the wake of the summer.

    From dawn till dusk I sit here before my door, and I know that of a sudden the happy moment will arrive when I shall see.
    (Geetimalya 7)

    The Union with Über-Ich is present here:

    He it is, the innermost one, who awakens my being with his deep hidden touches.
    (Geetimalya 12)

    The life is a process, and there is sense of astonishment in the voice of the poet:
    Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.
    (Geetimalya 23)

    In the last book of his Song-Trilogy, Geetali, we see the sublimation of this idea. The God is in his heart, but he has not found him yet. He has to be awakened:

    The night is dark and your slumber is deep in the hush of my being.

    Wake, O Pain of Love, for I know not how to open the door, and I stand outside.
    (Geetali 50)

    The poet is aware of the process, which leads to the dilution of his ego:

    The Cloud said to me, “I vanish”; the Night said, “I plunge into the fiery dawn.”
    The Pain said, “I remain in deep silence as his footprint.”
    “I die into the fulness,” said my life to me.
    (Geetali 65)

    And ultimately he realizes that the source of the light is hidden in the darkness:
    YOURS is the light that breaks forth from the dark, and the good that sprouts from the cleft heart of strife.
    Yours is the house that opens upon the world, and the love that calls to the battlefield.
    (Geetali 99)

    A process that started in his early youth comes to an end. Though Tagore still wrote devotional songs, he never published a book of devotional poems again.

    (Painting of Tagore by Shubnum Gill)

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