Forgot password
Rabindranath Tagore -the polymath genius of Asia


The Island, Thursday, 7th August 2014


The Tagore Society of Sri Lanka holds its current year’s Annual General Meeting at the Indian Cultural Institute on the 09th to coincide with Tagore’s 73rd death anniversary on August 07th.


He was the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for any category. That was in 1913. But it was stolen in March 2004 from the safety vault in Vishva Bharathi University in India. The Swedish Academy replaced it with two replicas, one made of gold and the other made of bronze.


"The flower which is single, need not envy the thorns that are numerous" wrote Rabindranath Tagore, the Poet, the Religious Philosopher, Visual Artiste, Song Composer, Playwright, Painter, Novelist, Philosopher of Science and the polymath of many other fields, in his familiar notebook. That was one amongst hundreds and thousands of similar and more philosophical thoughts he scribbled during his illustrious lifespan of 80 years.


The youngest of thirteen surviving children, Tagore was born in Calcutta, India on 7th May 1861, to highly influential and wealthy Brahmin parents Debendranath Tagore (1817–1905) and Sarada Devi (1830–1875). "Rabi" was raised mostly by servants as his mother had died in his early childhood and his father travelled widely on business and socio-cultural affairs. Tagore largely avoided classroom schooling and preferred to learn by himself reading, listening and experimenting. Once he was sent to London for studies, but he returned home abruptly and started engaging in literary activities. Following the trend during the time of British rule in Asian colonies, his father wanted the son to become a barrister, and accordingly he was sent for the second time for education in England, this time at University College London,. Knowing that it was not his destiny, Tagore came back home to the disappointment of his father. He opted instead for independent study of Kalidasa and Shakespeare in literature, Benjamin Franklin in biographies, physics and medicine in science, and also lively English, Irish, and Scottish folk tunes impressed Tagore.


In 1883 he married Mrinalini Devi and they had five children. In 1901 Tagore moved to Santiniketan to found an ashram with a marble-floored prayer hall—The Mandir—an experimental school, groves of trees, gardens, and a library. There his wife and two of his children died. His father died in 1905. These losses one after the other jolted Tagore to a great extent. He wrote in his notebook, "If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars" He received monthly payments as part of his inheritance and income from the Maharaja of Tripura, and through the sales of his family’s jewellery.


Then suddenly everything changed in 1912 . The story of his winning the Nobel Prize itself was a kind of a fascinating fairy tale.


Now an adult of 51 years, accompanied by his son, Tagore was returning to England for the first time, since his failed attempt at law school as a teenager. By this time he had completed his piece of literary brilliance - Gitanjali - in Bengali language, as with all his other works. Travelling by sea in a passenger liner, on the way he began translating Gitanjali, into English, according to him, as he had nothing else to do during the long sea voyage. He made the handwritten translations in a little notebook he carried. Upon arrival, his son left the father’s brief case with this notebook, in the London subway. Fortunately, a gentleman found it and traced Tagore’s London address and returned it to him. One of his friends in London, an artiste by the name Rothenstein, learned of the translation and desired to see it. Since it was his very first English translation, and was done casually during travel, Tagore was reluctant to part with. Due to much persuasion by the friend, Tagore gave him the notebook. Once the friend started reading through, he could not believe his eyes, as the poems were so incredibly beautiful. He called his friend, William Butler Yeats, a great Irish artiste, and handed the scrawled notebook to him to read.


Yeats was enthralled by the English translation and decided to write an English introduction to Gitanjali. No sooner than the English Gitanjali was published in September 1912 in a limited edition by the India Society in London, both the poetry and the man became an instant sensation, first in London literary circles, and soon thereafter in the entire world. A critic said all about the book in four sentences, thus, "His spiritual presence was awesome. His words evoked great beauty. Nobody had ever read anything like it. A glimpse of the mysticism and sentimental beauty of Indian culture were revealed to the West for the first time." Less than a year later, in 1913, nominated by Yeats to the Nobel Committee, Rabindranath received the Nobel Prize for Literature for Gitanjali. He was the first non-westerner to be so honored. Overnight he became famous and began world lecture tours promoting inter-cultural harmony and understanding. He used the funds from his writing and lecturing to expand upon the school he had founded in 1901, now known as Visva Bharati .


In 1915, he was knighted by the British King George V, and became Sir Rabindranath Tagore. Though Tagore stayed out of politics, he opposed nationalism and militarism as a matter of principle, and instead promoted spiritual values and the creation of a new world culture founded on multi-culturalism, persity and tolerance. However, in 1919, following the Amritsar massacre of 400 Indian demonstrators by British troops, Tagore renounced his Knighthood in protest. Later on, in 1937, advocating human ideals, he rejected an honorary degree from the University of Berlin, also as a protest against Nazi policies of Hitler. He wrote over 1,000 poems; eight volumes of short stories; almost two dozen plays and play-lets; eight novels; and many books and essays on philosophy, religion, education and social topics. His other great love was music, In Bengali style, he composed more than 2,230 songs - both the music and lyrics, which earned popularity as Rabindra Sangeet. Two of them became the national anthems of India - Jana Gana Mana and that of Bangladesh - Amar Shonar Bangla.


Tagore was a creative genius. Even his associates were geniuses, of the caliber of Albert Einstein, H.G. Wells, Mahatma Gandhi, Satyajit Ray, Mussolini, Aga Khan III, and George Bernard Shaw, and more, whom he visited from time to time. He visited even Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1933. His last five years were marked by chronic pain and two long periods of illness. These began when Tagore lost consciousness in late 1937; and he remained comatose and near death for a long time. This was followed in late 1940 by a similar spell. A period of prolonged agony ended with Tagore’s death on 07th August 1941. On 30th July 1941, a day prior to a scheduled surgery on him, he spoke to a friend and said the following words with some effort. The friend while listening, quickly wrote it down. Tagore’s contemporaries considered it as a wonderful farewell poem, when put into a poetic format as :


"I’m lost in the middle of my birthday, I want my friends, their touch, with the earth’s last love, I will take life’s final offering, I will take the human’s last blessing. Today my sack is empty, I have given completely whatever I had to give. In return if I receive anything - some love, some forgiveness, Then I will take it with me, When I step on the boat that crosses, To the festival of the wordless end."



Post Your Comments

Name * :
Email * :
DOB * :
Comments :


In January 2011, the Prime Minister’s Global Advisory Council for Overseas Indians discussed the concept of engaging with the younger generation of diaspora, mainly students and young professionals, with a view to...



Cultural Event, Sunday 26th February 2017, 6pm


Pravasi Haryana Divas 2017(PHD) 11 January, 2017, Gurgaon


Google Hangout Session for Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) 2017 & India Develpoment Foundation of overseas Indians ( IDF-OI ) on 1 November, 2016 at 1630 hrs IST


Terms & Condition | Privacy Policy

Copyright © 2019 Malaysian Indian Youth Development Program. All rights reserved.

Powered by: Ardhas Technology India Private Limited.