From Childhood to Adulthood-Heritage and Growth
Rabindranath Tagore was a unique phenomenon in the history of art and literature. Blessed by the muses of almost all the creative arts; he was poet, dramatist, fiction writer, essayist, painter, musician, singer, actor and director besides being an educationist, philosopher, social reformer, freedom fighter and thinker though remaining a perfect family man. Carrying the tradition of the Vedic lore he was a poet of the Upanishad. Loving the God and men and expressing it through his poetry and other arts was his greatest forte. Losing most of his near and dear ones one after the other, living beyond 80 years, he remained ever optimistic. Losing all yet fulfilled was the saint poet.
“The family atmosphere was congenial…Poets and scholars, musicians and philosophers, artists and social reformers, geniuses and cranks- they were all there in the family and more came in from outside. Dramas were written and acted inside the house and music was in the air. Bengal was in a ferment of renaissance and new books and literary journals carrying poems, serialized novels and translations from foreign litterateurs were achieving a popular response hitherto unknown. Young Rabi read voraciously whatever fell into his hand and listened eagerly to the compositions of his elders”, wrote Krishna Kripalani. (1)
Reminiscing on his childhood, Tagore said, “My vagabondage in the path of my literary career had another reason. My father was the leader of a new religious movement, a strict monotheism based upon the teachings of the Upanishads. My countrymen in Bengal thought him as bad as a Christian if not worse. So we were completely ostracized, which probably saved me from another disaster, that of imitating our own past.” (2)
Tagores were Brahmins so people referred them as Thakurs which became Tagore in the tongue of the British. Some one of their ancestors, in a remote branch of their family had some forcible matrimonial connection with a Muslim, thus they became Pirali Brahmins, with restrictions imposed on their matrimonial connections by the then society. As the Tagores became very rich the stain of Pirali got faded. Rabindranath’s grandfather became Prince Dwarakanath Tagore, the richest industrialist-businessman of India. He had friendship with Queen Victoria and her family in England. Living a good part of his life in England he died there. Away from the superstitious ritualistic way of Hindu religion, Maharshi Debendranath, father of Rabindranath, adopted the simple and straight way of connecting with the divine through the Upanishadic path, calling it Brahmoism, of which the first founder was Raja Rammohan Roy though Debendranath executed the work to become its real founder. But they never shunned Hinduism. As a Secretary of their institution, Brahmo Samaj, Rabindranath wrote to the Census authority in 1891, “The members of the Adi Brahmo Samaj are really Hindus.” (3)
Rabindranath married in a Brahmin family; a bride selected as directed by his father, within the Pirali clan. He never rejected the Hindu religion and Hindu heritage. Among other songs he composed songs and poems on Vaishanav theme and on Goddess kali too. He loved the Bauls, Sufis and Fakirs, the free seekers of truth on easy going path, with love extended to humans. Following his father he entered into a communion with the Lord of his life, ‘Jivan Devata’. The study of Vedas and Upanishads prepared him on the way.
“Then came my initiation ceremony of Brahminhood when the Gayatri verse of meditation was given to me, whose meaning, according to the explanation I had, runs as follows:
Let me contemplate the adorable splendour of Him
Who created the earth, the air and the starry spheres,
And sends the power of comprehension within our minds.
This produced a sense of serene exaltation in me, the daily meditation upon the infinite being which unites in one stream of creation my mind and the outer world.” (4)
After the Gayatri experience another happened in his teens-
“When I was eighteen, sudden spring breeze of religious experience for the first time came to my life and passed away leaving in my memory a direct message of spiritual reality. One day while I stood watching at early dawn the sun sending out its rays from behind the trees, I suddenly felt as if some ancient mists had in a moment lifted from my sight, and the morning light on the face of the world revealed an inner radiance of joy. The invisible screen of the common place was removed from all things and all men, and their ultimate significance was intensified in my mind; and this is the definition of beauty. That which was memorable in this experience was its human message, the sudden expansion of my consciousness in the super personal world of man.” (5)
The effect of this experience remained with him for four days. On the first day he wrote a long poem the title of which was translated by the poet as “The Awakening of the Waterfall”. The poem begins like this (my translation)
How this morning the sunrays
Entered into my life
How the songs of birds reached the dark cave!
Heart has awakened
Water has gushed forth
Oh, I cannot keep the desires and emotions in check.
