Apr 272011

Inner Eye's logo for the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore

In less than two weeks, it will be the 150th birth anniversary of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who was born on 7 May 1861. Strictly speaking, his birthday was on the 25th of the Bengali month Boishakh, which is the first month of the Bengali calendar. This is not always the same date in the Gregorian calendar. The Bengali New Year (poila Boishakh) is celebrated by Bangladesh on 14 April and by Bengalis in India on 15 April.

Since setting up the Tagore150 Facebook page and the @tagore150 Twitter account last year, I have been thrilled to discover and relay the activities that people all over the world are organising to celebrate the anniversary. I’ve also seen that, every hour, many people are tweeting Tagore quotes in various languages. This is especially impressive since, apart from being written at least 70 years ago, the majority of Tagore’s work still hasn’t been translated from Bengali.

It is no surprise to me that Tagore’s words resonate with people all over the world, even today. Much of his writing is based on his observation of human nature, and is in a style which is both timeless and universal.

For our own contribution to the birth anniversary celebrations, Kaberi and I have been busy making film versions of his dance-dramas Chandalika (1933) – see trailer below – and Chitrangada (1936).  We filmed them in Tagore’s home town of Santiniketan in December and January respectively with the help of a very talented team of singers, dancers and musicians who are based there. We are especially fortunate that, for both productions, Subhra Tagore agreed to be the dance director and production designer and that Bulbul Bose agreed to be the music director.

Chandalika will have its world premiere on 8 May in Stratford-upon-Avon as the concluding event of the Tagore weekend being organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – see details below. Dr Shamimul Moula, one of our Facebook fans who is based in Bangladesh, has very kindly drawn our attention to a paper by Dhriti Rai Dalai and Panchanan Dalai which explores the connection between Chandalika and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as well as possibly A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For more background about Chandalika, you may also find this paper by Sutapa Chaudhuri worth reading.

Here is the programme for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Tagore weekend. To reserve a place at any of the events in the Tagore weekend, please email friends@shakespeare.org.uk or call 01789 204016.

Saturday, 7th May

 3pm Tagore-style tree-planting ceremony (brikkhoropon)
Celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of the Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore with a dance procession and tree planting ceremony led by Kaberi Chatterjee at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage to commemorate his birth.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Sunday, 8th May

1pm Celebrating Tagore
Join Kaberi, Jayanta & Obhi Chatterjee and friends at Tagore’s bust in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace for a special musical ceremony commemorating Tagore’s birth.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace Garden

2.30pm Tea with Tagore
Join Obhi Chatterjee as he recites excerpts from Tagore’s poetry. Diana Owen, Director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will speak about the influences of Shakespeare on Tagore. Refreshments will follow.
Tickets are £7.50 (£5 Friends)
The Shakespeare Centre, 2.30pm

7.30pm Chandalika – world première
World première of Obhi Chatterjee’s feature film version of ‘Chandalika’, one of Tagore’s three dance-dramas. Introduced by Kaberi and Obhi Chatterjee, with live dance illustrations, and followed by a question-and-answer session.
Tickets are £5. They are available inside the Stratford-upon-Avon Picturehouse at Windsor Place, online or by calling the booking line: 0871 902 5741.
Stratford-upon-Avon Picturehouse Cinema

  6 Responses to “Celebrating Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary”


    I published some observations in several blogs as to the popularity of
    Rabindranath Tagore. We the Bengalis deeply respect him for his
    beautiful writings and songs.

    A few words about the Nobel Prize for Rabindranath Tagore:

    1. Tagore was presented as an Anglo-Indian before the Nobel Committee.
    This was never disclosed by Visva Bharati;

    2. Ignoring Americans, it was for the first time that the Nobel Prize
    for literature was awarded to a non-European;

    3. Interestingly, Tagore never visited the Swedish Academy for about 7
    years even after the award (when he was awarded the Nobel Prize he was
    in England and not in Calcutta);

    4. Tagore never made any contact or speech marking the Nobel Prize (he
    just made a two-line acknowledgement only);

    5. The British Ambassador received Tagore’s Nobel prize in person;

    6. The prize medal was home delivered at Jorasanko in Calcutta (or in
    7. None of the Nobel Committee members either knew Bengali or ever
    read Tagore’s writings; and

    8. The library of the Swedish Academy had no book by Tagore
    accessioned in its record at that time. What do these points signify?
    I do not want to interrupt any body. I understand that Rabindranath
    Tagore is sacrilege to many of his fans. But the truth should not be
    suppressed by way of propaganda.

    I cordially welcome the objectively substantiated replies to my above
    points. In fact, if can get such satisfactory replies then I shall
    surely stop my project on the subject towards publication of a book.
    Even Swedish Academy confirmed some of the above points.

    By my survey results it appears that 80% of popularity of Rabindranath
    Tagore is due to his getting the Nobel Prize. At least the facts
    reveal it. I take this opportunity to say that no book on the history
    of Bengali Literature ever mentioned even the name of Rabindranath
    Tagore until 1912 when the poet was about 52 years of age.

    My above observations are not based on the figments of imagination but
    available facts.

