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Rabindranath Tagore's works are a monumental treasure

Friday, May 11, 2018
By Ranajoy Sen

What could be the core contribution of Rabindranath Tagore to India, to the World and to mankind? The occasion of his birth anniversary provides an appropriate opportunity to reflect on it. A single sentence-filled response is probably not possible to articulate. Even then, an endeavour to that purpose could be undertaken. Tagore’s contribution was an extremely rich panorama, constituted of and testifying to the multifaceted creative and constructive work of a great individual.

Through poems, stories, novels, essays, theatres and musical compositions, he gave expression to thoughts and gifted the world. The outcome was frenetic work, deep, critical and clear thought, spectacular vision and fruition of noble, constructive work. The sheer extent and depth of his work does nothing short of dazzling any reader and the informed.  

Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on the twenty-fifth day of Baisakh, as per the Indian calendar, the year and the day as per the western calendar was 9 May 1861. Tagore grew up during the apogee of British imperialism in India. His was a huge joint family, for whom wealth and luxury was common. Additionally, being owners of sprawling Zamindaris (landed estates) at that time, another source of financial earning was inherent. However, what made them stand out from most other Zamindars of that era was the Tagore family’s administering of it. To put it succinctly, yet clearly, they were responsible, benevolent Zamindars. While they brook no nonsense and were keen on meticulous scrutiny of their financial accounts books, they were also committed to the welfare of their subjects, who tilled the land under their jurisdiction. Given the times, they viewed it as akin to responsible social contract. Furthermore, religious reforms, art and literature and music were crucial constituents of the activities of the Tagore household.  

Growing up responsibly
Tagore’s father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, appears to be endowed and have had honed what makes for a complete, admirable human character. Maharshi’s father, Prince Dwarkanath Tagore was a phenomenally successful business magnate as also an adherent of social reforms, then spearheaded by Raja Rammohan Roy. His investments included banking, shipping, and trade of various commodities. He could have been easily counted as among the richest personalities in the entire Indian subcontinent of his time. Nevertheless, after his passing, the responsibilities fell on the shoulders of his eldest son, Debendranath Tagore. The son did not particularly increase his father’s business empire. But, he displayed maturity and responsibility by clearing the accounts books of all debits, bringing the family finances into an organised, accountable, and functional system. He also increased the family’s landed estates and property.

However, Debendranath Tagore was also a keen student of religious and social reforms. Greatly inspired by the thought and works of Raja Rammohan Roy, he got initiated into a monotheistic form of Hinduism, which prohibited any form of idol worship. The new religious congregation was known as the Brahmo Samaj. It was founded by Raja Rammohan Roy.  

Within next to no time, Debendranath Tagore, through his keen association with the Samaj and readings, comprehension and excellent interpretation of the religious texts and core philosophy of the Indian civilisation became a revered religious personality as well. Hence was given the honorific title of Maharshi or the Great sage to him. When Rabindranath was born, such was the state of things around him. He grew up in it.

Being the tenth child of the Maharshi, little Rabindranath grew up under the care and rule of his elder brothers, sisters-in-law, and above all that of the watchful, responsibility-imbibing, and yet caring tutelage of his father. The child received his education principally at home. Finding the contours of traditional schools uninspiring, he refused to go to school. Ultimately, a thorough, comprehensive and what turned out as an effective educational system was organised for him in his house. Several tutors, for several years, taught him various subjects which included music and physical exercise.

Additionally, Tagore got a thorough orientation and education in the concepts and application of financial accounting, essentially from his father. It stood him in good stead while presiding over his landed estates and later the Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan.  The adult Tagore took to administering his Zamindaris; he also began displaying a keen, successful, and comprehensive grasp of writing on many subjects.

During overseeing his family’s landed estates, he did something new for his subjects at Shilaidaha in rural eastern Bengal – currently in Bangladesh. He introduced what was a first of its kind of co-operative banking, where money could be saved and used for meaningful ventures by the subjects and their families. Furthermore, there were instances when upon finding it justifiable, he waived rents of his subjects.

Fame of Tagore’s works is bound to be eternal
When time came to think of his own children’s education, he established a Brahmacharya Ashram at the then poverty-stricken, harsh red-soiled Birbhum region of Bengal, at a property his family owned. It had a house, named Santiniketan, where the Maharshi had once stayed during visits to that place. The name of the place later came to be associated with that of the house.  The objective of it was to create a hermitage-type educational system and ambience for pupils. Rich natural surroundings and the best of education were to be combined to endeavour to create a strong, balanced and thoughtful human mind and character. Towards that purpose he strove with severe hard work. The outcome: creation of the Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan. In between, Tagore had come to be known as an internationally respected poet and philosopher. His works, written in Bengali, gained great fame and respect across the world. Among the numerous awards and felicitations he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, appears to top it all. But, other awards, in their own ways, were also prestigious.  

Tagore passed away in August, 1941. But, he left his phenomenal works and the Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan. The University, now a central university, may not have lived up to what Tagore had expected it to be after his passing. But, the monumental prestige it enjoys from its heritage continues to endure.

His works are monumentally successful and noble. The contents of the works are an invaluable gift for all, whose fame is bound to be eternal.

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