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Rabindranath Tagore, a great Indian poet and writer, is one of the most revered literary figures in India. To know all about his childhood, life, works, achievements and timeline, read the biography below.

Quick Facts

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Famous as
Poet and Author
Nationality
religion
Hindu
political ideology
Opposed Imperialism and supported Indian Nationalists
Born on
07 May 1861 AD
Birthday
Died At Age
80
Sun Sign
Taurus    Taurus Men
Born in
India
Died on
07 August 1941 AD
place of death
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
father
Debendranath Tagore
mother
Sarada Devi
siblings
Dwijendranath, Satyendranath, Jyotirindranath, Swarnakumari,
Spouse/Partner:
Mrinalini Devi
education
University of Calcutta
University College London
St. Xavier's Collegiate School
awards:
1913 - Nobel Prize in Literature
Rabindranath Tagore
Image Credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/neelkantha/7704279234

“Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless when facing them.” said once, one of the most heroic poets of India, at a time when the country was going through a tumultuous period during the British rule. Rabindranath Tagore, one of the epoch-making figures of the twentieth century, is one of the most widely acclaimed wordsmiths of India. Often hailed as Gurudev or the poet of poets, Tagore, through the sheer brilliance of his narratives and incommensurable poetic flair, laid an ineffaceable impression on the minds of his readers. A child prodigy, Tagore, showed a penchant for literature, art and music from a very young age and in due course of time, produced an extraordinary body of work which changed the face of Indian literature. However, he was not just a mere poet or writer; he was the harbinger of an era of literature which elevated him to the stature of the cultural ambassador of India. Even today, decades after his death, this saint-like man, lives through his works in the hearts of the people of Bengal who are forever indebted to him for enriching their heritage. He was the most admired Indian writer who introduced India’s rich cultural heritage to the West and was the first non-European to be bestowed the prestigious Nobel Prize.

