In This Article Rabindranath Tagore

  • Introduction
  • Translations of Tagore’s English Writings
  • Tagore’s Original English Works
  • Editions of Tagore’s Collected Works in English
  • Translations from English
  • Direct Translations from Bengali before and around the Centenary (1961)
  • Direct Translations after the 1980s
  • Bibliographies on Tagore
  • Overviews of Tagore
  • General Assessments of Tagore
  • Studies on Specific Topics
  • Research since Tagore’s Anniversary in 2011
  • Tagore’s Drawings and Paintings
  • Films Based on Tagore Novels

Hinduism Rabindranath Tagore
by
Victor van Bijlert, Imre Bangha
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0212

Introduction

Rabindranath Tagore (in Bengali: Rabīndranāth Ṭhākur; b. 1861–d. 1941) was born in Calcutta, the capital of British India at the time. From the late 18th century onward, his extremely large family played an important role in the economic and cultural activities of the city and the whole of Bengal. Thus Rabindranath’s life and work was intimately connected to the urban humanist Bengali culture of which he was himself to become the prime representative. He was primarily known as a Bengali poet, perhaps the first really modern one. He published his earliest volumes when he was still a teenager. His very last poems he dictated in 1941 when on his deathbed. Composing poetry was his prime literary urge but by no means the only one. He successfully tried his hands at novels, short stories, plays, songs, literary essays, philosophy and liberal Hindu theology, introductory courses for Bengali grammar, travelogues, and an autobiography. Singlehandedly he created a complete modern universe of Bengali literature. Late-19th- and early-20th-century Bengali literature is dominated by the towering figure of Rabindranath. He was also an accomplished musical innovator, the creator of the so-called Rabindra-sangit: songs and dance dramas for which he also composed the music. Late in life he became known as an artist. He experimented with humanist forms of education for schoolchildren and university students. At Santiniketan (about 150 km from Calcutta in rural West Bengal) he founded a school (in 1901) and later the eponymous university (in 1921). Tagore’s global fame came as if by chance in 1913 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. This was on the basis of Gitanjali, a small English volume of prose poems. The booklet appeared in 1912 and knew overwhelming success; at that point Tagore was launched as an international writer and Indian prophet in one, a cult figure with a global impact. In order to live up to his Nobel Prize fame he began to bring out English poetry, essays, and drama. Much of this was based on or inspired by his Bengali originals. It has often been remarked that Tagore did not do his literary reputation a good service with his English translations. In the 1920s his international fame was withering away. Translations made directly from Bengali done by William Radice in 1985 caused a resurgence of global interest in Tagore as an important writer.

Tagore’s Bengali Writings

Before the Nobel Prize award Tagore was already a well-established author in Bengali. His output runs into about 13,000 closely printed pages. From 1878 onwards he produced several books a year practically until he was on his deathbed in August 1941, in all more than 150 titles. These include almost every literary genre: poetry, verse drama, plays, novels, short stories, literary criticism, philosophical writings, linguistics, songs, speeches, and children’s Bengali primers. The book of poetry that Tagore himself regarded as among his first more mature works was Prabhāt Saṅgīt (Morning songs) published in 1883. It marked his coming of age a young poet. But the really mature poetry is found in the volumes Mānasī (Imagined woman) 1890, Sonār Tarī (The golden boat) 1894, and Citrā (Lady of many forms) 1896. In these volumes Tagore experiments with longer and shorter lyrical forms. Naibedya (Offering) 1901 shows Tagore experimenting with the non-Indian form of the sonnet. His most famous volume Gītāñjali (Song offering) appeared in 1910. His later poetry shows a tendency toward more free verse as against the stricter metrical forms of the earlier poetry. Perhaps his most well-known poetry in Bengali is found in Balākā (The flight of cranes) 1916. Among Tagore’s novels is Cokher Bāli (Sand in the eye) 1903, about life in a joint family and the vicissitudes of young widowhood. In 1910 he published his large novel Gorā (The fair one) about the morally degrading influence of fiercely religious Indian nationalism and the self-deceptions that it entails. Ghare Bāire (Home and the world) 1916 depicts the morality or lack of it in a protagonist of the Indian nationalist struggle. Indian revolutionary nationalism and its potential for moral degradation is also the theme of Cār Adhyāẏ (Four chapters) 1934. Among Tagore’s plays Citrāṅgadā (Chitrangada) 1892 is an important drama in verse based on a story from the Mahabharata. His short prose drama Ḍākghar (The post office) 1912 a symbolist play on waiting for liberation and entering transcendence, is well-known also in the West. Women overcoming the constraints of socioreligious conventions is a theme shown in Raktakaravī (Red oleanders) 1926, and Caṇḍālikā (The outcaste girl) 1933 and 1938. His very last work consisted of poems dictated under the title Śeṣ Lekhā (Last Writings) and published posthumously in 1941. All these Bengali texts can be found in Ṭhākur (1986–1991).

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