Tagore’s humanism

One day while I stood watching at early dawn the sun sending out its rays from behind the trees, I suddenly felt as if some ancient mist had in a moment lifted from my sight… The invisible screen of the common place was removed from all things and all men, and their ultimate significance was intensified in my mind; and this is the definition of beauty. That which was memorable in this experience was its human message, the sudden expansion of my consciousness in the super-personal world of man.

The full text of the lectures, titled the Religion of Man, is available at this link.


‘In a very real sense, he was a world poet. His words- the tools which he used- are words of beauty, sensuous not sensual, comprehending not only love of God and relationship between man and God but human love. The profound sense of beauty pervades Tagore’s work and ennobles that and makes it understandable to every heart. The world needs such poets.’

Pearl Buck, American novelist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, on Tagore’s Birth Centenary in 1961 to India’s President Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan.

Tagore, the Goethe of India, gives expression to his personal experience that this is the truth (life affirmation) in a manner more profound, more powerful and more charming than any man has ever done before him. This completely noble and harmonious thinker belongs not only to his people but to humanity.

-          Albert Schweitzer, Gunsbach 18 September 1959. Famous missionary surgeon, philospher and musicologist. Awarded Nobel Peace Prize 1952. Continue reading »

Tagore’s original notion of utsav was a celebration of diversity, in which everyone was accommodated; and where both individuals and groups could come together in ever widening circles of inclusion and integration.  At the broadest level, utsav, as conceived by Tagore, represented no less than a celebration of the whole of human society, or manabsamaj, where at least the possibility of meaningful creative sharing and global cooperation would exist

Read full article by Kathleen M. O’Connell

When you came in the darkness/The moon had not risen on the ocean/O Unknown! I knew you by my senses/Your touch played music in my heart/When you went away alone/The moon was high in the night, then I saw the garland by the road/I understood for whom you left it.

As in many great philosophers (Rumi for instance), Tagore’s notion of love encompasses both romantic love as well as a spiritual dimension of divine love. In this, Tagore constantly strives to dissolve the boundaries between the human and the divine. In the video below, one such haunting song of love is sung by Sharmila Roy Pommot, one of the foremost contemporary exponents of Tagore based in Paris.  A translation of the song,  by Anandarup Ray is provided above.

Perhaps surprisingly, Tagore’s paintings and drawings mean the most to me personally. I published a book on them in 1989 and also organised an exhibition of them in the UK in the 1980s. Tagore was a totally untrained painter, who took to painting in his late sixties. He began by elaborating the doodles on his manuscripts into fantastic shapes, creatures and faces, and then began drawing and painting in earnest in his seventies after having some exhibitions in Europe in 1930. His paintings do not resemble the work of any other Indian artist. Many contemporary Indian artists regard Tagore as the most original painter of modern India—I agree. Among Tagore’s writings, I like his short stories the best: a particular favourite is ‘The Post Master’, written in 1891 and filmed, with exquisite sensitivity, by Satyajit Ray in 1961.

For Bengalis, the appeal of Tagore is in the unrivalled beauty and subtlety of his language, especially in his songs, which are probably the most popular part of Tagore’s oeuvre in Bengal. (Tagore also wrote the words for India’s national anthem.) For those who do not read Bengali as a native speaker (like me), I think his appeal is various, depending on whether one is speaking of Tagore’s poetry, or his stories and novels, or his essays, or his letters. The diversity of his work is amazing, even now, almost 70 years after his death—a bit like that of Leonardo da Vinci. Above everything, running through all his best work, is a current of humanity, always opposed to the dehumanisation introduced by industrialisation and technology. Tagore could show us the inner psychology of the poor villager, the urban middle class and the idle rich, without losing sympathy for anyone. And, unlike Gandhi, Tagore was highly receptive to culture, wherever he encountered it—in India, the West or in the Japan and China. Anyone who wants to understand Tagore for the first time should see the film adaptations of Tagore made by Satyajit Ray, his fellow Bengali and an equally great artist: Three Daughters (1961), Charulata (1964), The Home and the World (1984), and the documentary film Rabindranath Tagore (1961).


Andrew Robinson is a King’s Scholar of Eton College and holds degrees from Oxford University (in chemistry) and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.  He is currently a visiting fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge.  He has received a number of academic grants for his research, notably a fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust, a research grant from the British Academy, and a major grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study creativity, genius and breakthroughs in the arts and sciences (2007-09).  His works on Tagore include the following:

The Art of Rabindranath Tagore (Andre Deutsch, 1989)—with a foreword by Satyajit Ray, based on an exhibition at the Barbican Centre, London/Oxford Museum of Modern Art, organised by AR in 1986

Rabindranath Tagore, The Myriad-Minded Man (Bloomsbury/St Martin’s Press, 1995, pb edn 1996; new pb edn I. B. Tauris, 2009, with a foreword by Anita Desai)—with Krishna Dutta

“The entire book was a revelation to me.” (Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Nobel laureate in physics)

“One has waited a very long time for a biography of Tagore that did justice to a far more complex and curious mind and life than simply respectful and circumspect accounts allowed. Here it is: thorough, balanced, intelligent, and addressing every aspect of a truly astonishing artist, his life and times.” (Anita Desai)

“Excellent … admirably straightforward, readable, lively, informative” (Financial Times)

Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology (Picador, 1997, pb edn 1999)—edited with Krishna Dutta

Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore (Cambridge University Press, 1997, pb edn 2005)—edited with Krishna Dutta; with a foreword by Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate in economics

“An indispensable trove for anyone interested in modern India’s intellectual and cultural history.” (Sunil Khilnani, Independent on Sunday)

HISTORY occasionally witnesses the birth of some sparkling personalities that burn ablaze all ugliness, all pettiness, all inhuman vulgarities and thereby lead civilization to reach a dizzy height. Such personalities cannot be confined within the narrow geographical boundaries where they first touched the terrestrial earth. By dint of their vision, mission and action they expose themselves as Universal Man holding high up the banner of human values—truth, love, beauty, forbearance, harmony and eternal search for the ultimate destination from here to eternity. In such a galaxy of the prophets of humanism, Rabindranath Tagore, the minstrel of Mother India, occupies a frontal position.

Excerpt from an essay by Bharati Mukherjee, Former Vice-Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati, from the Journal of Oriental Studies, published by the Institute of Oriental Philosophy in Japan.

Our Tagore events

  • Oct 6, 2012 AUTUMN EXTRAVAGANZA, Michael Power St. Joseph High School, Toronto. A variety show with Tagore’s works, and a multicultural Dance Ensemble with folk dances of Ukraine, Chile, and India.

  • Sep 25, 2012 'Walking Alone: Justice and Inequality in Tagore's thought', talk by Ananya Mukherjee-Reed at Princeton University, USA.

  • May 4, 2012 Soul of Spring,McMichael Art Gallery, Kleinburg, Ontario. A medley of music, dance and poetry based on Tagore's play. It was performed during an exhibition of Tagore's paintings 'The Last Harvest' at the gallery.

  • Jan 19, 2012 'Race and Diversity in Tagore', talk by Ananya Mukherjee-Reed at the University of Toronto

  • Sept 30, 2011 Tagore reading at the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts

  • October 2, 2011 A panel on Tagore featuring Uma Dasgupta and Martha Nussbaum on Writers & Company, CBC Radio One Broadcast time 3:05 pm Eastern. Click here for more details and podcast
  • Dec 3-4, 2011: A film festival featuring the North American premier of two films based on Tagore's work.
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