This, Krishna Kripalani wrote, “May be said to mark symbolically the beginning of his adult career as a poet. . . . The poem itself leaps and dances with ecstasy of self abandon. In this mood of semi-exaltation, a rediscovery of the wonder of this world and the joy of living, he wrote a number of poems which were later published as ‘Prabhat Sangeet’ (Morning Songs).” (6)
His relationship with the God grows through newer experiences. He writes, “The ordinary work of my morning had come to its close ... I stood for a moment at my window, overlooking a market place on the bank of a dry river bed. Suddenly I became conscious of a stirring of soul within me. My world of experience in a moment seemed to become lighted and facts that were detached and dim found a greater unity of meaning. . .
From that time I have been able to maintain the faith that, in all my experience of nature or man, there is the fundamental truth of spiritual reality. . . .”
Again, “I had a vague notion as to who or what it was that touched my heart’s chords, like the infant which does not know its mother’s name, or who and what she is. The feeling which I always had was a deep satisfaction of personality that flowed into my nature through living channels of communication from all sides.”
Through all this a religion is formed, his own religion, which leads him throughout his creative world:
“My religion essentially is poet’s religion. Its touch comes to me through the same unseen and trackless channels as does the inspiration of my music. My religious life is followed the same mysterious line of growth as has my poetical life. Somehow they are welded to each other. . . .” (7)
This poet’s religion mixed with music was evident in the poems of ‘Gitnjali’ or offering of songs, the manuscript of which was in the hands of W.B. Yeats who wrote an introduction to it,
“These lyrics- which are in the original. . . full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention, display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my lifelong. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes. A tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned to unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude the thought of the scholar and of the noble. . . . A whole people, a whole civilization immensely strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination; and yet we are not moved because of its strangeness, but because we have met our own image, as though we had walked in Rossetti’s willow wood, or heard, perhaps for the first time in literature, our voice in a dream.” (8)
The poet wrote in the meantime volumes of love songs, romantic poems and other creative works including essays. His mother and eldest brother-in-law died. He was married in December 1883. The most shocking death then occurred to him when Kadambari Devi, a sister-in-law almost of his age, the first and perhaps the last love of his life, snapped herself out from his life within four months of his marriage, by committing suicide. The poet remembered her throughout his life; she was the pain and inspiration. Sometimes he became acutely aware of her presence- “In this morning light dreaming in autumn’s warmth, I know not what it is my heart desires. Someone is missing and that is enough to make this life a barren waste.” (9)
Tagore plunged deeper inward. In spite of the loss he was engrossed in literary creations, busy with family and his new job in the estate to which his father engaged him. He recovered gradually but the tendency to communicate with the divine, to realize him more became the guiding principle of his life.
Maharshi Debendranath, poet’s father, though mostly living in the Himalayas now, had keen eyes on his last and most genius son. He made him secretary of the Brahmo Samaj, their religious institution. For the annual festival of the Samaj in January 1887 Tagore composed 26 Brahmo Sangeet, religious/spiritual songs, each tuned to his deepest feelings. This time the festival was held at their house at Jorasanko where the Maharshi was also present. Tagore sang many songs and was asked by his father to repeat some of them. The beginning of one was,
The eye cannot see Thee, for Thou art the pupil in the eye,
The heart cannot know Thee, for Thou art its inmost secret.
The seed of the idea is in Kena Upanishad, verse No.2- “Chakshuschakshuratimuchcha Dhira”, meaning that God is the sight of our sight, as realized by the Rishi poet. And verse No. 6 is “Yachchakshusha na pashyati yena chakhkhunshi pashyati”. The full meaning of the two lines of the verse is-
“That which one sees not with the eye, that by which one sees the eye’s seeing, know that to be the Brahman and not this which men follow after here.” (10)
Deeply moved, the Maharshi said, “If the rulers of this land had belonged to the people and understood their language, they would surely have rewarded the young poet,” with this he gifted a cheque of rupees five hundred to encourage the poet.
After creations of different sorts, by the end of the nineteenth century, ‘Kshanika’ a book of poems was published, to be quickly followed by another, ‘Naivedya’ or offering, a book of poems of surrender to and love for the divine, containing 100 poems, published in 1901. With simple love and surrender he writes in one of the songs (No. 179. Gitabitan-1 (collection of songs in Bangla)-
“Day after day I shall stand before Thee, O Lord, with folded hands . . ..”
