Rabindranath Tagore was born into a distinguished Bengali family in Calcutta in 1861. His father was the Maharishi Debendranath Tagore, the Hindu reformer and mystic and his mother was Sharada Devi.
His mother already had 12 living children when Tagore was born, several of whom were married. Her husband was often away on business. Tagore's support therefore came from his older siblings.
Educated at home, he was taught in Bengali, with English lessons in the afternoon. He read the Bengali poets from an early age and began writing poetry himself at the age of eight. Tagore did have a brief spell at St Xavier's Jesuit school, but found conventional education uncongenial.
His father wanted him to become a barrister and he was sent to England to train.
In England, Tagore heard John Bright and W.E.Gladstone speak and was impressed by their "large-hearted, radical liberalism." In 1879, he enrolled at University College, London, but was recalled by his father in 1880, possibly because his letters home all indicated his attraction (which was mutual) to English girls.
In l883 he was married. He never mentions his wife in his Reminiscences. His family chose his bride, an almost illiterate girl of ten named Bhabatarini (renamed Mrinalini), whom he married with little ceremony. The bride was then sent away to a convent to be educated. They were to have four children, the eldest was born when Mrinalini was 13. Mrinalini was to die at the age of 30, apparently unmissed by her husband.
Tagore was to give a lecture, in 1887, arguing for the abandonment of child marriages. However, he was later to marry off his daughters at the ages of 13 and ten-and-a-half respectively.
In 1884, his beloved sister-in-law, Kadambari, committed suicide. He had already dedicated four works to her and was to dedicate two more. In 1901, he portrayed her as Charu in Nashtanirh.
From 1890, Tagore had undertaken the management of the family estates. He had also become, by the 1890s, the chief contributor to leading Bengali journals.
His first poetic collections Manasi (l890), Chitra (1895) and Sonar Tari (1895) used colloquial Bengali instead of the usual archaic literary form.
In 1901 he founded Shantiniketan near Calcutta. This was designed to provide a blend of traditional ashram and Western education. He began with 5 pupils and 5 teachers (three of whom were Christian). His ideals were simplicity of living and the cultivation of beauty.
In 1912, Tagore visited Britain again and his own English translation of Gitanjali was published under Yeats' auspices. A lecture tour of Britain and the USA followed.
In 1913, he was awarded the Nobel Prize and used the prize money to improve his school at Shantiniketan. By 1921, he had added a university to the school complex.
In 1915, he was knighted but repudiated the honour in 1919 after the Amritsar Massacre.
Apart from his poetry, he held major exhibitions of his paintings in the West. He was also a noted composer. His works and his life influenced film director Satyajit Ray, who had been one of his pupils.
Tagore was not political and tried to harmonize the views of east and west.
In August 1941, Tagore was moved from Shantiniketan to Calcutta for an operation. In the same year he died in the house in which he was born.
Explore Santiniketan Online! here...
All content copyright © 1996 Harilal Asok. All rights reserved.