The music of life – remembering Mahatma Gandhi

“Gandhi is a universal figure. […] He is affirmed and avowed in many parts of the world while Indians might of course forget him or scorn him or defile him as they are doing now.” – Historian Ramachandra Guha in conversation with sociologist Nandini Sundar (The Wire, 21 March 2022) >>

I would go so far as to say that Western music which has made immense strides should also blend with the Indian. Visva-Bharati is conceived as a world university […] I have a suspicion that perhaps there is more of music than warranted by life, or I will put the thought in another way. The music of life is in danger of being lost in the music of the voice. Why not the music of the walk, of the march, of every movement of ours, and of every activity? […] So far as I know, Gurudev [Rabindranath Tagore] stood for all this in his own person.

From a letter to Rathindranath Tagore (dated 22 December 1945), quoted in: The Oxford India Gandhi: Essential Writings. Compiled and edited by Gopalkrishna Gandhi. New Delhi, 2008 (p. 568)

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 >>

I interpret image-worship in two ways, in one form of image-worship, the person who contemplates the image becomes absorbed in the contemplation of the qualities for which it stands. This is image-worship in its wholesome form – in the other form of it, the person who contemplates the image does not think about the qualities but looks upon the image itself as the primary thing.

Gandhi on image worship in Singing Gandhi’s India, p. 78 

Born on October 2, 1869, the father of the nation is known of his struggles for non-violence, equality and freedom. However, does anyone know how good Gandhi was as a student?

Mahatma Gandhi was born in Porbandar on October 2, 1869 and received primary education in the city. He was not a bright student and used to learn by writing with his finger in the dust. He was neither considered to be very gifted in the classroom nor in the playing field. However, a book ‘Mahatma on the Pitch: Gandhi & Cricket in India’ talks about how his fondness of cricket. – Read more in the Indian Express (9 October 2018) >>

Unveiling of new UN stamps at “Non-violence in Action” (on the occasion of the International Day of Non-Violence)

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Mahatma Gandhi quoted by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly on the occasion of the International Day of Non-Violence at the United Nations >>

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.” – Sunil Khilnani quoted in a review by William Dalrymple in The Guardian (14 March 2016)

“Die große Fähigkeit nutzen, die wir wie alle Völker und Kulturen besitzen”: Yehudi Menuhin über Austausch und Synthese

Der Begriff “Wechselbeziehungen” schließt einen bestimmten harmonischen Verlauf in sich ein, der diejenigen strengen Gesetze der Harmonielehre verletzt, deren eigentlicher Sinn ein glatter und wohlklingender Verlauf der Stimmen im Kontrapunkt ist. Die Musik unserer Zeit befolgt diese Gesetze nicht mehr, noch waren Meister je von Regeln abhängig. […]

Es gibt keinen günstigeren Platz als Israel, um die gegenseitigen Beziehungen zwischen den östlichen und westlichen Kulturen zu erforschen. Israel ist nicht nur geographisch an genau der Stelle gelegen, wo sich drei kraftvolle Ströme begegnen: aus Afrika, Asien und Europa; die Volksgruppen, aus denen sich die Bevölkerung Israels zusammensetzt, zeigen selbst ein dynamisches und lebendiges Abbild der äußerst komplexen und reizvollen Modelle, welche der Wechselwirkung dieser verschiedenen Ströme entstammen. So ist dieses Buch über eine wissenschaftliche Studie hinaus in lebendiger Erfahrung verwurzelt und daher ein aktuelles und fesselndes Dokument.

Ein Hauptbeitrag Europas ist die Kraft, die Fähigkeit, der Wille zur Synthese. In Europa haben sich all diese großen Ströme zusammengefunden: aus Asien von der Mongolei im Norden bis Indien im Süden – in den Magyaren und Zigeunern [Sinti und Roma]1 Ungarns vereint […]

Es ist deshalb umso mehr die besondere Pflicht unseres Zeitalters zu versuchen, diese unendlich komplexen Wechselbeziehungen mit einer Mischung von Voraussicht und Vision zu verstehen und klarzulegen und dabei die große Fähigkeit zu nutzen, die wir wie alle Völker und Kulturen besitzen: die Kraft zu geben und zu nehmen, zu lehren und zu lernen; denn wir werden stets voneinander abhängig sein. Nur in solchem Geist der Demut können wir das Bestmögliche erreichen, oder zumindest dem Schlimmsten entgehen, das immer vielfältigere und bezwingende Verflechtungen uns zu bringen haben.

Yehudi Menuhin
London, Januar 1977
(aus dem Englischen übersetzt)

Quelle: Musik zwischen Orient und Okzident: Eine Kulturgeschichte der Wechselbeziehungen von Peter Gradenwitz S. 390-392 | Details: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1046379134

Mir bedeutet unendlich viel, an der Musik Indiens aktiv teilzunehmen: in immer neuen Sequenzen jede Note und jede Geste auszukosten; mit den flexiblen Spannungen von Ton und Rhythmus das Gehör zu schulen; die allgemeine Aufnahmefähigkeit zu steigern.

