Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate poet, writer, philosopher was the ambassador of Indian culture to the rest of the world. He is probably the most prominent figure in the cultural world of Indian subcontinent and the first Asian person to be awarded with the Nobel prize. Even though he is mainly known as a poet, his multifaceted talent showered upon different branches of art, such as, novels, short stories, dramas, articles, essays, painting etc. And his songs, popularly known as Rabindrasangeet, have an eternal appeal and is permanently placed in the heart of the Bengalis. He was a social reformer, patriot and above all, a great humanitarian and philosopher. India and Bangladesh – the national anthems of these two countries are taken from his composition.
Tagore was born on Tuesday, 7th May 1861 in a wealthy family in Calcutta at the address of 6, Dwarakanath Thakur Lane, Calcutta. He was the ninth son of Debenadranath and Sarada Devi. His grand father Dwarakanath Tagore was a rich landlord and social reformer. Even though he was from a very wealthy family, in those days Jorasanko house ( Tagore house ) was a center of culture.
He was first admitted into Oriental Seminary School. But he did not like the conventional education and started home study under several teachers. Later he went to Normal School, Bengal Academy and St Xaviers School, but all lasted for brief periods. At the age of 7 he wrote a rhyme. Went to visit Northern part of India and Himalayas with this father.
In 1874, his first published poem Abhilaash(Desire) was published anonymously in a magazine called Tattobodhini. Poet’s mother Sarada Devi expired in 1875 when he was 13 years old. For the first time a poem with credit to his name was published in Amritabazar Patrika (weekly). He translated Macbeth into Bengali verse which was later published in Bharati magazine. Following the style of Vaisnava Padalvali (verses), he wrote Bhanusingher Padavali under the penname of Bhanusingha. In the beginning of his literary works, there was impact of his elder brother Jyotirindranath and his wife Kadambari Devi. Two magazines, Bharati and Balaka – were used to get published from the Tagore house and he regularly contributed to those.
His first book of poems, Kabi Kahini ( tale of a poet ) was published in 1878. In the same year, he sailed to England with his brother Satyandranath. He got admitted into the University College in England and started studying under Prof Henry Morley. Retuned to India on 1880. Wrote two musical plays – Valmiki Prativa (The Genius of Valmiki) and Kalmrigaya (The Fatal Hunt ). Acted in these plays too. Left for England in 1881, but changed his mind and came back from Madras and went to Mussorie to meet his father. In 1882, he wrote Sandhya Sangeet ( Evening Songs ) which impressed Bankim Chandra Chatterjee so much that he conferred his garland on Tagore in a function. Wrote a famous poem – Nirjharer Swapnabhanga ( The Fountain Awakened from its Dream ).
Got married to Bhabatarini Devi in 1883 at the age of 22. Later her name was changed to Mrinalini Devi. In 1884 wrote a collection of poem – Kori-o-kamal (Sharp and Flats). Continued writing in different forms. His first child (daughter) Madhurilata was born in 1886. Wrote musical drama – Mayar Khela. Also wrote dramas – Raja-o-rani ( King and Queen) and Visarjan (Sacrifice). In 1890 daughter Renuka was born.
In 1890, Tagore went to Shilaidaha (now in Bangladesh) to look after the family estate. Here, he was influenced by the natural beauty and simple but elegant life of rural Bengal. Attended session of Indian National Congress and sang the song Vandemataram on the opening day. Wrote famous dance/musical drama – Chitrangada. His youngest daughter Mira was born in 1892. In 1894 , wrote famous collection poems – Sonar Tari (The Golden Boat). Son Samindra was born in 1894.
In 1901 he took the editorial charge of the magazine Bangadarshan. Got involved with freedom fighting movement. Established Bolpur Bramhacharyaashram at Shantiniketan, a school in the pattern of old Indian Ashrama. In 1902, his wife Mrinalini died. Composed Smaran ( In Memoriam ), a collection of poems, dedicated to his wife. Within six months from this incident his daughter Renuka expired. The demise of father Debendranath happened in 1905. He strongly protested Lord Curzon’s decision to divide Bengal on the basis of religion. Wrote a number of national songs and attended protest meetings. He introduced the Rakhibandhan ceremony , symbolizing the underlying unity in undivided Bengal. Was shocked by the sudden death of son Samindra in 1907. In 1909 started writing Gitanjali from Silaidaha. Composed Janaganamana in 1911 which later was selected as the national anthem of India.