“The artist is subdued by the man of God and there is no room in these poems for high flights of imagination or dexterity of thought or emotional exuberance or metrical playfulness. The naked spirit is awed and humble in the presence of God and speaks in tones of utter simplicity,”opined Krishna Kripalani. (11)
The poet offered this volume of 100 poems to his octogenarian father as grateful acknowledgement of all the wealth of knowledge and wisdom he inherited from him. Maharshi gave him a purse to publish this work.
Several poems from this collection were included in the English ‘Gitanjali’. We may taste one of them here, as included in ‘Gitabitan’-1
Far as I gaze at the depth of Thy immensity
I find no trace there of sorrow or death or separation
Death assumes its mask of terror and sorrow its pain
Only when away from Thee, I turn my face towards my own dark self.
The incoming centenary began taking its toll of lives from Tagore’s family, his near and dear ones. His wife Mrinalini died on 23 November 1902 (he published a volume of poems in her memory, ‘Smaran’). His second daughter Renuka died at 13 on 1 September, 1903. His beloved student-poet, one like his son, Satish Roy died of small pox, to be followed by Maharshi’s death on 19 January 1905. And his youngest son, Saumindra, a gifted boy, died of cholera in November 1907. Grief and loneliness made him humbly surrender at the divine feet, recording them in tones serene and placid.
Tagore took a leading part in protesting the partition of Bengal in 1905 but came out of it as it turned violent, against the current of his life stream. This was the cause for a great bitterness as his countrymen severely ctiticised him. He opposed the British from time to time for their tyrannical rule in India. He refused the Knighthood as a protest against the massacre in Jallianwalla Bag. “He had never been very popular with his people; he was far above their current prejudices and passions and too ahead of his time. Even his literary genius had won but a grudging and limited recognition,” wrote Krishna Kripalani. (12)
Krishna Kripalani wrote further, “All those pain and suffering, the bereavements and rebuffs, the struggles and mortifications, both in the world outside and in his mind, which Rabindranath who had began his career as a carefree singer, went through in the first decade of this century were finally resolved and sublimated in the songs that poured forth from his full and chastened heart in 1909 and 1910 and published as ‘Gitanjali’ in later years.” (13)
‘Gitanjali’ is offering of handful of songs to God and the next ‘Gitimalya’ is a garland of songs offered to Him.
The Nobel Prize
The editor of Tagore’s ‘The English Writings’ wrote in the introduction of volume-1, “The Nobel Prize in literature was awarded to him in 1913 for ‘Gitanjali’ (1912) and ‘The Gardener’ (1913). The citation of the award praised his ‘Profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.’ Whether he indeed made his poetic thought a part of the literature of the West is a different proposition. But with his English translation his transition from a Bengali writer to a world figure became complete.” (14)
They made his works part of the West because they found in him echoes of Biblical anthem as the source. His main source, the Vedas and Upanishads were words of Gods heard by the Rishis. With the Nobel prize and after, the Pirali appendage of the poet’s caste name remained only in history. Poet Tagore became the most prominent voice of India, nay the orient, preaching as a prophet throughout the globe a number of times. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote, “More than any other Indian, he has helped to bring into harmony the ideals of the East and the West, and broadened the basis of Indian nationalism. He has been India’s internationalist per excellence . . . .” (15)
Tagore the Bilingual Literateur
But this ‘Gitanjali’ is quite different from the original ‘Gitanjali’ in Bangla. The English ‘Gitanjali’ has 103 songs or poems, culled from ten books and ‘The Gardener’ has 85 poems taken from 13 books and some more sources.
Tagore translated the songs from his own Bangla in the above two books and became a great bilingual writer after the publication and success of ‘Gitanjali’ in particular. He began translating large number of his works. The editor of his ‘English Writings’ has opined that there is no such writer in Europe who translated so much of his own works in an alien language and that there is none in the history of literature who wrote so much in an alien language remaining at the same time a major litterateur in his own mother-tongue. Yet Tagore is known to Benglis through his Bangla works and others know him mostly through his works in English including translations. Tagore was a major Indian English writer. I relish him through both the languages and this work is based on his total works.
