K S Ramaswami Sastri.

Sir Rabindranath Tagore : his life, personality and genius online

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Tagore -

and Genius











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Printed by Thompson & Co., at the " Minerva " Press,
B3, Broadway, Madras,



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The Foreword


Author's Introduction


Chapter I— Introductory


Chapter II — Gifanjali


Chapter III— The Gardener


Chapter IV — The Crescent Moon


Chapter V— Chitra ...


Chapter VI— The King of the Dark Chamber.


Chapter VII— The Post Office ...


Chapter VIII — Kabir's Poems ...


Chapter IX — Fiction


Chapter X — Sadhana


Chapter XI — Miscellaneous Writings


Chapter XII — Conclusion


Bibliography .•• •••

52 f




Mr. Ramaswami Sastri's book meets a need
so general that there is little need of a " fore-
word." Upon the publication of Giianjali,
Rabindranath was immediately acclaimed in
England, and The Gardener,' with its more
secular loveliness, probably won a wider public.
But the tone of the one as of the other was
strange to English readers, and few even of
those most deeply moved by this poetry did not
desire an interpreter. For the full under-
standing of Rabindranath's work, very much
more is needed than the poems themselves.
Such biographical information as has already
been given in part by Mr. Ernest Rhys is quite
necessary ; but the great need is that we should
be enabled to identify ourselves with the poet
and cease to find strangeness in his ways of
emotion and of speech and particularly in his
symbolism. This is not easy for the average
reader, whether he be westerner or Indian.
We need the service of one whose mind bears
kinship with that of the poet, and who can inter-
pret his works from within. One doubts whether


it is possible for an English critic to perform this
service. The consciously nurtured spirituality
and the peculiar symbolism (to name two
matters only) of the lyrics are foreign to our
own poetry. The plays can scarcely be said
to belong to drama as we conceive it. Their
symbolism, besides distracting attention from
concrete character and action, produces, in The
King of the Dark Chamber particularly, an
obscurity that might seem fatal to drama.
Already, in several published articles,
Mr. Ramaswami Sastri has given vital help
towards the understanding of Rabindranath
and his religious, lyrical and dramatic concep-
tions, and now he has given us a comprehensive
study that is likely to be invaluable. For, this
poet is undoubtedly the noblest of those who,
in our time, have found utterance in English —
the clearest of vision, the most sublime in
thought and in speech, while at the same time
rooted and grounded in the love of all the
loveliness of earth.

M^Tofs 1 J- C- ROLLO.

May 1916. f ■'


I am sending this book into the wide world fully
alive to its many imperfections. To interpret to the
world, Sir Rabindranath Tagore's genius adequately
we must have a critic who is at the same time a great
poet, a passionate lover of India and India's immemo-
rial spiritual ideals, a practical humanitarian whose
interests are as varied as life and in whose heart love
for humanity forms with love of motherland and love
of God the holy trinity — which at the same time is a
unity— of his heart's adoration, and a saint who has
soared on the wings of love and wisdom to the very
Throne of Grace.

I have further laboured under the great disadvantage
of not knowing the great Bengali language in which
Tagore's greatest works are written. I have resolved
to learn it at least for having the joy of reading
his works in the original. I have, however, laboured
hard to collect and group and systematise all the
numerous translations of his songs, poems, stories, and
essays that have appeared in various magazines and
reviews from time to time. I shall feel obliged and
grateful to any one who vouchsafes supplementary
information to me on this matter. I have appended a

• • •


of this work. I thank also the editors of the Vedanta
Kesari^ the Madras Fortnightly, and the Literary Journal
for allowing me to use my articles on Tagore published
in these journals, though as a matter of fact this book
proceeds on new and original lines altogether.

India is yet the true home of beauty and romance,
and the infinite artistic and spiritual riches lying
neglected in our books and folklore and life require the
work of many men of genius of the type of Tagore to
reveal them in the fulness of their radiance to the world.
I shall deem it the highest reward for my work if I
get the blessings of my countrymen and of all lovers of
India to enable me to take a part, however humble it
may be, in the great and holy work of revealing the
Soul of India to the world.





