Once in a century a man is born with such a rare and many-sided genius as Rabindranath possessed. Rabindranath Tagore — poet, philosopher and patriot. Except the German Goethe and the Italian Leonardo da Vinci, we do not know of anyone having an equal amplitude of mind. For sixty years, from boyhood days till death— he wrote poems and dramas, songs and novels, stories and essays. He touched life at many points and enriched all that he touched with the alchemic power of his genius. He was a poet of unique vision, a painter who won international recognition, a saintly teacher dedicated to a great ideal of ancient sages and a preacher who gave a new direction to the art, a seer who could look beyond the barriers of time and place, an all-round man.
He was born as the youngest son of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore on May 7, 1861. Though his mind refused the narrow discipline of school and formal education, it absorbed from the culture of his home, from his wide readings in classical and vernacular literature, from his noble father and his highly gifted brothers, thoughts, emotions, and ideals that embodied the finest elements of our national genius. Upon these, his mind worked and out of them, it created a literature the worth of which is universally acknowledged. At the beginning, the audacious originally of his work shocked and estranged the traditionalists. Slow was the process of recognition that he received at last and so universally.
When the call of the country came, Rabindranath never hesitated to respond with all the fire of his genius- No one will forget the inspiration, which he gave to the country during the political turmoils of 1905 to 1908,—the balmy days of Bengal Partition. Through songs, through speeches, through unique literary compositions, marked with both sarcasm and emotion, through symbolic initiations (like the Rakhii, he kept alive the national spirit. From there he went back to his life of creation and contemplation, to that of teaching young minds to realize themselves.
In 1911, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad paid him homage on the fiftieth anniversary of his birth,—the first poet to be so honoured. Later he went to England and published a translation of a few of his devotional poems in English entitled—Song Offerings’. It created a stir in Europe. Sensitive English poets were deeply moved.
As a result, the greatest literary honour — the Nobel Prize, was awarded to him by the Swedish Academy in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore then suddenly found himself world famous. Here, again, even the unstinted praise of all Europe did not blind his clear judgment as to the evils of Western civilization.
After the Great War of 1914-18, he severely castigated the money materialism of the West and the cult of ultra nationalism which had led to that war. To the cynical people of Japan, Europe and America, he pointed out the utter absence of noble motives, want of spiritual content, in their politics, in their economics, and even their vaunted religion. He had the courage of convictions.
In his own country, he dissociated himself from the negative aspects even of the Swadeshi movement. He denounced the barbarity, which English showed at Jaiianwala Bagh and renounced his Knighthood “as a badge of honour glaring in its shameful context of humiliation.”
He severely criticised the Fascist Governments of Italy and Germany, as well as Japan’s aggression against China ; he praised the good things of communist programme in Russia for its creative and humanising ideals but noticed, With disapproval, the lack of spirit at content and spoke of his visit to that land as an act of pilgrimage. He gave evidence of a mind always on the move, ready to imbibe new ideas.
His services to the nation, outside the field of literature, will gradually be realized. His political ideology is now being slowly appreciated. The contribution of education, which he made in the international University—Visva-Bharati—that he founded at Santiniketan will be his lasting monument. His attempts to give a direction to agriculture, cottage industries, fine arts, etc, are now bearing fruit. In his poems and plays, he interpreted as well as foreshadowed the emerging trends of our national life. And in the rich treasury of songs that he has left behind, we find an inexhaustible source of self-enrichment and sublimity.
The modern Bengali language is largely his creation. It is Rabindranth who, by his contributions, brought Bengali literature abreast with the finest varieties of world literature. His lyrics combine intense emotion and lofty idealism with incomparable music. His dramas reveal the action and interaction of conflicting ideas against a background of moving reality. His novels are as varied in their substance as they are masterly in the artistic delineation of characters. His short stories have the delicacy of truly poetic feeling; they are lyrics in prose — studies of common village in the lap of Nature.
Painting was a late development of his inexhaustible and elastic genius, and his work bears the impress of a daring mind discovering a new way of expression, the vital and vibrant rhythm of life. To the last, he refused to be bound by old forms and traditions; to the call of the new, he was never slow to respond and a radiantly original genius like his always transcends barrier of time to and clime.
His passing away marks the end of a memorable epoch that has bequeathed an undying legacy to posterity. Succeeding generations will never willingly let die Rabindranath’s achievements.