Mother India produced a galaxy of geniuses in the 19th century and Rabindranath Tagore is perhaps the brightest among them as a poet, philosopher, educationist and Rabindranath Tagore For over seventy years — from boyhood days till death — he went on writing poems and dramas, songs and novels, stories and essays. He touched life at many points and enriched all that he touched with the alchemic power of his genius.
He was born at Jorasanko in Kolkata on 7 May 1861. His father Maharshi Debendranath was distinguished for his ardent pursuit of religion and spiritual truth. His influence was abiding in the poet’s life. He was also influenced by his elder brother Dwijendranath, the philosopher, and Jyotirindranath, the artist.
Rabindranath’s early years were passed in the care of the servants, It was uncommon for a rich man’s son to be in comparative neglect and absence of luxury. He was sent to school at an early age, but he never accepted these institutions with mechanical routine. However, with the tutors at home, he became proficient in language and literature far in advance of his age. In his thirteenth year he accompanied his father to the Himalayas, and the influence of his stay there became far-reaching. A few years later, at 17-18, he was sent to England. His guardians wished him to qualify for the bar, but he spent his time with Prof. Henry Morley at the University of London studying English literature, and then abruptly returned home.
It was after returning from England that he took to the writing of poetry seriously. The lyrical drama ‘Valmiki Prativa’ was staged by the family theatrical party and was greatly appreciated by the distinguished audience. His early poem ‘Sandhya Sangeet’ led Bankim, the literary apostle of the age, to greet the young poet as the poet of the future. In fact, in later life, he flourished as a versatile genius — as a poet, a dramatist, a story-writer, a novelist, a critic, and an essayist. Some of his best poems are found in Sonar Tari, Kheya, Kalpana, Gitanjali, Balaka, etc. The modern Bengali language is largely his creation with the finest varieties of world literature.
Between the years 1901 and 1907, the poet had suffered great bereavements in his family life, and this brought him a deep impact in realising the mysteries of life and death. His Gitanjali bears the mark of his devotion and its unique manifestation. In 1911 while proceeding to England, he spent his leisure on the ship by carrying on the work of translation of some of his poems of Gitanjali. In England, he showed them to Rothenstein, the artist, and Yeats, the great Irish poet, and they were so pleased with its note of deep spirituality that they arranged for its publication under the title “Gitanjali Song Offerings’. It created a stir in Europe. As a result, the greatest literary honour — the Nobel Prize — was awarded to him by the Swedish Academy in 1913. And thereafter he became a world figure, and more than that, he gave India a new status in the world. The painting was a later development of his inexhaustible and elastic genius. All his works are the expression of the vital and vibrant rhythm of life.
Though he was not entangled in active politics, he had his own distinguished political outlook. He came to the street to observe Rakhi Bandhan to maintain the unity of Hindus and Muslims and to protest the partition of Bengal in 1905. When Mahatma Gandhi started his Non-cooperation movement, he did not agree with the policy of boycotting English education, as it was, in his opinion, the gateway to reach the modem age. However, in 1919 he renounced his knighthood given by the British government to protest the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. During the First World War (1914-1918) he went to England, America and Japan, denouncing the evils of narrow nationalism and trying to arouse the conscience of mankind for the higher ideals of life. Thereafter he went to some of the South American Republics, to the islands of Indonesia, to China, to Persia, and to all people he spoke of the great ideals for which India had stood in the past, and which must be the ideals of the future.
In 1901 he started a school at Santiniketan, a spot dedicated to the memory of his father, and thereafter founded the University of Viswa Bharati with an aim to invite all the world to meet in the pursuit of knowledge and fine arts without any barrier of caste or creed or colour — to follow a common and undivided fellowship. He also founded Santiniketan to give a direction to agriculture, cottage industries, etc. in modern and developed technology.
Thus to the last, he refused to be bound by old forms and traditions in all the fields of his work. He represented the highest ideals of the East and the West and tried to synthesize them. But the candle of his life was burning out. He lived a full and eventful life of 80 years. On 7th August 1941, corresponding to the Bengali date 22nd Shravan — the poet breathed his last. It was a day of national mourning. And it marks the end of a memorable epoch that has bequeathed an undying legacy to posterity.