Life History and Works of Rabindranath Tagore

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy” - Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, born on 7th May 1861, was a well-known Indian poet, philosopher, composer, painter and writer. He was born in Calcutta, West Bengal, India.

He is said to re-shape the Bengali literature, music and as well as the Indian art with Contextual Modernism during the early 19th and the 20th centuries.

In 1913, Rabindranath Tagore became the first non-European as well as the first lyricist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. His poetic songs were viewed by a majority of the audience as spiritual and mercurial.

However, Tagore’s “elegant prose and magical poetry” had remained unknown outside Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore is also sometimes called the “Bard of Bengal”.

History of Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali brahmin from Calcutta started writing poetry as an eight year old. And at the age of 16, his first substantial poems were released under the pseudonym “Bhanusingha” meaning 'Sun Lion'.

By 1977, Tagore had graduated to his first short stories and dramas which were published under his real name. Also, Tagore had advanced a vast canon that had sketches, doodles, paintings, some 2000 songs and a hundred of texts.

Also, he founded an institution called Visva-Bharati University. He had modernised Bengali art by resisting linguistic structure and spurning classic forms.

His writings like novels, essays, songs, stories, spoke mostly to topics political and personal. His best known works include, 'Gitanjali', 'Gora', 'Ghare-Baire'.

In addition, his compositions were chosen by 2 nations, including India, as national Anthem, and they include India's 'Jana Gana Mana' and Bangladesh's 'Amar Shonar Bangla'. Also, the Sri Lankan national Anthem was also inspired by his work.

Rabindranath Tagore’s Role in the Freedom Struggle

Tagore, a man of true talent, had majorly contributed to the freedom movement of India, which is very significant.

During the Bengal partition, he wrote the song ‘Banglar Mati Banglar Jol’, which means ‘Soil of Bengal, water of Bengal’, in order to unite the Bengali population. He also exposed the depravity of British rule through his poetry and literary works.

He had written most of his works in Bengali, his mother tongue, and had used his literature for mobilization for political and social reform, allowing other nations to be aware and also, applying international pressure to Britain for its actions.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, brings out the same experience of trauma felt on April 13,1919, though in its centenary year. This event made many loyal Indians towards British, abandon their loyalty and embrace nationalism values and grew distrustful towards British.

On receiving the news about Jallianwala Bagh, Tagore arranged a protest in Calcutta and had finally denounced the knighthood as an act of protest. During the time of the massacre, Tagore was ‘Sir’ Rabindranath Tagore as the knighthood was conferred in 1915.

Tagore had been a Nobel Laureate for six years.

Works of Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was mostly known for his poetry, in addition he also wrote essays, novels, short stories, dramas, songs, and travelogues. Of all, his short stories are perhaps highly regarded. His works are said to be rhythmic, optimistic, and also of lyrical nature.

1. Drama

At the age of 16, Tagore had begun his experiences with drama, along with his elder brother, Jyotirindranath.

His first dramatic work called 'Valmiki Pratibha' was written by him when he was 20, which is shown at his mansion. Tagore’s works aimed to articulate the play of feeling, not of action. His finest drama was 'Visarjan' written in 1890.

2. Short Stories

Just like drama, Tagore’s career in short stories also began when he was 16. He had started with a short story called 'Bhikharini', with which he had effectively invented the Bengali language short story genre.

From 1891 to 1895, these 4 years, were called as Tagore’s 'Sadhana' period, which was among his most fecund and yielding nearly more than half the stories which was contained in the 3-volume 'Galpaguchchha', which itself is known for its collection of 84 stories. 

Tagore had reflected upon the surroundings, fashionable ideas, interesting mind puzzles through his stories.

3. Novels

Rabindranath Tagore had written nearly 8 novels and 4 novellas. Among them, some of them excoriated the rising Indian Nationalism, terrorism and also religious zeal in the Swadeshi movement such as 'Chaturanga', 'Shesher Kobita', 'Char Odhay', and 'Noukadubi'.

