Rabindranath Tagore

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Tagore, Rabindranath


Born May 7, 1861, in Calcutta; died there Aug. 7, 1941. Indian writer and public figure. Son of Debendranath Tagore.

Tagore studied in Calcutta, where in 1875 he published his first work, and at the University of London. While in England from 1878 to 1880, he continued to write in his native Bengali, the language he was to use in all his works. He also composed songs. A musical drama he wrote during this time, The Genius of Valmiki (1881), combined national Indian melodies with popular Irish tunes. Tagore’s collection of verse Evening Songs (1882) is marked by a preponderance of pantheistic motifs. Three later collections, Morning Songs (1883), Pictures and Songs (1884), and Sharps and Flats (1886), as well as a play, Nature’s Revenge (1884), reflect the author’s youthful optimism. Such optimism mingles with a strong condemnation of tyranny in the poem The Shores of Bibhi (1883) and the historical novel Raja the Sage (1885). Between 1884 and 1911, Tagore served as secretary of Brahmo Samaj, a religious reformative and educational society.

Tagore created some of his best short stories in the 1890’s. In the same period he wrote the poem collections Manasi (1890) and The Golden Boat (1893), the poems The Gathering of the Harvest (1896) and The Grains (1899), and a cycle of philosophical plays beginning with Raja and Rani (1899). He also edited a socioliterary periodical, Shadhoda, in which he published most of his literary works, as well as articles on political, social, and literary topics. After taking over the management of his family’s estate in Shileida, in 1891, Tagore became acquainted at first hand with the life of the working people, whom he now made the heroes of his works. In the short story “The Cloud and Sun” (1894) he presented a vivid picture of colonial rule, depicting the authorities’ often cruel treatment of the peasants, and first created as protagonist the hero who fights against injustice. Tagore’s poetry of these years reveals the stages by which his ideological and aesthetic views evolved into the humanist doctrine of jibandebota (the divine nature of life), inspired by the Upanishads and the ideals of the medieval Vishnuite poets.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Tagore gradually turned from philosophical reflections in his poetry to more personal themes—the celebration of nature, lyrical love, man’s social responsibility. In several poems he called on the Bengalis to rally in the struggle against tyranny. The Instant (1900), for example, is suffused with a spirit of rebellion against middle-class philistinism, and in The Gifts (1901) social themes are intertwined with religious and philosophical motifs. In his novels on social mores, The Grain of Sand (1902) and The Wreck (1905), as well as in the novella Broken Nest (1903), Tagore described with psychological insight the conflict between feudal family morality and democratic ideas.

The death of Tagore’s wife, son, and father, all within a brief period, caused the poet to pour out his grief in three collections, In Memoriam (1903), The Child (1903), and The Crossing (1906). During this time, as India’s movement for national liberation underwent a revival, especially after the partition of Bengal in 1905, Tagore emerged as one of its leaders, writing patriotic songs and editing the sociopolitical periodical Bhandar. However, when the movement went beyond nonviolence, he broke with it and devoted himself instead to education. In the novel Gora (1907–10), whose protagonist fights for freedom and social and economic progress, Tagore appealed to all Indians, regardless of caste or religion, to join in the struggle for national liberation. How to carry on such a struggle was the question pondered in Atonement(1909), a play in which the author anticipated the ideas behind the movement of noncooperation with the colonial authorities. In the satirical play The Castle of Conservatism (1911), he assailed the conformism of a society steeped in Hindu traditions.

In 1912–13, Tagore visited Great Britain and the USA, lecturing on Indian philosophy and culture. In 1913 he received the Nobel Prize in literature for Gitanjali (Song Offerings, English translation by Tagore himself, 1912; Russian translation, 1914), a book of poems. As a result of the award, he acquired world fame. After his trip to the West and during the early years of World War I, Tagore wrote A Flight of Cranes (1914–16), a cycle of poems, in which he expressed his anxiety over the future of mankind. In the novel The Home and the World (1915–16), he described the growing divergence between the peasants and the liberal leaders of the national liberation movement, as well as the attempts by some to fan chauvinism and religious and communal fanaticism.

