Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a mystic, an educator, a social reformer and contemporary thinker, a profoundly original writer and translator, a musician and composer, and an artist. He is most well known to the world as a poet, and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for his book of poetry, Gitanjali.
He was the voice of India’s spiritual traditions to the rest of the world at the turn of the 20th century. His fame reached luminous heights, taking him around the world on lecture tours and tours of friendship.
Mahatma Gandhi was his devoted friend, and from time to time he participated in the Indian nationalist movement, though in his own visionary way. For Tagore was not jingoistic, having grown up in a family atmosphere in which Sanskrit and ancient Hindu texts were combined with Islamic traditions and Persian literature. As a result, the citizens of India and Bangladesh equally identify with his work. He described his family as a “confluence of three cultures: Hindu, Mohammedan and British.” He valued openness and the happy coexistence of many cultures and religions.
He believed that human beings could easily absorb different cultures in constructive ways, saying, “Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin. I am proud of my humanity when I can acknowledge the poets and artists of other countries as my own. Let me feel with unalloyed gladness that all the great glories of man are mine”
We try to realise the essential unity of the world
with the conscious soul of man;
we learn to perceive the unity
held together by the one Eternal Spirit,
whose power creates the earth, the sky, and the stars,
and at the same time irradiates our minds
with the light of a consciousness
that moves and exits in unbroken continuity
with the outer world.
from Sadhana, the Realisation of Life, 1916,
chapter ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’.