True happiness according to Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore sketched by Dutch artist Martin Monnickendam during a lecture tour in September 1920 © Stadsarchief Amsterdam

“True happiness is not at all expensive. It depends upon that natural spring of beauty and of life, harmony of relationship. Ambition pursues its own path of self-seeking by breaking this bond of harmony, digging gaps, creating dissension. Selfish ambition feels no hesitation in trampling under foot the whole harvest field, which is for all, in order to snatch away in haste that portion which it craves. Being wasteful it remains disruptive of social life and the greatest enemy of civilization.” | Read the full lecture >>

Source: Rabindranath Tagore in “Robbery of the soil” (Calcutta University, 1922), posted by Tony Mitra on a blog “Exploring citizens duty on food security, environmental sustainability, covid and freedom issues” (27 September 2015)
https://www.tonu.org/tag/robbery-of-the-soil/
Date visited: 12 January 2021

Worldcat lists compiled by Ludwig Pesch

Carnatic (South Indian classical) music 

Rabindranath Tagore: works by and about the influential writer, humanist and social reformer

Indian performing arts

History 

Publications, book chapters and articles by Ludwig Pesch

Rabindranath Tagore’s memorable visit to The Netherlands: Centenary celebration at “Paradiso”

Paradiso © Ludwig Pesch 2020
Tagore sketched by Martin Monickendam in September 1920

The month of September offered an opportunity to celebrate the centenary of a successful lecture tour by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). It was organized by Dutch citizens with whom he shared a commitment to a cultural dialogue on eye-level. A Dutch press report highlights Tagore’s “silver voice” that conveyed his admiration for the songs of Bengal’s village mystics. His lectures attracted large audiences: 1

Several factor led [his Dutch translator, the writer Frederik van] Eeden – and like-minded intellectuals in Europe of the interbellum – to make an idol of Tagore as the poet-king the world was waiting for. 2

The impact or “hype” caused by his writings and lectures has been compared to that surround modern day celebrities going by a Dutch article published to mark the 100th anniversary in September 2020. 3

Today we are free to believe whether or not this was due to his charisma or indeed a deeper understanding, rather than unrealistic expectations that often arise from “western interest in spirituality as an antidote to cultural pessimism, modernism, and materialism”.

Historical context

By 1920 Tagore’s “celebrity” status had already attracted Dutch readers, enjoying highly popular edition of his Gitanjali based on the English edition hailed by W. B. Yeats. It was for this collection of poetry for which Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West”.

By 1920 extraordinary success story had already to both, the publication and staging of his favourite play The Post Office 4 (Dutch De brief van den koning).

Rie Cramer, a renowned Dutch children’s book illustrator, writer and freedom fighter in her own right, had created six miniatures included in a bibliophile edition enjoyed by generations of Dutch readers ever since. Besides adding beauty she contributed to a greater awareness of the fact that “Tagore uses the notion of freedom to decry narrow nationalistic boundaries, governed by myopic ambition and greed […] which bring out different facets of his broader abstraction of freedom. 5

In the Netherlands, Rabindranath Tagore was hailed by some as India’s “Poet King”, inspiring Dutch composers to create new and original work besides being a much sought after speaker all over Europe in view of his self-assigned mission to improve international relations in association with public figures from mutually hostile nations.

Rabindranath Tagore Vrije Gemeente Amsterdam 23 September 1920) © Spaarnestad Photo
Tagore with his hosts at the Vrije Gemeente Amsterdam
23 September 1920 © Spaarnestad Photo

Yet Tagore’s irrepressible sense of independence and personal freedom is evident from many of the poems he hand collected and translated for the benefit of foreign friends, published under the title Gitanjali; and even more explicitly in a letter written a few years later, addressed to his friend, the poetess Victoria Ocampo whom he had sought to honour by using her name in the Sanskrit equivalent “Vijaya”:

Whenever there is the least sign of the nest becoming a jealous rival of the sky [,] my mind, like a migrant bird, tries to take … flight to a distant shore. 6

Image: India Perspectives, Vol. 24 No. 2/2010
‘Where the mind is without fear!’: A poem from Gitanjali in Tagore’s calligraphy in “Tagore, Gitanjali and the Nobel Prize by Nilanjan Banerjee, India Perspectives, Vol. 24 No. 2/2010.

