“It is for the artist to proclaim his faith in the everlasting YES – to say: “I believe that there is an ideal … which is not the mere outcome of fancy, but the ultimate reality in which things dwell and move”. (The Religion of an Artist)
The seamless and vital integration of the world of the idea and the aesthetic never ceases to amaze even a hundred and fifty years after Tagore’s birth. His fertile mind explored a range of ideas - from education, travel, internationalism, rural reconstruction and critiques of oppression; while his creative soul transformed these ideas into aesthetic masterpieces, sensitive and lyrical. Born at a moment of flux in history, his ideas and aesthetics remain strangely visionary, operating across time. It is this aspect that we seek to explore in this issue of Muse India as we ask ourselves the question – how is Tagore relevant today?
In an age of militant nationalism, Rabindranath could radically advocate a cosmopolitanism that would stimulate ideas on globalization. Against the grain of a rigid education system, he could establish a model of holistic education that would provoke joyousness and creativity while sensitizing us to the harmony with nature and society. His ideas on rural reconstruction hinged on education, the co-operative principle and an introduction of technology. He remained vigilant to protest against casteism, female oppression and any form of dogma. He engaged and debated with the leading minds of his times exchanging and dispensing ideas, while reinvigorating the bounds of civil society. Having travelled extensively, he envisaged the collapsing of boundaries. Repeatedly witnessing exploitation, tyranny and avarice, he was capable of dreaming of a humanity guided by ethics. Central to his imagination remained the figure of Rammohun Roy, who argued for a relentless synthesis of the best ideas of humanity across cultural frontiers.
The visionary ideas of Tagore confront us in 2010 as we debate concepts as diverse as multiculturalism, globalization and cosmopolitanism, ecology, issues of gender and caste, models of rural reconstruction and co-operatives, theories of travel and exchange. The sophistication and nuances of his logic remain points of entry into such debates within the perimeter of aesthetic pleasure.
The contributions in this volume engage with Rabindranath’s relevance to our age. The translations deal with a range of poems and short stories, while one particular piece articulates Rabindranath’s radical notion of travel as pilgrimage in the process of interaction of cultures. The various articles interrogate Tagore’s responses and ideas about nationalism, female emancipation, translation and aesthetics, rural reconstruction, library science, ecology, visual and performative arts. His interaction with global communities and his debate with Gandhiji and Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray are explored, while an analysis of the Visva-Bharati Quarterly as a vehicle for his global university adds perspective to the volume. A separate section looks at Tagore’s reception - both generous and hostile - across the globe. A special feature is a section of creative responses to Rabindranath that articulate his immediacy and discuss his position today.
The overwhelming response to this issue remains a testament to Rabindranath’s appeal. As we look back, what strikes us is the zeal of both young and senior scholars in embellishing the volume. “The voice of Tagore” still remains a fountainhead of stimulating ideas and aesthetic delight.