Towards Tagore is a monumental effort which has seen the light of the day—finally, mainly due to the efforts of Granthana Vibhaga, in particular those of its Director: Dr Ramkumar Mukhopadhyay.
The volume is a collage of various articles exemplifying the myriad dimensions of the Bard's genius. Tagore was not just a Poet who went on to win arguably the highest laurel of the world, namely the Nobel Prize, the fast in Asia — as it turns out — but he was much more than that. He was a great Philosopher who imbibed from his father Maharshi Debendranath the Indian moorings anchored on Vedas and Upanishads, and incorporated those teachings in his music, essays and literature. He wrote extensively on nationalism in juxtaposition with what he thought of India's unique place in the international context, co-operative movements in relation to collective agricultural farming, rural health including malaria control in the Surul area, small-scale economy including why he felt Mahatma Gandhi's non-cooperation movement was hurtful to the interest of weavers, as elucidated in Ghare Baire, felt very strongly about the need for upholding 'Asian Values' and put them in complementary relation to western advances in industrialization and technology, and above all — Science, as captured in his remarkable book Visva Parichay — An Introduction to the Universe. Speaking of Tagore's penchant for science, it may be noted that he sent his own son: Rathindranath for studying agricultural sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and encouraged the great Indian Statistician Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis to apply Statistics to Agricultural Sciences. His idea on Education, which can be dubbed as the 'Tagore Model of Education' —that finds international relevance in the contemporary view — is uniquely expressed through Visva-Bharati, wherein education begins at its very roots namely 'Pathshalas' and schools, such as Paths Bhavana and Shiksha Sara, and like the roots of a tree, grows into higher forms of research, manifested in the trunks and leaves of the trees. Where else in the world would you find a Nobel Laureate Poet indulging in writing Sahaj Path for small children? Gurudev wanted to integrate his ideas and ideals of education with the exemplary project on 'Rural Reconstruction', carried out from Sriniketan.
Tagore took to painting and sketching at an advanced age of sixty-three plus, and created 'Kala Bhavana' that can be thought of pioneering what may be termed as the 'Santiniketan Model of Art: Finally, it should be underscored that all of Tagore's cosmic thoughts, his bonding with Nature, and creative expressions find form through the unique blend of music that is called `Rabindrasangit; which he had enshrined in Sangit Bhavana. His concern for environment protection and nature preservation finds implementation through 'Utsays; such as 'Briksharopan; 'Halakarshan; 'Shilpotsav' and 'Basontotsav; which Gurudev institutionalized in the calendar of Visva-Bharati.
One other important aspect of the Poet's genius, which is often not given due recognition, is Tagore's passion for institution-building, that would chart out a distinct path, different from the British model, but would instead synergise Eastern thoughts with Western advances. Thus Visva-Bharati was created in which the entire world would find home in a 'Single Nest: Doors were opened to scholars from all parts of the world, and international institutes such as the China Bhavana and the Nippon Bhavana were created to propagate the oriental values, encoded in Buddhist Studies, Endo-Tibetan Studies and Religious Philosophy.
All these numerous attributes of this great Indian are documented by different authors through their erudite writings in Towards Tagore, that will be a critically important document for Tagore followers and lovers. I am very pleased that it is finally ready to be accessed by all interested readers.
We shall not bring our celebrations to an end in a single day but make them overflow into the daily celebration which the few of us will continue to hold here.
- Rabindranath Tagore, 'The End of the Festival'
A commemorative occasion is a tribute marked by time. The number of years being commemorated— indicated by terms like centenary or the tongue-twister sesquicentenary (one hundred and fiftieth year), serve as reminders of our proximity to or distance from a special momant, the birth of an exceptional individual, whose life and works we celebrate. Ye, between one commemorative year and the other— the centenary and sesquicentenary celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore for instance, the distinction is not only a matter of the numbers of years but the changing affect of Tagore, a phenomenon shaped by the world historical changes that have occurred in the last fifty years.
The centenary celebrations, the first major tribute to Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) in independent India, occurred within twenty years of his death. In these intervening years Tagore or Gurudev a he was often called, continued to be an absent-presence in the life of the nation. His song 'Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka' was accepted as the national anthem; people recited his poem 'Where the mind is without fear/ And the head is held high' without cynicism or hypocrisy; students in high-schools and colleges delighted in reading translations of his short stories and some of his English essays; the Poet’s school in Santiniketan with its unique alternative pedagogy was widely respected and foreign scholars kept visiting Visva-Bharati regularly as part of academic exchange. Statesmen and leaders across the country, those at the helm of affairs, were proud to have inherited the legacy of Rabindranath Tagore. Chief among them was Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India; he was also the first Chancellor of Visva-Bharati, the institution, which Tagore considered as his life's 'best treasure:(Bhattacharya: 178)
As the chairperson of the Tagore Centenary Committee, Nehru had taken a personal interest in the planning the programme that would mark the centenary year. In its first meeting held on 10th March 1958 in New Delhi, a committee comprising Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Nirmal Kumar Siddhanta, Niharranjan Ray, Humayun Kabir, Kshitish Roy and Amal Home was set up to prepare an outline of the nature and contents of the centenary volume as well as a list of contributors. (Mukherjee 254-57). Published by the Sahitya Akademi under the editorship of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the collection of essays, titled Rabindranath Tagore: A Centenary Volume 1861-1961, had an astounding range from memoirs, critical appreciations to offerings. The contributors included Rabindranath's closest kin (his son Rathindranath, his niece Indira Devi), his dear and intimate friends (Leonard K Elmhirst and Victoria Ocampo), and scholars, intellectuals, statesmen, artists, many of whom had known Rabindranath Tagore personally. In his Introduction, Nehru expressed his initial hesitation to write about someone 'near and dear' to him, an individual who in his greatness and magnificence had overshadowed his life as indeed the 'life of the nation: (Nehru xiii)
The special status of the Sahitya Akademi volume with luminary contributors overshadows most other English language publications which were brought out on the occasion of the one hundredth birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. Most notable among these were a collection of essays titled Rabindranath Tagore: A Homage from Visva-Bharati edited by Santosh Chandra Sengupta and the Calcutta Municipal Gazette: Birth Centenary Volume the initiative for which was taken by Amal Home. A cursory glance at the contents of these volumes indicate that their focus was on the contributions of Rabindranath Tagore to literature of all genres, music and performance and visual-arts; there were articles also on his philosophy, his ideals of education, his efforts at rural reconstruction; his mysticism and its links with the Indian tradition. The essays are a sign of the confidence of scholars, intellectuals, and statesmen in the promise that liberal arts could shape the mind of the future generations in empathy and ethics.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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