Rabindranath Tagore — poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, music composer, painter, educationist — was regarded as Gurudev not just by the students of Vishwa Bharati University, which he founded, but by the populace at large. Through his life and his innumerable works, Tagore showed people the path to realise their highest selves and lead joyful, productive lives.
Even in this new millennium, Tagore serves as a Guru, a life coach in modern terms, mainly through his poems and songs, which remain as relevant, inspirational and popular today, as when they were first heard.
Apart from the national anthems of two countries, Jana gana mana (Bharat) and Amar shonar Bangla (Bangladesh), Tagore wrote and composed more than 2,000 songs in Bengali, collectively known as Rabindra sangeet.
The tunes of these songs, largely based on Indian ragas, have almost a magical soothing effect on the human mind. The lyrics, too, offer positive and unique perspectives on varied aspects of life, death, nature, universe and God, persuading the listener to live life to the fullest. The USP of these lyrics is that they are gender non-specific and almost completely free of references to events of Tagore’s time or places. Thus, they can be easily understood even today. The songs express a gamut of human emotions — wonder, yearning, love, sadness, ecstasy, and above all devotion.
“The words Tagore used to talk about love, different emotions, mother earth, connect well with me and my generation,” says young management student Sneha Gupta. “His songs give us strength. Example, Ekla Chalo Re (written in 1905) which encourages us to strive against odds and walk alone if need be.”
Of course, all his exhortations come robed in the most magnificent poetry. The citation accompanying the award of the Nobel prize for literature to Tagore in 1913, for Gitanjali (Song offerings) mentions “his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse”.
The beauty of his lyrics surges not a little from the vastness of the poet’s vision and deep joy at being a part of this cosmos. Sample the imagery of this famous song Anondodhara bohiche bhuvane.
The river of joy flows through the universe.
Night and day, the nectar of bliss spills over into the infinite sky.
The sun and the stars drink from this river in handfuls,
And thus they glow and sparkle eternally,
And thus the earth remains pure and all life glitters.
Joy or anondo remains a key theme of his songs. The poet nudges us to cherish not just the grand big moments of life, but equally its small joys as expressed in the song Anek pawer maajhe maajhe...
Singer-poet Shurjo Bhattacharya specially holds dear this song. “It has influenced me greatly. I value the small moments of life, even small childhood memories like my uncle returning home with a 5-star chocolate and my brother and me breaking it and having it... these moments matter finally. Today, I teach my children Tagore songs to empower them.”
How we look at life and our situations determines largely our happiness and sadness. Through his songs, Tagore sought to foster different positive attitudes in people, especially to life’s challenging aspects, persuading them to locate joy in every situation, and not lose heart even in the face of death. Tagore believed the soul is immortal. In his melody Tomar kaachhe e bar maagi, maron hotey jeno jaagi gaaner shurey, he likens death to sleep from which he prays to wake up to the sounds of songs.
In another song Achenake bhoy ki amar ore, the poet goads us to not fear the unknown, and reminds us that it’s the daily uncovering of a little more of this grand universe that makes our lives exciting and fulfilling. The poem has such nuggets of wisdom.
Why should I fear the unknown?
My mother too was a stranger to me,
when she took me in her lap.
All love is unknown and therein lies its appeal.
Understandably, connecting with a Guru like Tagore in any way is an uplifting experience that changes you in an important way. Educationist Sunita Rajiv recalls how she first learnt Tagore’s famous poem — ‘Where the mind is without fear and the head held high....into that heaven of freedom...let my country awake’ — as a school-child and it fired her patriotic instincts. “As a teacher, again this poem has helped me to infuse patriotism in my students, to give them an ideal of what our country should be.”
Thus Gurudev Tagore continues to guide generation after generation in the art of living. A life coach for all times! Jai hey, jai hey, jai hey!
(The translations of song lines are by the writer Munmun Ghosh, who is a Mumbai- based author, sitarist, singer and exponent of Tagore’s philosophy.)
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