Tag Archive | Tagore

‘Tagore and Iqbal: Views’ by Aamir Butt

Iqbal and Tagore

A friend complained that I have written Tagore was the greatest poet India has produced, he was unhappy as he thinks this title belongs to Iqbal. Well actually I never wrote this in the first place, what I had written is that Tagore is acknowledged as the greatest poet India (and here I meant Indian Sub-Continent) has produced in the last 200 years. Well there is little doubt about this, is there? Tagore was the first non-White to win a Nobel prize, his poems form the national anthem of two countries and if there is a poll across the Sub-Continent asking the question who is the greater poet among them I have no doubt Tagore will win. So the fact remains that Tagore is acknowledged as the greatest poet India has produced in the last 200 years, but is he the greatest poet India has produced in the last 200 years? This is an entirely different question as here we are asking a personal opinion and everyone will have their own opinion, some I am sure will think that neither of them deserve this title. We will therefore leave this for now though at some stage it would be interesting to compare their works and ideas.

As such there is a lot of overlap between their philosophy and poetry. Both seem to be heavily influenced by Rumi and Shirazi and though Iqbal at times writes in terms of Islamic specific poetry Tagore remained by an large a pantheistic/mystic poet throughout his life.
 I was curious if they ever met each other or exchanged letters for they both lived in the same country at the same time, Tagore was 16 years older than Iqbal but outlived him by 3 years.
To my astonishment I found out that the two never ever met, not only that, they never exchanged any letters and curiously Iqbal never even acknowledged Tagore in any way!
As for Tagore the story is slightly different. Tagore admired Iqbal and this is apparent from the message he sent to  Inter-collegiate Muslim Brotherhood of Lahore which celebrated Iqbal Day in January 1937, in this message he openly acknowledged Iqbal’s greatness and  the universal quality of his poetry. 
I have been unable to find the dates but it has been recorded that once when Tagore was in Lahore he went to see Iqbal at his Mayo Road residence. Iqbal at that time had gone to Bhawalpur so no meeting took place. When Iqbal came back he was informed of Tagore’s visit and his desire to meet him, he never tried to contact Tagore, never wrote to him or anything, how strange! Why?! No one knows for sure though many have often wondered why. A few years ago one of Pakistan’s leading Iqbal scholar M Ikram Chughtai who was Director of the Urdu Science Board published a research based article on this subject. Mr Chughtai claims that the reason Iqbal gave a cold shoulder to Tagore was envy, or perhaps even jealousy. Chughtai calls it ‘The Award Complex’ and claims that the reason was Iqbal’s resentment on Tagore being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1912 and the fact that Iqbal was never considered for this prize (another anti-Muslim conspiracy perhaps). Chughtai says “Tagore’s award had been hovering on Iqbal’s mind throughout his life and he, directly or indirectly, could not free himself from this ‘award complex’.

 Soon another development was to take place which was to further sadden Iqbal: King Raza Shah Pahlavi of Iran extended an invitation to Tagore to visit his country. He went there in 1932. As a royal guest, he was given tremendous welcome in many cities of Iran. While in Tehran, he received a similar invitation from the King of Iraq. In Baghdad, Tagore was received by King Faisal himself. Tagore had also been invited by Einstein to his Berlin home in January 1930.

Chughtai assures us that Iqbal was greatly ‘shocked’ by these invitations and warm welcomes extended to a poet who he considered to be his rival, especially by fellow Muslim leaders as in one of his recently discovered letters, he wrote to Ghulam Abbas Akram, the then foreign minister of Iran, that Tagore was a non-Muslim and that “Tagore did an injustice to the Indian Muslims. He told the Muslims of Mesopotamia to persuade the Indian Muslims to cooperate with the Hindus for the freedom of India.”
Chughtai has also made a detailed mention of the abortive efforts made by Iqbal and his well-wishers to get a Nobel for him. Even to this day the fact that Iqbal was not given a Nobel prize and perhaps for some of greater irk Tagore was is not forgotten, as an article I came across from a 2012 addition of the Millie Gazette shows, titled, ”Why wasn’t Iqbal awarded a Nobel? The writer tells us,” It’s one of the biggest mysteries that Dr Muhammad Iqbal didn’t get Nobel despite his profound poetry and the corpus of literary work of the highest calibre. Iqbal and Tagore were simultaneously writing poetry in the sub-continent and if the level of poetry of both the masters is assessed dispassionately, Iqbal has an edge over Tagore. Both were mystics and they were heavily influenced by Persian mysticism of Attar, Jami, Hafiz, Sanai, Khaqani and the most sublime of all, the redoubtable Jalaluddin Rumi. Iqbal called Rumi, his ‘ruhani ustaad’ (spiritual master), whereas Tagore was influenced by Hafiz Shirazi. While Tagore almost plagiarized Hafiz in his 103 poems in Gitanjali, that won him 1913’s Nobel, Iqbal’s inspiration was devoid of pilfering.”

