This Commemorative Volume is being published by the Federation of Indo-German Societies in India (FIGS), New Delhi in association with Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung, Munich, to celebrate the 150th Birth Anniversary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.
Tagore received unprecedented welcome in Germany during his visits to that country in 1921, 1926 and 1930. The book is in three parts. The first part of this book entitled Rabindranath Tagore in Germany: A Cross Section of Contemporary Reports, edited and translated by Prof. Dietmar Rothermund, was first published in 1961 to celebrate Tagore’s centenary by the Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi. The contributions by contemporary scholars and writers who came in contact with him at that time are not only interesting because of what they tell us about Tagore, but also illustrate contemporary German thought in its quest for new values and ideals. It ends with Tagore’s poem in English, The Child, which he wrote in 1930 in Germany, that Prof. Rothermund describes as “a testimony of a sudden inspiration and a surprising vision.”
The second part carries an article entitled “Tagore and Germany” by Satinder Kumar Lambah, former Ambassador of India in Germany, first published by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in the journal ‘Indian in der Gegenwart’ in 1996. The author reviews Tagore’s three visits to Germany, emphasizing the vitality of the cultural interaction that was set off by this “spiritual ambassador of India…interpreting through his works and lectures the timeless message of an ancient country to a world that, in the wake of the First World War, was restless, confused and uncertain”.
The third part contains three essays on Rabindranath Tagore based on lectures delivered by Dr. Martin Kampchen in India and Bangladesh. Through his translations of Tagore’s poetry, his biography of the poet in German and several studies on Tagore’s relationship with Germany, the author has contributed substantially to introducing Tagore to a wider public.
These essays inform and reflect on the role the poet has played in the German history of the 20th century and present a vision for the future.
Dietmar Rothermund, Ph.D. FRHistS: Professor emeritus of South Asian History, South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University. Distinguished scholar and author, he is Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, London, since 1988 and Honorary member of Humboldt University, Berlin, since 1994. recent publications include India: The Rise of an Asian Giant, (with Hermann Kulke) A History of India, 5th ed., and Gandhi und Nehru: Zwei Gesichter Indiens.
Satinder Kumar Lambah: Over a diplomatic career spanning more than four decades he has also held the important posts of Ambassador of India in Hungary (1986-89); High Commissioner of India to Pakistan (1992-95); Ambassador of India to Germany (1995-98); Ambassador of India to the Russian Federation (1998-2001). He is at present Special Envoy in the Prime Minister's Office, New Delhi. He is also President of Federation of Indo-German Societies in India.
I have read with great interest some of the articles included in the Tagore Centenary Volume published by Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi. They include contemporary writings on the poet during his visits to Germany in 1921, 1926 and 1930. Many of them are no longer readily available and I have read some of them for the first time. The Max Mueller Bhavan has laid us under a debt of gratitude by bringing together these contemporary records of Tagore’s impact on the German mind.
Germany was rising out of the suffering of the first World War when Tagore visited the country for the first time. In the preceding fifty years, the German people had reached great heights in industrial and military might but had in the process lost some of the spiritual quality which had earlier made Germany the home of philosophy, literature and music. Nationalism began as an assertion of the rights of the people, but almost everywhere it developed an aggressive attitude which sought to deny the same rights to others. Nationalism emerged late in Germany, but perhaps the late arrival itself led to an extreme and unbalanced development. After the colonial exploits of European nations in Asia and Africa in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, they turned against one another and their clash of national self-aggrandizement reached a new climax in the World War of 1914.
Tagore brought to war-torn and weary Europe the message of cultural autonomy and universal brotherhood. He was one of the staunchest supporters of the self-expression of individuals and nations but he also held that their self-expression must not be based on exclusive self interest but contribute to the enrichment of mankind as a whole. The individual can reach his highest development only through co-operation with and service to his fellowmen. Nations can also achieve their true destiny only when they give more than they take from the common heritage of man.
It was not surprising that during his triumphal march through Europe in the early twenties of the century, Tagore should receive the greatest welcome in Germany had suffered deeply not only materially but also in the spirit and yet an earlier Germany had provided Europe with resplendent gifts of spirituality, intellect and feeling. Bewildered by the experience of the war, German youth found in Tagore the authentic voice of their own glorious heritage and extended to him a warm and immediate welcome that has rarely been given to a visitor from another country.
Forty years have passed since Tagore’s first visit to Germany. The predicament of the world has not however changed. In fact, the sense of bewilderment and doom is stronger today in spite of great advances in material prosperity and the prospect of still more astonishing advances. Today, man can plan to explore in safety the outer space but insecurity has entered into his very hearth and home. The threat of uniformity through regimentation is matched by the threat of fragmentation of mankind into petty groups. Never has the message of freedom and dignity of the individual in the context of universal co-operation based on reason been more necessary than today. The world-wide Centenary celebrations in honour of Tagore are a reminder that man has not lost and cannot lose hope but is seeking to find ways of survival and progress in spite of the challenges of atomic destruction posed by blind hatred and narrow self-interest.
