Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7, 1861 in Kolkata to a zamindar family of Bengal. Tagore was one of the primary crusaders during the pre-independence era to challenge the common perception that India was just a country of snake-charmers and superstitions, and was culturally backward. He was one of the stalwarts who travelled around the world to highlight the richness of the country, and pitched that the diversity in the nation was its strength and not weakness. He was the first non-European to be acknowledged and rewarded with the Nobel award (for literature) in 1913. The great poet received the award for the English translation of his own works in Bengali. The renowned novelist, dramatist and songwriter has an enormous contribution in the world of literature, arts and music.
On his 154th birth anniversary, let’s take a look at his lesser-known facts:
1. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who is popularly remembered as Mahatma Gandhi has a direct connection with Tagore. Tagore a strong admirer of Gandhi for his ideas on nationalism conferred the title of ‘Mahatma’ on Gandhi to honour him.
2. Rabindranath attended a number of Indian National Congress sessions in Calcutta (Kolkata) where he composed songs and sang during India’s freedom struggle. ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was the opening song for the second day of the Congress Session in 1911, and only later it was adopted as our National Anthem. In 2011, India celebrated 100 years of our National Anthem.
Tagore also is the only person who is the creative mind behind the National Anthems of as many as three countries – India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. While he both penned and composed the National Anthem for both India and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka’s anthem was also written by him in Bengali in 1938. After the country got independence, the song was translated in Tamil and few lines were changed and adopted as its National Anthem.
3. Everyone must have seen the historic picture where the two legends shared a frame, but rarely one has read the excerpts of their conversation. Rabindranath Tagore and his interaction with Albert Einstein was widely published after the two had met at latter’s home in Caputh in Germany in 1930. The two Nobel-laureates were mutual admirers.
4. In 1932, Tagore visited the middle-eastern countries of Iran and Iraq. Tagore’s visit to Iran was seen as an opportunity for Iran to present him to the Iranian public as a living personification of this newly conceived idea of national authenticity. He had been invited to Iran as the official guest of King Reza Shah Pahlavi.
In his address he said, “There was a time when, along with other Aryan peoples, the Persians also worshipped the elemental gods of nature, whose favour was not to be won by any moral duty performed, or service of love. That, in fact, was the crude beginning of the scientific spirit trying to unlock the hidden sources of power in nature. But through it all there must have been some current of deeper desire, which constantly contradicted the cult of power and indicated a world of inner good, infinitely more precious than material gain. Its voice was not strong at first, nor was it heeded by the majority of the people, but its influence, like the life within the seed, was silently working.”
His address had built a strong bond among the Indian and Iranians at that time. Tagore’s Iran visit, till date is a topic of discussion among experts.
5. We all remember the great speech by Swami Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religion, but this great Nobel-laureate too addressed the same parliament twice, years later, in 1929 and 1937 in Kolkata. Address at the Parliament of Religions, originally the presidential address at the Sri Ramakrishna Centenary Parliament of Religions, in March 1937 was published in May 1937 in Visva-Bharati quarterly.
In his special address of 1937, the philosopher said, “We, in our human nature, have hunger for Bhuma, for immensity, for something a great deal more than what we need immediately for the purposes of life. Men all through their history have been struggling to realise this truth according to the unfolding of their idea of the boundless and have been gradually changing their methods and plans of existence, constantly meeting failures, but never owning final defeat.”