‘Gitanjali’ was highly acclaimed throughout the world. William Rothenstein, who introduced his manuscript to the first gathering wrote, “Here was a poet of a new order which seemed to me on a level with that of the great mystics. Andrew Bradley, to whom I showed them agreed: ‘It looks as though we have at last a great poet among us again.’ ”
Yeats and Ezra Pound loved them at first sight like many others. Per Hallstrom, the member-secretary of the Nobel committee opined, “It is certain, however, that no poet in English since the death of Goethe in 1832 can rival Tagore in noble humanity.” (16)
We shall now enter into the heart of ‘Gitanjali’ and related works:
Thus it is that thy joy in me is so full. Thus it is that
thou hast come down to me. O thou lord of all heavens,
where would be thy love if I were not?
It is a very mellow, heart-touching song we have heard innumerable times. In his famous, “Religion of Man” the poet concludes chapter-13, ‘Spiritual Freedom’, with a song of the Baul sect of Bengal, which echoes the above poem-
It goes on blossoming for ages, the soul-lotus, in which I am bound,
as well as thou, without escape. There is no end to the opening of its petals,
and the honey in it has so much sweetness that thou, like
an enchanted bee, canst never desert it, and therefore thou art bound,
and I am, and ‘mukti’ is no where. (17)
The ‘mukti’ is an age old Indian idea, something like ‘Nirvana’ of the Buddhist parlance, meaning release of the soul for ever, to be merged with the divine essence, so that one does not come back to this mundane world again. In another poem Tagore wrote,
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground
and where the path maker is breaking stones.
So it is here that we have to see God and not seek the beyond to merge with him. In ‘Sanhita’, a part of Vedas’, it is said that God is ‘Ushan’, ‘Ashmayu’; impatient and eager to come to me. In another song Tagore wrote that to meet him the God has been coming for long.
Pride can never approach to where thou walkest
in the clothes of the humble among the poorest, and
lowliest, and lost.
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again,
and fillest it ever with fresh life.
Yes, I know, this is nothing but they love, O beloved
of my heart, this golden light that dances upon the leaves,
this idle clouds sailing across the sky,
this passing breeze leaving its coolness upon my forehead.
Deliverance is not for me in renunciation. I feel the
embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight.
My world will light its hundred different lamps with
thy flame and place them before the alter of thy temple.
No. I shall never shut the doors of my senses.
The Veda tells of light. Tagore too has been rapturous with light:
Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye kissing light,
heart sweetening light!
Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the centre of my life;
The light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love;
Like light the poet has sought fire to ignite the energies of his life, to make him pure by burning. He has sought the Sun and delight. The four main deities of the Veda: Agni, Indra, Surya and Soma, have been worshipped by Tagore throughout his life, says Gouri Dharmapal, adding, “One way of knowing Rabindranath is Veda just as through Rabindranath we can know the Vedas. Vedas and Rabindranath are one and the same. One tells us in Vedic language, the other tells in Bangla; neither by reading, learning, translating nor by reciting but by realising.” (18)
SHE WHO EVER had remained in the depth of my being,
in the twilight of gleams and glimpses; she who never
opened her veils in the morning light, will be my last
gift to thee, my God, folded in my final song. . . .
I have roamed from country to country keeping her
in the core of my heart, and around her have risen
and fallen the growth and decay of my life.
Sometimes his beloved becomes the essence of God; God in human. Here it seems to be his first and strongest love, the last love of his life who committed suicide. Here he offers to God for she will not leave him in his life.
Sometimes the poet addresses the God as the Mother-
Mother, I shall weave a chain of pearls for thy neck
with my tears of sorrow.
Sometimes he calls him He-
He It is, the innermost one, who awakens my
Being with his deep hidden touches.
Sometimes God is his friend, sometimes he is the Lord, king or father, sometimes it is neuter. Sometimes the poet waits for him in happiness, sometimes in uncertainty.
I have not seen his face, nor have I listened to his voice;
only I have heard his gentle footsteps from the road before
my house. . . .
I live in the hope of meeting with him, but this meeting
is not yet.
The time has not come true, the words have not been rightly
Set; only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.
The blossom has not opened; only the wind is sighing by.
From dawn till dusk I sit here before my door, and I
know that of a sudden the happy moment will arrive when
I shall see.
