Rabindranath Tagore – Biography

Writer, Song Composer, Playwrighter, Essayist, Painter

tagore color painting

Rabindranath Tagore, (born May 7, 1861, Calcutta (now Kolkata), India—died August 7, 1941, Calcutta), Bengali poet, short-story writer, song composer, playwright, essayist, and painter who introduced new prose and verse forms and the use of colloquial language into Bengali literature, thereby freeing it from traditional models based on classical Sanskrit. He was highly influential in introducing Indian culture to the West and vice versa, and he is generally regarded as the outstanding creative artist of early 20th-century India. In 1913 he became the first non-European to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.



tagore einsteinRabindranath Tagore, who composed the National Anthem of India and won the Nobel Prize for Literature, was a multitalented personality in every sense. He was a Bengali poet, Brahmo Samaj philosopher, visual artist, playwright, novelist, painter and a composer. He was also a cultural reformer who modified Bengali art by rebuffing the strictures that confined it within the sphere of classical Indian forms. Though he was a polymath, his literary works alone are enough to place him in the elite list of all-time greats. Even today, Rabindranath Tagore is often remembered for his poetic songs, which are both spiritual and mercurial. He was one of those great minds, ahead of his time, and that is exactly why his meeting with Albert Einstein is considered as a clash between science and spirituality. Tagore was keen in spreading his ideologies to the rest of the world and hence embarked on a world tour, lecturing in countries like Japan and the United States. Soon, his works were admired by people of various countries and he eventually became the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize. Apart from Jana Gana Mana (the National Anthem of India), his composition ‘Amar Shonar Bangla’ was adopted as the National Anthem of Bangladesh and the National Anthem of Sri Lanka was inspired by one of his works.


Childhood and Early Life


indira_devi_tagore_1886Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7th May 1861 to Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi in the Jorasanko mansion (the ancestral home of the Tagore family) in Calcutta. He was the youngest son among thirteen children. Though the Tagore family had many members, he was mostly raised by servants and maids as he lost his mother while he was still very young and with his father being an extensive traveler. At a very young age, Rabindranath Tagore was part of the Bengal renaissance, which his family took active participation in. He was also a child prodigy as he started penning down poems at the age of 8. He also started composing art works at a tender age and by the age of sixteen he had started publishing poems under the pseudonym Bhanusimha. He also wrote the short story, ‘Bhikharini’ in 1877 and the poem collection, ‘Sandhya Sangit’ in 1882.

He drew inspiration by reading the classical poetry of Kalidasa and started coming up with classical poems of his own. Some of his other influences and inspirations came from his brothers and sisters. While Dwijendranath, his elder brother, was a poet and philosopher, Satyendranath, another brother of his, was in a highly respectable position. His sister Swarnakumari was a well-known novelist. Tagore was largely home-schooled and was trained by his siblings in the field of gymnastics, martial arts, art, anatomy, literature, history and mathematics among various other subjects. In 1873, he accompanied his father and toured the country for many months. During this journey, he accumulated knowledge on several subjects. His stay at Amritsar paved the way for him to learn about Sikhism, an experience which he would later on use to pen down as many as six poems and many articles on the religion.




rabindranath tagore 1Rabindranath Tagore’s traditional education began in Brighton, East Sussex, England, at a public school. He was sent to England in the year 1878 as his father wanted him to become a barrister. He was later joined by some of his relatives like his nephew, niece and sister-in-law in order to support him during his stay in England. Rabindranath had always despised formal education and thus showed no interest in learning from his school. He was later on enrolled at the University College in London, where he was asked to learn law. But he once again dropped out and learned several works of Shakespeare on his own. After learning the essence of English, Irish and Scottish literature and music, he returned to India and married Mrinalini Devi when she was just 10 years old.


Establishment of Santiniketan


Rabindranath’s father had bought a huge stretch of land in Santiniketan. With an idea of establishing an experimental school in his father’s property, he shifted base to Santiniketan in 1901 and founded an ashram there. It was a prayer hall with marble flooring and was named ‘The Mandir.’ The classes there were held under trees and followed the traditional Guru-Shishya method of teaching. Rabindranath Tagore hoped that the revival of this ancient method of teaching would prove beneficial when compared to the modernized method. Unfortunately, his wife and two of his children died during their stay in Santiniketan and this left Rabindranath distraught. In the meantime, his works started growing more and more popular amongst the Bengali as well as the foreign readers. This eventually gained him recognition all over the world and in 1913 Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming Asia’s first Nobel laureate.

rabindranath_and_santiniketan.He settled permanently at the school, which became Visva-Bharati University in 1921. Years of sadness arising from the deaths of his wife and two children between 1902 and 1907 are reflected in his later poetry, which was introduced to the West in Gitanjali (Song Offerings) (1912). This book, containing Tagore’s English prose translations of religious poems from several of his Bengali verse collections, including Gitanjali (1910), was hailed by W.B. Yeats and André Gide and won him the Nobel Prize in 1913. Tagore was awarded a knighthood in 1915, but he repudiated it in 1919 as a protest against the Amritsar (Jallianwalla Bagh) Massacre.

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