I. Proem.

Miss Evelyn Underbill says in her admirable Introduc-
tion to the Autobiography of Sir Rabindranaih Tagore s
father Maharshi Devendranath Tagore: '' As the poems
of Rabindranath Tagore are examples unique in our time,
rare in any time, of this synthetic mysticism, a whole
and balanced attitude to the infinite and intimate, trans-
cendent and immanent, reality of God, as they speak to
us out of life itself, yet not out of the thin and restless
plane of existence which we call by that august name ;
so that same depth and richness of view, which escapes
alike extreme absolutism and extreme immanentism,
which embraces the universal without ever losing touch
with the personal, is found to be the governing intui-
tion of his father's life." In his recent book on Rabindra-
nath Tagore, Mr. Ernest Rhys says : "On one occasion
in London, after the reading of the poet's play Chitra,
Mr. Montagu, the Under Secretary of State for India,
described how, when riding through an Indian forest


at night, he came upon a clearing where two or three
men sat round a fire. Not being certain of his road, he
was glad to dismount and rest his tired horse. Shortly

. after he had joined the group, a poor-looking, ill-clothed

lad came out of the forest and sat down also at the fire.
First one of the men sang a song and then another.
The boy's turn came, and he sang a song more beautiful
both in words and music than the rest. When asked
who had made the song, he said that he did not know ;
' they were singing these songs everywhere.' A while
after, Mr. Montagu heard the words and music again,
this time in a very different place, and when he asked

^ for the name of the maker of the song he heard for the
first time the name of Rabindranath Tagore."

II. Father and Son.

I have given these two quotations as an introduction
to this study, because they show the unique qualities of
Tagore's genius and reveal further the source of some
of the highest spiritual elements of his art. No sketch
of his life and works can be complete without a preh-
minary study of the life and spiritual attainment of his
father, the renowned Maharshi Devendranath Tagore.
It was from his father that the poet got his unique
spiritual vision, his sympathetic outlook on life, his love
for the poor, his burning patriotism, his love of solitude
and meditation, his quiet humour, his knowledge of men
and things, and his fine artistic sense and vigilance —



though in the purely poetic qualities he outshines his
father in the splendour of his gifts. Evelyn Underhill
well points out in her admirable Introduction to the
Maharshi's Autobiography the spotless purity and
spiritual intuitions of the Maharshi's nature— his mysti-
cal genius, his flaming vision, his enraptured heart, his
passion for poverty, his hatred of possessions and all
unreal objects of desire, " the perpetual effort to actua-
lise the infinite within the finite, to make of life a valid
sacrament in which, so far as human nature may accom-
plish it, a perpetually developing outward sign shall go
step by step with the perpetually developing inward
grace." His " first fine careless rapture " of mystical
vision was accompanied by mental searchings and
travail and ''rigorous moral efforts and re-adjustments."
" It is the rhythm of detachment, says Kabir, which
beats time to the music of love." The wlaharshi's in-
spiration came from the Upanishads which, in the words
of Evelyn Underhill, " crystallising intuitions long
growing beneath the surface, resolving the disharmonies
of his thought and feeling, and pointing the way to
peace, seemed to him " like a divine voice descending
from heaven." We see in him " that tendency to in-
voluntary dramatisation frequently present in genius of
this kind, which so commonly presents its intuitions to
the surface mind in a pictorial, musical, or allegorical
form." (Evelyn Underbill's Introduction to the Autobio-
graphy of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, page xxvi).


Evelyn Underbill says in regard to his love of seclusion
and solitary meditation : " At some period of their lives-
the great contemplatives seem always to need such a
time of ' lonely dwelling ' with its wide spaces of silence^
its direct communion with Nature and God. Then as
Rolie the Hermit has it: 'In the wilderness the Be-
loved may speak to the heart of the lover, as it were a
bashful lover that his sweetheart before men entreats

Thus I have laid stress Hrst on this aspect of the

Maharshi's genius, as we find in the poet this synthetic

mysticism and this " supreme unitive vision of God, as

at once transcendent and immanent, personal and cosmic,

the Inward, the Outward, the First and the Last,"

in combination with high poetic qualities. Devendra-

nath Tagore himself describes in many places in his

Autobiography his unique spiritual experiences. He

describes thus his first experience : " I was as if no

longer the same man. A strong aversion to wealth

arose within me. The coarse bamboo-mat on which I

sat seemed to be my fitting seat, carpets and costly

spreadings seemed hateful, in my mind was awakened

a joy unfelt before. I was then eighteen years old."

