Wednesday, January 28, 2009

'Where the mind is without fear'...........

Where the mind is without fear..........

Where 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 towards perfection
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 awake.

Immortal words! This is Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore's dream of a free and glorious India. This poem (no. 35, from Tagore's Noble prize winning literary work 'Gitanjali') is very inspiring and timeless.

Here is a link for an audio-visual version of the above poem read by Samuel Godfrey George:

Following is the link to the poem in its musical form (rendered by various artists):

One of my all time favourite poems. Despite the passage of time, infact nearly a 100 years, each and every word echoes our sentiments, what is in our hearts, in these trying times! Tagore's words weave their magic immaculately to finally take the form of this glorious poem.

Note on Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore: Tagore was born in North Calcutta (now Kolkata) on the 7th of May, 1861, into one of the richest and most progressive families of Bengal. Also known by the sobriquets 'Gurudev' and 'Kabiguru,' Tagore was a polymath: he was a mystic, poet, philosopher, visual artist, playwright, novelist, composer, political thinker and educator whose works reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became Asia's first Nobel laureate when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. In appearance, with his long, flowing white beard, a head full of white hair, and long tunic, he was like a figure out of a mystical vision. In over six decades Tagore gave the world some 2,500 songs, more than 2,000 paintings and drawings, 28 volumes of poetry, drama, opera, short stories, novels, essays and diaries and a vast number of letters. The enormity and sheer emotional power of his work have made Tagore the one Asian writer/poet whose work is widely known beyond the region and whose reputation has endured the test of time.

'Gitanjali' ('Gitanjoli' in bengali) is a collection of 103 English poems, largely translations, by Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore himself. He earned worldwide recognition with the English version of 'Gitanjali' in 1912. The word 'Gitanjoli' has been coined by the amalgamation of two 'bengali' words - 'git' meaning 'song' and 'anjoli' meaning 'offering' and thus means - 'An Offering of songs.' But the word for 'offering', 'anjoli', has a strong devotional connotation, so the title may also be interpreted as 'Prayer Offering of Songs'.

The English collection is not a translation of poems from the Bengali volume of the same name. While half the poems (52 out of 103) in the English text were selected from the Bengali volume, others were taken from the following works (given with year and number of songs selected for the English text): 'Gitimallo' (1914, 17), 'Noibeddo' (1901, 15), 'Khea' (1906, 11) and a handful from other works of Tagore. The translations were often radical, leaving out or altering large chunks of the poem and in one instance even fusing two separate poems (song 95, which unifies songs 89, 90 of naivedya). In retrospect, the book demonstrates why writers should never be their own translators!

These translations were undertaken prior to a visit to England in 1912, where the poems were extremely well received. A slender volume was published in 1913, with an exhilarating preface by the renowned Irish poet and dramatist William B. Yeats (1865--1939), himself the winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1923. In the same year (1913), based on a corpus of three thin translations, Rabindranath Tagore became the first non-European to win the Nobel prize.

Following are a couple of links to these timeless poems from 'Gitanjali': (this contains the introduction by W.B.Yeats as well)

Tagore was also a cultural reformer who modernised Bengali art by rejecting strictures binding it to classical Indian forms. Two songs written by him are now the national anthems of two sovereign countries India and Bangladesh: 'Jana Gana Mana' and 'Amar Shonar Bangla' respectively. Tagore is the only poet till date to have achieved this feat.

Gitanjali, Kabuliwalah, Dak Ghar, Nastoneer, Gora and Ghare-Baire are among his best-known works. The best of Tagore's stories erase distinctions between the self and the other. 'Rabindra-sangeet' / 'Robindra Shongeet' or the 'songs of Rabindranath Tagore' holds sway over the hearts of the people, on both sides of the frontier in Bengal. The beauty and depth of these songs are immeasurable. They have secured a unique place in the 'musical culture' of Bengal, again on both sides of the border. Attempts are underway to translate some of these timeless songs into hindi so as to reach a wider audiance.

e.g., here is a link to the hindi version of the bengali song 'Aamaro porano jaha chaye':

........and the bengali version of this song is as follows:

Rabindra-sangeet with its sheer beauty and lyricism retains its flavour, the language does not matter.

Following is the link to a slideshow containing translations (from bengali to english) of Tagore's poems compiled by some students of Stanford to celebrate the legacy of the great Tagore on the occasion of Rabindra Jayanti 2005. It is no doubt amateurish but a good effort nonetheless:

Proves yet again that it is difficult, nigh impossible, to capture and transfer the flavour and punch of one language into another. Herculean task, indeed! Or perhaps, Her Majesty's language has not yet developed the depth and indeed the soul required to understand, visualise and translate the titanic intellect and imagination of one of the greatest poets to have ever walked on this planet. There goes my chance of ever getting a knighhood or an OBE or CBE!