Yehudi Menuhin in Unvollendete Reise Lebenserinnerungen (1976, S. 305-6)
References
  1. Zitat: Erläuterungen zum Begriff „Zigeuner“ über die Notwendigkeit einer differenzierteren Bezeichnung, die sich jedoch erst lange seit dem Erscheinen dieses Buchs im Jahre 1977 durchsetzen konnte:
    Zigeuner“ ist eine von Klischees überlagerte Fremdbezeichnung der Mehrheitsgesellschaft, die von den meisten Angehörigen der Minderheit als diskriminierend abgelehnt wird – so haben sich die Sinti und Roma nämlich niemals selbst genannt. Die Durchsetzung der Eigenbezeichnung Sinti und Roma im öffentlichen Diskurs war von Anfang an ein zentrales Anliegen der Bürgerrechtsbewegung, die sich vor allem seit Ende der Siebzigerjahre in der Bundesrepublik formierte. Dadurch sollte zugleich ein Bewusstsein für jene Vorurteilsstrukturen und Ausgrenzungsmechanismen geschaffen werden, die im Stereotyp vom „Zigeuner“ ihre Wurzeln haben. […] Die Begriffe Sinti und Roma sind nicht, wie häufig unterstellt, „politisch korrekte“ Erfindungen der Bürgerrechtsbewegung, sondern tauchen in Quellen bereits seit dem 18. Jahrhundert auf. […] Als schillernde Projektionsfläche sagt es viel über die Fantasien, Ängste und Wünsche derer aus, die es benutzen. Mit der Lebensrealität der Sinti und Roma hat es schlicht nichts gemein.
    Zugriff: https://zentralrat.sintiundroma.de/sinti-und-roma-zigeuner/ [6. Juni 2022]
    Fettdruck zur Betonung hinzugefügt[]

Indien – eine ferne Heimat

Ein Referat von Ludwig Pesch, Musikologe und Flötist, Amsterdam

Überarbeitete Version mit aktualisierten Quellenangaben 2022

Ein Beitrag aus der Konzert- und Kolloquiumsreihe „Musik & Mensch“ – Zyklus 2007/2008 HEIMAT, Uhr Pädagogische Hochschule FHNW, Aarau (Schweiz)

Wir sollen heiter Raum um Raum durchschreiten,
An keinem wie an einer Heimat hängen,
Der Weltgeist will nicht fesseln uns und engen,
Er will uns Stuf‘ um Stufe heben, weiten.

„Stufen“ von Hermann Hesse (4. Mai 1941)
Ein Gedicht, das für viele vertraut klingt: Deutschlandfunk Kultur >>

Reconciliation
Text und Musik: Manickam Yogeswaran

On rights, peace and reconciliation.
And peaceful co-existence.
Rights, Peace and Reconciliation
Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims
Everybody living with dignity
That’s the true meaning of Rights.
Celebrate each others’ rights
That’s the true meaning of Peace.
Race, language, caste, difference
Living in harmony.
Agnus dei, qui tollis pecatur mundi,
Miserere domini.
O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Speaking:
So, it’s been possible to talk peace. Indeed, live in peace.
There is an alternative to war and destruction. Everyone remember these three words.
They may not be religious mottos, but important for the future of Sri Lanka.
Important for the future of this unfair world.
Rights, Peace and Reconciliation.

Gathe Gathe para gathe paragadhi
Gathe Bodhi swaha.
Gone gone all gone beyond
Gone into Buddha nature.
This is the first preaching of Buddha after his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.

More audio and video contents by Manickam Yogeswaram >>

Idakka P. Nanda Kumar belongs to the Marar community of hereditary temple musicians whose members have played the Idakka for several centuries. As Mridangam exponent with advanced training under Palghat T. R. Rajamani – son of the legendary Palghat Mani Iyer – he incorporates complex Carnatic patterns in his Idakka performances. Video © P.V. Jayan and Ludwig Pesch (2009) | For more information, visit https://www.nandakumar.mimemo.net

“A defining period in Montessori’s outlook”: Letters from India

Maria Montessori Writes to Her Grandchildren

In October 1939, while the “storm of war was gathering in Europe”, Maria and Mario Montessori set off to India to deliver a training course and lecture tour. When Italy became involved in the war, the British rule of India did not give the Montessoris permission to leave; they were to spend close to seven years in India, which would become a defining period in Montessori’s outlook on life and education.

The letters Montessori wrote to her four teenage grandchildren in Holland give a completely new, private insight into that compellingly interesting period. We see a woman who is deeply connected to her family and friends. We also see her strong commitment to bringing progress and fighting illiteracy in India, which grew into an enduring love for the country and its people. Montessori’s colourful descriptions of her journey and life in India, her worries about her grandchildren in war-torn Europe, and her son’s imprisonment make a fascinating read.

