Birthday: May 7, 1861
Died At Age: 80
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Rabindranath Tagore, Bhanu Singha Thakur, Robindronath Thakur
Born Country: India
Born in: Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Famous as: Poet
Quotes By Rabindranath Tagore
Nobel Laureates In Literature
political ideology: Opposed Imperialism and supported Indian Nationalists
Spouse/Ex-: Mrinalini Devi
father: Debendranath Tagore
mother: Sarada Devi
siblings: Dwijendranath, Jyotirindranath, Satyendranath, Swarnakumari
children: Madhurilata Tagore, Meera Tagore, Rathindranath Tagore, Renuka Tagore, Shamindranath Tagore
Died on: August 7, 1941
place of death: Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Cause of Death: Kidney Infection
education: UCL Faculty Of Laws, St. Xavier's Collegiate School, Presidency University
awards: 1913 - Nobel Prize in Literature
Who was Rabindranath Tagore?
Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian polymath, poet, artist, musician, and ayurveda-researcher. One of the most respected poets of India, Tagore inspired many at a time when the country was going through a tumultuous period during the British rule. One of the most widely acclaimed wordsmiths of India, Tagore was often hailed as ‘Gurudev’ or the poet of poets. Thanks to the sheer brilliance of his narratives and incommensurable poetic flair, he etched 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. In due course of time, he produced an extraordinary body of work which changed the face of Indian literature. He was not just a mere poet or writer; he was the harbinger of a new era of literature and was thus considered a cultural ambassador of India. Even today, he lives 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. He is also the first non-European to be honored with the prestigious ‘Nobel Prize.’
Childhood & Early Life
Rabindranath Tagore was born Robindronath Thakur on 7 May 1861, in Calcutta, British India, to Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. He was the youngest of 13 children in the family. His father was a great Hindu philosopher and one of the founders of a religious movement called ‘Brahmo Samaj.’
Nicknamed ‘Rabi,’ Tagore was very young when his mother died. Since his father was away most of the time, he was raised by domestic workers.
The Tagores were ardent art lovers. They were known throughout Bengal for their strong 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 at an early age.
When he was 11, 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.
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. He then aspired to fuse the elements of Bengali and European traditions in his literary works.
In 1882, he wrote one of his most acclaimed poems, ‘Nirjharer Swapnabhanga.’
Kadambari, one of his sisters-in-law, was his close friend and confidante. She 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, he released a collection of his poems titled ‘Manasi.’ The period between 1891 and 1895 proved to be fruitful, during which he authored a massive three volume collection of short stories titled ‘Galpaguchchha.’
In 1901, he moved to Shantiniketan where he composed ‘Naivedya’ and ‘Kheya,’ published in 1901 and 1906 respectively. By then, several of his works were published and he had gained immense popularity among Bengali readers.
In 1912, he went to England and took a sheaf of his translated works with him. In England, 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.
His popularity in English-speaking nations grew manifold after the publication of ‘Gitanjali: Song Offerings.’ In 1913, he was awarded the ‘Nobel Prize in Literature.’
In 1915, he was granted knighthood by the British Crown, which he renounced after the 1919 ‘Jallianwala Bagh massacre.’
From May 1916 to April 1917, he stayed in Japan and the U.S. where he delivered lectures on ‘Nationalism.’
In the 1920s and 1930s, he traveled extensively around the world; visiting Latin America, Europe, and South-East Asia. During his extensive tour, he earned a cult following and several admirers.
Tagore’s political outlook was little ambiguous. Though he censured imperialism, he supported the continuation of British administration in India.
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He criticized the ‘Swadeshi Movement’ by Mahatma Gandhi in his essay ‘The Cult of the Charka,’ published in September 1925. He believed in the co-existence of British and the Indians and stated that British rule in India was "political symptom of our social disease."
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.’ He even renounced his knighthood on 30 May 1919 following the ‘Jallianwala Bagh massacre.’
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.
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.
His poems, stories, songs, and novels provide an insight into the society rife with religious and social tenets and infested with ill-practices, such as child marriage. He also condemned the idea of a patriarchal society.
While reading his works, one will surely come across a common theme, i.e. nature. As a child, Tagore spent most of his time in nature which left a deep-seated impression on him. It inculcated a sense of freedom, which enabled him to stay away from the typical societal customs prevalent in those days.
However, he never distanced himself from the harsh realities of life. He observed the society around him which was 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.
‘Gitanjali,’ a collection of poems, is considered his best poetic accomplishment. It is written in traditional Bengali dialect and consists of 157 poems. These poems are 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 of India—‘Jana Gana Mana’—and the national anthem of Bangladesh—‘Aamaar Sonaar Banglaa’—for which both nations will forever be indebted to him.
‘Galpaguchchha,’ a collection of 80 stories, is his most famous short story collection. It 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.
Awards & Achievements
For his momentous and revolutionary literary works, Tagore was honored with the ‘Nobel Prize in Literature’ on 14 November 1913.
He was granted knighthood in 1915, which he renounced in 1919 after the ‘Jallianwala Bagh massacre.’
In 1940, ‘Oxford University’ honored him with a Doctorate of Literature in a special ceremony arranged at Shantiniketan.
Personal Life & Legacy
Tagore married Mrinalini Devi in 1883 and fathered five children. Sadly, his wife passed away in 1902. To add to his grief, two of his daughters, Renuka and Samindranath, died in 1903 and 1907 respectively.
He became physically weak during the last few years of his life. He left for the heavenly abode on 7 August 1941, at the age of 80.
Tagore has influenced a generation of writers across the globe. He has influenced people far beyond the boundaries of India and his works have been translated to many languages, including English, Dutch, German, and Spanish.
This venerated poet and author is the first non-European to win a ‘Nobel Prize in Literature.’
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This great Bengali poet was an admirer of Gandhi. He was the one who gave him the honorific ‘Mahatma.’
He is the only poet to have composed national anthems for two nations – India and Bangladesh.
Top 10 Facts You Did Not Know About Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore wrote his first poem at the tender age of eight!
He hated the education system and dropped out of college in frustration.
Tagore was granted a knighthood by the British Crown in 1915 which he renounced after the 1919 ‘Jallianwala Bagh massacre.’
He revolutionized Indian literature and art, and is credited for starting the ‘Bengal Renaissance Movement.’
He maintained correspondence with the eminent German scientist Albert Einstein. The two ‘Nobel’ laureates greatly admired each other.
Film-maker Satyajit Ray was deeply influenced by Tagore’s works. The iconic train scene in Ray's ‘Pather Panchali’ was inspired by an incident in Tagore's ‘Chokher Bali.’
He was a prolific composer with over 2,000 songs to his credit.
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.
Tagore took up drawing and painting at the age of 60, and went on to hold several successful exhibitions throughout Europe!
He was a widely traveled man and had visited more than 30 countries in five continents.