Tagore’s views on oppression and colonialism

As a way to begin Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations, we thought Aung San Suu Kyi’s beautiful words below are the most appropriate.

“There are no words of comfort in the poem. No assurances of joy and peace at the end of the harsh journey. There is no pretence that it is anything but evil luck to receive no answer to your call, to be deserted in the middle of the wilderness, to have no one who would hold up a light to aid you through a stormy night. It is not a poem that offers heart’s ease, but it teaches you that a citadel of endurance can be built on a foundation of anguish. How can anybody who has learnt to ignite his heart with the thunder-flame of his own pain ever know defeat? Victory is ensured to those who are capable of learning the hardest lessons that life has to offer’

This was Suu Kyi’s message on 8th December 2001 when all living Nobel Peace Laureates gathered to honour her as a fellow Laureate, at an occasion which marked the 10th anniversary of her own Peace award and the centennial anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize itself.

Courtesy: The Burma Campaign UK

April 13, 1919: It was Baisakhi day, a festival when people celebrate the beginning of the harvesting season. As every year, people were congregating in community fairs in the city of Amritsar, Panjab. A large unarmed crowd of ordinary people had gathered near a public square called Jalianwallah Bagh. They did not know that a political meeting was being held there. General Dyer, a powerful Commander in the British army, wanted to break up the meeting by force and ordered the battalion at his disposal to fire. The square was bounded on all sides, with a very narrow entrance and pathway, so that people could not escape from the firing. Official estimates reported 379 deaths but unofficial estimates were much higher.  Below is the letter  Tagore wrote to the Viceroy asking that his knighthood be revoked:


A portrait created by Shubnam Gill, inspired by Tagore’s famous song “Let the Fire Purify My Soul”. Published here with permission of the artist

Click here for more art by Shubnam Gill.

‘Crisis of Civilization’ – was last public speech which Tagore gave on the occassion of his eightieth birthday in April 1941.

“One day I had to leave the exotic world of literary enchantment. That day the extreme poverty of the Indian masses revealed itself to me: it was heartwrenching.  Food, clothing, water, education, health – such gross depravation of each and every fundamental need of the human mind and body has perhaps not occurred in any other modern state.   … As long I was immersed in the pursuing the glory of the ‘civilised world’,  I could not imagine such a brutal distortion of the human ideal that calls itself ‘civilisation’. ..and yet it is this country that has supplied the British with their wealth for a very long time.  Finally, I have come to see through this perversion – and through it – the limitless arrogance and indifference of the ‘civilised’  towards the several crores of people”

In the same essay, he says

As I look around I see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilization strewn like a vast heap of futility. And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in Man. I would rather look forward to the opening of a new chapter in his history after the cataclysm is over and the atmosphere rendered clean with the spirit of service and sacrifice. Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises

Read the full text here (reproduced from The Great Speeches of Modern India, edited by noted historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee).

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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