Gitanjali: You have made me endless, such is your pleasure – Nachiketa Bandyopadhyay

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Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7th, 1861 at Jorasanko, Kolkata, and was nurtured under transcendental culture and heritage of Vedic philosophy, Sufism and pursuit of art and literature that later characterized his life. His grandfather, Dwarakanath Tagore was an aristocrat and a business icon. His father Debendranath, was a reformist and had profound influence on his son Rabindranath, at the time when Vidyasagar, Vivekananda, Ramkrishna and others were born, and Bengal was awakening in light of change. Rabibdranath had to manage his ancestral Zamindari at Selaidaha (presently in Bangaladesh) during 1890s which was the period of his prolific creation of classical literature. He founded Shantiniketan Ashram (later developed as University). He also excelled in music and painting, and was a patron of rural development. Tagore won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1913 for “Gitanjali” and a Knighthood from the British crown (which he later renounced to protest the Jaliwanwalabagh massacre). He traveled in 30 countries between 1878-1932 to pay social and academic visits and met several international icons.

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Born in 1960, Dr. Nachiketa Bandyopadhyay has been working as a Registrar at the Sidho Kanho Birsha University, Purulia, India since 2011. He also worked as a Reader in Zoology department at Alipurduar college, (North Bengal University) and as a Principal at Netaji Subhash Ashram Mahavidyalay in Purulia (Burdwan University). His area of interests are Wildlife, Ichthyology, Ornithology, Peace Education, Philosophy, Poetry, History of science, and Women in science. He has published a number of articles in many different National and International journals.

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“I had gone a begging from door to door in the village path, when thy golden chariot appeared in the distance like a gorgeous dream and I wondered who was this King of all Kings.” – Rabindranath Tagore (Gitanjali Poem #50)

Gitanjali, the crowning achievement of Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913. Gitanjali (offering of songs) is a selection of poems presenting a synthesis of material and spiritual life, in which the poet sees the realization of God through his songs in one hundred and three poems.

‘’Life of my life, I shall
Ever try to keep my body
Pure, knowing that thy living
touch is upon all my limbs”

The poet takes us deep down to the most intimate thought when he writes –

“when thou commandest me to sing it seems that my heart would break with pride;
and I look to thy face,
and tears come to my eyes.’’

Gitanjali is the mixture of noble qualities of poet where the doctrine of motherhood of God is unified with criticism of life. On the issue of translation, Tagore wrote – “Once in an unguarded moment, I translated my Gitanjali into English prose. At that time distinguished English writers accepted my translation as a part of their literature. They spoke so highly of it that I felt embarrassed as I thought they were exaggerating because I am a foreigner. There was neither rhyme nor meter in my poetry. Even if they found some aesthetic pleasure in it, I could not accept their verdict. It occurred to me then that I lost nothing by giving poems a shape of prose. On the contrary, if I had translated them in English poetry, they could probably have been censured and looked down upon.’’

Ezra Pound boldly asserted – “I find in these poems a sort of ultimate common sense, a reminder of one thing and of forty things of which we are ever likely to lose sight of in the confusion of our western life, in the racket of our cities, in the jabber of manufactured literature, in the vortex of advertisement.”

Bertrand Russell was fascinated with the very Indian mystic element in Gitanjali and said, “the poems have some quality different from that of any English poetry. I feel it has a value of it’s own, which English literature does not give.

Of one hundred and three poems in English Gitanjali fifty one are from Bengali original, the rest are from his different books and translated by him. Reputation of Gitanjali was established not for the literally value of language but for the theme of mysticism and idealism, metaphysical suggestion of relationship of two earthly lovers, union with the supreme God. But his opinion of Gitanjali was recorded as “In Gitanjali I never told myself that I was writing poems. They are simply expressions of my inner life, sincere and humble prayers, my ardent sadhana, which has melted all my joy and sorrow into its own form.”

Verner Von Heidenstam, a swedish poet, Nobel Laurette of 1916 said “I read them with strong emotion, and I can say that in the course of decades I have not met their like in poetic literature. The hours they gave me were special, as if I had been allowed to drink from a fresh and clear spring. The loving and intense religious sense that permeates all his thoughts and feelings, the purity of heart, and the noble and unaffected elevation of the style –all amount to a total impression of deep and rare spiritual beauty.”

