On the Relevance of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in the New Millenium

Tagore Society of Houston members gather before the statue of Rabindranath Tagore in Hermann Park.

HOUSTON: Each year the world celebrates Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday in the month of May, with a vigor that speaks volumes about the famous son of India and the vision that he embodied. Question that automatically arises to the common mind is why do we celebrate such a personality? Psychologist Abraham Maslow says in his extended pyramid of human needs that man has “transcendence needs” at the highest order of needs. Tagore’s poetry seems to give man a peek into that territory of sublime surrender to the universe. His poetry explores every emotion that man can possibly have and sings to it.

But is he still relevant after being the Asia’s first Nobel Laureate (in the year 1913) for essentially condensing the thoughts of Upanishads in an anthology called “Gitanjali”? So what Gandhiji called him “Gurudev”? So what he renounced Kinghthood in protest of Jalianwalabagh massacre 100 years back? So what he he founded a university singlehandedly by pulling all the sharpest creative minds from across the globe? So what he has the unique distinction of composing two national anthems? So what he finds avid fans among the finest intellectuals through ages (such as Einstein, Yates, Gandhi, Helen Keller, Satyajit Ray, Audrey Hepburn, Sean Penn, Deepak Chopra, Shilla Jasenoff, Eric Weiner and many more)? So what liberal arts departments of top-notch universities across the globe still stage dramas written by him? So what his paintings still get auctioned highest in London and Paris?

Is reading Tagore in the 21st century a reasonable thought? Is he relevant in today’s fast paced, tech savvy satellite connected world? Why do find that new editions of “Gitanjali”, first published in 1912 are still printed internationally in numerous languages, and read heavily by people of all generations.? Why are there Tagore statues and busts in various countries and universities. Roads, universities, boulevards, and squares are named after him. Postal administration of many countries issued stamps dedicated to Rabindranath Tagore. Why has he always been referred to as a genius during his times and years later? What makes Tagore a genius who we revere and how much of Tagore do we really understand? What deeper issues does he address? Questions prompt the readers to go back and read his poetry, essay, novels, plays and find the deeper vibrations of his writings that resonates with all.

The answer to all the above and many more lies in the fact that Tagore was a Myriad Minded Man (Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson (2000)). An educational, social, religious reformer, a creative powerhouse and above all a lover of nature and humanity. Through his writings he always wanted to explore and express the eternal Truth of human life. He believed every action in this world led to the understanding of the deeper purpose of our lives, i.e. the union of man and the universe. He was an exemplary leader who taught us through his own life and his creations on how to be aligned with the nature. Whether it is a discussion on quantum physics and the nature of reality with Albert Einstein or his political dialogues with Mahatma Gandhi, he had a very clear vision of man’s role in this universe.

His thought of “unity through diversity” was unique and embraced and accepted all. It was not only a rhetoric to accept the vast diversities in human creed but the diverse nature that stands united in its show. This is a key evergreen ever relevant mantra for all. His vision of “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, where the knowledge is free, where the world is not broken up in fragments by narrow domestic walls…” is still a dream by mankind in the 21st century. He said “Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity.” Here lies his relevance.