Freedom

In view of Tagore’s artistic and educational priorities the gathering commemorating his visit focused on the ways “freedom” permeates his legacy. 7

On 25 September 2020 the same venue – since 1968 a popular music venue known as Paradiso – welcomed a small gathering sharing an interest in Tagore’s work and its relevance for our times. Our discussion was enriched by contributions from other parts of the country, and by Santal educationist Dr. Boro Baski who hails from one the villages near Tagore’s Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan (West Bengal). 8 The values and forward looking principles envisaged for his newly founded “World University” also figured prominently during meetings arranged in the course of Tagore’s successful lecture-cum-fundraising tour in 1920. 9

Paradiso - de grote zaal Vrije Gemeente (gezien naar de achtergevel circa 1900)
Paradiso (main hall of the Vrije Gemeente, circa 1900): built in 1880, 1965 sold to the City of Amsterdam © Stadsarchief Amsterdam; discussed in “Scheurmakers: 50 jaar Paradiso. Voorheen Vrije Gemeente” door Raymond van den Boogaard
https://www.groene.nl/artikel/scheurmakers

Rabindranath Tagore’s ideas left an impression worth debating today, be it on a personal level or perhaps even in a larger context, as discussed among the participants during and after the 2020 commemoration in Paradiso:

I am not against one nation in particular, but against the general idea of all nations. What is the Nation? It is the aspect of a whole people as an organized power. This organization incessantly keeps up the insistence of the population on becoming strong and efficient. But this strenuous effort after strength and efficiency drains man’s energy from his higher nature where he is self-sacrificing and creative. 10

His foresight is evident from one of his lectures on the danger posed by nationalism, anywhere in the world:

His life and work remain a source of inspiration, whether we focus on the creative artist he was – the world famous poet, musician and painter – or on the social activist who remains an example to emulate for many: today and for future generations Rabindranath Tagore’s legacy may be that of “The Argumentative Indian” Nobel Awardee Amartya Sen wrote about so eloquently as Visva-Bharati’s most prominent alumnus 11 just as the “Myriad-Minded Man”. 12

Rabindranath Tagore and his role in fostering “sympathy of the East and West” during his visit to The Netherlands in fall 1920

In his poetry, for which he received the Nobel Prize for Literature as Asia’s first awardee in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore uses musical instruments as metaphors for self-realization and transcendence; notably the vina (or “veena”, often translated as “harp”) and the flute. In a letter to Frederik van Eeden, his Dutch translator, he wrote in 1913, seven years before visiting the Netherlands:

Very often I think and feel that I am like a flute – the flute that cannot talk but when the breath is upon it, can sing. I am sure you have seen me in my book and I shall never be able to make myself seen to you when we meet; for the body of the lamp is dark, it has no expression, only its flame has the language. 13

In another letter to Van Eeden, Tagore wrote about a quest he shared with leading minds all over the world:

Still I cannot deny that this award of the Nobel Prize has been a great thing. It is the handshake of sympathy of the East and West across the water – it has proclaimed the oneness of humanity. 14

In 1920 Tagore spoke before packed houses including the “free congregation”: the humanistic and cosmopolitan “Vrije Gemeente” whose highly placed members had built a magnificent church at the Weteringschans in Amsterdam. (It now houses Amsterdam’s prime pop venue, known as “Paradiso”.)

Tagore’s lecture tour made a lasting impression on countless listeners:

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and the Dutch writer, psychiatrist and Utopist Frederik van Eeden (1860-1932) exchanged correspondence between 1913 and 1928, and met in Amsterdam in 1920. When Van Eeden discovered Tagore’s poetry in 1913, he experienced a feeling of profound recognition and went on to translate a considerable amount of Tagore’s poetic work into Dutch, starting with Gitanjali [Wijzangen]. Van Eeden’s translations became very popular in the Netherlands, also among composers. 15

Van Eeden’s father (the elder Frederick van Eeden) was in fact the co-founder of the “Colonial Museum” in nearby Haarlem in 1864 that moved to a grand new building in Amsterdam in 1923. 16

Tagore with tambura - Sangeet Natak Centenary Number (New Delhi 1961)
“As Blind Minstrel in Phalguni” by Abanindranath Tagore (detail); title page, Sangeet Natak Centenary Number (New Delhi 1961)

Even though the above quote confirms his fondness for the simple bansuri bamboo flute, an instrument he often heard played during Santal festivities – on “tribal” land where Santiniketan was founded – Tagore did not play any musical instrument other than the indispensable drone:

“I practiced my songs with my tamburā resting on my shoulder.” (My Boyhood Days, p. 38, Calcutta: Visva-Bharati 1997).