W.B. Yeats wrote in the introduction of Gitanjali “We write long books where no page perhaps has any quality to make writing a pleasure, being confident in some general design; just as we fight and make money and fill our head with politics all dull thing in the doing-while, Mr. Tagore, like the Indian civilization itself, has been content to discover the soul and surrender himself to its spontaneity. He often seems to contrast life with that of those who have loved more after our fashion, and have more seeming weight in the world, and always humbly as though he were only sure his way is best for him.”

“Men going home glance at me and smile and fill me with shame. I sit like a beggar maid, drawing my skirt over my face, and when they ask me, what it is I want, I drop my eyes and answer them not.”

While seeking to find religious explanation of naturalism in Gitanjali and ability of connecting dynamically to his love of God, Paula Hayes argued that repetition of nature motifs is rooted in cosmogony of Rig Veda. Unlike Romantic poet of West, Tagore was deeply inclined to the cosmological origin of the World. Hayes explained magnificently while drawing on the comparative account between material house and spiritual house, painted the imagery of God’s creation of ‘humanity’ home out of natural World. As Tagore writes,

“In desperate hope I go and seek her in all corners of my room, I find her not. My house is small and what was once has gone and can perhaps never be regained. Only spiritual house can lodge eternity. But infinite is thy mansion, my lord, and seeking her I have come to thy door. I stand under the golden canopy of thine evening sky and I lift my eager eyes to thy face.”

Paula Hayes points – “ Nature, the evening sky, becomes the physical, material sign to the poet of the unseen spiritual grace of God.

“Oh, dip my emptied life into that ocean
Plunge it into the deepest fullness
Let me for once feel that lost sweet touch
in the allness of the Universe”

Mystical spirituality of Tagore is not a mysticism or irrational. His ecstatic worship is meditative. Reason is to cultivate and assert divine love.

“Life of my life,
I shall ever try to keep my body pure,
knowing that thy living touch is upon all my limbs.
I shall ever try to keep all untruths out from my thoughts,
knowing that thou art that truth
which has kindled the light of reason in my mind.”

Tagore reminds us that the time is not our own. The metaphysics of time does belong to humanity by the creator of God.

“Time is endless in thy hands , my Lord.
There is none to count thy minutes
Days and nights pass and ages bloom and fade like flowers,
thou knowest how to wait’’

The poets point is obvious— the comparison of time to the fragility and aching beauty of a flower is a reminder to his readers that time is just as fragile. Humanity knows time only as a part through finite perception of waiting, while God knows time through its whole, through its eternity. Neithet time nor flowers, not the hours or the days are entirely man and woman’s to have; rather, they are God’s to have. Lessons of the Rig-Veda is to seek one’s place within the order of natural phenomena as opposed to struggling to overcome and transcend this order; so it is certainly not expected that humans will be able to do so. It teaches that the gift of life is the treasure of creation. Out of this appreciation comes Tagore’s generous appraisal of what a religion of pluralism may mean, even as it appears as worship of God.

“From dawn till dusk I sit before my door, and I know that of a sudden the happy moment will arrive when I shall see.” The poet’s solitude in the poem is his mythical path that teaches him how to discover his higher-self, the part of the personality that reaches from mind, consciousness, thought-patterns, down to the soul, to find communion with the divine.

The whole of Tagore’s poetry is devoted to light. And by this, I do not mean that his verse and his lyrical prose, which makes up a considerable part of his prose, takes light for its subject, or that his poetical creation is a hymn to light. I only mean that an impulse towards every thing that is luminous, in the concrete as well as in the abstract is ever present in Tagore’s poetry; “Light , my light , the word filling light , The eye kissing light, heart-sweeting light. “Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the center of my life; The life strikes; my darling; The chords of my love; The sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over Earth.’’

“Tagore possesses in the highest degree the feeling for active beauty, dynamic beauty, passive beauty, Barren contemplation does not appeal to him, because it is no palpable reality but an abstraction of the mind.” As interpreted by Alexandru Phillipide, the quest for beauty by Tagore goes hand in hand and is in perfect agreement with quest for truth and his poetry is not only devoted to light but also an impulse towards everything which is luminous and a joy for life.