Childhood & Early Life
  • Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore) was the youngest of the thirteen children born to Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. His father was a great Hindu philosopher and one of the founders of the religious movement, ‘Brahmo Samaj’.
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  • Nicknamed ‘Rabi’, Tagore was very young when his mother died and since his father was away most of the time, he was raised by the domestic help.
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  • The Tagores were ardent art-lovers who were known throughout the Bengal for their dominant influence over Bengali culture and literature. Having been born in such a family, he was introduced to the world of theatre, music (both regional folk and Western) and literature from an early age.
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  • When he was eleven, he accompanied his father on a tour across India. While on this journey, he read the works of famous writers, including Kalidasa, a celebrated Classical Sanskrit poet. Upon his return, he composed a long poem in the Maithili style, in 1877.
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  • In 1878, he moved to Brighton, East Sussex, England, to study law. He attended the University College London for some time, following which he started studying the works of Shakespeare. He returned to Bengal in 1880 without a degree, with the aspiration of fusing the elements of Bengali and European traditions in his literary works.
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  • In 1882, he wrote one of his most acclaimed poems, ‘Nirjharer Swapnabhanga’.
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  • Kadambari, one of his sisters-in-law, was his close friend and confidante, who committed suicide in 1884. Devastated by this incident, he skipped classes at school and spent most of his time swimming in the Ganges and trekking through the hills.
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Fame & International Recognition
  • In 1890, while on a visit to his ancestral estate in Shelaidaha, his collection of poems, ‘Manasi’, was released. The period between 1891 and 1895 proved to be fruitful during which, he authored a massive three volume collection of short stories, ‘Galpaguchchha’.
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  • In 1901, he moved to Shantiniketan, where he composed ‘Naivedya’, published in 1901 and ‘Kheya’, published in 1906. By then, several of his works were published and he had gained immensely popularity among Bengali readers.
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  • In 1912, he went to England and took a sheaf of his translated works with him. There he introduced his works to some of the prominent writers of that era, including William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, Robert Bridges, Ernest Rhys, and Thomas Sturge Moore.
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  • His popularity in English speaking nations grew manifold after the publication of ‘Gitanjali: Song Offerings’ and later in 1913, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
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  • In 1915, he was also granted knighthood by the British Crown, which he renounced after the 1919 Jalianwala Bagh massacre.
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  • From May 1916 to April 1917, he stayed in Japan and the U.S. where he delivered lectures on ‘Nationalism’ and on Personality’.
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  • In 1920s and 1930s, he travelled extensively around the world; visiting Latin America, Europe and South-east Asia. During his extensive tours, he earned a cult following and endless admirers.
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Political Opinion
  • Tagore’s political outlook was a little ambiguous. Though he censured imperialism, he supported the continuation of British administration in India.
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  • He criticized ‘Swadeshi Movement’ by Mahatma Gandhi in his essay "The Cult of the Charka", published in September 1925. He believed in the co-existence of the British and the Indians and stated that British rule in India was "political symptom of our social disease".
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  • He never supported nationalism and considered it to be one of the greatest challenges faced by humanity. In this context he once said “A nation is that aspect which a whole population assumes when organized for a mechanical purpose”. Nevertheless, he occasionally supported the Indian Independence Movement and following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, he even renounced his knighthood on 30 May 1919.
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  • On the whole, his vision of a free India was based not on its independence from the foreign rule, but on the liberty of thought, action and conscience of its citizens.
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Themes of His Works
  • Though he is more famous as a poet, Tagore was an equally good short-story writer, lyricist, novelist, playwright, essayist, and painter.
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  • His poems, stories, songs and novels provided an insight into the society which was rife with religious and social tenets and was infested with ill-practices such as child marriage. He condemned the idea of a male-dominated society by articulating the subtle, soft yet spirited aspect of womanhood, which was subdued by the insensitivity of man.
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  • While reading any of his works, one will certainly come across at least one common theme, i.e. nature. As a child, this great author grew in the lap of nature which left a deep-seated impression on him. It inculcated a sense of freedom, which emancipated his mind, body and soul from the typical societal customs prevalent those days.
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  • No matter how much he was enchanted by nature, he never distanced himself from the harsh realities of life. He observed life and society around him, weighed down by rigid customs and norms and plagued by orthodoxy. His criticism of societal dogmas is the underlying theme of most of his works.
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Major Works
  • ‘Gitanjali’, a collection of poems, is considered his best poetic accomplishment. It is written in traditional Bengali dialect and consists of 157 poems based on themes pertaining to nature, spirituality and intricacy of (human) emotions and pathos.
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  • A proficient songwriter, Tagore composed 2,230 songs, which are often referred to as ‘Rabindra Sangeeth’. He also wrote the national anthem for India - ‘Jana Gana Mana’- and for Bangladesh - ‘Aamaar Sonaar Banglaa’ for which, both nations will forever be indebted to him.
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  • ‘Galpagucchaccha’ a collection of eighty stories is his most famous short story collection which revolves around the lives of rural folks of Bengal. The stories mostly deal with the subjects of poverty, illiteracy, marriage, femininity, etc. and enjoy immense popularity even today.
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Awards & Achievements
  • For his momentous and revolutionary literary works, Tagore was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature on 14 November 1913.
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  • He was also conferred knighthood in 1915, which he renounced in 1919 after the Jallianwallah Bagh carnage.
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  • In 1940, Oxford University awarded him with a Doctorate of Literature in a special ceremony arranged at Shantiniketan.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • Tagore married Mrinalini Devi in 1883 and fathered five children. Sadly, his wife passed away in 1902 and to add to his grief two of his daughters, Renuka (in 1903) and Samindranath (in 1907) also died.
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  • He became physically weak during the last few years of his life. He left for the heavenly abode on 7 August 1941, at age of 80.
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  • Tagore has influenced a whole generation of writers across the globe. His impact is far beyond the boundaries of Bengal or India and his works have been translated to many languages including English, Dutch, German, Spanish etc.
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Trivia
  • This venerated poet and author was the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.
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  • This great Bengali poet was an admirer of Gandhi and was the one who gave him the name “Mahatma”.
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  • He is the only poet to have composed national anthems for two nations – India and Bangladesh.
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Top 10 Facts You Did Not Know About Rabindranath Tagore
  • Rabindranath Tagore wrote his first poem at the tender age of eight!
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  • He hated the structured education system and dropped out of college in frustration.
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  • Tagore was granted a knighthood by the British Crown in 1915 which he renounced after the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
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  • He revolutionized Indian literature and art, and is credited to have started the Bengal Renaissance Movement.
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  • He maintained correspondence with the eminent German scientist Albert Einstein and the two Nobel laureates greatly admired each other.
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  • Film-maker Satyajit Ray was deeply influenced by Tagore’s works and the iconic train scene in Ray's ‘Pather Panchali’ was inspired from an incident in Tagore's ‘Chokher Bali’.
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  • He was a prolific composer with over 2,000 songs to his credit.
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  • While it is common knowledge that Tagore wrote the national anthems of India and Bangladesh, few know that Sri Lanka's national anthem is based on a Bengali song originally written by Tagore in 1938.
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  • Tagore took up drawing and painting at the age of sixty, and went on to hold several successful exhibitions throughout Europe!
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  • He was a widely traveled man and had visited more than thirty countries on five continents.
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Books by Rabindranath Tagore

    Sadhana The Realization of Life

    by Rabindranath Tagore

    A Tagore Reader

    by Rabindranath Tagore

    Gitanjali: Offerings of Song and Art

    by Rabindranath Tagore

Books About Rabindranath Tagore

    The Gardener, by Rabindranath Tagore (The Gardener)

    by Translated By The Author From The Original Bengali Rabindranath Tagore

    **REPRINT** Tagore, Rabindranath, 1861-1941. The hungry stones and other stories, by Rabindranath Tagore. New York, The Macmillan company, 1916.**REPRINT**

    by Tagore. Rabindranath. 1861-1941.***NOTE: THIS IS A PRINT ON DEMAND VERSION FROM THE ORIGINAL BOOK***

    Truth over Method: Art Matters: An Inquiry In Dialogue With Hans-Georg Gadamer, Rabindranath Tagore, And Other Major Thinkers From East And West

    by Runhild Roeder

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