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Rabindranath Tagore and I Compare Schools
Tagore taught us to sing, as a natural form of self-expression,
like the birds."
a bright fourteen-year-old lad at my Ranchi school, gave me this
explanation after I had complimented him one morning on his melodious
outbursts. With or without provocation, the boy poured forth a tuneful
stream. He had previously attended the famous Tagore school of "Santiniketan"
(Haven of Peace) at Bolpur.
of Rabindranath have been on my lips since early youth," I
told my companion. "All Bengal, even the unlettered peasants,
delights in his lofty verse."
Bhola and I
sang together a few refrains from Tagore, who has set to music thousands
of Indian poems, some original and others of hoary antiquity.
Rabindranath soon after he had received the Nobel Prize for literature,"
I remarked after our vocalizing. "I was drawn to visit him
because I admired his undiplomatic courage in disposing of his literary
critics." I chuckled.
inquired the story.
severely flayed Tagore for introducing a new style into Bengali
poetry," I began. "He mixed colloquial and classical expressions,
ignoring all the prescribed limitations dear to the pundits' hearts.
His songs embody deep philosophic truth in emotionally appealing
terms, with little regard for the accepted literary forms.
influential critic slightingly referred to Rabindranath as a 'pigeon-poet
who sold his cooings in print for a rupee.' But Tagore's revenge
was at hand; the whole Western world paid homage at his feet soon
after he had translated into English his Gitanjali ("Song
Offerings"). A trainload of pundits, including his one-time
critics, went to Santiniketan to offer their congratulations.
received his guests only after an intentionally long delay, and
then heard their praise in stoic silence. Finally he turned against
them their own habitual weapons of criticism.
he said, 'the fragrant honors you here bestow are incongruously
mingled with the putrid odors of your past contempt. Is there possibly
any connection between my award of the Nobel Prize, and your suddenly
acute powers of appreciation? I am still the same poet who displeased
you when I first offered my humble flowers at the shrine of Bengal.'
newspapers published an account of the bold chastisement given by
Tagore. I admired the outspoken words of a man unhypnotized by flattery,"
I went on. "I was introduced to Rabindranath in Calcutta by
his secretary, Mr. C. F. Andrews,1 who was simply attired in a Bengali dhoti. He referred lovingly
to Tagore as his gurudeva.
received me graciously. He emanated a soothing aura of charm, culture,
and courtliness. Replying to my question about his literary background,
Tagore told me that one ancient source of his inspiration, besides
our religious epics, had been the classical poet, Bidyapati."
Inspired by these memories, I began to sing Tagore's version of
an old Bengali song, "Light the Lamp of Thy Love." Bhola
and I chanted joyously as we strolled over the Vidyalaya grounds.
About two years
after founding the Ranchi school, I received an invitation from
Rabindranath to visit him at Santiniketan in order to discuss our
educational ideals. I went gladly. The poet was seated in his study
when I entered; I thought then, as at our first meeting, that he
was as striking a model of superb manhood as any painter could desire.
His beautifully chiseled face, nobly patrician, was framed in long
hair and flowing beard. Large, melting eyes; an angelic smile; and
a voice of flutelike quality which was literally enchanting. Stalwart,
tall, and grave, he combined an almost womanly tenderness with the
delightful spontaneity of a child. No idealized conception of a
poet could find more suitable embodiment than in this gentle singer.
Tagore and I
were soon deep in a comparative study of our schools, both founded
along unorthodox lines. We discovered many identical features --- outdoor
instruction, simplicity, ample scope for the child's creative spirit.
Rabindranath, however, laid considerable stress on the study of
literature and poetry, and the self-expression through music and
song which I had already noted in the case of Bhola. The Santiniketan
children observed periods of silence, but were given no special
The poet listened
with flattering attention to my description of the energizing "Yogoda"
exercises and the yoga concentration techniques which are taught
to all students at Ranchi.
me of his own early educational struggles. "I fled from school
after the fifth grade," he said, laughing. I could readily
understand how his innate poetic delicacy had been affronted by
the dreary, disciplinary atmosphere of a schoolroom.
is why I opened Santiniketan under the shady trees and the glories
of the sky." He motioned eloquently to a little group studying
in the beautiful garden. "A child is in his natural setting
amidst the flowers and songbirds. Only thus may he fully express
the hidden wealth of his individual endowment. True education can
never be crammed and pumped from without; rather it must aid in
bringing spontaneously to the surface the infinite hoards of wisdom
I agreed. "The
idealistic and hero-worshiping instincts of the young are starved
on an exclusive diet of statistics and chronological eras."
The poet spoke
lovingly of his father, Devendranath, who had inspired the Santiniketan
presented me with this fertile land, where he had already built
a guest house and temple," Rabindranath told me. "I started
my educational experiment here in 1901, with only ten boys. The
eight thousand pounds which came with the Nobel Prize all went for
the upkeep of the school."
elder Tagore, Devendranath, known far and wide as "Maharishi,"
was a very remarkable man, as one may discover from his Autobiography. Two years of his manhood were spent in meditation in the Himalayas.
In turn, his father, Dwarkanath Tagore, had been celebrated throughout
Bengal for his munificent public benefactions. From this illustrious
tree has sprung a family of geniuses. Not Rabindranath alone; all
his relatives have distinguished themselves in creative expression.
His brothers, Gogonendra and Abanindra, are among the foremost artists 3 of India; another brother, Dwijendra, is a deep-seeing philosopher,
at whose gentle call the birds and woodland creatures respond.
invited me to stay overnight in the guest house. It was indeed a
charming spectacle, in the evening, to see the poet seated with
a group in the patio. Time unfolded backward: the scene before me
was like that of an ancient hermitage --- the joyous singer encircled
by his devotees, all aureoled in divine love. Tagore knitted each
tie with the cords of harmony. Never assertive, he drew and captured
the heart by an irresistible magnetism. Rare blossom of poesy blooming
in the garden of the Lord, attracting others by a natural fragrance!
In his melodious
voice, Rabindranath read to us a few of his exquisite poems, newly
created. Most of his songs and plays, written for the delectation
of his students, have been composed at Santiniketan. The beauty
of his lines, to me, lies in his art of referring to God in nearly
every stanza, yet seldom mentioning the sacred Name. "Drunk
with the bliss of singing," he wrote, "I forget myself
and call thee friend who art my lord."
day, after lunch, I bade the poet a reluctant farewell. I rejoice
that his little school has now grown to an international university,
"Viswa-Bharati," where scholars of all lands have found
an ideal setting.
the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by
narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the
dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening
thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country
The English writer and publicist, close friend of Mahatma Gandhi.
Mr. Andrews is honored in India for his many services to his adopted
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"The soul having been often born, or, as the Hindus say, 'traveling
the path of existence through thousands of births' . . . there is
nothing of which she has not gained the knowledge; no wonder that
she is able to recollect . . . what formerly she knew. . . . For
inquiry and learning is reminiscence all." -Emerson.
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Rabindranath, too, in his sixties, engaged in a serious study of
painting. Exhibitions of his "futuristic" work were given
some years ago in European capitals and New York.
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Gitanjali (New York: Macmillan Co.). A thoughtful study of the poet
will be found in The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore, by the celebrated
scholar, Sir S. Radhakrishnan (Macmillan, 1918). Another expository
volume is B. K. Roy's Rabindranath Tagore: The Man and His Poetry
(New York: Dodd, Mead, 1915). Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism
(New York: Putnam's, 1916), by the eminent Oriental art authority,
Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, contains a number of illustrations in color
by the poet's brother, Abanindra Nath Tagore.
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