Rabindranath Tagore (May 8, 1861 – August 8, 1941) the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was born 150 years ago this weekend. Celebrations are underway in India, especially in his hometown of Kolkata, West Bengal, and across the globe. Would that I were there.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Tagore family home, Jorasanko, earlier this year, which continued to turn me on to this Bengali Renaissance Man’s works in poetry, theatre, fiction and music. Today Jorasanko is a museum operated by nearby Rabindra Bharati University named in Rabindranath’s honor and focusing on performing arts and the humanities. My fellow travelers and I were fortunate to have a personal tour guide at Jorasanko, music faculty Prof. Ghosh. He also took me to visit the campus and meet with the Performing Arts chair and some of the faculty, and I wound up giving an impromptu lecture and Q&A about contemporary US theatre to the bright, informed and eager undergrads in an Ancient Greek Theatre class.
The visit to Jorasanko and the university campus wound up indirectly turning me on to the works of Tagore’s precursors such as Ishwar Chandra Gupta (1812-1859), largely forgotten today in Tagore’s long shadow.
I leave you with one of Tagore’s poems:
Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads!
Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut?
Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the pathmaker is breaking stones.
He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust.
Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!
Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found?
Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation;
he is bound with us all for ever.
Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense!
What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained?
Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow.
[pix taken from indiablooms.com and schoolofwisdom.com; the rest are mine]