In the 1920’s, Tagore made another trip abroad, to Europe, Asia, and the USA. His nonfiction works during this period, on social and political themes, contained his views on the consequences of World War I and on the state of Europe, as well as his general reflections on the destiny of nations. In Nationalism (Russian translation, 1922), for example, he warned against the militaristic character of unbridled nationalism both in the West and in the East. In the lyrical poem Eastern Melody (1925) and in the allegorical plays The Free Current (1922) and Red Oleanders (1924), he set forth his thoughts on various social problems. After visiting the USSR in 1930, Tagore, in Letters From Russia (1931), expressed admiration of the USSR’s accomplishments in education and of the Soviet government’s pacific policies.

Tagore’s political views became more radical in the late 1920’s. In Four Chapters (1934), a novel written in response to the national liberation movement’s renewed activity in 1929–34, he returned to the question of the legitimacy of violence as a means of social struggle. His prose works of this period include the psychological novella Two Sisters (1933), the novel The Flower Garden (1934) and a number of short stories. The poem collections Mahuya (1929), The Message of the Forest (1931), Completion (1932), Once Again (1932), and The Last Octave (1935), and the poem Motley Things (1933), are somewhat introspective. Tagore also published the collections Leaves (1936), The Borderland (1938), Evening Lamp (1938), Newly Born (1940), From the Sickbed (1940), Recovery (1941), On the Birthday (1941), and Last Poems (1941). In “The Story of a Muslim Woman” (1941), he again warned about the danger of religious and communal fanaticism.

Through his works Tagore strongly influenced the development of Bengali as a literary language, enriching its poetry with new forms and meters. His influence, however, extended to Indian literature as a whole, for he established the short story and the political lyric as genres, added new dimensions to the socio-psychological novel, and contributed to the development of critical realism. His poem “The Soul of the People” (1911) became India’s national anthem.

Tagore also expressed his original aesthetic ideals in representational art, to which he turned in 1928, using mainly watercolor and pen and ink. His paintings and drawings, executed in a free manner and contemplative, often even nobly tragic, in mood, had a significant impact on the development of 20th-century Indian art.

Tagore devoted considerable attention to the theory and practice of public education. In 1901, for example, he established a school in Santiniketan, where he himself taught, and in the early 1920’s he founded the University of Visvabharati as a center for the study of Eastern cultures. He also wrote the music to songs using his own texts and composed ballets.

Translations of Tagore had become popular in prerevolutionary Russia. Most critics approached his works from the point of view of theosophy and symbolist poetry, which were fashionable at the time; they noticed their peculiarly national character as well as the joy of life that infused them. Interest in Tagore increased after the October Revolution of 1917. A. A. Lunacharskii, for example, observed that “Tagore’s works, despite their pantheistic mysticism, are so full of color, of subtle psychological insight, and of truly noble ideas that they are now among the cultural treasures of mankind” (Krasnaia Niva, 1923, no. 1, p. 30). In 1961 the centenary of Tagore’s birth was observed worldwide.


Robindrorochanaboli, vols. 1–27. Calcutta, 1939–65.
In Russian translation:
Soch., books 1–7, 10, Moscow, 1914–15.
Soch., vols. 1–12. Moscow, 1961–65. (Introduction by A. P. Gnatiuk-Danil’chuk.)
Lichnoe. Petrograd, 1922.
Iskry: Poeticheskie aforizmy i miniatiury. [Moscow, 1970.]


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Rabindranat Tagor: Biobibliograficheskii ukazatel’. Compiled by L. A. Strizhevskaia. Moscow, 1961.
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Zbavitel, D. Rabindranath Thakur. Prague, 1961.
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