I congratulate Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi for a fine publication that reminds us of the values of the spirit which alone can prevail over the forces of destruction and darkness.
Rabindranath Tagore visited Germany three times: in 1921 at the age of 60 years, briefly in 1926, and again in 1930. All of these visits were lecture tours which took him to important cities and universities in different parts of Germany.
When the poet first came to Germany in 1921, he was received with great enthusiasm by a large number of people who crowded the lecture halls wherever he went. This first visit was in many ways the most important of his visits to Germany. The early 1920s were time of intellectual ferment in Germany. The first volume of Spengler’s Decline of the West had appeared in 1918 and the second volume was published in 1922. The world war had swept away whatever may have been left of the optimism of the enlightenment, and the irrational collapse of a rational world induced many people to look for irrational solutions of irrational problems. The ‘cold’ intellect was conceived of as an enemy of depth, wisdom, nature and the soul. Genuine heart-searching and wishful thinking were often combined in the contemporary thought of this period. Tagore’s message was bound to be evaluated within this frame of reference. He, therefore, found ardent admirers as well as detractors in Germany. His visit was not seen as an irrelevant courtesy call of a foreign celebrity, it was felt to be a contribution to the discussion which was going on in Germany in those days. The statements of the scholars and writers who came into contact with him at that time are not only interesting because of what they tell us about Tagore, they also illustrate contemporary German thought in its quest for new values and ideals.
Tagore’s message of hope and harmony was a consolation after the great war. He was venerated in Germany as a seer and a prophet. His sympathetic understanding and his firm conviction that defeat and loss were but a blessing n disguise encouraged the German people. He attributed his own independent development as a man and a poet to the fact that his family had gone bankrupt. Identifying himself with the fate of Germany he indicated that the defeat and the fall of the old order would give the German nation a chance to start afresh. He hoped that Germany would “make use of the fire that had scorched her for lighting up the path to a great future”. However, the fire that had scorched Germany proved to be insufficient, a far greater conflagration was still to come, and we can only hope that our capacity to convert heart into light does not require the test of an even more devastating blaze.
Tagore’s message was but a translation of the basic theme of his poetry. His writings are permeated by a mood of longing and expectation. The imagery of waiting and coming, searching and wandering, is ever present in his poems. This mood has a special appeal to the German mind preoccupied as it is with the ideas of becoming and striving. But coming is not becoming and the poet was likely to be misunderstood. Time and space are only dimensions of the separation of God and the soul in Taogre’s universe, they are interchangeable parts of a lower level of reality which can be distrupted by the sudden presence of the aim of all longing.
Tagore’s affirmation of the life in this world which Albert Schweitzer contrasted with the Indian tradition of the negation of life has to be understood in this context. Tagore sees life as a suspense in the separation from God and he accepts it as such. German idealism also postulated a separation of the soul from God, but here the, suspense was conceived of as motor of evolution. With Tagore, however, the separation was willed by God to create an object of love, and the relationship between God and the soul in this suspense does not give rise to a laborious process of evolution, but it is “Lila”, the bitter and sweet tension between union and separation.
There are three ancient ways to perfection: jnanayoga, karmayoga and bhakti; Tagore chose the latter, but he was very much impressed by what he termed the Western world’s perfection of the path of karmayoga. His recognition of the validity of karmayoga also appealed to the German mind. Work and soul were closely connected in the life of Germany, as Prof. Eucken explained to Tagore, but the link had broken. In the rapid transition from a society based on agriculture and arts and crafts to an industrial society Germany had experienced the painful dissociation of work from its aim, and it dreamed of a restoration of the creative unity of man’s endeavour. Tagore was hailed as one who knew about this unity, and who could help to recover it. People often forgot that the poet himself was a seeker; they looked to him for answers which, as they thought, the East and preserved, while the West had lost itself in the material world.
The ideal of a creative unity of man’s life and word, the longing for a new humanism was reflected in the German Youth Movement which tried to shed the inhibitions and artificialities of the Victorian age, and propagated a cult of youth and nature. It was this movement which prepared the ground for Tagore’s triumph in Germany. The votaries of this movement revived old songs and instruments and roamed through fields and forests. Young and enthusiastic, they felt akin to Tagore’s universe, and when he was in their midst they sang and played for him and took him along to the hills and the forest.
The quest for a new humanism also let to a reinterpretation of the old imperial nationalism. Germany has been able to produce the most generous internationalism as well as the most fierce nationalism. Like Indian nationalism German nationalism originally developed under foreign rule-in the Napoleonic era-as a noble concept of national unity and self-determination. But Germany was faced again and again with the problem of territorial unity and integrity in an intricate system of a balance of power. This situation vitiated German nationalism. Nevertheless there has always remained a quest for the redeeming grace of international cooperation. Tagore’s message seemed to convey this redeeming grace. In this respect his message is as valid today as ever before.
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