"In the night of weariness let me give myself up to sleep without struggle, resting my trust upon thee..."
The death anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore ( May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941), poet, novelist, essayist, philosopher and musician, is a poignant reminder of the past, every year. His works of literature and music have touched every chord of human emotions.
Today, August 7, 2020, is his 79th death anniversary, known as 'Baishe Shrabon' (Shravan 22, in the Bengali calendar) in Bengal.
Rabindranath Tagore's writing, which is deeply rooted in both Indian and Western learning traditions, explores fiction in the form of poetry, songs, stories, and dramas. It also includes portrayals of common people's lives, literary criticism, philosophy, and social issues.
Tagore's works, which were originally written in Bengali, later reached the masses in the West after being recast in English.
"Beyond The Bounds Of Life And Death"
In his life, Tagore had to encounter the death of many loved ones, one after another.
Sharada Devi, his mother, passed away when he was only 14. He then lost from his life his sister-in-law Kadambari Devi, who had a significant influence in his life, his wife Mrinalini Devi, his daughters Madhurilata and Renuka, and his son, Shamindranath.
Shamindranath, very dear to Tagore, died of cholera at the age of 11, on the fifth death anniversary of his wife.
"When his last moment was about to come I was sitting alone in the dark in an adjoining room, praying intently for his passing away to his next stage of existence in perfect peace and well-being. At a particular point of time my mind seemed to float in a sky where there was neither darkness nor light, but a profound depth of calm, a boundless sea of consciousness without a ripple or murmur. I saw the vision of my son lying in the heart of the Infinite and I was about to cry to my friend, who was nursing the boy in the next room, that the child was safe, that he had found his liberation. I felt like a father who had sent his son across the sea, relieved to learn of his safe arrival and success in finding his place. I felt at once that the physical nearness of our dear ones to ourselves is not the final meaning of their protection. It is merely a means of satisfaction to our own selves and not necessarily the best that could be wished for them," a grief-stricken yet strong Tagore had written.
After his mother's death, Tagore avoided classroom schooling and roamed among nature in Bolpur and Panihati. He connected with the lush orange 'Palash phool' in the 'ranga mati' (red soil) of rural Bengal.
Years later, he went on to set up an open school to emphasize the joy of learning in a natural environment, surrounded with trees and flowers and the chirping of birds. Ever since he was a child, Tagore could never come to terms with the idea of education and knowledge being imparted inside the four walls of a building.
Tagore's open school, the renowned Visva Bharati University in Shantiniketan, is no less than a treat to the eyes even today. As you walk along the long green lawns, you can still see students sitting under trees and taking their classes -- Tagore's decade-long influence glistening in their eyes.
Nobel Prize And Knighthood
"And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well."
In March 1912, Tagore was severely ill. At his Kuthi Bari, a house built by his grandfather in Shilaidaha, he was too weak and tired to write anything new.
However, unable to sit idle, he began translating his work 'Gitanjali' into English.
On a November evening a year later, in 1913, a telegram addressed to him arrived at Shantiniketan, travelling miles from Sweden to the Bolpur's dust-laden 'laal maati' villages.
Rabindranath Tagore had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In the year 1915, Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, where the British Indian Army on April 13 opened fire upon the crowd in Amritsar, killing hundreds.
Writing a letter to the Viceroy of India after the incident, Tagore renounced the British honorary title.
'There Is No God In The Temple'
Rabindranath Tagore is present with us as much today as he did a century back. His works, written and composed decades back, resonate with the current world and today's society.
A loose translation of Tagore's poem 'Deeno Daan' reads: "It's not empty, It's rather full of the Royal pride. You have bestowed yourself, oh King, not the God of this world."
A poem that Tagore had written 120 years ago has become viral over social media today -- with a striking relevance to the current events in our country.
'The King frowned, "2 million golden coins
Were showered on that grand structure that kisses the sky,
I offered it to the Gods after performing all the necessary rituals,
And you dare claim that in such a grand temple,
There is no presence of God"?
The Saint calmly replied, "in the very year in which, twenty million of your subjects were struck by a terrible drought;
The pauperized masses without any food or shelter,
came begging at your door crying for help, only to be turned away,
they were forced to take refuge in forests, caves, camping under roadside foliages, derelict old temples;
and in that very year
when you spent 2 million gold to build that grand temple of your's,
that was the day when God pronounced:
In my home the foundations are built with the values:
Of Truth, Peace, Compassion and Love.
The poverty stricken puny miser,
Who could not provide shelter to his own homeless subjects,
Does he really fancy giving me a home?'
Tagore's 'Deeno Daan', meaning 'Donating to the destitute,' has been making the rounds on social media since August 5.
On August 5, marked by many as a historic day in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid down the first bricks of the much-contested Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Amid much fanfare and grand celebrations in the middle of a pandemic that has gripped the world, deaths from COVID-19 in India crossed the 40,000-mark, the fifth highest in the world.
Netizens could draw parallels to the decades-old poem today.
In the poem, a sage tells a king that the temple he has built with "two million gold coins" does not have God inside. The king, enraged, asks the sage how such a grand structure could be empty.
To this, the sage replies that it is not empty, but rather filled with the king's pride.
The sage calmly tells the king how this was not the time for him to spend his riches on a temple, because at the same time, people of his land were miserable, struck by a calamity.
At a time when the his resources should have been used to help the needy, they were spent on building a temple while the poor were turned away by the king.
The sage says that God must be wondering how the same king who "could not provide shelter to his own homeless subjects/Does he really fancy giving me a home?"
'That is the day God left that Temple of yours.
And joined the poor beside the roads, under the trees.
Like emptiness of the froth in the vast seas,
Your mundane temple is as hollow.
It's just a bubble of wealth and pride.'