(Page 38 of his Auiobiograpliy). He records also a

unique experience of his later hfe : " With thriUing

heart I saw the eyes of God within that forest. Those

eyes were my guide in this difficult path ^

This gaze of His has become rooted indelibly in my heart.



Whenever I fall into trouble, I see those eyes of His"
(Page 260).

The Maharshi had an apostolic nature and a genius
for organisation and preaching. In his son these moods
have been softened by golden moods of poetic reverie
full of delicate charm. We see in him, however, all the
^reat spiritual qualities of his father — his mystic vision,
his sympathetic and loving outlook on life, his tender-
ness to the poor, his love of solitude and meditation, his
distaste for riches, and his high moral sense and sweet-
ness of ethical nature.

We must remember also the Maharshi's burning
patriotism when we come to study and realise Sir
Rabindranath Tagore's intense and glowing love of
this holy land. The Maharshi records in burning words
in his Autobiography how on hearing of the conversion to
Christianity of some Zenana ladies he began to organise
the forces of Hinduism. He says : " I went about in
a carriage every day from morning till evening to all
the leading and distinguished men in Calcutta, and
entreated them to adopt measures by which Hindu
children would no longer have to attend missionary
schools and might be educated in schools of our own."
(Page 100). Again, he says : " If I could preach the
Brahma Dharma as based upon the Vedanta, then all
India would have one religion, all dissensions would
come to an end, all would be united in a common
brotherhood, her former valour and power would be


revived, and finally she would regain her freedom.
Such were the lofty aspirations which my mind thea
entertained." (Page 102).

The Maharshi had the same quiet humour and irony
that we see also in the son. He says : " The Burmese
eat crocodiles. The Buddhist doctrine of Ahiinsa (non-
killing) is on their lips ; but crocodiles are inside their
stomachs." (Page 186). Again, he describes how the
temple pandas pursued him once for presents even after
he had left the temple. He describes in another place
the Prayag Pandas. " As soon as my boat touched the
shore, there was a regular invasion of pandas, who
boarded it." In another place in his Autohiography\.
we see his irony full of love and pity.

" Then again Akshaykumar Datta started a Friends*
Society, in which the nature of God was decided
upon by show of hands. For instance somebody
asked, ' Is God the personification of bliss or
not ? ' Those who believed in his blissfulness held
up their hatids. Thus the truth or otherwise of
God's attributes was decided by a majority of
votes ! Amongst many of those who surrounded
me, who were as my very limbs, I could no
longer see any signs of religious feeling or piety ;
each only pitted his own intellect and power
against the others." (Pages 203-4).
We see in Maharshi the power of artistic presenta-
tion, the grace of style, the eye for beauty, and the


ear for harmony that we see in a perfect form in the
poet. I shall give here a few examples from his Auto-
biography to show this.

•' This Taj is the taj (crown) of the world. Ascend-
ing a minaret, I saw the sun setting in the
western horizon, making it one mass of red.
Beneath was the blue Jumna. The pure white
Taj in the midst, with its halo of beauty, seemed
to have dropped on the earth from the moon,"
(Page 211). " On a cloudy evening I saw the pea-
cocks dancing,with wings raised above their heads.
What a wonderful sight ! if I could play the
Vina I would have done so, in tune to their
dancing." (Pages 219-220). '' I had never seen
such a beautiful flowering creeper before ; My
eyes were opened, and my heart expanded ; I
saw the universal Mother's hand resting on those
small white blossoms. Who was there in this
forest to inhale the scent of these flowers or see
their beauty ? Yet with what loving care had
she endowed them with sweet scent and love-
liness, moistened them with dew, and set them
upon the creeper ! Her mercy and tenderness
became manifest to me. Lord ! When such is
Thy compassion for these little flowers, what
must be the extent of Thy mercy for us ? "
(Page 240). " The mighty current of this stream
(Nagari) dashing against the huge elephantine


rocks contained in its bosom, becomes fierce and
foaming, and with a thundering sound rolls on
to meet the sea, by command of the Almighty.
From both its banks two mountains rise up
straight to a great height like immense walls,
and then incline backwards. The rays of the
sun do not find room enough to remain here long