The novel ‘Gora’ raised controversial questions about the Indian identity. ‘Ghare Baire’ deals with self identity, religion and personal freedom, in the context of a family story and love triangle.

The most exemplary novels would be ‘Chokher Bali’ and ‘Ghare Baire’. Others included ‘Sheshar Kobita’, ‘Last Poem’, and ‘Farewell Song’.

These were actually a Frank expression of Tagore’s sentiments and the novel ends in Hindu-Muslim violence.

4. Songs

Rabindranath Tagore’s songs are well known as 'Rabinda sangeet' meaning 'Tagore songs'. Tagore had composed around 2230 songs which merged fluidity into his literature.

Most of his songs were of thumri style of Hindustani music, and they also had a lot of human emotion, ranging from devotional hymns to quasi-erotic compositions.

Tagore’s celebrated ‘Gitanjali’, in 1912, was a collection of mostly songs, in which he felt that his greatness gift was for music, and through this, he tried to communicate with the outside world.

One of the earliest work in music was ‘Bhanusimha Thakurer Padavali’. ‘Swarabitan’, which was published in 64 volumes, has 1721 songs and the volumes were first published between 1936 and 1955.

Some of Tagor’s earlier collections include, ‘Gan’(1908), ‘Ganer Bahi o Valmiki Pratibha’(1893), ‘Dharmashongit’(1909), ‘Rabi Chhaya’ (1885).

‘'Amar Shonar Bangla’ in 1971, had become the national anthem of Bangladesh, which was written to protest the partition of Bengal 1905.

Tagore also wrote “Jana Gana Mana” which was adopted as the national Anthem of India, in 1950, by the Constituent Assembly of Republic of India. This song was written in 'Shadhu-bhasha', which is a sanskritised form of Bengali.

In addition, the Sri Lanka’s national Anthem also was inspired by Tagore’s work.

5. Art Works

Rabindranath Tagore, at the age of 60 years, took up painting and drawing. Also, his works had seen successful exhibitions which had made an appearance in Paris, and were held throughout Europe, encouraged by artists that he met in the South of France.

His works had exhibited strange colour schemes and off-beat aesthetics as he was red-green colour blind.

Tagore was also appreciated for his own handwriting by a few artists, embellishing the cross-outs and word layouts with simple artistic 'leitmotifs' in his manuscript. Tagore’s collections, consisting of 102 works, were listed in India’s National Gallery of Modern Art.

Tagore’s artistic works began with doodles that crossed-out words and lines that had turned into images his paintings assumed expressive and sometimes grotesque forms. Movements and gestures in his paintings are usually more sombre than mime.

His paintings tease us into thinking and empathetic immersion rather than mere recognition. They were basically unplanned and shaped by accidents, but they seem to carry memories of ‘primitive’ art objects that he should have seen in museums and books.

6. Poetry

Tagore had a particular distinctive style of writing in prose style, rather than actually choosing to write in poem style. Tagore had translated his Bengali poems from verse poetry into prose poetry, which drastically changed the style and content of each poem.

A prose poem is a hybrid between prose and poem. Poem is written by use of full sentences and the paragraphs tend to proceed in a linear fashion, which are uninterrupted until they are complete.

While poetry proceeds in a non linear fashion, using feelings, thoughts, and images in order to convey a particular message to the reader. When the two forms, prose and poetry, are combined to form a prose poem, as they are in ‘60’, the effect is unique.

All over the World, Tagore’s best known collection of poetry was called 'Gitanjali’, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. Also, Tagore was also the first non-European to receive a Nobel prize in literature.

Tagore’s other poetry works include, 'Manasi', 'Sonar Tori', 'Balaka'. Tagore’s poetic style ranges from classical formalism to comic, ecstatic and visionary.

In the Later stages, with the development of new ideas, Tagore also had developed new poetic concepts, which further helped him to develop a unique identity. Among all, the best of his latter poems include, “Africa” and “Camalia”.

Written by – Sandhya R

Edited by – Adrija Saha