Remembering Indian Philosopher, founder of Shantiniketan Debendranath Tagore on his 116th death anniversary

Debendranath was the oldest son of Indian Prince Dwarkanath Tagore who grew up in the midst of luxury and power.

FPJ Web Desk | Updated on: Tuesday, January 18, 2022, 05:37 PM IST


Debendranath was the oldest son of Indian Prince Dwarkanath Tagore who grew up in the midst of luxury and power. Yet even when he was still young, he turned away from the focus on wealth and towards a deeply religious outlook that was particularly inspired by a night beside his grandmother’s death bed.

Together with friends, influenced by his friend Ram Mohan Roy and under the tutelage from Pandit Ram Chandra Vidyabageesh, a leader of the Brahmo Sabha, Debendranath founded the Tattwaranjini Sabha (later renamed Tattwabodhini Sabha). This influential society, which lasted until 1854, aspired to promote the purification of Hinduism (“Adi Dharma”) through the dissemination through philosophical enquiry and teaching of the Upanishads.

For this purpose, Debendranath started publishing a journal, the Tattwabodhini Patrika, that had articles on the rationalization of Brahmo doctrines and the propagation of natural theism as well as on female education, widow re-marriage and the denouncing of polygamy.

Early Life:

  • Debendranath Tagore was born on May 15, 1817, at Calcutta, Bengal, Bengal Presidency, to Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, a wealthy landowner and successful entrepreneur, and his wife, Digambari Devi.

  • After receiving his early education at home, he was enrolled at the Anglo-Hindu College in 1827. After attending college for a brief period, he began supervising his family’s property and also showed interest in philosophy and religion.

  • In 1838, his grandmother passed away and he experienced a psychological change in himself. He became deeply involved in religion and began reading the Mahabharata, Upanishads, and books on many other religious as well as philosophical subjects.

Career and Achievements:

  • In 1839, under the guidance of Pandit Ram Chandra Vidyabageesh, Debendranath Tagore established the ‘Tattwabodhini Sabha’ to share his experiences and knowledge. Four years later, he introduced the ‘Tattwabodhini Patrika’ as a means to connect with the followers of the community.

  • While serving as the secretary of the Tattwabodhini Sabha, he stopped Hindu puja ceremonies and introduced 'Magh festival', 'Nababarsa', 'Diksa Din' and similar festivals.

  • In 1843, he revived the Brahmo Sabha, which had diminished since the death of Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1833. Later, the Brahmo Sabha was formally merged with the Tattwabodhini Sabha and was renamed as ‘Calcutta Brahma Samaj’.

  • In 1848, he was instrumental in codifying the ‘Adi Dharma Doctrine’ as Brahmo Dharma Beej.

  • In 1851, he was appointed as the Secretary of the ‘British Indian Association’ which aimed to represent Indian interests to the British government. As the Secretary, he campaigned for India’s political autonomy and to reduce the tax burden on the poor.

  • In 1863, he founded Shantiniketan, a retreat in rural Bengal, which was later transformed into an international university under the supervision of his youngest son, Rabindranath Tagore.

Tagore married Sarada Devi and the couple was blessed with several children of whom 13 survived. All of their children went on to make a significant mark for themselves in their respective fields. His eldest son, Dwijendranath, grew up to be a talented scholar, poet and music composer while his second son, Satyendranath became the first Indian to join the Indian Civil Services. His third son, Hemendranath, was a scientist and organizer of the family while another son, Jyotirindranath, went on to achieve success as an accomplished scholar, artist, music composer and theatre personality. His other sons were Birendranath, Somendranath, and Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali polymath who reshaped Bengali literature and music and won a Nobel Prize in Literature. His daughters were Soudamini, Sukumari, Saratkumari, Swarnakumari, and Barnakumari.

Debendranath Tagore died on January 19, 1905, in Calcutta, India, at the age of 87.

(with sources inputs)

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Published on: Tuesday, January 18, 2022, 05:37 PM IST