Later he was depicted as playing a similar string instrument, namely as a participant in his own music dramas (see the detail from Abanindranath Tagore’s painting reproduced here).

 

  1. “In the evening he read the essay on ‘Some Village Mystics of Bengal’ in the ‘Church Of the Christians’. About 1500 Theosophists and religious persons attentively listened his lecture.”
    Rabindranath in Holland (contd-2) – 1920 by Smaraka Grantha.
    https://sesquicentinnial.blogspot.com/2012/04/rabindranath-in-holland-contd-2-1920.html[]
  2. Tagore’s reception in Europe amounted to a “vogue”, Dutch “een ware rage”, as described by Rokus de Groot in his account of the atmosphere and extraordinary circumstances surrounding Tagore’s visit, making “Tagore into a major text source in Dutch new music of the first half of the twentieth century”. For details read “Rabindranath Tagore and Frederik van Eeden: Reception of a ‘Poet King’ in the Netherlands” in Hindustani Music: Thirteenth to Twentieth Centuries. Codarts / Manohar New Delhi 2010 pp. 521-76; find a copy in the library: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/699235007[]
  3. “‘Met zilveren stemgeluid leest dr. Tagore de rede, die hij te voren op papier heeft gebracht. Hij vertelt van de dorpsmystici ginds in Bengalen, van mannen en vrouwen wier godsdienst het Hindoeïsme is en die in religieuze devotie het dagelijksche gebeuren rondom hen vertolken in liederen van zeldzame bekoring.’ Tagores bezoek maakte diepe indruk en bracht in Nederland een ware rage teweeg.
    https://www.amsterdam.nl/stadsarchief/stukken/immigranten/tagore-amsterdam/[]
  4. Original title: Dakghar and available as The Project Gutenberg EBook: The Post Office by Rabindranath Tagore, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1914 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6523/6523-h/6523-h.htm[]
  5. Bhaswati Ghosh in “Freedom in Tagore’s Plays — an essay”, Parabaas Rabindranath Section:
    https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pBhaswati.html[]
  6. Rabindranath Tagore quoted by Amartya Sen in The Argumentative Indian (London 2005), p. 103[]
  7. For more detailed accounts of Tagore’s journey between 23 September and 1 October 1920 popularity, read “Tagore in The Netherlands” by Liesbeth Meyer on parabaas.com, and “Rabindranath in Holland – 1920” by Smaraka Grantha.
    https://sesquicentinnial.blogspot.com/2012/04/rabindranath-in-holland-1920.html[]
  8. The mission statement of its university reiterates Tagore’s vision expounded to the intended beneficiaries and benefactors, be they from all over India or from abroad: “Visva-Bharati represents India where she has her wealth of mind which is for all. Visva-Bharati acknowledges India’s obligation to offer to others the hospitality of her best culture and India’s right to accept from others their best.”
    http://visvabharati.ac.in/index.html[]
  9. “Other than Dr. Eeden Rabindranth was introduced with two other poets. One, Henri Borel, and the other, Raden Mas Noto Suroto. Borel translated two dramas of Rabindranath, The King of the Dark Chamber [1914] and The Post Office [1916] in Dutch. The second one became very much popular in Holland.
    Rabindranath in Holland (contd-1)-1920 by Smaraka Grantha.
    https://sesquicentinnial.blogspot.com/2012/04/rabindranath-in-holland-contd-1-1920.html[]
  10. Nationalism by Rabindranath Tagore. Penguin Books – Great Ideas. London: 2010 [first ed. 1917], pp. 76-77; find a copy in the library:
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1099200491[]
  11. To appreciate Tagore’s struggles and achievements, see The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity by Amartya Sen; find a copy in the library:
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/953774730[]
  12. See Rabindranath Tagore: the myriad-minded man by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson (a biography that “focuses on the man, not his art”); find a copy in the library: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/935863491[]
  13. See Letter#2: Rabindranath to Van Eeden, August 9, 1913 in “Tagore in The Netherlands” by Liesbeth Meyer
    https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pMeyer.html
    “Believe me, my friend, my heart goes out to you but I am inarticulate. I have to speak to you in a language not my own. The best that I have in me I give out in songs – no, I can not even say that I give it out – it comes out of itself. The superconscious self of mine which has its expression in beauty is beyond my control – and my ordinary self is stupid and awkward before men. Very often I think and feel that I am like a flute – the flute that cannot talk but when the breath is upon it, can sing. I am sure you have seen me in my book and I shall never be able to make myself seen to you when we meet; for the body of the lamp is dark, it has no expression, only its flame has the language.”[]
  14. Signed in Shanti Niketan, 12 December 1913, see Letter#4: Rabindranath to Van Eeden; December 12, 1913 in “Tagore in The Netherlands” by Liesbeth Meyer
    https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pMeyer.html[]
  15. Abstract: “Van Eeden en Tagore. Ethiek en muziek” by Rokus de Groot
    https://www.jstor.org/stable/939183?seq=1[]
  16. later known as Tropenmuseum and today absorbed into the Netherlands’ Wereldmuseum[]