In the fragrant days of sunny April through the forest
path he comes, ever comes . . . .
In sorrow after sorrow it is his steps that press upon
my heart, and it is the golden touch of his feet that
makes my joy to shine.
When the waiting is long, he imagines his touch to be happy, but suddenly remembers that there was a time when he played with the God but could not discern him as such and now that the time is over, he finds that it was he whom the world now worships.
THE DAY WAS when I did not keep myself in readiness for thee; and entering
my heart unbidden even as one of the common crowd, unknown to me,
my king, thou didst press the signet of eternity upon many a fleeting
moment of my life.
And to-day when by chance I light upon them and see thy signature.
I find they have lain scattered in the dust mixed with the memory of joys
and sorrows of my trivial days forgotten.
. . . . the steps that I heard in my playroom are the same that are echoing
from star to star.
In another poem he sings in the same vein-
When my play was with thee I never questioned who thou wert
I knew nor shyness nor fear, my life was boisterous.
The poet imagined many times his last days even in his midlife when these poems
WHEN I GO from hence let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable . . . .
My whole body and my limbs have thrilled with his
touch who is beyond touch; and if the end comes
here, let it come- let this be my parting word.
The book ends with an appropriate poem ending with-
Like a flock of homesick cranes flying night and day back to their
mountain nests let all my life take its voyage to its eternal home in one
salutation to thee.
Poet of Love
Due to uniformity of thoughts and ideas, of selection and translation of his rhymed poems
into prose poems, ‘Gitanjali’ has acquired a unique feature among all works of Tagore, though here too the poet took liberty of transcreation; adding and subtracting, making the essence of the prominent rather than translating them literally, the editor of his ‘English Writing’ has opined. But in the ‘Gardener’ the poet took more liberty in abridging and paraphrasing. These poems were written much earlier to writing ‘Gitanjali’ poems. These are short love lyrics. The editor has opined that the selections were not so uniform. However, here too we find the soft and melodious touch of a sensitive poet on our heart string. These are fragrant and light with grief and happiness side by side but seldom are sensuous poems. While looking at his love poems we feel like indulging ourselves into entering the poet’s love-life.
On an invitation from Peru, the poet was sailing to a new world, but took ill on the way and disembarked at Buenos Aires where no soul knew him. But the very charming talented lady, Victoria Ocampo, at her lonely villa in San Isidro on the bank of river Plate, gave him shelter, took care of him as her very special guest. The poet enjoyed this more than sailing to Peru for delivering a lecture. Intimacy grew between them when the poet was 63. He wrote many poems during the time, which were published at home after he came back. He dedicated the book ‘Purabi’ to his ‘Vijaya’ as he named her, Victoria. But while the poet was at it, he must have felt remorse for his first love, Kadambari. He wrote a poem with such softness as they silently touch the reader’s heart.
I had said I would not forget, when
with tear-dimmed eyes you had looked into my face.
Forgive if I have forgotten. . . .
If in today’s spring is hushed
the music of that earlier spring,
If from my lamp of pain the flame has departed
without a sound,
This I know, because you had come into my life,
my life overflowed into such a harvest of songs,
to its abundance there is no end. (19)
At his tender age he was once taken to Ahmedabad to stay with his elder brother and then left under the guardianship of a young lady, Anna or Annapurna Pandurang, at their home in Bombay, to learn from her conversational style of English as she lived in England and had experience, so the poet could learn some etiquette also. Tagore stayed with the Pandurang family for little over a month in August-September, 1878 before he was taken to England for the first time in his life. Few years elder to him, Anna felt charmed and wished her to be named. She was named Nalini. The poet wrote a long poem for her, ‘Kavi Kahini’ and sang it to her utter satisfaction.
“She asked me once”, the 80 year old poet reminisced, ‘You must never wear a beard. Don’t let anything hide the outline of your face.’ Everyone knows that I have not followed that advice. But she herself did not live to see my disobedience proclaimed upon my face.” (20)
She died early, after marriage. Krishna Kripalani commented, “But Rabindranath never forgot her memory and his references to her in his later life, whether in conversation or in writing, are instinct with tenderness and respect.” (21)
Not only with them that the poet had relations of love and romance but with some others too, however short lived that might be. He had affectionate relationship with many. We can name Indira Devi (his niece), Sahana Devi (niece of C. R. Das), Maitreyi Devi with whom he stayed at Mungpoo, Rani Mahalanabis / Chanda, Lady Ranu Mookrjee, the art connoisseur, and others. He once said that he remembered all who loved him at one time or the other.
