Rabindranath Tagore, the Poet of All Poets.

We celebrate the great poet, philosopher, and social reformer Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday. Tagore visualized a modern, free India where people would think freely, and their minds would be without fear.

The Man Who Preached Emancipation for All

(A new series of articles, exclusively for Humanity College)

Part 2

This is the beginning of Rabindranath Tagore week: this year, May 9 is his birthday. I am writing a series of new, original articles on the great poet, philosopher, educationist, and social reformer.

Contrary to his West-imposed image of a “mystic poet from the Orient” who wrote devotional songs and received a Nobel Prize for “Gitanjali,” Tagore was a major social reformer who preached universalism, and actively rejected prejudice, dogmatism, fanatic religion, and ultranationalism.

He also had differences of opinion with Mahatma Gandhi — especially on his vision to free India of the British clutches. Gandhi took the line of appeasement, and his Congress Party took the steam away from revolutionaries who fought the British aggressors for nearly a hundred years before Gandhi came on the Indian science. Tagore also spoke about nonviolence, but did not support Gandhi’s conservative vision. Tagore was truly a symbol of modernity and free thinking.

Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi had respect for each other, but they had differences of opinion too.
Gandhi visited Tagore at Vishwa Bharati, Shanti Niketan, Bengal.

But Gandhi and Tagore had respect for each other. However, they had differences. The primary difference in my opinion was that Gandhi was a traditionalist, who did not believe in a modern-concept gender equality, economic industrialization, and globalism. Tagore on the other hand was a strong believer of modernity, equal rights, and a border-less, universal human race. These are the principles on which Tagore built his university in Bengal — spending all his Nobel Prize money and personal assets. The university he built was named Vishwa Bharati — literally, the school of the world.

Vishwa Bharati University, located in Shanti Niketan (i.e., abode of peace), West Bengal is still functional. It runs on an exceptional way of teaching. Contrary to the British colonial educational system that indoctrinates students into following orders, teaching and learning methods at Vishwa Bharati are open-air, free-thinking, fair exchange, and non-punitive. In its golden days when Tagore was alive, noted educationists from across the world came on its faculty. They taught philosophy, foreign languages, art, music, science, and various hands-on skills. Tagore also built a satellite school nearby called Sri Niketan, a school that taught agriculture, pottery, textiles and such subjects — to help the local residents make a living.

Other than his world-renowned literature and music, Tagore wrote pioneering books on science and environment, and even ventured into making movies in the early years of films. He was one of most vocal environmentalists. He visited many countries including Soviet Union, and wrote about the major contributions of socialism. But Tagore did not believe in communism.

Especially in today’s pervasive social and political climate of hate, fear, violence, illiteracy and fascism, Tagore can answer our many questions. He actively preached against ultranationalism, religious bigotry, hate and violence, and conservative orthodoxy. Some of his major novels and plays highlight the above.

Rabindranath Tagore was a product of the now-forgotten “Bengal Renaissance” — a major historical phenomenon that took shape under the leadership of social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), brilliant young teacher Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831), and Tagore’s father Maharshi Debendra Nath Tagore (1817-1905). This school gave rise to a new generation of Bengalis and Indians who challenged orthodox, ultraconservative Hinduism and Islam, and even created a religio-cultural sect called Brahmoism.


Rabindranath Tagore — Poet, Philosopher, and Social Reformer

Our series of articles on Rabindranath Tagore, the great poet, philosopher, and social reformer from Calcutta, Bengal, and India.

(A new, original series of articles — exclusively for Humanity College)

Part 1 

Hope you join us on this discussion. You can write in any language. 

Rabindranath Tagore (or, for a non-Indian audience, let’s make it simpler: Rabindra Nath Tagore) was born in the city of Calcutta (now called Kolkata) in 1861, and died in the same city in 1941.

A few years ago, many of us celebrated his 150th birthday. So, he is old. Very, very old.

Yet, he is new, modern, and contemporary. He is unbelievably relevant even today, in 2019. That is his brilliance. That is his genius.

I am not a big scholar, and do not know a lot of such names from various corners of the world — who can be put on the list of such rare personalities. With my limited knowledge and understanding, I can mention Charlie Chaplin, Picasso, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Victor Hugo, Tolstoy, Sartre, Bertrand Russell, or Mark Twain — who would perhaps feature such a list of genius literary, philosophical and artistic creators whose work is equally alive and pertinent in this millennium.

But I don’t know — can we name only one person who would be called a genius literary figure, as well as a genius philosopher, and a genius social reformer?

Honestly, other than Chaplin, I have not studied the personalities I’ve mentioned above. And I am sure I have missed some names that I should have mentioned. But I have studied Tagore somewhat extensively. With my limited ability, I have translated some of his poetry and songs, spoke and wrote about him at various media and forums (including Humanity College blog), and even dared to record some of his songs on a CD.

My family and I grew up in Kolkata, Bengal and India in an artistic and intellectual environment that was greatly influenced by Tagore and his followers. I know for the fact that millions of people both in India and Bangladesh have grown up in that cultural tradition.

In case you are not aware of it, national anthems of both India and Bangladesh are Tagore’s songs. But this is only a tiny measure of his influence on us.