Field: poetry, music, art
There were two principal branches of the Tagore (also spelt Thakur) Brahmin family, which played an important part in the evolution of life in Calcutta, Bengal, India for the last 300 years. Rabindranath's father, Debendranath or Devendranath (1817-1905), who belonged to the Jorasanko branch, had 13 surviving children, several of whom were exceptionally creative, including his penultimate son Rabindranath, and the youngest to survive. His father had founded, and developed the Brahmo religion within the parent Hindu society, which had a significant influence on the Bengali Renaissance during the time of the British Indian Empire. The environment at Jorasanko was filled with literature, music, painting and theatre. On the other hand it was his grandfather, Dwarakanath Tagore (1794-1846) who had the business prowess and had established the first equal partnership between European and Indian businessmen.
"Rabi" was born on 7 May 1861 in the Jorasanko mansion in Calcutta to Debendranath Tagore, a deeply religious man, and Sarada Sundari Devi (1830–1875) who was born in Dakkhindihi village. Thompson wrote that "his father ... was usually absent, wandering abroad; the poet, the youngest of seven sons, was left by his mother's death to the care of servants." If her death year was 1875, then she did not die until he was about 14 years old. One of the earliest things he read, while his mother was still alive, was the Ramayana of Krittivasa, and in his 'My Reminiscences' he accepted as normal that "the freedom of not being petted made up even for the harshness of this bondage [to the servants], for our minds were left clear of the toils of constant coddling, pampering and dressing-up".
When he was about 8 years old, and at the Normal School, he was asked to write some verse by an older boy. Learning in English followed that of Bengali, with home tutoring as well, and the Bengal Academy followed the Normal School. His first experiences of school distressed him and he told Paramahansa Yogananda Ghosh-44 when they met in later life, after they had both set up their own schools - "I fled from school after the fifth grade" (Yogananda, p.306).
His first experiences of nature came when dengue fever hit Calcutta and some of the family moved to a villa on the Ganges. He felt that he had a new birth, into the outside world, with his mind freed from all bondage by the River.
After his coming-of-age rite at age eleven, Tagore and his father left Calcutta in February 1873 to tour India for several months, visiting his father's Santiniketan estate and Amritsar, founded by Guru Ram Das, a Sikh Guru, before reaching the Himalayan hill station of Dalhousie. In the Himalayan foothills he was in raptures over the magnificence of the scenery. "To the end of his life, his father never stood in the way of his children's independence. He wanted us to love truth with our whole hearts" ('My Reminiscences'). Rabindranath returned to the family mansion at Jorasanko, not to the servants' quarters but to the inner apartments, where he received the affection and regard of his mother. From Bengali Academy to St Xaviers, and Home Studies by tutoring, By 1877 he had completed a set of major works, with many poems, as well as contributing to a magazine organised by his brothers - all a period of learning. Akshay Chandra Chaudhury, who was a friend of one of his elder brothers at school was a great help to him in his literary progress.
In 1878, at age 17 he went with with one of his brothers to England, because Debendranath wanted his son to become a barrister. Tagore enrolled at a public school in Brighton, East Sussex, England. He stayed for several months at a house that the Tagore family owned near Brighton and Hove, in Medina Villas; other members of the extended family were already there so he lived with them. He briefly read law at University College London, but left, opting instead for independent study of some of Shakespeare's plays, though he did have a Latin tutor. He experienced snow for the first time, calling it of "immense beauty" ('My Reminiscences'). He went to stay in Torquay in Devonshire with his sister-in-law, where he again enjoyed nature's beauty, spending some months there. "Tagore had a great love for nature and many of his poems invoke the simple beauties of the natural world. For Tagore, his religion could be found in the wonders and mysteries of nature – as much as in temples and sacred books".
He described the period of his life from about 1877 to 1883 as one of utter disorderliness; "the religious services which were held in our family I would have nothing to do with. I felt no need for any underlying truth". His early poetry was very much like English poetry.
In 1880 he returned, with his brother, to Bengal degree-less, where he regularly published poems, stories, and novels. These had a profound impact within Bengal itself but received little national attention. In 1883 he married 10-year-old Mrinalini Devi, born Bhabatarini, 1873–1902. They had five children, two of whom died in childhood.
In 1901 he and his family moved to 'Santiniketan' (or Shantinikean), that was originally a house on land purchased by his father Maharshi Devendranath Tagore in 1862, near Birbhum, 165kms north of Calcutta. Debendranath founded a spiritual centre, an ashram, open to people of all religions. Rabindranath founded Patha Bhavana, the school of his ideals in the same year with 10 boys, whose central premise was that learning in a natural environment would be more enjoyable and fruitful; adding a library. Later, in discussing his educational ideas with Paramahansa Yogananda Ghosh-44, whose Ranchi School was founded in 1918, Tagore stated that "True education is not pumped and crammed in from outward sources, but aids in bringing to the surface the infinite hoard of wisdom within" (Yogananda, 1946, p.306), which Yogananda agreed with.
In 1902 his wife died and 2 more of his children while the family was living at Santiniketan.
In 1912-1913 he visited the United States and met with Sudhindra Bose at the University of Iowa, where are shown together in a photograph. Sudhindra would be a witness at the wedding of Basu Kumar Bagchi aka Swami Dhirananda, who had been of great assistance to Swami Yogananda in the early years of his mission in the United States.
After he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the school was expanded to the University level and became the internationally recognised institute named Visva-Bharati. Also many of those critics who wrote scathingly of his poetry came crawling back to him! He was awarded a knighthood by King George V in the 1915 Birthday Honours, but he renounced it after the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
He travelled widely, visiting more than 30 countries on 5 continents, with a photo (Wikipedia biography) of him in China at Tsinghua University in 1924, and another in Germany in 1931; meeting many well known people, including Irish poet William Butler Yeats-69 and Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw-5468, American poets Ezra Pound-317 and Robert Frost-3, British poet laureate Robert Seymour Bridges-1266, English writer H.G. Wells-6939, German 1929 Literature Nobel Prize winner Paul Thomas Mann-8243, German physicist Albert Einstein-1, Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini-1, Sultan Muhammed Shah-112 Aga Khan III of Pakistan, Reza Shah Pahlavi [] last Shah of Iran.
He sought aid from donors, officials, and scholars worldwide to "free village[s] from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance" by "vitalis[ing] knowledge". In the early 1930s he lectured against the caste system and untouchability.
During his life time he composed over 2,000 songs which have been popularised and sung widely across Bengal. Like his literature, he broke away from classical constraints to offer a great emotive and spiritual appeal. Tagore is unique for being the official composer for the national anthem of two countries – India’s Jana Gana Mana and Bangladesh’s Amar Shonar Bangla.
Towards the end of his life he expanded into scientific fields using example in his poetry, stories and essays. He was above all a humanitarian but not a mystic.
"His last five years were marked by chronic pain and two long periods of illness. These began when Tagore lost consciousness in late 1937; he remained comatose and near death for a time. This was followed in late 1940 by a similar spell, from which he never recovered. Poetry from these valetudinary years is among his finest. A period of prolonged agony ended with Tagore's death on 7 August 1941, aged eighty; he was in an upstairs room of the Jorasanko mansion he was raised in" (Wikipedia). What remains of his body lies in the Rabindranath Tagore Memorial, Nimtala crematorium, Kolkata.
Rabindra Bharati University was founded on the Jorasanko ancestral home property on 8 May 1962 to mark the birth centenary of Rabindranath Tagore.
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