The world celebrates 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore this year.
Tagore’s creative genius found expression in poetry, novels, short-stories,
plays, paintings and essays.
The Bengali personality bears impact of the genius of Rabindranath as he
occupies a place of a celebrity in their homes. Rabindranath, however, has a
message for mankind. His poems and essays provide a way to tackle the challenges
that the world is facing today.
In modern Indian history ranging from Raja Rammohan Roy to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi
one person who is pre-eminent in the realm of cultural diplomacy is Rabindranath
Tagore (1861-1941). In fact, Tagore is an iconic figure.
Cultural diplomacy is not without parallel in India’s history. India always
believes that international relations are shaped not only by diplomatic
relations and calculations, by trade exchanges and military interventions, but
also by cultural values. History and human relations need to be accorded
important place in foreign policy.
Among the rulers of early Indian history, Ashoka (304-232 BC) used dhamma as an
instrument of foreign policy. The officers of dhamma were employed for external
relations. The relations with foreign countries were not viewed in terms of war
and annexation but in relation of dhamma. Towards this, he included the Greek
kingdoms of Syria, Egypt, Cyrene, Macedonia and Epirus, as also the neighbouring
territories of Ceylon and Nepal in area of influence through dhamma.
In recent years, in an endeavour to strengthen diplomatic relations with South
East Asian countries, India has sought to use culture as an instrument to its
Look East Policy (LEP). Another significant move is to cultivate the Indian
Diaspora living in these countries. India has signed cultural agreements with
several countries. Branches of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR)
are working in furtherance of national objectives.
Rabindranath Tagore comes in handy to diplomats when they interact with Bengali
Diaspora all over the world as in their families Tagore occupies a position of
high stature. Rabindra Sangeet is listened with rapt attention and Gitanjali is
frequently cited with reverence in these homes. Rabindranath Tagore, the first
Asian Nobel Laureate and author of the national anthem of India and Bangladesh,
is a household name in South Asia. His portrait adorns walls in several offices
and homes. In several South East Asian countries as well in China and Japan,
Tagore is well-known to several members of political and literary elite groups.
Tagore, in particular, encouraged studies of China and Japan at Shantinekatan.
Art objects from China and Japan found important place both in his Kolkata home
and in his abode at Shantiniketan.
The rise of terrorist and fundamentalism in recent times has brought about
phenomenal changes in global politics. These unprecedented challenges call for a
new, bold and imaginative statecraft from world leaders. It underlines the need
to transcend age old peace mechanism and reconstruct our language of discourse.
I have addressed this in my work entitled Bahudha and the Post 9/11 World.
The relevance of Rabindranath Tagore could be appreciated in this context as
well. During the course of my research on this book, I was drawn to an attitude
that has greatly contributed to the enrichment of Indian life: ‘respect for
another person’s view of truth with hope and belief that he or she may be
right’. This is best expressed in the Rigvedic hymn that enjoins
Ekam Sad Vipra Bahudha Vadanti
The real is one; the learned speak of it variously.
Etymologically speaking, the word Bahudha is derived from the word Bahu, and dha
is suffixed to it to make it an adverb. ‘Bahu’ denotes many ways or parts or
forms or directions. It is used to express manifoldness, much, and repeatedly.
When the word is used with the root kri, it means to make manifold or multiply.
Bahudha is also used as an expression of intermittent continuity in various time
frames. It is used to express frequency, as in ‘time and again’. In the present
work, the word Bahudha has been used to suggest an eternal reality or continuum,
a dialogue of harmony, and peaceful living in society. Pluralism could be the
closest equivalent to Bahudha in the English language.
Rabindranath Tagore more than others, has given expression to Bahudha philosophy
in his writings. This could be viewed in the context of threats to world peace
and ways to expand human mind and its potentialities.
In a poem entitled ‘The Sunset of the Century’ written on the last day of the
19th century, Tagore observed: ‘the last sun of the century sets amidst the
blood-red clouds of the West and the whirlwind of hatred’. The mood on the last
day of the 20th century, however, was one of hope. Many viewed the termination
of the Cold War as the end of major conflicts in global politics and emergence
of a harmonious world. This was short-lived. The attack on the United States of
America on 11 September 2001 established that religiously motivated violence is
going to pose a major threat to world peace.
In this context, Rabindranath’s message of harmony among religions is of great
significance. Tagore described his Bengali family as a product of a confluence
of three cultures: Hindu, Muslim, and British. In his novel, Ghare-Baire (The
Home and the World), the character who is really the author, declares:
‘It was Buddha who conquered the world, not Alexander- this is untrue when
stated in dry pose- oh when shall we be able tossing it?’
Rabindranath worked for one supreme cause, the union of all sections of humanity
in sympathy and understanding, in truth and love. He was opposed to every kind
of religious fundamentalism and cultural separatism. He writes:
‘While God waits for his temple to be built of love men brings stones’.
The building of temple of love remains mankind’s unfinished agenda.
Tagore was never lacking in judgment or in resolution in siding with the forces
of peace and harmony, spirituality and freedom against religious discrimination,
nationalistic arrogance, terrorism, and social discrimination. He wanted Indians
to learn about how other people lived, what they believed in and so on, while
remaining interested and involved in their own culture and heritage.
Rabindranath Tagore believed that true democracy and freedom alone would lead to
realization of full potentialities of human-beings. It was in this context, that
he emphasized freedom of the mind. A poem in Gitanjali catches this ethos
‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words comes out from depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert
sand of dead habit…….’
Tagore wanted education to be an instrument of realization of human
potentialities. He raised Visva-Bharati as an international university, aimed at
assisting students realize the true character of our interlinked humanity, and
deeper unities of our civilization in the West and the East. Could we not build
a better world by teaching love and not hatred?
The movements of democracy, ecology, religious harmony, good education and world
peace need not be viewed as a separate ideals or goals; they are inter-related.
Creative minds, civil society institutions, the media, and the global political
architecture need to have a unity of purpose. The future of mankind depends upon
the manner in which it harnesses the ideals of freedom and democracy for
expansion of the human mind.