In 1912, journeyed to Europe for the second time. On the journey to London he translated some of his poems/songs from Gitanjali to English. He met William Rothenstein, a noted British painter, in London. He was first introduced to Rothenstein in Calcutta in a gathering at Abanindranath Tagore’s house. Nobel Prize Medal Rothenstien was impressed by the poems, made copies and gave to Yeats and other English poets. Rothenstien arranged a reading in his house where Yeats read Tagore’s poems in front of a distinguished audience comprising of Ezra Pound, May Sinclair, Ernest Rhys etc. Tagore sailed for America ( for the first time) from England. Reached New York, came to Urbana, Illinois, gave a lecture and then went to Chicago. In the mean time, India Society of London published Gitanjali (song offerings) containing 103 translated poems of Tagore. Yeats wrote the introduction for this book and Rothenstein did a pencil sketch for the cover page. The book created a sensation in English literary world. Tagore was traveling America then. Delivered lectures in Rochester, Boston, Harvard University.
Ezra Pound’s Poetry Magazine published from Chicago had the honor of publishing first English poem of Tagore. His six Gitanjali poems appeared in Poetry in December, 1912 issue. Th epoet returned back to Calcutta. In 13th November of 1913, Indians came to know that the Nobel prize for literature has been awarded to Tagore for Gitanjali. On 26th Decemeber, University of Calcutta conferred on him the honorary degree of “D.Litt.”. Received Knighthood in 1915.
Proceeded to Japan in 1916. On the way gave speech at Rangoon, Singapore, Hongkong. In Sep 1916, got invitation from different institutions in USA and reached Seattle (Washington). Lectured at Portland, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Iowa, Milwakee, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston. At Columbia Theatre, New York read translation from his novel Raja. Returned to Calcutta in 1917. In 1918, his eldest daughter Madhurilata passed away. In 1919, the poet started a tour to South India. Delivered lectures on different topics at Bangalore, Mysroe, Ooty, Coimbatore, Palghat, Salem, Trichy, Sirangapatnam, Kumbakonam, Tanjore and Madras. At Madras spoke as Chancellor of National University, founded by Annie Besant and stayed as a guest of Mr. Besant at Adyar.
In 1919, he wrote a historic letter to Lord Chelmsford repudiating his Knighthood in protest of the massacre at Jalianwalabag, Punjab. In 1920 he went to Gandhiji’s Sabarmati Ashram and visited Ahmedabad, Surat and Bombay. Call came from Europe again in 1920. Toured different places in England and Paris, Hague , Brussells. Travelled from Europe to America. Delivered lectures at New York, Princeton, Chicago and came back to Europe. His effort to raise fund for Viswabharati was not very fruitful in America, mostly because he was seen as anti-British and pro-German. He continued talks at Geneva, Zurich, Humburg, Copenhaegen, Stockholm, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Prague and in other cities.
In 1921, he established Viswabharati University. He gave all his money from Nobel Prize and royalty money from his books to this University. Went to Bombay and from there to Poona. Visited and lectured at Mysore, Bangalore,Coimbatore, Trivandam, Cochin and Colombo. Got invitation from China and visited Sanghai, Peiking. Visited Japan again in this tour. Went to South America. Met Argentine poet Madam Victoria Ocampo at Buenos Ayres. The poet gave her a name ,Vijaya and wrote Purabi – a collection of poems dedicated to her. On the return journey visited Italy and lectured in Milan, Venice, Florence. Mahatma Gandhi visited Santiniketan in poet’s birthday. In 1926 visited Dacca, Moimonsingha, Comilla (all now in Bangladesh). Visited Europe again and this time went to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Czechslovakia, Huungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, Greece and Egypt. In 1927 went to Malayasia, Java, Thailand. In 1929 Canada. In 1930 Russia. In 1932 Iran, Iraq. And in 1934 to SriLanka.
In 1940 Oxford University arranged a special ceremony in Santiniketan to honor the poet with Doctorate Of Literature. Tagore passed away on 7th August, 1941 in his ancestral home in Calcutta, the house where he was born.