Slideshow | India Inspiration – Tropenmuseum Amsterdam

This exhibition at the Tropenmuseum (today’s Wereldmuseum Amsterdam) featured two strands of shared memories: one celebrating the sources of inspiration shared by Indian and Western artists; and the other honouring migrants from India via Suriname.

Visitors experienced both strands as being intertwined by means of songs and memorabilia including historical photographs, video clips and historical film footage.

Concept and research by Ludwig Pesch (www.aiume.org) in collaboration with museum staff and Architectenbureau Jowa (www.jowa.nl) for display between 2007 and 2017.

Photographs © Ludwig Pesch

This exhibition was one of the five themes in the exhibition “Round and About India”: Wanderings

Amsterdam-Museum-Tropen_Visit

For millennia, storytellers and actors have spread their stories to every corner of India: stories about gods and heroes just as those of “ordinary mortals” revolting in the face of injustice or oppression of every conceivable kind.

Today their narrative boxes, scrolls and performances are often replaced by modern media, and this hardly for want of interest – quite on the contrary: it is a deeply felt interest in one’s identity or cultural roots that keeps these stories alive.

“Round and About India” therefore invited visitors to immerse themselves in stories told by people, ideas or objects even in the absence of a universally accepted or “final” written edition. What holds these stories together is the recurring theme of “wanderings”: a perennial flow of people attracted to local festivals, going on a pilgrimage or persuaded to migrate to distant lands for a variety of reasons.

In this exhibition these stories relate to dance, theatre and music traditions from different regions.

Santiniketan: Birth of Another Cultural Space – Free e-book by Pulak Dutta

“Of all living creatures in the world, man has his vital and mental energy vastly in excess of his need, which urges him to work in various lines of creation for its own sake […] Life is perpetually creative because it contains in itself that surplus which ever overflows the boundaries of the immediate time and space.” – Rabindranath Tagore in The Religion of an Artist 1

KG Subramanyam with Pulak Dutta – Santiniketan 2009

Source: Pulak Dutta. Santiniketan: Birth of Another Cultural Space. Santiniketan 2015. Contact: pulaksantiniketan@gmail.com | Download his free e-book here | Backup copy (PDF, 5 MB) >>

More on and by Rabindranath Tagore >>

Listen to Tagore: Unlocking Cages: Sunil Khilnani tells the story of the Bengali writer and thinker Rabindranath Tagore: https://bbc.in/1KVh4Cf >>
The acclaimed BBC 4 podcast series titled Incarnations: India in 50 Lives has also been published in book form (Allen Lane).

