(Famous Novelist and Bengali polymath)
(7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941)
A BIOGRAPHY OF RABINDRANATH TAGORE
Rabindranath Tagore was an iconic figure in the cultural renaissance. He was a poet, novelist, dramatist, musician, philosopher, social reformer, and painter. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he used Contextual Modernism to transform Bengali literature and music, as well as Indian art.
He was the first non-European and the first lyricist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, for his “profoundly sensitive, fresh, and lovely” poetry of Gitanjali. Tagore’s lyrical lyrics were considered mystical and mercurial, yet his “beautiful prose and magical poetry” are largely unknown outside of Bengal. The Royal Asiatic Society elected him as a fellow. Tagore was dubbed “the Bard of Bengal” and was also known by the moniker Gurudev, Kobiguru, and Biswakobi.
Tagore, a Bengali Brahmin from Calcutta with aristocratic ancestors in Burdwan and Jessore, began writing poems when he was eight years old. Under the nickname Bhnusiha (“Sun Lion”), he published his first big poetry at the age of sixteen, which were hailed as long-lost classics by literary experts. By 1877, he had advanced to short tales and plays, which he published under his actual name. He attacked the British Raj and demanded independence from Britain as a humanist, universalist, internationalist, and outspoken opponent of nationalism. He established a huge canon as a proponent of the Bengal Renaissance, which included paintings, drawings and doodles, hundreds of writings, and over two thousand songs; his legacy also included the creation of Visva-Bharati University.
Tagore revolutionized Bengali art by rejecting rigid classical conventions and defying language constraints. His novels, short tales, songs, dance-dramas, and essays addressed political and personal issues. His best-known works are Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced), and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World), and his poetry, short tales, and novels were praised—or panned—for their lyricism, colloquialism, realism, and artificial introspection. His works have been adopted as national anthems by two countries: India’s “Jana Gana Mana” and Bangladesh’s “Amar Shonar Bangla.” His work influenced the Sri Lankan national anthem.
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Title: Gurudev, Kobiguru, and Biswakobi
Pen name: Bhanusingha
Born: 7 May 1861
Place of Birth: Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India (now Kolkata, West Bengal, India)
Nationality: British Indian Bengali
Education: University of Calcutta
Literary movement: Contextual Modernism
Father: Debendranath Tagore (1817–1905)
Mother: Sarada Devi (1830–1875)
Spouse: Mrinalini Devi
Died: 7 August 1941
Death Age: 80 Years
Death Place: Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
Resting place: Ashes scattered in the Ganges
Jana Gana Mana
Amar Shonar Bangla
Notable awards: Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913
Early Life and Childhood:
He was born on May 7, 1861, to Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi at Kolkata’s Jorasanko palace, the Tagore family’s ancestral residence (Calcutta). He was the youngest of his siblings. His mother died while he was a child, and because his father was a wanderer, he was primarily reared by his staff and maids. He was a member of the Bengal Renaissance from an early age, and his family was also prominent participants. He began writing poetry at the age of eight, and by the age of sixteen, he had also begun making artworks and began publishing his poems under the alias Bhanusimha. He published the short tale ‘Bhikharini’ in 1877 and the collection of poetry ‘Sandhya Sangit’ in 1882.
He was impressed by Kalidasa’s classical poetry and began penning his own classic poems. Swarnakumari, his sister, was a well-known author. He spent many months touring with his father in 1873, gaining expertise on a variety of topics. When he was in Amritsar, he studied Sikhism and wrote six poems and several essays about the faith.
Rabindranath Tagore had his traditional education in a public school in Brighton, East Sussex, England. His father intended him to become a barrister, therefore he was sent to England in 1878. In order to assist him throughout his stay in England, he was subsequently joined by several of his family, including his nephew, niece, and sister-in-law. Rabindranath had always detested traditional schooling, and as a result, he had no desire to learn from his school. Later, he was accepted into University College in London, where he was invited to study law. But he skipped out again, this time learning numerous works of Shakespeare on his own. He returned to India and married Mrinalini after studying the core of English, Irish, and Scottish literature and music.
Establishment of Santiniketan:
Rabindranath’s father had bought a huge stretch of land in Santiniketan. In 1901, he relocated to Santiniketan and established an ashram there, with the intention of creating an experimental school on his father’s land. It was called ‘The Mandir,’ and it was a marble-floored prayer hall. The courses were held under the trees and taught in the traditional Guru-Shishya style. When compared to the modernized approach, Rabindranath Tagore felt that the rebirth of this traditional way of teaching would be helpful.
Unfortunately, during their stay at Santiniketan, his wife and two of his children died, leaving Rabindranath heartbroken. In the meanwhile, his works began to gain in popularity among both Bengali and international readers. This earned him international acclaim, and in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore was given the renowned Nobel Prize in Literature, making him Asia’s first Nobel laureate.
The World Tour:
Since Rabindranath Tagore believed in the concept of one world, he set out on a world tour, in an attempt to spread his ideologies. He also took along with him, his translated works, which caught the attention of many legendary poets. He also lectured in countries like the United States and Japan. Soon after, Tagore found himself visiting places like Mexico, Singapore and Rome, where he met national leaders and important personalities including the likes of Einstein and Mussolini. In 1927, he embarked on a Southeast Asian tour and inspired many with his wisdom and literary works. Tagore also used this opportunity to discuss with many world leaders, the issues between Indians and the English. Though his initial aim was to put an end to nationalism, Rabindranath over a period of time realized that nationalism was mightier than his ideology, and hence developed further hatred towards it. By the end of it all, he had visited as many as thirty countries spread over five continents.
