One of the highlights of my trip so far has been a visit to Shantiniketan, the “university” founded by the the polymathic poet/artist/novelist/playwright/songwriter/educator Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). Tagore came from a wealthy family of landowners, and many of his relatives were renowned artists. But Rabrindranath was by far the most famous. He took up painting at the age of 60 (producing some marvelous art), wrote 2500 songs during his lifetime (nearly all Indians know many of them), and produced 12 volumes of poems, plays, and literature. There was no artistic endeavor, it seems, in which Tagore did not excel.
A volume of his poems, Gitanjali, fell into the hands of William Butler Yeats, who brought Tagore to the attention of the West, with the result that Tagore was the first Asian awarded a Nobel Prize—for literature in 1913.
Here’s Tagore in old age, with his characteristically piercing gaze, resembling that of a kindly Rasputin. He is still a cultural hero to many Indians, especially Bengalis:
Below is a self-portrait of Tagore. He never had any artistic training, but simply decided one day, late in life, to take up painting. His portraits show a melancholy side: although from his youth he was lionized and much admired, his wife died when he was 41; and he never remarried or—as far as I can tell—had any romantic relationships for the last forty years of his life. He confessed to being lonely and almost never expressed personal feelings in his letters.
Below is the room in his Calcutta house in which Tagore died at 80 after a botched prostate operation. It’s but one of many rooms in the huge, sprawling compound in which the extended family lived. (Tagore had 14 surviving brothers and sisters, of which he was the last.) I had to take the picture surreptitiously since photography was forbidden. Tagore’s godlike status in India is shown by the requirement that you remove your shoes when visiting his houses in Calcutta and Santiniketan.
Here’s Rabindranath’s car: a Humber, whatever that is. I’m sure a reader will suss out the age and details about this vehicle. A sign on the garage said that this car is still kept in running order.
But the foundation of Santiniketan, in a peaceful rural area about three hours by train from Calcutta, was perhaps the achievement of which Tagore was proudest. Here he wanted to put his philosophy of education into action, combining artistic instruction with practical advice, all with the aim of spiritually elevating everyone. Many famous people came to teach there or visit, and classes were held outside under the trees.
Here’s his large house in Santiniketan; my friend and host, Kunal, is to the right:
On Christmas evening we went to a concert put on by the university; Tagore held such gatherings to mark many holidays, Hindu or otherwise, and to commemorate the change of seasons. It was a lovely concert, a mixture of Western Christmas carols (okay) and Tagore’s own songs (fantastic). The musicians were drawn largely from the student body at the university, and the concert was held inside a small glass pavilion built by Tagore’s father:
Some of the women singers (excuse the blurriness; these were taken with a camera hand-held in natural light):
One of the musicians, playing a bowed instrument called the esraj. There was also a harmonium, the stringed instrument to the right (a sitar, I think), the tabla (drums) and an electric guitar.
But the point of this post, which seems to have gotten out of hand, is to let you hear one of Tagore’s many songs (he also wrote a song chosen by Nehru to be India’s national anthem). It was the second song played in the concert, and I found it ineffably beautiful and melancholy. I’ve read some of Tagore’s poems and looked at his paintings, but I find his songs to be his most moving work. He himself said that if any of his artistic endeavors lasted after his death, it would be his music.
The song, called “Tai Tomar Anando Amar Por,” expresses Tagore’s joy at being one with the Eternal Creator (his religion was a bit nebulous, but he had a deep spirituality that seems to have bordered on pantheism). This lovely version was made by the Bangladeshi singer Iffat Ara Khan; the photos accompanying the music are cheesy; just ignore them.
18 thoughts on “Tai Tomar Anando Amar Por”
Humber was a well-known English automobile brand, from 1899 through the 1960s (with some mergers along the way). This one is a 1933 sedan.
My dad was still driving one (one of the Pullman / Imperial range) in the 1970s, although it was kind of moth-eaten at that stage.
My mum had an old Humber 80 for getting to work when I was a kid. It was a great car, although at the time I was, embarrassed to be seen in it. (Thankfully that part of my personality disappeared in my early teens.)
Yes, Humbers were a somewhat familiar sight in my childhood. Oddly enough I mainly remember the Series II Super Snipe, which must have been getting pretty long in the tooth by then, rather than the later models. But I grew up in an area that wasn’t very well off, and Humbers were somewhat up-market, so I guess people could only afford them second (or third) hand.
Humbers were the car of choice when I lived in London for members of Attlee’s Labour cabinet and, when he regained power in the early 50s, of Churchill’s Conservative cabinet. The Super Snipe, which was the preferred model for Cabinet Ministers was a long, very quiet
The self-portrait is most gripping and moving. What an exceptional man. Thank you for telling us about him.
The song reminds me of George Harrison’s Indian inspired music. Do you think he had heard this song?
He’s my favorite poet when I was a teen. I hope my pink covered books with golden marks are still somewhere and I might be able to find them someday. I think, Tagore represents the most beautiful spiritual part of Indian culture.
Thank you for the post. The music is charming. Happy New Year, professor! 🙂
Lovely music and that is a good description of that picture of Tagore; if I had not seen it, I would never have guessed that there could be such a thing as a gaze that looked like a “kindly Rasputin”.
Kindly Rasputin is a magnificent way to describe Tagore’s photo – wish I’d thought of it !
Such beautiful music! What a fascinating person–glad to now know about him.
Now this is a funny coincidence. Yesterday (Dec 31, the same day this piece was posted) I was in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, where I saw a bust of Tagore. It was the first time I had noticed it and I wondered who this fellow was and why he was being commemorated in Ireland. Now I know. Thanks Professor!
The stringed instrument to the right is a tanpura, it is the soft repetitive drone that is played in practically all Indian music, especially classical music.
You perhaps missed the very fine exhibit of 60 works of art by Tagore at the Art Institute of Chicago from January 25 – April 15, 2012. (It had previously been shown at the Asia Society in NYC; related exhibits were held in Berlin, Paris, Rome, Seoul, London, and Amstelveen (a suburb of Amsterdam). At the exhibit it was pointed out that he had sent his son to study agriculture at the University of Illinois (1906 – 1910), and Tagore himself visited Urbana, Illinois in 1912 and in 1916. He visited Chicago in 1913 and gave a talk at the University of Chicago; in Chicago he also met Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry: a magazine of verse which regularly published writings by him.
Tagore is, notably, the only person to have written the national anthems of two nations: India and Bangladesh!
“I had to take the picture surreptitiously since photography was forbidden.” While visiting the Ajanta and Ellora caves last spring,I was disconcerted by the sight of many tourists, both Indian and Western, violating the posted regulations against photography. Don’t ‘da roolz’ imposed in Tagore’s rooms apply to you just as yours apply to visitors here?