“I was moved by how many of these lives pose challenges to the Indian present,” he writes, “and remind us of future possibilities that are in danger of being closed off.”2

  1. Quoted by Pulak Dutta (p. 97) from Sisir Kumar Das (ed.). The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Vol 3. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi 2006 (pp. 687-8) []
  2. Sunil Khilnani quoted in a review by William Dalrymple in The Guardian, 14 March 2016[]

“Unity in Diversity, Antiquity in Contemporary Practice? South Indian Music Reconsidered

“Unity in Diversity, Antiquity in Contemporary Practice? South Indian Music Reconsidered” by Ludwig Pesch (Amsterdam) in Gardner, Matthew; Walsdorf, Hanna (Hrsg.). Musik – Politik – Identität. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag, 2016 (Musikwissenschaften)

This essay evolved from a presentation for participants at the music conference “Music | Musics. Structures and Processes” held at Goettingen University (4-8 September 2012); with due credits to the editors.

“an inspiration to many [and] the highlight of the conference for me” – fellow author/presenter Paul Christiansen

ISBN13: 978-3-86395-258-7

  • To download this essay (PDF 500 KB), click here >>
  • Download the entire issue for free here>>
  • More publications, articles and contributions to reference works, festival issues and museum catalogues listed on worldcat.org >>

Softcover, 17×24, 218 S.: 24,00 € Online Ausgabe, PDF (3.681 MB)

© 2016: Creative Commons licence Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Abstract

The “classical” music of South India is an amalgam of regional traditions and practices. Increasingly codified in the past five centuries, it is now known as Carnatic or Karnatak music. Like the Sanskrit term Karnâtaka Sangîtam, these Anglicisms denote “traditional” music besides distinguishing South Indian music from its northern (Hindustani) counterpart. Progressive scholars have long espoused the common goal of making teaching more effective for both idioms while safeguarding “authentity”. It may therefore seem odd that detailed notation has not been embraced by practitioners.

This paper probes the resilience of oral transmission in the face of modernity. It looks into the concerns shared by musicians who, while belonging to different cultures and periods, have much in common as far as performing practice is concerned: close integration of vocal and instrumental music. The role of manuscripts in Minnesang, as described by McMahon, also applies to Carnatic music: “songs were handed down in an oral tradition [and] the manuscripts were not intended to be used by performers.” (The Music of Early Minnesang Columbia SC, 1990.)

It will be argued that this fact is not just a question of some musicians’ conservatism, ignorance or irrationality; nor would it put the continuity of a living tradition at risk. On the contrary, Carnatic music reaches global audiences today while “ancient” roots are claimed even by those who cherish its association with musicians from other cultures throughout the 20th century.

About this publication

Music – Politics – Identity

Music always mirrors and acts as a focal point for social paradigms and discourses surrounding political and national identity. The essays in this volume combine contributions on historical and present-day questions about the relationship between politics and musical creativity.

The first part concentrates on musical identity and political reality, discussing ideological values in musical discourses.

The second part deals with (musical) constructions, drwawing on diverse national connections within our own and foreign identity.

Matthew Gardner & Hanna Walsdorf (eds.)

Musik – Politik – Identität

Musik ist immer auch Spiegel und Kristallisationspunkt gesellschaftlicher Paradigmen und politisch-nationaler Identitätsdiskurse. Der vorliegende Sammelband vereint Beiträge zu historischen und gegenwärtigen Fragestellungen, die um das Verhältnis von Politik und musikalischem Schaffen kreisen.

Im ersten Teil sind Beiträge zusammengefasst, die sich mit „Musikalischer Identität und politischer Realität“ befassen und dabei ideologische Zuschreibungsprozesse im Musikdiskurs thematisieren.

Der zweite Teil des Bandes umfasst Betrachtungen über „(Musikalische) Konstruktionen von eigener und fremder Identität“ aus verschiedensten nationalen Zusammenhängen.

Matthew Gardner & Hanna Walsdorf (Hg.)

Inhalt / Contents

Hanna Walsdorf und Matthew Gardner
Vorwort

I Musikalische Identität und politische Realität

Hanna Walsdorf
Deutsche Nationalmusik? Ein diskursgeschichtlicher Annäherungsversuch

Mauro Fosco Bertola
„Die Musik ist mediterran“: Orient, Latinität und Musikgeschichte, oder: Wie Nietzsche 1937 Italiens koloniale Macht legitimieren sollte

Yvonne Wasserloos
„Nordische Musik“ als Faktor der Propaganda der Nordischen Gesellschaft und der DNSAP in Dänemark um 1940