    Looking forward to objectively substantiated replies with good
    references, if any.

    A.B.M. Shamsud Doulah
    G.P.O. Box 351, Dhaka-1000

    • Thank you for posting your comments, which I have seen on other blogs in the course of my research. I’m not entirely sure I understand the objective of your quest. However, here are some observations in response to the points you raise.

      Points 1 & 2:

      As I mentioned in my most recent post, the list of nominees for the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature is now public. See http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/nomination/nomination.php?action=simplesearch&string=1913&start=1 . He is referred to in the nomination database as being Indian, not Anglo-Indian: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/nomination/nomination.php?action=show&showid=918 . However, in the Award Ceremony speech, the Chairman of the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy referred to Tagore as an Anglo-Indian poet: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1913/press.html . Later in the speech, he also referred to Bengal as an Anglo-Indian province. Since India was still part of the British Empire at the time, this was probably the most politically correct reference he could make and also explains why British officials were the intermediaries. The speech, in any case, explains in some detail why Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize that year (rather than any of the other 31 nominees, who included Thomas Hardy).

      Point 3:

      Tagore received news of the award on 14 November 1913, when he was in Santiniketan (ie, neither in England, nor in Calcutta), through a telegram from a fellow Bengali poet, Satyendranath Datta. As you may appreciate, the First World War started less than a year later and ended in 1918. Indeed, no Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded either in 1914 or in 1918. So it is perhaps unsurprising that Tagore didn’t make it to the Swedish Academy before he actually did.

      Points 4 & 5:

      At the Nobel Banquet on December 10, 1913, the British Chargé d’Affaires read out a telegram from Tagore in accepting the award: “I beg to convey to the Swedish Academy my grateful appreciation of the breadth of understanding which has brought the distant near, and has made a stranger a brother.” (http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1913/tagore-speech.html)

      Point 6:

      According to the 1996 Sahitya Academy book A Miscellany – Rabindranath Tagore, “At a special ceremony in Calcutta on 29 January 1914, Lord Carmichael, Governor of Bengal, delivered the medal and citation to Tagore. (For details see Prasanta Kumar Pal, Rabi Jibani, Vol. VI, Calcutta 1993, p. 455).”

      Points 7 & 8:

      See above. The process for selecting the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature takes over a year, as described here: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/nomination/ . The Nobel Prize was awarded on the basis of Tagore’s own English translations of his Bengali poetry (particularly the English Gitanjali, which had been published by the India Society of London in November 1912), after being nominated by Thomas Sturge S Moore, a member of the Royal Society of Literature. As mentioned in the award speech: “Tagore’s Gitanjali: Song Offerings (1912), a collection of religious poems, was the one of his works that especially arrested the attention of the selecting critics. Since last year the book, in a real and full sense, has belonged to English literature, for the author himself, who by education and practice is a poet in his native Indian tongue, has bestowed upon the poems a new dress, alike perfect in form and personally original in inspiration. This has made them accessible to all in England, America, and the entire Western world for whom noble literature is of interest and moment. Quite independently of any knowledge of his Bengali poetry, irrespective, too, of differences of religious faiths, literary schools, or party aims, Tagore has been hailed from various quarters as a new and admirable master of that poetic art which has been a never-failing concomitant of the expansion of British civilization ever since the days of Queen Elizabeth.”

      I am not particularly shocked if books on the history of Bengali Literature did not mention Tagore before 1912 (1 year before he was awarded the Nobel Prize). Presumably all writers in any language have to establish some kind of lasting appreciation and influence other writers before they can be considered to be of historical literary significance?

      Certainly Tagore’s international popularity and the Nobel award relied (and continue to rely) heavily on translations of his Bengali writings. Even though something is always lost in translation, Tagore influenced many other writers around the world. At least two of them won the Nobel Prize for Literature themselves: Romain Rolland in 1915 and Juan Ramón Jiménez in 1956. Another was Pablo Neruda.

      The Nobel Prize certainly opened doors for Tagore and led to invitations from all over the world. It led to his being regarded primarily as a poet and a philosopher – something of a mystic. Bengalis, though, are more aware of other aspects of his legacy, such as his songs, his paintings, his educational philosophy, his environmental awareness, and the innovative, semi-classical dance style he created.

      These travels made Tagore more aware of different cultures and underlined in his mind the need to find ways to allow his Bengali writing to cross linguistic and cultural barriers. They clearly had an influence on Tagore’s own body of work, and particularly his use of dance and the dance style itself. This latter development was the subject of the doctoral research by my wife, Kaberi Chatterjee – see her blog at http://www.kaberi.eu .

      It is quite normal for high profile awards to bring international attention to recipients whose work has not previously been recognised widely. In the film world, winning an Oscar has provided a turning point in the careers of many actors.

      Today many non-Bengalis are unaware of Tagore’s work, in spite of its timeless, universal qualities and in spite of the Nobel Prize. Some articles during his 150th birth anniversary have drawn attention to this. See, for example, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/29/rabindranath-tagore-poet-india and http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/07/rabindranath-tagore-why-was-he-neglected . The remark “Who reads Rabindranath Tagore now?” attributed to the Times Literary Supplement will no doubt seem distinctly out of touch, not only to Bengalis, but also to the many people around the world whose tweets lead to him being quoted many times every hour on Twitter, day in, day out.

