Political view of Rabindranath Tegore and impact in Bengal

Posted on January 7, 2011

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Tagore’s political thought was complex. He opposed imperialism and supported Indian nationalists. His views have their first poetic release in Manast, mostly composed in his twenties. Evidence produced during the Hindu-German Conspiracy trial and later accounts affirm his awareness of the Ghadarite conspiracy, and stated that he sought the support of Japanese Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake and former Premier Ōkuma Shigenobu. Yet he lampooned the Swadeshi movement, denouncing it in “The Cult of the Charka”, an acrid 1925 essay. He emphasized self-help and intellectual uplift of the masses as an alternative, stating that British imperialism was a “political symptom of our social disease”, urging Indians to accept that “there can be no question of blind revolution, but of steady and purposeful education”.

Such views enraged many. He narrowly escaped assassination by Indian expatriates during his stay in a San Francisco hotel in late 1916. The plot failed only because the would-be assassins fell into argument. Yet Tagore wrote songs lionizing the Indian independence movement and renounced his knighthood in protest against the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. Two of Tagore’s more politically charged compositions, “Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo” (“Where the Mind is Without Fear”) and “Ekla Chalo Re” (“If They Answer Not to Thy Call, Walk Alone”), gained mass appeal, with the latter favoured by Gandhi. Despite his tumultuous relations with Gandhi, Tagore was key in resolving a Gandhi-Ambedkar dispute involving separate electorates for untouchables, ending Gandhi’s fast “unto death”.

Tagore lampooned rote schooling: in “The Parrot’s Training”, a bird is caged and force-fed pages torn from books until it dies. These views led Tagore, while visiting Santa Barbara on 11 October 1917, to conceive of a new type of university, desiring to “make Santiniketan the connecting thread between India and the world [and] a world center for the study of humanity somewhere beyond the limits of nation and geography.” The school, which he named Visva-Bharatiη had its foundation stone laid on 22 December 1918; it was later inaugurated on 22 December 1921. Here, Tagore implemented a brahmacharya pedagogical structure employing gurus to provide individualised guidance for pupils. Tagore worked hard to fundraise for and staff the school, even contributing all of his Nobel Prize moneys. Tagore’s duties as steward and mentor at Santiniketan kept him busy; he taught classes in mornings and wrote the students’ textbooks in afternoons and evenings. Tagore also fundraised extensively for the school in Europe and the U.S. between 1919 and 1921.

Tagore’s relevance can be gauged by festivals honouring him: Kabipranam, Tagore’s birth anniversary; the annual Tagore Festival held in Urbana, Illinois, in the United States; Rabindra Path Parikrama walking pilgrimages from Calcutta to Shantiniketan; ceremonial recitals of Tagore’s poetry held on important anniversaries; and others. This legacy is most palpable in Bengali culture, ranging from language and arts to history and politics. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen saw Tagore as a “towering figure”, being a “deeply relevant and many-sided contemporary thinker”. Tagore’s Bengali-language writings—the 1939 Rabīndra Rachanāvalī—is also canonised as one of Bengal’s greatest cultural treasures. Tagore himself was proclaimed “the greatest poet India has produced”.

Tagore was famed throughout much of Europe, North America, and East Asia. He co-founded Dartington Hall School, a progressive coeducational institution; in Japan, he influenced such figures as Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata. Tagore’s works were widely translated into English, Dutch, German, Spanish, and other European languages by Czech indologist Vincenc Lesný, French Nobel laureate André Gide, Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, former Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, and others. In the United States, Tagore’s lecturing circuits, particularly those in 1916–1917, were widely attended and acclaimed. Yet, several controversies involving Tagore resulted in a decline in his popularity in Japan and North America after the late 1920s, concluding with his “near total eclipse” outside of Bengal.

Via translations, Tagore influenced Hispanic literature: Chileans Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, Mexican writer Octavio Paz, and Spaniards José Ortega y Gasset, Zenobia Camprubí, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. Between 1914 and 1922, the Jiménez-Camprubí spouses translated twenty-two of Tagore’s books from English into Spanish and extensively revised and adapted such works as Tagore’s The Crescent Moon. In this time, Jiménez developed “naked poetry” (Spanish: «poesia desnuda»), a landmark innovation. Ortega y Gasset wrote that “Tagore’s wide appeal [may stem from the fact that] he speaks of longings for perfection that we all have … Tagore awakens a dormant sense of childish wonder, and he saturates the air with all kinds of enchanting promises for the reader, who … pays little attention to the deeper import of Oriental mysticism”. Tagore’s works circulated in free editions around 1920 alongside those of Dante Alighieri, Miguel de Cervantes, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Plato, and Leo Tolstoy.

Tagore was deemed overrated by some Westerners. Graham Greene doubted that “anyone but Mr. Yeats can still take his poems very seriously.” Modern remnants of a past Latin American reverence of Tagore were discovered, for example, by an astonished Salman Rushdie during a trip to Nicaragua.

Source: Wikipedia

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