Simon Nußbruch
„Was ließen jene, die vor uns schon waren…?“ Musik in der Bündischen Jugend nach 1945

Gilbert Stöck
Methoden musikalischer Opposition in Portugal während der Salazar-Diktatur bei Jorge Peixinho und José Afonso

Paul Christiansen
‘The Stakes Are Too High For You to Stay Home’: Divergent Uses of Music in TV Political Ads in the 1964 U.S. Presidential Election

II (Musikalische) Konstruktionen von eigener und fremder Identität

Matthew Gardner
‘Das Land ohne Musik’? National Musical Identity in Victorian and Edwardian England

Rebekka Sandmeier
Reflections of European Culture in the Grey Collection (National Library of South Africa)

Mario Dunkel
Jazz and the Emergence of the African-Roots Theory

Dorothea Suh
Achim Freyers Mr. Rabbit and the Dragon King: Eine Interpretation des koreanischen P’ansori Sugungga

Ludwig Pesch
Unity in Diversity, Antiquity in Contemporary Practice? South Indian Music Reconsidered

Worldcat lists compiled by Ludwig Pesch

Carnatic (South Indian classical) music 

Rabindranath Tagore: works by and about the influential writer, humanist and social reformer

Indian performing arts

History 

Publications, book chapters and articles by Ludwig Pesch

Beyond Nationalism: “My freedom lies not in pursuing detachment” – Rabindranath Tagore

“Vrije Gemeente” (Paradiso) image © Ludwig Pesch

In September 2020 Amsterdam remembers the 100th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore’s visit. It did not just made a deep impression, it caused a sensation. 1

Tagore with his hosts and members of the Vrije Gemeente Amsterdam
23 September 1920) © Spaarnestad Photo

2020 also happens the year when Amsterdam celebrates the 75th anniversary of liberation from nazi-occupation 2 while confronting the legacy of collaboration among some sections of society including local authorities.3

Between these two seemingly unrelated dates – Tagore’s lecture tour in 1920 and liberation from nazi rule in 1945 – lies a period of immense suffering all over Europe and beyond: the emergence and fall of the “Thousand-Year Reich” whose leaders propagated a nationalist-cum-white-supremacist ideology (Aryanism). For twelve long years its leaders coopted others in an insane scheme whereby countless “righteous” people were first enticed into condoning, even facilitating the oppression and persecution of their fellow citizens, then to “sacrifice” their lives for the greater glory of the “nation”. Among the political and business “elite” of that period there were many who condoned the systematic extermination of millions of people for no fault of their own, without ever being held to account even when nazi rule had ended.

Nationalism by Rabindranath Tagore (1917) - Book Cover © Penguin Great Ideas 2010

The fact that some still do – all over the world – makes it all the more remarkable that long before his 1920 lecture-cum-fundraising tour of Europe, Rabindranath Tagore had foreseen the catastrophic potential of nationalism, be it for India or other countries. 4 This is evident from several lectures published under the title Nationalism in 1917 and still in print: “And the idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole people can carry out its systematic programme of the most virulent self-seeking without being in the least aware of its moral perversion – in fact it can feel dangerously resentful if it is pointed out.”5

There is only one history – the history of man. All national histories are merely chapters in the larger one.

Revisiting Europe in 1920, so shortly after World War I, Tagore had rallied support for peace and cooperation among peoples independent of prevailing notions such as “race” or “creed”, being convinced that “there is only one history – the history of man. All national histories are merely chapters in the larger one. 6 He knew from experience that the only way to achieve a lasting change of hearts and minds was progressive education on all levels and in an atmosphere that allowed these issues to be addressed in an unprejudiced manner. This is evident from the theme chosen for one of his two lectures at Amsterdam University: “Ideal of Education”, held on on 27th September 1920. 7

Being Asia’s first Nobel Laureate in 1913 did not delude him into thinking that a more peaceful and just society could be achieved merely by agreement on an intellectual plane or diplomatic means. So as a poet and song writer he reached out where others had failed in search of intercultural understanding, as evident from the title of another lecture, indeed the very first one on Dutch soil (23 September 1920): “Some songs of the Village Mystics in Bengal”, delivered at the Church of the Free Christians: a virtual homage to the baul singers credited with inspiring some of his most beloved songs to this very day. 8