I found it interesting and a bit ironic that the Millie Gazette claims to be the leading newspaper of Indian Muslims while as I mentioned above Chughtai sahib is from Pakistan and one would expect things to be the other way around! Also as far as I can tell Shirazi’s influence on Iqbal’s poetry is well known and has been acknowledged by Javed Iqbal.

So there we are, these two great men, philosophers and poets,  the best that India produced in the last 200 years never met and never put their heads together to produce any work and mankind is all the poorer for this.

So while I am not saying who is the greater poet among the two but one thing can be said, if (and please before anyone gets upset please note the IF), if what Mr Chughtai has claimed is true, then there can be little doubt who was the greater man.

Tagore: by Philip Salom, Australian poet

If the dates are correct, Rabindranath Tagore – whose 150th birthday has just passed – lived a life as brilliantly symmetrical as he was brilliantly talented: born on May 7 in 1861 and dying on August 7, 1941. In the west he is usually considered a great poet (for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1913) but throughout his remarkable eighty years he proved himself the most extraordinary person of the ‘Indian Renaissance’, publishing 30 or so collections of poetry, eight novels, four novellas, ten books of essays, several collections of critical writings and speeches on the culturally central subjects of literature, history, politics and religion. He wrote possibly as many as 2000 songs, including the music, and a large number of dramas, many of them also ‘musicals’. Just for variety, towards the end of his life he took up painting and print-making. But there was more…

Tagore (Thakur) was born into a high caste Brahmin family and began writing from an early age. He was educated in Bengal, and later England, where he attended public schools and University but he left greatly disillusioned with an education system based, as he saw it, on military discipline. This was sadly consistent, in his view, with the dynamics of British colonisation in India and Africa. The same obsession with control was behind Britain’s domination of nature through resource-mining world-wide, with industry and over-reaching commerce. This abuse of nature by force and self-interest was something Tagore was deeply against, so he would now look very much the environmentalist in his overall philosophy. He eventually completed his university education in India.

But his travels left him with a passion to see India as a world nation, as a continually growing culture to be understood on equal terms with western culture, not reduced by empirical condescension to being “oriental’, and ‘Eastern’; these paradigms of definition all too often meant exotic, brooding, playful, magical, and superficial, a presence full of colour and surface and brilliantly fascinating – but not to be taken quite seriously compared to Western achievements.  This was what eventually happened to Tagore’s own profile in the West: taken up suddenly with the first translation into English of his poems in Gitanjali, lauded by WB Yeats and Ezra Pound, made famous as a major world poet by major world poets, awarded the Nobel Prize; and then in a few years came a quite rapid re-evaluation of him as not so important after all. England ‘orientalised’ him.


How rare he was. This man used his Nobel Prize money to establish an ‘alternative’ secondary school and an Agricultural Bank. The former was free, and accepted boys and girls studying the same curriculum; and the latter was a banking system devised to allow peasant farmers to pay off their debts to their landlords and become self-reliant. This rural reconstruction work was opposed to Gandhi’s notion of Swaraj, a rejection of the state as epitomised by British rule. Tagore did not want India to become a traditionalist state but one that took the best of the West and applied it, freely, in agriculture as elsewhere. Tagore taught in the school (Santiniketan) and later travelled extensively throughout Bengal to raise funds for its continuation; the students travelled also, performing plays and musical works – often written by Tagore for this purpose. Students studied each morning and balanced intellectual work with afternoon involvement in community activities, music, sport and physical work, making up a diverse and socially-integrated curriculum. It must have been a fascinating school. Later he added a World University (Visva Bharati ) with international lecturers and students and even more travels by himself, internationally, to generate funding and interest.