Beautiful to look at, pleasing to hear from, enticing to talk with, inviting adulation, Tagore was a debonair. Though he was never blamed for being sensuous, women must have felt jealous of each other.
How Spiritual are his Songs
Living with Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry, Dilip Kumar Roy, in one of his correspondences with him in 1934, wrote that Tagore himself admitted that his spiritual poems were born out of imagination, that he had become an atheist, as per reports. Sri Aurobindo usually remained silent but some of his observations are worth mentioning here.
“Well, yes, he mentalises, aestheticises, sentimentalises the things of the spirit- but I can’t say that I have ever found the expression of a concrete spiritual realization in his poetry- though ideas, emotions, ideal dreams in plenty. That is something, but- . . . .
Russel has his doubts because he has no spiritual experience. Rolland because he takes his emotional intellectuality for spirituality; as for Tagore- if one is blind, it is quite natural for the human intelligence which is rather an imbecile thing at its best- to deny the light; if one’s highest natural vision is that of glimmering mists, it is equally natural to believe that all high visions is only a mist or a glimmer. But light exists for all that and for all that spiritual truth is more than mist and glimmer.”
Sri Aurobindo must have realized that all these were reports on the basis of talks, on the basis of their notion about the poet and that he did not read all of Tagore’s poems so he reminded Dilip to keep these ‘Obiter dicta’ up his sleeve. “So, let the seal be there. ‘Obiter dicta’ of this kind are after all, side flashes- not a judgment balanced and entire.”
He continued, “I don’t think we should hastily conclude that Tagore is passing over to the opposite camp. He is sensitive and perhaps a little affected by the positive robustious, slogan fed practicality of the day- he has passed through Italy and Persia and was feted there. But I don’t see how he can turn his back on all the ideas of a life-time. After all he has been a wayfarer towards the same goal as ours in his own way- that is the main thing. The exact stage of advance and the putting of the steps are minor matters. . . . Besides, he has had a long and brilliant day- I should like him to have as peaceful and undisturbed a sunset as may be. His exact position as a poet or prophet or anything else will be assigned by posterity and we need not be in a haste to anticipate the final verdict.” (22)
Once when Sri Aurobindo was prosecuted by the British Government for his journalistic work objectionable to them in 1907, Tagore wrote a poem and read it before Sri Aurobindo, titled, “Namaskar”. Among other things, the poet wrote-
The fiery messenger that with the lamp of God
Hath come- where is the king who can with chain or rod
Chastise him? (Translation by Kshitish Chandra Sen) (23)
The poet visited Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry in May 1928. He was with him for some time and after a few hours he came back to his ship to resume his journey to Colombo. He was so moved that he remained silent for the whole day. He wrote an article writing among other things, “At the very first sight I could realize that he had been seeking for the soul and had gained it, and through this long process of realization had accumulated within him a silent power of inspiration. His face was radiant with inner light and . . . .
I felt that the utterance of the ancient Hindu Rishi spoke from him of that equanimity which gives the human soul its freedom and entrance into the all.” (24)
Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Tagore’s main biographer, mentioned that he wrote letters from the ship to Pratima Devi, his daughter-in-law and Mira Devi, his daughter, separately. In them he wrote that he had realized after meeting Aurobindo that he needed to do that type of tapasya or ascesis to know his Self, to know himself. He further wrote that diurnal works and talks make the mind suppressed under the burden of the mundane. If such a sadhana is not done, the inner light would be dimmed in due course.