Gram Chara Oi Rangamatir“, a modern” ensemble arrangement; one among many popular Tagore songs composed in Baul style 9; excerpted from Raviragini: A Treasurehouse of Tagore Songs – Dramas & Operas” CD6 © Saregama 2002

Time and again his “silver voice” left a deep impression among large audiences 10 with whom he shared a will to overcome divisions, be it within societies or between nations, and the ensuing hostilities echoed by misunderstandings prevailing in our own time. He was convinced that these would eventually resolved by resorting to unconventional means, such as the realisation of a shared, non-sectarian legacy available to all, and later summarized as follows:

Rabindranath Tagore sketched by Martin Monickendam (Amsterdam lecture, 23 September 1920)

When our self is illuminated with the light of love, then the negative aspect of its separateness with others loses its finality, and then our relationship with others is no longer that of competition and conflict, but of sympathy and co-operation. 11

During lectures delivered during the First World War, Tagore urged his audiences in Japan and the United States “to eschew political aggressiveness and cultural arrogance.” Noted Indian historian Ramachandra Guha believes that “it was by reading and speaking to Tagore that these founders of modern India, Gandhi and Nehru, developed a theory of nationalism that was inclusive rather than exclusive.12 Tagore’s Nationalism should be mandatory reading in today’s climate of xenophobia, sectarianism, violence and intolerance. 13

My freedom lies not in
pursuing detachment.
Amidst a thousand fetters
shall I savour the taste of freedom
in delirious joy.

Quoted by Bhaswati Ghosh on Parabaas.com

By the time of Tagore’s visit to the Netherlands, his favourite play Dakghar had been translated into English and Dutch (as The Post Office and De brief van den koning, in 1912 and 1916 respectively). Beyond the enduring success of several western theatre productions based on these and other versions, its themes remain relevant in the context of peaceful resistance in the face of despotism in all its manifestations, past, present and future:

Its themes of liberation and transcending difficult situations through imagination, creativity and love of life made the play a favourite during the Second World War, with famous productions in Polish in the Warsaw Ghetto and a Paris radio production on the eve of the Nazi invasion. 14

Dakghar is one of many works, including several plays, wherein “Tagore uses the notion of freedom to decry narrow nationalistic boundaries, governed by myopic ambition and greed […] which bring out different facets of his broader abstraction of freedom.”15

Amal in De brief van den koning, a popular Dutch edition of Tagore’s favourite play.
The first among a series of six illustrations created by Rie Cramer (1887–1977)

Rabindranath’s idea of samaj [society] is closely related to the idea of Santiniketan. He was growing more and more against the idea of Nation and seeing the formation of samaj as the only solution to social problems in India. In one of his lectures delivered during his trip to Japan and the USA in 1916 he says, “This time it was the Nation of the West driving its tentacles of machinery deep down into the soil. […]

A nation, in the sense of the political and economic union of people, is that aspect which a whole population assumes when organized for a mechanical purpose. Society as such has no ulterior purpose. It is an end in itself. It is a spontaneous self- expression of man as a social being. It is natural regulation of human relationships, so that men can develop ideals of life in cooperation with one another.” 16

In true music there is no place for communal differences and hostility. True music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.

Mahatma Gandhi – A unique musician” by Namrata Mishra >>
Worldcat lists compiled by Ludwig Pesch

Carnatic (South Indian classical) music 

Rabindranath Tagore: works by and about the influential writer, humanist and social reformer