      • You are right Obhi, Tagore did not care much for fame, or the Nobel Prize for that matter. In fact he gained popularity after getting the Nobel prize because some of his opponents in India stopped opposing him because of the global appeal of his poetry.

        “No literary work can have its quality or appeal enhanced by the Nobel Prize. This day of mine will not last forever, The ebbtide will set in again.”
        – Rabindranath Tagore in a letter to William Rothenstein in Dec 1913.

        Also he was not much of a politician either, in fact he was an absolute failure of a politician because he always took the morally upright and unpopular position many times in his life. When the Swadeshi movement turned violent, he withdrew his support and was widely criticized by eminent Bengalis of the time.

        About this he wrote: “Your aunt (Abala Bose, wife of scientist Jagdish Bose) is aggrieved because of the spirit of unrest of the time. Many people are averse to me for the same reason. I must put up with it all. Over and over I pray to God that I may surrender my load to Him and make my burden light. If He snatches away my fame and I am scornfully rebuked, even by my friends, that will benefit me – for I have yet to break my inborn habit of depending upon others. When He allows me to face Him entirely on my own, my life will be fulfilled; when that auspicious day arrives, I shall be blessed. You must not feel in the least hurt by the hostile reactions to me. God will recompense me for all my troubles, bringing me closer to Him each time – I will never let Him go.”
        – Tagore writing in a letter defending himself against criticism from Abala Bose the wife of Indian scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose. The letter addressed to Aurobondo Bose the nephew of Abala Bose.

  2. Dear Mr. Obhi:

    Thank you for your itemized replies.

    I also hold several references. There are many conflicting and contradictory references. It is a matter of a century-old story. The references should be considered in historical contexts.

    Rabindranath Tagore was not only a literary genius, he was quite a politically alert personality. As a Bengali reader, I sincerely feel that the literary products of Rabindranath Tagore were of much higher value than just a Nobel Prize. But also it is true that the political manipulations of the Britishers played a great role in the process of awarding him Nobel Prize. The so-called Terrorist Movement in the then united Bengal was indeed a major factor.

    The silence of Vishva Bharati on the subject is not explicit.

    However, you may get some lights in the writings of Mr. Subrata Kumar Das by giving a command on the Internet (by opening Google).

    Thank you for your reply with references.

    A.B.M. Shamsud Doulah


  3. Hello Obhi,
    Really liked your post and the details you posted in your comments. There are many in India who fail to understand the spiritual genius of Gurudev, so I was very happy to come across your blog commemorating his 150 birthday.

    It is Tagore’s deep empathy along with his ability to feel and connect with those who were suffering, who were misunderstood and in pain, which shows up in his writings. These are all attributes of a highly spiritual and emotionally intelligent person – for only they have the ability to understand the feelings of another.

    It is for this reason that he endears to millions around the world, and will continue to do so. The best book to understand Tagore’s deep sense of spirituality is Sadhana: The Realization of Life.

    I am sure Obhi you have read the book, so I leave the link for others who may visit your blog. This book is available for free at my website:



    A new book entitled: RABINDRANATH TAGORE, THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE IN 1913, AND THE BRITISH RAJ: SOME UNTOLD STORIES is now in the Press waiting for publication. It is profusely quoted with evidences that perhaps the 1913 Nobel Prize was given to Rabindranath Tagore mainly for political reasons.

    On the part of Rabindranath Tagore, he started gaining huge popularity only after getting the Nobel Prize. Without the Nobel Prize he could never become so much popular in spite of his literary genius and high value literature.

    The book RABINDRANATH TAGORE, THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE IN 1913, AND THE BRITISH RAJ: SOME UNTOLD STORIES will be of about 250 pages. The content chapters of the book are as follows:


    1. Some Introductory Notes
    2. British occupation of India and patronage to non- Muslims
    3. Rabindranath Tagore followed the foot-steps of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and such others
    4. The influence of Prince Dwarakanath Tagore
    5. The influence of Kalidas, Lalon Fakir and D. L. Roy etc.
    6. Terrorist movement in Bengal
    7. British colonial rulers continued patronage of the elite non-Muslims
    8. Shifting of capital from Calcutta to New Delhi
    9. Brahmo Samaj & Tagore
    10. Rabindranath Tagore’s Western and Jewish contacts
    11. The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913
    12 Rabindranath Tagore was awarded Nobel Prize as an “Anglo-Indian poet”
    13. Why Rabindranath Tagore was not present for receiving the Nobel Prize
    14. Rabindranath Tagore in the 21st century

    A select bibliography on Rabindranath Tagore



    The publishers, book-sellers, book-distributors and agents are cordially welcome to contact using the following address for any query as to terms, etc.:

    Mobile telephone: +880-1911482175
    Email: dhakacalling@yahoo.com

    Your co-operation and assistance is earnestly requested.

    Thank you for your consideration.

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