Krishna Kripalani wrote, “His religious poetry . . . thus began as an intimate tete-a-tete with his deity whose image invisible though it was and remained, went on changing and assuming different aspects until, one might say, it almost ceased to be independent of what he saw and heard and felt. His God became everything, and everything, however, seemingly ugly or terrible, was lit up with divinity.” (25)
The Thrust of Life
Though Tagore was brought up with the study of the Vedas and Upanishads, had some intuitive feelings and experiences all trough his life, he could not engage himself entirely on the yoga-path for which he had longing all along as we have seen in his aspirations expressed after meeting Sri Aurobindo in 1928. This was one of the main causes of his sympathy for him. But bigger was the call of life to him, he admitted at times, through his poetry. He could not remain aloof from men and society, from the dark shades of clouds and the bright rays of the Sun. Throughout his life he suffered many set backs, many of his near and dear ones died prematurely, including his only grandson who died while studying in Germany. But the poet with his faith on God and larger life energy survived all shocks. And what Sri Aurobindo maintained even after his death, “He was a wayfarer towards the same goal as ours in his own way,” was surely true. He was on the way to divinity though he could not plunge headlong in it during his lifetime. He surely had some psychic touch, golden experience, as are evident from his poems, however much they may be the product of his imagination and poetic flight. Mentally he must have touched his God. But he could never go deeper into it as he himself did not wish- “Deliverance is not for me in renunciation,” he said, adding “I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight.” And he promised, “I shall never shut the doors of my senses.”
During the last days of a life of 80 plus years, he dictated poems for the last two books- ‘Rogsajyay’ (On the Sickbed, 1940) and ‘Arogya’ (Convalescence, 1941). In one poem he said,
When at dead of night
in the phantasmal light of the sickbed
I am suddenly aware of your wakeful presence,
While in another he dictates,
When the sleepless night of pain drags on,
I wait for your first pecking
to bring me the simple and fearless message
of life and of the light of day
calling to me,
O my sparrow of early morn!
This is uttered out of his robust faith in nature, in its assurance to bring forth another morning. Though the poet said, “I have not seen his face nor have I listened to his voice”, he heard his footsteps and with folded hands prayed-
IF IT IS NOT my portion to meet thee in this my life then
let me ever feel that I have missed thy sight- let
me not forget for a moment, let me array the pangs of this sorrow
in my dream and in my wakeful hours.
This supplication is because the poet could not, in spite of all longings, plunge into the secluded, lonely life of a sanyasi. He was happy to be invited in the fair of the world. Up to the last he sang-
Honey-sweet is the world,
And honey-sweet the dust of this earth-
This great truth I have accepted
As my heart’s hymn . . .
Truth is, the poet was a lover; lover of God, addressing him in various ways, lover of beauty and nature, lover of women, lover of humanity, lover of earth and sky, Sun, moon and stars.
1 Krishna Kripalani. Tagore A Life. New Delhi; National Book Trust. 1986. p.25
2 Talks in China. The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore. New Delhi; Sahitya Akademi. 2004. V-2.p.587
3 Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay. Rabindra Jibani. Calcutta; Vishvabharati. V-1. p.151
4 Tagore. Religion of Man. The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore. V-3. 2002. p.121
6 Krishna Kripalani. p.51
7 Tagore. Talks in China. The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore. V-2. 2004. pp. 589-591
8 The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore. V-1. 2004. pp. 39-40
9 Krishna Kripalani. p.63
10 Sri Aurobindo. The Upanishads. Pondicherry; SABCL. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. 1972. V-12. pp.145-46
11 Krishna Kripalani. p.102
12 Krishna Kripalani. p.115
13 Krishna Kripalani p.120
14 The English Writings. V-1. p.10
15 Jawaharlal Nehru. The Discovery of India. New Delhi; Penguin Books. 2004. p.372
16 As quoted in Krishna Kripalani. p.124-132
17 The English Writings. V-3. p.165
18 Gouri Dharmapal. Ved O Rabindranath. Vira Nagar, Nadia; Ushagram Trust. 2007. p. 38
19 Krishna Kripanlani. p.183-84
20 Krishna Kripalani. p.36
22 All the quotations are from Sri Aurobindo to Dilip. Pune and Mysore;
Harikrishna Mandir and Mira Aditi. 2005. pp.41-44
23 As referred in K.R.S.Iyengar. Sri Aurbindo a biography and a history. Pondcherry; SAICE. 1985 edition. p.230
24 Iyengar. p.16
25 Krishna Kripalani. p.218
1 The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore. Volume-1. Poems. New Delhi; Sahitya Akademi. Reprint-2004
2 ‘Sanchaita’ a collection of his works of Rabindranath Tagore in Bangla. Kolkata; Vishvabharati. 2008 edition.
3 ‘Gitabitan’ a collection of Songs of Rabindranath Tagore. Kolkata; Vishvabharati. 1979 print.
© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2010