Indian performing arts

History 

Publications, book chapters and articles by Ludwig Pesch

  1. “Tagores bezoek maakte diepe indruk en bracht in Nederland een ware rage teweeg.” – Read the post published by the Amsterdam city archive (in Dutch). Critical voices were not wanting either, as summarized by the English periodical La gazette de Hollande with reference to a Roman Catholic cleric’s view that “we do not believe Dr. Tagore’s appearance in the body answered the high expectations which had been cherished”, referring to an earlier article in the patriotic Vaderland “which says that the prophet from India has only repeated what the prophet of Nazareth expounded centuries ago.”
    https://resolver.kb.nl/resolve?urn=MMKB19:000104236[]
  2. “Around 250,000 Dutch people died in World War II, including around 100,000 Jews, according to figures from the country’s Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide studies.” – Reuters, 5 May 2020[]
  3. “[I]t has been very difficult to publicly debate sensitive issues such as the permanent shunning of collaborators, the virtual destruction of Dutch Jewry, the cold reception of the few Jewish survivors and the bystander-role of the Dutch population during the deportations.” – Chrisje Brants in “Complicated Legacies of Justice: The Netherlands and World War II”, Journal of International Criminal Justice 13(4), September 2015 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282295569_Complicated_Legacies_of_Justice_The_Netherlands_and_World_War_II[]
  4. As regards Tagore’s warning “that jati prem (aggressive nationalism) was utterly self-destructive”, and his ideas about a Hindu socio-cultural utopia, see “Tagore and Caste: From Brahmacharyasram to Swadeshi Movement (1901–07)” by Rajarshi Chunder.
    https://www.sahapedia.org/tagore-and-caste-brahmacharyasram-swadeshi-movement-1901–07[]
  5. Nationalism by Rabindranath Tagore. Penguin Books – Great Ideas. London: 2010 [first ed. 1917], p. 63[]
  6. Nationalism, p. 68[]
  7. Rabindratirtha – A Timeline of Tagore’s Life and Work, accessed 9 July 2020[]
  8. “Tagore songs which are correspond to Baul style […] contain ideas with double meaning and the style of the tune pertaining to a homeless minstrel. They are fit for singing with modest or even without accompaniment. Rabindranath had combined this style with other formats of Hindustani classical music in order to suit his compositions.”
    http://www.geetabitan.com/raag/light-classical-and-regional-forms/baul.html[]
  9. Gramchharda Oi Ranga Matir listed on http://www.geetabitan.com/raag/light-classical-and-regional-forms/baul.html[]
  10. “‘Met zilveren stemgeluid leest dr. Tagore de rede, die hij te voren op papier heeft gebracht. Hij vertelt van de dorpsmystici ginds in Bengalen, van mannen en vrouwen wier godsdienst het Hindoeïsme is en die in religieuze devotie het dagelijksche gebeuren rondom hen vertolken in liederen van zeldzame bekoring.’ Tagores bezoek maakte diepe indruk en bracht in Nederland een ware rage teweeg.” – Press report cited on www.amsterdam.nl/stadsarchief, the official Amsterdam City Archives” website, on 20 May 2020[]
  11. Tagore in his foreword to S. Radhakrishnan’s The Philosophy of Upanishads; more about this is found on parabaas.com.[]
  12. According to Niranjan Ramakrishnan, Gandhi “thought that human beings everywhere were the same in that they had a heart and a conscience. His precept of Antyodaya, or concern for the welfare of the ‘last man’, was rooted in this idea.” – Book excerpt from Reading Gandhi in the Twenty-First Century (Macmillan, 2013) quoted by The Wire (30 January 2023)
    https://thewire.in/books/the-globalism-that-gandhi-believed-in[]
  13. Read the full commentary by Ramachandra Guha Nationalism on Worldcat.org.”[]
  14. “In 1901 Tagore founded an experimental school for boys and wrote plays to be performed by his students. Arguably the best known of these is “Dak Ghar” (The Post Office, 1912). This play, written in just four days, is from his “Gitanjali” period (‘Songs of Offering’), which had among its dominant themes death and passage into the next life. In this one-act, Amal is a sick child watching life pass, seeing the construction of a modern post office and imagining that he might someday receive a letter from the king. The play was first performed by and for schoolboys at Tagore’s school in Santiniketan. The first western performance was just two years later in 1914 at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It has subsequently been translated into many languages and performed throughout the world. Its themes of liberation and transcending difficult situations through imagination, creativity and love of life made the play a favourite during the Second World War, with famous productions in Polish in the Warsaw Ghetto and a Paris radio production on the eve of the Nazi invasion.” – Summary on Worldcat.org[]
  15. Bhaswati Ghosh in “Freedom in Tagore’s Plays — an essay”. Parabaas Rabindranath Section.
    https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pBhaswati.html[]
  16. Rabindranath Tagore quoted in Santiniketan: Birth of Another Cultural Space by Pulak Dutta (Santiniketan, 2015) p. 42 [from The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Vol. II, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2004, p. 421][]