....Only one man was living there with

his family in one room, which was not a room,

but a cave in the rocks. Here they cooked and

here they slept. I saw his wife dancing joyfully

with a baby on her back, and another child of

hers nmning about on a dangerous part of the

hill, and his father sowing potatoes in a small

field. God had provided everything necessary

for their happiness here. Kings sitting on their

thrones rarc^ly found such peace and happiness

as this." (Pages 243-244).

" In the evening I was walking alone on the

banks of this river, charmed with its beauty,

when I looked up suddenly, and found the hill was

lighted up with flames. As the evening wore

on and night advanced, the fires also began

to spread. Like arrows of fire, a hundred

thousand sparks fell swift as stars, and attacked

the trees below, down to the banks of the river.

By degrees every tree cast off its own form and

assumed the form of fire, and blind darkness



fled afar from the spot. As I looked upon this
wonderful form of fire, I felt the glory of
that Divinity who dwells in fire. Before this,
in many a wood, I had seen charred trees that
bore witness to forest fires, and in the night I
had seen the beauty of fires burning on the
distant hills; but here I was delighted to see for
myself the origin, spread, growth^ and arrest of a
forest fire. It went on burning all night ; when-
ever I woke up during the night, I saw its light.
When I got up in the morning I saw many
charred trees still smoking, and here and there
the all-devouring ravenous fire burning in a dim
and exhausted manner, like the lamps remaining in
the morning after a festive night." (Pages244-245).
We have thus been privileged to see the uncommon
possession of great and similar talents in the great father
and his greater son. Such instances have been seen
though rarely in life. The instances of Dumas pere
and Dumas fih^ and of Chatham and Pitt will occur
to the minds of all. We are thus able to realise from
the Maharshi's Aiilobiography whence were derived the
unique qualities of Sir Rabindranath Tagore's splendid
poetic genius.

III. Tagore's Artistic and Spiritual Ancestry.

It is a remarkable phenomenon that in India the
greatest poets have also been the greatest saints and



religious teachers of the land. If spirituality is the
dominant note in our life, it can be expected to be, and
is, the dominant note in our art which is only the
expression of the intenser, purer, and happier moments
of our life. The greatest architects, sculptors, painters^
poets, and singers of the Hindu race have been pro-
foundly spiritual and some of them are the greatest
sages, seers, and saints of India.

It is not my purpose here to trace the growth of art
and religion in India and to show their mutual influence
and interaction. That is a great task by itself, and will
have to be taken up separately, if it is to be properly
performed. The great Bhakti movement, which was
the most potent inspiring force in life and in art in
ancient and mediaeval India, which is active — if only
fitfully and sporadically — even now, and by the luminous
rejuvenescence of v/hich alone our national rebirth can
be accomplished, was neither new, nor due to outside
influences, in our land. It is as old as the Hindu race
itself, and there are in the Upanishadsnot merely modes
of worship and hymns of adoration of God but passages
full of the rapture of love and devotion bearing the soul
to His lotus feet in an ecstasy of happiness. Having re-
gard to the purpose of this work, I shall consider here
briefly only the great spiritual ideas of a few devotional
poets and singers of genius in mediaeval and modern
India to show how the art of Tagore has been influ-
enced and inspired by them. If his father helped ta.



mould his inner nature by the force of his personality^
they have been in an even larger measure responsible
for the beautiful manifestation and development of his-
supreme poetical development. To understand Tagore
without understanding them and their inspiring, purify-^
ing, and uphfting influence is an impossible task. He
has already translated one hundred poems of Kabir and
vi^e learn that he has further finished the English trans-
lation of the vi^orks of Vidyapathi and Chandidas.
Dr. A. K. Coomaraswami says : " Vaishnava art is
correspondingly humanistic, and it is from this school of
thought that the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore deri-
ves. In it are echoed the teaching of such prophets
as Sri Chaitanya nnd poets such as Jayadev and Chandi-
das, who sung of the religion of love." {Art ana
Swadesi\ p. 116).