During his lifetime, Rabindranath Tagore wrote several poems, novels and short stories. Though he started writing at a very young age, his desire to produce more number of literary works only enhanced post the death of his wife and children. Some of his literary works are mentioned below:
Short Stories: Tagore started writing short stories when he was a teenager. With ‘Bhikharini,’ he began his literary career. During his early career, his stories represented the environment in which he grew up. He also made it a point to include social themes and poor man’s troubles in his novels. He also talked on the drawbacks of Hindu weddings and a variety of other rituals that were common in the country at the time. ‘Kabuliwala,’ ‘Kshudita Pashan,’ ‘Atottju,’ ‘Haimanti,’ and ‘Musalmanir Golpo,’ among many more, are some of his most renowned short stories.
Novels: It is considered that his novels are underappreciated among his works. One explanation for this might be his distinct way of presenting a narrative, which is still difficult for modern readers, let alone those of his day, to grasp. His writings warned of the perils of nationalism, as well as other societal ills. His work ‘Shesher Kobita’ told the tale of the main character in poetry and rhythmic sequences. He also added a sarcastic aspect by having his characters make jokes about an old poet named Rabindranath Tagore! ‘Noukadubi,’ ‘Gora,’ ‘Chaturanga,’ ‘Ghare Baire,’ and ‘Jogajog’ are some of his other well-known works.
Poems: Rabindranath took influence from historic poets such as Kabir and Ramprasad Sen, and his poetry is frequently likened to classical poets’ works from the 15th and 16th centuries. He made people notice not just his works but also the works of old Indian poets by integrating his own style of writing into them. In 1893, he wrote a poem in which he addressed a future poet through his work. While reading the poem, he exhorted the yet-to-be-born poet to remember Tagore and his works. ‘Balaka,’ ‘Purobi,’ ‘Sonar Tori,’ and ‘Gitanjali’ are some of his greatest works.
Songs (Rabindra Sangeet): Tagore was a prolific composer, having written around 2,230 songs. His songs are known as rabindrasangit (“Tagore Song”), and they blend seamlessly with his writing, the majority of which is lyricised poetry or sections of novels, novellas, or dramas. They covered the whole spectrum of human emotion, from his early dirge-like Brahmo religious hymns to quasi-erotic songs, all influenced by the thumri form of Hindustani music. To varied degrees, they imitated the tonal color of classical ragas. Some songs perfectly imitated a raga’s melody and rhythm, while others included elements from many ragas. However, bhanga gaan, the body of melodies rebuilt with “new value” from chosen Western, Hindustani, Bengali folk, and other regional tastes “external” to Tagore’s own, made up around nine-tenths of his output.
Tagore’s Stint as an Actor:
Tagore composed a number of dramas about Indian mythology and current societal challenges. He began working in drama with his brother when he was just a teenager. He not only wrote the drama ‘Valmiki Pratibha’ when he was 20 years old, but he also starred in it as the eponymous character. The play was based on the history of the famous dacoit Valmiki, who eventually reforms and writes one of India’s two epics, the Ramayana.
Tagore the Artist
When Rabindranath Tagore was nearly sixty years old, he began drawing and painting. His paintings were shown in several shows around Europe. Tagore’s work featured distinct aesthetics and color schemes that set it apart from other artists. He was also influenced by the Malanggan people of northern New Ireland and their craftwork. Woodcuts by Max Pechstein and Haida sculptures from the west coast of Canada also impacted him. Tagore has 102 pieces of art at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.
Despite his condemnation of nationalism, Tagore advocated for Indian independence in several of his politically charged songs. He also publicly condemned European imperialism and backed Indian nationalism. He also chastised the English education system that was imposed on India. He was knighted by the British Crown in 1915, but he subsequently renounced it, citing the murder at Jallianwala Bagh. When the British refused to even regard his fellow Indians as persons, he stated the knighthood meant nothing to him.
Adaptations of Tagore’s Works
Satyajit Ray, a well-known filmmaker, adapted several of his books and short tales into films. Other directors have drawn inspiration from his work and adapted his stories into their films over the years. Various filmmakers adapted 39 of his stories into films, while a few others were adapted into television programs. ‘Detective,’ ‘Postmaster,’ ‘Jogajog,’ ‘Shesher Kabita,’ and ‘Tasher Desh’ are just a few of the recent film adaptations.
Last Days & Death:
Rabindranath Tagore spent the last four years of his life in excruciating discomfort, hampered by two lengthy illnesses. He entered into a comatose state in 1937, which lasted three years before relapsing. Tagore died on August 7, 1941, in the same Jorasanko home where he was raised, after a long period of agony.
Rabindranath Tagore has left an indelible mark on many people because he transformed the way Bengali literature was seen. Aside from the numerous busts and sculptures that have been constructed in his honor across the world, various yearly activities honor the great author. Many of his books have been translated into a variety of languages by a number of well-known worldwide authors.
There are eight Tagore museums. Three in India and five in Bangladesh:
Rabindra Bharati Museum, at Jorasanko Thakur Bari, Kolkata, India
Tagore Memorial Museum, at Shilaidaha Kuthibadi, Shilaidaha, Bangladesh
Rabindra Memorial Museum at Shahzadpur Kachharibari, Shahzadpur, Bangladesh
Rabindra Bhavan Museum, in Santiniketan, India
Rabindra Museum, in Mungpoo, near Kalimpong, India
Patisar Rabindra Kacharibari, Patisar, Atrai, Naogaon, Bangladesh
Pithavoge Rabindra Memorial Complex, Pithavoge, Rupsha, Khulna, Bangladesh
Rabindra Complex, Dakkhindihi village, Phultala Upazila, Khulna, Bangladesh
Rabindranath Tagore was unquestionably a multi-talented individual. His contributions to literature, the arts, music, and politics have all been outstanding. Therefore his life serves as an example of how an artist, or anybody, might rethink the possibilities that have been handed down to them.
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