Speechs (Text)

Text of the Key Note Address by Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe on Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore Birth Anniversary

May 8, 2020

Text of the Key Note Address by Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe on Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore Birth Anniversary

Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Smt. Riva Ganguly Das Director, Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre, Dr. Neepa Choudhury. All very distinguished member of the academia, both from India and Bangladesh!

It’s a great occasion to be a part of the celebrations of the birth anniversary of a great poet Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. He must be perhaps the only poet to whom both Indians and Bangladeshis are equally indebted as it was Gurudev  who authored the national anthems of both these countries.

At the outset, let me also remember Bangabandhu Shaikh Mujibur Rahman, whose birth centenary year, we are observing. Bongbandhu had paid rich tributes to Rabindranath Tagore in 1972, when independent Bangladesh first observed Tagore’s Birth Anniversary.  In a message, Bangabandhu had said: “Bangalees have proved their love for Rabindranath Tagore by sacrificing their blood. They have established the right to study Rabindranath's literature in Bangladesh by liberating the Bangalee nation. This is the best tribute ever paid to Kabiguru!”

In 1972, in a  message to a programme organised by Bangla Academy on the occasion of the poet's birth anniversary, the prime minister further said that Rabindranath Tagore's works have inspired Bangalees to live up to the ideals of truth, justice and self-determination. His ideas played a great role in the liberation struggle of Bangladesh” Let me explain that I am quoting this from the news item that had appeared in the Daily Star newspaper of May 8,1972.

Remembering Rabindranath Tagore is always very inspiring, very enlightening and also something that holds a clear mirror to you, making you turn the searchlight inward.

Today, the whole world is in the grip of a pandemic. And exactly over one hundred years before, through his 1916 novel Chaturanga, Tagore depicted the conditions of a society under the attack of the dreaded plague. Through this novel, Tagore compelled mainly the Bhadra Lok of Bengal of those days to think about the underprivileged sections of the society. In this novel we come across portrayal of how an affluent man turns his home into an infirmary for the destitute as the plague breaks out, and eventually succumbs to the disease that he contracts while nursing the sick.

Tagore was an integrationist to the core. In 1904, the Viceroy of India Lord Curzon announced that the Bengal province would be divided into two parts. The British government was worried about the social integrity among different communities in Bengal and wanted to divide and rule. During this time Rabindranath Tagore wrote the song Banglar Mati Banglar Jol (Soil of Bengal, Water of Bengal) to unite the Bengali population. Remember, almost similar to the efforts of Lokmanya Tilak , Tagore started the Rakhi Utsav where people from different communities tied colourful Rakhis on each other’s wrists. In 1911, the two parts of Bengal were finally reunited.

Friends, one can’t forget that the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 had completely altered the political scenario and composition of India fighting against the British rule. Tagore, during the time of the massacre was ‘Sir’ Rabindranath Tagore because of the knighthood conferred in 1915. On receiving the news about Jallianwala Bagh, he tried to arrange a protest in Kolkata and finally denounced the knighthood as an act of protest.

Rabindranath Tagore was a genius in more than one way. He is best known for becoming, in 1913, the first non-European person to win the Nobel Prize in Literature but his legacy far exceeds his poetry. His open air university in Santiniketan is amongst his most enduring contributions. Vishwa Bharati, as the university is named, allows a pursuit of academics, arts and craft while celebrating nature with all intensity.

Ideologically speaking, he was a humanist but his inspiration was his nation, although not socialist in the traditional sense of the term, sensitivity towards the deprived and disadvantaged was at the core of his world view and although he was for confluence of civilisations and culture, he knew it well that the source of his ideas pertaining to this was the culture with which he had grown. The most unparalleled feature of his contribution to society and country was his approach of weaving several facets of social life , from education to village crafts, from literature to liberal arts and from freedom struggle to social reforms including gender justice, into a unique fabric through his deep involvement in contemporary social movements and cultural activities.   

Much has been said about Ravindranath Tagore’s passion for Universal Mind —which he emphasised in his poem Ami—and his constant struggle to elevate Human Mind to become Humanist to the core.  He was convinced  that a deeper understanding of Indian Culture  eventually lead us to the cultivation of Universal Mind. No wonder, all his poems and literary works carry an unmistakable fragrance of the soil of his country. Nationalism, for him was the stepping stone of a long journey towards Universalism.

Before I conclude, let me share with you two pieces of his very insightful and inspiring writings that have an eternal relevance. The message, although for the entire Humanity, is perhaps relevant to brothers and sisters in both of our great countries, India and Bangladesh.

In his book, The Centre of Indian Culture, Gurudev says, “ —but before we are in a position to stand a comparison with the other cultures of the world, or truly to cooperate with them, we must base our own structure on a synthesis of all the different cultures we have. When, taking our stand at such centre, we turn towards the West, our gaze shall no longer be timid and dazed, our heads shall remain erect, safe from insult. For then we shall be able to take our own views of Truth from the standpoint of our own vantage ground, this opening out a new vista of thought before the grateful world.”

Most notably, this streak of confluence of civilisations is vividly reflected in the writings of Gandhiji, whom Ravindranath Tagore first referred as Mahatma. In Young India of June 26, 1924, Mahatma Gandhi wrote “My swa-raj is to keep intact the genius of our civilisation. I want to write many new things but they must all be written on the Indian slate. I would gladly borrow from the West when I can return the amount with decent interest.” Great men, literally think alike!

Finally, let me end remembering how confident Rabindranath Tagore was about the power of the East. Three months before his death, in April 1941, Tagore wrote “ I had at one time believed that the springs of civilisation would issue out of the heart of Europe. But today, when I am about to quit the world that faith has gone bankrupt altogether..Today I live in the hope that the Saviour is coming..that he will be born in our midst in this poverty shamed hovel which is India. I shall wait to hear the divine message of civilisation which he will bring with him. ... Perhaps, that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises!”

And Remember, sunrise is all about hope and it is on this very optimistic note, I conclude my speech while thanking you all.