Sir Rabindranath Tagore

Tagore, Sir Rabindranath (rəbĭnˈdrənät təgôrˈ, täkŏrˈ) [key], 1861–1941, Indian author and guru, b. Calcutta (now Kolkata). Tagore came from a wealthy Bengali family. He went abroad in 1877 to study law in England but soon returned to India. For a time he managed his father's estates and became involved with the Indian nationalist movement, writing propaganda. His characteristic later style combines natural descriptions with religious and philosophical speculation. Tagore drew on the classical literature of India, especially the ancient Sanskrit scriptures and the writings of Kalidasa. His prodigious output includes approximately 50 dramas, 100 books of verse (much of which he set to music), 40 volumes of novels and shorter fiction, and books of essays and philosophy.

In his devotion to peace, Tagore denounced nationalism and violence. He sought to instill in human beings a sense of their unity; he was severely critical of the Indian caste system. His most important philosophical work is Sadhana: The Realization of Life (1913), which echoes the fundamental ideas inherent in sacred Hindu writings. His dramas are filled with lyricism and philosophy, while his poems deal with amorous, mystical, and fabulous themes. In India his appeal was nearly universal. A man of striking appearance, Tagore came to be regarded with the reverence due an ancient teacher. He wrote in Bengali but translated much of his work into English. It attracted attention in the West, and he was awarded the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature, especially for his collection of poetry, Gitanjali (1912). His Janaganamana ( Thou Art the Ruler of All Minds ) was adopted as the Indian national anthem.

Tagore's best-known novels and poetry include The Gardener (1913), The Crescent Moon (1913), Songs of Kabir (1915), Cycle of Spring (1917), Fireflies (1928), and Sheaves (1932). Among his plays are The Post Office (1914), Chitra (1917), and Red Oleanders (1924). Philosophical works include Personality (1917), Nationalism (1917), The Home and the World (1919), The Religion of Man (1931), and Man (1932). In 1915 Tagore was knighted. His travels and lectures took him around the world. He was impressed with the capacity of the West for accomplishing its practical goals, but he deprecated what he considered its spiritual emptiness and waste. In 1922, Santiniketan (abode of peace), the school he had founded at Bolpur in 1901, was expanded into the internationally attended Visva-Bharati Univ. The curriculum stressed social reform, international unity, and rural reconstruction.

Bibliography

See his collected poems and plays (1951); A. Chakravarty, ed., A Tagore Reader (1961), and F. Alam and R. Chakravarty, ed., The Essential Tagore (2011); his memoirs (1917); biographies by K. Kripalani (1962) and K. Dutta and A. Robinson (1995); studies by S. K. Ghose (1961) and B. C. Chakravarty (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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