Rabindranath Tagore was the youngest son of Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, a leader of the Brahmo Samaj, which was a new religious sect in nineteenth-century Bengal and which attempted a revival of the ultimate monistic basis of Hinduism as laid down in the Upanishads.

He was educated at home; and although at seventeen he was sent to England for formal schooling, he did not finish his studies there. Later in life, in addition to his multifaceted literary activities, he managed the family estates, a project which brought him into close touch with both nature as well as common people and increased his interest in social reforms. He also started an experimental school at 'Shantiniketan' in rural Bengal where he tried his Upanishadic ideals of education. It combined the best of Indian and Western teachings, with a strong emphasis on the arts. After his death it slid rapidly downhill, but before it failed, it educated, among others, Indira Gandhi, Amartya Sen and Satyajit Ray (whose best films were adaptations of Tagore's stories e.g., 'Charulata').

From time to time he participated in the Indian nationalist movement, though in his own non-sentimental and visionary way. Tagore was knighted by the ruling British Government in 1915, but after the Amritsar Massacre/Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919, in which the colonial troops led by Brigadier-General Dyer killed unarmed people, he renounced this honour in protest. But he had strong differences with Gandhi on the direction the freedom struggle should take. He did not support Gandhi's 'Non-Cooperation movement' against the British. But he was no friend of the British. The most controversial and in retrospect, prescient, aspect of Tagore's political thought was his opposition to 'Nationalism'.

Monism in Hinduism: Monism is found in the Nasadiya Sukta of the Rigveda, which speaks of the One being-non-being that 'breathed without breath'. The first system in Hinduism that unequivocally explicated absolute monism was the non-dualist philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as expounded by Shankara. In short, Advaita declares - All is Brahman. It is part of the six Hindu systems of philosophy, based on the Upanishads, and posits that the ultimate monad is a formless, ineffable divine ground of all being.

Vishishtadvaita, qualified monism, is from the school of Ramanuja. Shuddhadvaita, in-essence monism, is the school of Vallabha. Dvaitadvaita, differential monism, is a school founded by Nimbarka. Dvaita, dualist monism, is a school founded by Madhvacharya. All Vaishnava schools are panentheistic and view the universe as part of Krishna or Narayana, but see a plurality of souls and substances within Brahman. Monistic theism, which includes the concept of a personal God as a universal, omnipotent Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, is prevalent within many other schools of Hinduism as well. Monistic theism is not to be confused with monotheism where God is viewed as transcendent-only. In monotheism, the notion of immanence or actual presence of God in all things is absent.

Monism in philosophy can be defined according to three kinds: Idealism, phenomenalism, or mentalistic monism which holds that only mind is real. Neutral monism, which holds that both the mental and the physical can be reduced to some sort of third substance, or energy. Physicalism or materialism, which holds that only the physical is real, and that the mental can be reduced to the physical. Certain other positions are hard to pigeonhole into the above categories.

In the English-speaking world, the writings of Tagore are no longer widely read. Nonetheless, for millions of Bengalis and even non-bengalis who live or have lived in Bengal, Tagore's songs, poems and writings continue to resonate.

Here is the link of Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna rendering the song 'Aguner Poroshmoni':

Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna is one of the towering figures in contemporary Karnatik (South Indian) music.

aguner porosh moni chhoao prane
e jibom punyo koro
e jibon punyo koro
e jibon punyo koro
dohon dane
amar e dehokhani tule dhoro
tomar oi debaloyer prodip koro
nishidin alok sikha jwoluk gane

adharer gaye gaye porsh tobo
sararat photak tara nobo nobo
noyoner dristi hote ghuchbe kalo
jekhane porbe setha dekhbe alo
betha mor uthbe jwole urdhopane……..
aguner poroshmoni...........

..................................................Beautiful song. Amazing lyrics.

Tagore left this mortal world on the 7th of August, 1941, at the age of 80, in the house where he was born.

Let me end by providing a link to Tagore's rendition of one of his own songs:

Photograph: Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore, Asia's first Nobel laureate - awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. He was also the first Non-European to win the Noble prize. There is also the e-version of his signature, in Bengali.


  1. Great write-up and most wonderful links!

  2. Asombhob prosongsoniyo proyas. Dhonnobad. Kamona kori aapnar porisrom sarthok hok. (although I don't like to type Bengali in English characters, but in this case I feel the urgent need of a universal Bengali font).

  3. Ei link-ta mone hoy aapni dekhechen. Tobuo ami ekbar pathiye dilum.

  4. @ Ritwick: Thank you, for your encouraging words. I too second your thoughts regarding the bengali font.

    I went through your blogs...interesting photos, very aesthetically taken. It is a pity that we know so little about our motherland.

    Keep up the good work!