Narrating the art of poetry of Gitanjali, Edward Thompson comments, “Rarely was fine poetry one thinks made out of less variety, rain, and cloud, wind and rising river, boatmen, lamps, temples , flutes and vines, birds flying home at dusk. It is astonishing what range the poet gets out of these few things. They are far too naturally and purely used here to be called properties as they justifiably might be in much of his works.”

“Early in the day it was whispered, free from all bondage of words.” A song of worldly pleasure, Tagore wishes to remain free from earthly bondage, but divine lover is yet to grant him freedom.

“Pluck this little flower and take it, delay not! I fear lest it droop and drop into the dust… pluck it while there is time…” Flower is life and soul of poet, what he offers to God as his humble offering.

People fond of worldly wealth and power become prisoner of their own greed. Vanity, ego and pride hold their souls in bondage. Bonds must be broken before spiritual salvation can be possible.

“ I have got my leave,
Bid me farewell, my brother !
I bow to you all and take my departure .
Here I give back the keys of my door – and I give up all claims to my house .
I only ask for last kind words from you.”

Like the Upsnishad, Tagore’s  has a dual view of “Immortality and reincarnation, the life of completeness and perfection and the life which continues endlessly”. Cycle of death and birth is going on. Man is finite and his destiny is becoming one with God. When the individual completely surrenders himself to the universal life, and the self becomes one with the supreme, then he gains the bliss of heaven and shares the life eternal.

“He comes, comes, ever comes. Every moment and every age,
every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes.”

“At the end of the day, I hasten in fear, lest thy gate be shut; but I find that yet there is time.”

One must be ready to receive God. Tagore states – “Thus the text of our everyday meditation is the Gayatri, a verse which is considered to be the epitome of all the Vedas. By its help we try to realize the essential unity of the world with the conscious soul of man; we learn to perceive the unity held together by the one external spirit, whose power creates the earth, the sky, and the stars, and at the same time irradiates our minds with the light of a consciousness that moves and exists in unbroken continuity with the outer world.”

Frederick Glysher states – “Jivandevata”, a theme on which Tagore wrote many variations, evokes his poet’s religion, strictly eclectic drawing loyally from the Upanishads and the broad mystic tradition he found capable of sustaining his universal vision of spirituality.”

Quayum recorded the world vision of Tagore on non national neo-universalism. “Tagore gave all through his life, through his paradisaical imagination that envisioned a world of love, equality, honesty, bravery and spiritual unity of all mankind – of sympathy and fellowship across race, religion and gender – The world of Sattva (light), to put it in a phrase from the BhagvatGita, rising from its current Tamasik (dark) state, that the present humanity, infatuated with greed wealth and power may not choose to tread, but it is there for them to choose when they rise from there long and horrific moral slumber. As written “where the mind is without fear, not only prayer for India but also for rest of humanity.”

In the end, I must share what Frederick Glaysher has rightly said – “It is difficult sometimes for people to understand why the west does not respond more to Tagore. He can, like Gandhi, be considered almost an infallible God. Some think of him as Universal as, in a sense, I do, indeed, one of the most universal poets of the 20th century . No poet in the west can be compared with Tagore. American poets have come to pride themselves on how small they actually are, vying with one another for the dubious honor. The truth is that for Westerners, even some Asians, Tagore is not Universal enough. For we need a whole new vision of what it means to be human, a new vision of life, its spiritual, which is to say, human, humane nature, Zen in the Chinese meaning .Yet it is still possible, despite how bleak and nihilistic the local and international scene may appear, for we live in a time of spiritual doctrine when even a church with the history of the Unitarians announces that it has moved away from all forms of transcendence, it is certainly the best poets and writers, artist in all forms, like Tagore, who have the spiritual sensitivity to sense, detect and articulate the vision needed.”

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2 Comments:

  1. Dr. Nachiketa Bandyopadhyay has opened a new window of Tagore’s poetry. And like me a simple vigorous eater of criticism always waiting for such extra ordinary works.

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