Karol Bagh | IAS GS Foundation Course | 29 May, 6 PM Call Us
This just in:

State PCS

Drishti IAS Blog

Remembering Rabindranath Tagore: A Poet, Philosopher, and Visionary

  • 08 May 2024


There have been many exemplary leaders, visionaries, artists, poets, philosophers, and politicians born to the pious soil of India. Their lives have been a benchmark in the nation’s history and their work is a testimony to the extraordinary excellence that India represents. The most eminent and mundane parts of such stalwarts’ lives are inspirational and substantial to learn from. One of these great personalities was Rabindranath Tagore, who played an instrumental role in shaping India’s culture and socio-political history. His birth anniversary is celebrated on the 8th of May every year, to commemorate his invaluable contribution to poetry, literature, philosophy and educational fortes of independent India.

Youth and Background

Rabindranath Tagore, born in 1861, hailed from a distinguished Bengali family in Calcutta, a part of British India then. His upbringing was a blend of tradition and modernity. His father, Debendranath Tagore, was a leader of the Brahmo Samaj, a reformist Hindu sect believing firmly in reason and social justice. This was a reason for a deep spirituality and questioning mind in Tagore since his youth.

Despite attaining his formal education in England, Tagore felt a strong connection to his Bengali roots. His youth was filled with artistic pursuits - poetry, music, and theater, as described in his autobiography, ‘Boyhood Days’. He began writing prolifically at a young age. By his teenage years he had published several volumes of poetry, establishing himself as a rising literary star.

Tagore's early life was marked by privilege and loss. He experienced the loss and grief of his mother and several siblings, shaping his sensitive nature. These experiences would later infuse his work with profound themes of love, loss, and the human condition.

An Eclectic Career: Development as a Poet and Philosopher

Rabindranath Tagore's literary career was a symphony of poetic genius and philosophical inquiry. He was a sculptor of language, shaping Bengali poetry into a vibrant and expressive form. He defied traditional structures, weaving together colloquial Bengali with classical imagery, creating a voice that resonated with both the common man and the intellectual elite. His poems, like "Gitanjali," captured the beauty of nature, the complexities of love and loss, and the yearning for the divine with a profound simplicity that transcended language barriers. This masterpiece, translated by Tagore himself, became a bridge between East and West, earning him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

Tagore’s literary pursuits ventured into the realm of philosophy, questioning societal constraints and championing the freedom of the individual. He believed in a universal humanity that transcended cultural boundaries. His novels, essays, and plays explored love and social justice themes. "Ghare-Baire" (The Home and the World) grappled with the clash between tradition and modernity, while "Chitra" (Chitraangada) reinterpreted ancient myths to explore themes of women empowerment.

Tagore's philosophy drew deeply from India's rich spiritual heritage, but he didn't shy away from Western ideals. He believed in a holistic education that nurtured both the intellect and the spirit, a philosophy that found expression in his establishment of Visva-Bharati University. Through his writings, Tagore became a voice for a resurgent India, one that looked both inwards to its rich traditions and outwards to engage with the world.

Contribution to the Freedom Struggle

Rabindranath Tagore's contribution to India's freedom struggle was unique and multifaceted. While not an active political leader, he wielded immense power through his words and actions. He championed the revival of India's rich cultural heritage, emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and economic empowerment. His writings awakened a sense of national pride, particularly through his songs like "Jana Gana Mana" (later adopted as India's national anthem) and "Bangla Mata" (Mother Bengal). These songs became rallying cries for unity during times of political unrest, fostering a sense of shared identity among Indians.

Tagore wasn't afraid to confront British injustices. He vehemently opposed the brutal Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. He believed that education was key to achieving self-governance. He established Visva-Bharati University, a unique institution that was beyond national boundaries. This emphasis on education empowered Indians with the knowledge and skills necessary to challenge British dominance.

While Tagore supported the cause of freedom, he didn't advocate for violent resistance. He believed that true freedom required a moral and spiritual awakening, a vision that resonated with many Indians seeking a peaceful path to independence. Through cultural revival, symbolic protests, and educational initiatives, Rabindranath Tagore left an indelible mark on India's freedom struggle. His legacy reminds us that the fight for liberation can be waged on multiple fronts, with the power of words and ideas playing a crucial role alongside political action.

Impactful Memories and Incidents

These are the more popular and impactful memories and incidents involving Tagore during India's freedom struggle:

1. Renouncing the Knighthood: In 1919, the brutal Jallianwala Bagh massacre shook India. British troops fired upon a peaceful crowd of protestors, killing hundreds. In response, Tagore, a knighted recipient of the prestigious title from the British crown, returned his knighthood in a powerful public statement. This act of defiance resonated deeply with Indians, symbolizing the growing anger towards British rule and Tagore's unwavering commitment to justice.

2. "Jana Gana Mana" Becomes a Rallying Cry: Tagore's composition, "Jana Gana Mana," originally penned in 1910, transcended its origins as a poem to become a powerful anthem during the freedom struggle. Its lyrics, celebrating the "Eternal Charioteer of India's destiny," resonated with a yearning for national unity and self-determination. Public gatherings and protests often featured renditions of "Jana Gana Mana," solidifying its place as a symbol of India's fight for freedom and ultimately becoming the nation's national anthem after independence.

Impact on Contemporary Literature and Philosophy

Even today, Rabindranath Tagore's influence ripples through contemporary literature and philosophy, a testament to the enduring power of his themes and ideas. Tagore's innovative use of language continues to inspire writers. His ability to bridge the gap between the personal and the universal resonates with contemporary authors exploring themes of identity, belonging, and the human condition. Writers like Salman Rushdie and Jhumpa Lahiri acknowledge his influence in their explorations of national identity and the immigrant experience. His emphasis on nature as a source of spiritual connection finds echoes in the works of eco-poets like Mary Oliver.

Tagore's questioning of societal norms and his critique of colonialism resonates with postcolonial writers grappling with issues of cultural identity and the legacy of oppression. His call for a universal humanity is echoed by contemporary philosophers working in areas like intercultural dialogue and global ethics. His belief in holistic education that fosters both intellectual and spiritual growth continues to inspire educational reform movements that emphasize creativity and critical thinking.

Rabindranath Tagore's impact isn't limited to the literary world. His musical compositions, infused with Bengali folk traditions and devotional themes, continue to inspire musicians across genres. His vision of intercultural understanding finds expression in initiatives promoting global citizenship and peace education.

Eternal Flame of Legendariness

Rabindranath Tagore remains a towering figure, reminding us of the power of literature and philosophy to transcend borders and speak to the human condition across generations. His influence is a testament to the enduring relevance of his message of love, unity, and the pursuit of truth. His legacy remains a testament to his multifaceted genius, a poet who sang of love and loss, and a philosopher who championed a world united by a shared humanity.


1. https://www.google.co.in/books/edition/Boyhood_Days/UWhnwlQyplEC?hl=en

2. https://www.idiaspora.org/en/contribute/blog-entry/rabindranath-tagore-world-poet

3. https://blogs.loc.gov/catbird/2017/02/rabindranath-tagore-a-great-indian-poet-and-writer/

SMS Alerts
Share Page