The rehgion of Pre ma Bliakti (ecstasy of love) that
these great saints and poets taught centres mostly round
the divine personality of Krishna, though in some
locahties it centres round Rama and in Southern India
round Siva as well as Vishnu. Those who have heard
the inspiring and uplifting songs contained in the
Thevaram, Thirnvachagam, and Tiritvoimozhi in Southern
sindia will reahse that this religion of love has overflowed
the whole of India like a swelling tide from the ocean of
divine bliss and has inspired art and sweetened life in
this lovely and holy land. The spirit of ecstatic love
that breathes through the songs of saint Andal is the



•same as that which has inspired Mira Bai, Chandidas,
and Chaitanya. The love of theGopis and especially of
Radha — a miserably misunderstood episode in the life of
Sri Krishna — has kindled in them an endless ecstasy of
adoration. God is the Eternal Bridegroom and each
human soul is His bride. The spiritual union of God
and the soul solemnised before the Agni (Fire) of devo-
tion is the consummation and highest bliss of life. When
Mira Bai renounced her position as queen and went to
Brindavan to worship and meditate on Krishna, a great
devotee and ascetic, Rup Goswami, refused to see her
as she was a woman. She sent word to him : " Mira
knows that in Brindavan there is but one man Sri
Krishna. Many others live here, it is true, but as they
all dwell in His love they are all but the maids of Gokula.
If, therefore, by some mischance Rup Goswami, being a
man, has entered the abode of the maids of our Lord —
he should fly, for if found out he will be chastised." Then
he was surprised at her wisdom and devotion and
agreed to see her. It is said of Shri Krishna that he
showed his attribute of beauty and love at Brindavan,
his attribute of wisdom at Mathura, and his attributes
•of universal sovereignty, compassion, and service at
Dwaraka. To the lovers and devotees of Krishna, he
appears sweetest as Krishna of Brindavana. The songs
of Chandidas describe such love of God in rapturous
terms This heaven of love has been so near the earth
in India for many centuries, and it is no wonder that



life and art in India have been transfigured by the play
of the light of divine love. It was in India that God's._^ o
love for man and man's love for God were realised in a ^
' vivid, intense, and passionate form. God was recognised
and loved not merely as Father but as Mother, Child,
Friend, Lord, and Lover. To realise the beauty of this.
a vividness of inner vision and a mystical sense of the
divine presence brooding over everything are required.
God is the Father of the world in a mystical sense as
he is not the direct physical progenitor of any created
being. The Hindu mind has recognised that we have
to rise from plane to plane of love, relate each lower
form of love to the divine, and extend the boundaries
and deepen the depth of each form of love till we rise
to a practical realisation of the beauty and sweetness of
God and rise to the highest raptures of the love of God.
How difficult it is for an outsider to enter into this
paradise of the religion of love is apparent from the
recent book of Mr. Ernest Rhys on Tagore. He says :
*' To be sure, in the Indian mythology, Siva appears to
lie beyond the sphere of pleasure and pain ; the im-
movable amid the flux of things, eternity in the midst of
time . . . . ' Siva has a wife, Uma, but he is no
provident mate ; he is old and rascally, and so poor
that he is unable even to find a pair of shell-biacelets
for his bride, though she is the daughter of a King, and

that King is mount Himavathi Among the

true followers of Siva the form of Uma represents the



lineness and delicacy of earthly life, and that of Siva the
lerror and grimness of death." If he had known the
supreme beauty and sweetness of the Siva leelas ?is read
and loved in Southern India— which rival the Rama
leelas and Krishna leelas in point of their overflowing
divine tenderness and their emotional appeal— and if he
had known the descriptions of Siva's beauty and bounty
and love in that perfect gem of devotional poetry— the
Tiruvachagam — and in the sweet Thevarams, he would
not have fallen into such a phenomenal error.

I vi^ish to deal here a little elaborately with Shri
Krishna Chaitanya, because his influence on the religion

Online LibraryK S Ramaswami SastriSir Rabindranath Tagore : his life, personality and genius → online text (page 1 of 30)