Tagore was an educationalist, administrator, critic, humanist, lifelong commentator on politics, friend of Gandhi and famous figures like Einstein, a man who lectured throughout the US and Europe and Japan, someone never afraid of being open but also critical of his and these other major cultures. He supported Gandhi’s ideas of Satygraha but was troubled by the divisions he saw Gandhi’s politics were creating between Hindu and Muslim, and Gandhi later admitted Tagore had been prescient in this criticism. Tagore also wished to see the Untouchables integrated into the social system.
When the British massacred up to 1500 unarmed people at a political gathering in Jallianwala Bagh he returned his earlier-awarded Knighthood. During his life he lost his wife early (she was only 29), then his father, his daughter, his mother and two of his sons. Grief underlies many of his poems, regardless of the celebration of nature and humanity found everywhere in them. No champion of the privileged, his poems and fiction works focus on ordinary people, especially women, and trace deep chords of loss and loneliness within their music. He often cast Untouchables as heroes in his writings.
One early influence on his poetic was the ancient Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, a great figure in the tradition of a poetry that is suffused with philosophy and religion, who is said to have lived in the 4th Century, and a later influence came in the works of the Bakhti Sufi poet Kabir. Sufism and poetry have a strong history and Tagore was greatly impressed by this achievement even though he was not a Sufi and really can’t be called a philosopher. He was an accessible poet whose songs were extremely popular and whose poems and stories were familiar nationally. Tagore was himself was a strikingly flexible poet, using strict and loose forms, prose poems, poems of philosophy alongside intense lyrics and broader, descriptive poems. In the 30s he also took on a more Western Modernism and experimented with various of its styles, especially a narrative-based, vernacular and ‘low’ literature approach.
During the 20C he became a towering influence, not only in India, but throughout Asia, all the way down to Indonesia, where the Hindu people of Bali venerated him.




উড়িয়ে ধ্বজা অভ্রভেদী রথে/Uriye Dhwoja Obhrobhedi Rothey/Pennants fly from the sky high spires of his chariot

উড়িয়ে ধ্বজা অভ্রভেদী রথে
ওই-যে তিনি, ওই-যে বাহির পথে ॥
আয় রে ছুটে, টানতে হবে রশি–
ঘরের কোণে রইলি কোথায় বসি!
ভিড়ের মধ্যে ঝাঁপিয়ে পড়ে গিয়ে
ঠাঁই ক’রে তুই নে রে কোনোমতে ॥
কোথায় কী তোর আছে ঘরের কাজ
সে-সব কথা ভুলতে হবে আজ।
টান্‌ রে দিয়ে সকল চিত্তকায়া,
টান্‌ রে ছেড়ে তুচ্ছ প্রাণের মায়া,
চল্‌ রে টেনে আলোয় অন্ধকারে
নগর-গ্রামে অরণ্যে পর্বতে ॥
ওই-যে চাকা ঘুরছে রে ঝন্‌ঝনি,
বুকের মাঝে শুনছ কি সেই ধ্বনি?
রক্তে তোমার দুলছে না কি প্রাণ?
গাইছে না মন মরণজয়ী গান?
আকাঙক্ষা তোর বন্যাবেগের মতো
ছুটছে না কি বিপুল ভবিষ্যতে?।

রাগ: ভৈরবী-ভৈরব
তাল: কাহারবা
রচনাকাল (বঙ্গাব্দ): ২৬ আষাঢ়, ১৩১৭
রচনাকাল (খৃষ্টাব্দ): 1910
রচনাস্থান: গোরাই, জানিপুর

Pennants fly from the sky high spires of his chariot

Pennants fly from the sky high spires of his chariot
There he goes, as he travels on the road.
Come quick one and all, we have to help to pull on the ropes –
Why do you sit instead in your room alone?
Let us plunge into the crowd,
Make room for everyone somehow.
Whatever other duties you may have had
Today you must set those aside.
Pull with all the strength you have in body and soul,
Pull without fearing for this banal life,
Let us pull through darkness and brilliant light
On city road and village path, in forest and across mountain high.
That wheel turns with a great rumbling,
Do you hear that echoed within your own beating heart?
Does your blood rush faster within your inspired soul?
Does your mind not sing in angry protest against death?
Does your desire not long to rush as a flood towards that vast unknown future lying ahead.

Raga Bhairavi
Beat Kaharba

Listen to Sagar Sen singing the song at:

Devotees image: http://explorethisway.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/rath-yatra-ahmedabad/