Source: Maria Montessori Writes to Her Grandchildren (Association Montessori Internationale Montessori 150 © 2021)
https://montessori150.org/maria-montessori/montessori-books/maria-montessori-writes-her-grandchildren
Date Visited: 12 July 2021

Italian currency bill 3 October 1990

Tagore’s devotion to the ideal of a world without cruel, irrational discrimination – Unesco

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

Rabindranath Tagore: a universal voice

Rabindranath Tagore, philosopher, educator, novelist, poet and painter, is without challenge one of the greatest and most noble figures of modern times. Not only was he awarded the rare honour of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he also won the distinction far more rare, less spectacular but much more significant, of having his works translated into different languages by writers of equal glory, Nobel Prize winners in their own right, such as André Gide in French and Juan Ramon Jimenez in Spanish.

India today does not celebrate merely the thinker and writer. Above all, India reveres Tagore’s generous, universal soul, open to the problems not only of his own land but of the world, the son of the Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, who had been one of the guiding spirits of the Brahma-Samaj. For one of his greatest works, the monumental novel Gora, Rabindranath was to choose as theme the trials and problems of this movement. It is not merely by chance that Unesco, among its many undertakings towards the celebration of Tagore’s Centenary, has decided to publish the first French translation of this very novel. For in this book the poet stresses with great fervour and by moving scenes depicted with all his skill as a writer, his zealous devotion to the ideal of a casteless world, a world without cruel, irrational discrimination between one human being and his fellow men. […]

Writing days after Tagore’s death in August 1941, Jawaharlal Nehru said : “Both Gurudev and Gandhlji took much from the West and from other countries, especially Gurudev. Neither was narrowly national. Their message was for the world.” Tagore was in truth a living link between East and West. And so he willed it. His entire life he fought against narrow distrust of foreign cultures. He had faith in the fruitfulness of cultural intercourse and friendship. With this message he was and remains a Guru to Unesco, and it is both fitting and imperative that Unesco’s homage to Tagore should join that of the rest of mankind.

Vittorino Veronese

Message from the Director-General of Unesco, to the Tagore Centenary celebrations in Bombay in January [1961] >>

Read this issue. Download the PDF >>

Date accessed: 3 September 2021

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.” – Sunil Khilnani quoted in a review by William Dalrymple in The Guardian (14 March 2016)

“Beethoven has given us the music of advaita”: Vinay Lal on a celebrated composer’s search of the soul for the transcendent

This month [December 2020] marks the 250th birth anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven. In ordinary times, Germany, Austria, and a good part of the world beyond Europe would have been ablaze with celebrations: as the opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, a man whose reputation in some circles would be just as great, remarked: “Before the name of Beethoven, we must all bow in reverence.” However, in India, even without the coronavirus pandemic, there would not have been much of a stir. Beethoven’s name is by no means unknown, and India doubtless has its share of afficionados of Western classical music. […]

Stunningly [a] quote from the Iliad is preceded in Beethoven’s notebook by an excerpt from the Gita that he took to be its central teaching:

“Let not thy life be spent in inaction. Depend upon application, perform thy duty, abandon all thought of the consequence, and make the event equal, whether it terminate in good or evil; for such an equality is called Yog, attention to what is spiritual.”

Beethoven’s contemporary, the composer Franz Schubert, was almost singular in recognizing that the late string quartets were perhaps an expression of the ineffable in human existence and the search of the soul for the transcendent. Listening to the String Quartet No. 14 in C minor (Opus 131) for the last time, just before his own death a year after the passing of Beethoven, Schubert exclaimed, “After this, what is left for us to write.” Opinion would begin to swing the other way many years after Beethoven’s death, but what is singularly striking is that musicologists have been loath to consider how Indian philosophy may have contributed to carving out in Beethoven’s frame of thinking a space for the melancholic longing for the liberation that the Buddhists describe as nirvana and the Hindus as moksha. After the Upanishads and Shankaracharya, Ramana Maharishi and Sree Narayana Guru, India must recognize that Beethoven has given us the music of advaita.

Source: “Imagining Beethoven in India” by Vinay Lal (Professor of History & Asian American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles UCLA)
URL: https://vinaylal.wordpress.com/2020/12/30/imagining-beethoven-in-india/
Date visited: 2 January 2020

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

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. 4

By 1920 extraordinary success story had already to both, the publication and staging of his favourite play The Post Office 5 (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. 6

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. 7

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. 8

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). 9 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. 10

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. 11

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

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. 12

Tagore’s Nationalism should be mandatory reading in today’s climate of xenophobia, sectarianism, violence and intolerance. (Ramachandra Guha) 13

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 14 just as the “Myriad-Minded Man”. 15

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. 16

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. 17

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. 18

Van Eeden’s father (the elder Frederick van Eeden) was in fact the co-founder of what later became the Tropenmuseum, established as the “Colonial Museum” in nearby Haarlem in 1864. The grand building in Amsterdam dates from 1923.

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).

 

References
  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. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1913/summary/[]
  5. 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[]
  6. Bhaswati Ghosh in “Freedom in Tagore’s Plays — an essay”, Parabaas Rabindranath Section:
    https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pBhaswati.html[]
  7. Rabindranath Tagore quoted by Amartya Sen in The Argumentative Indian (London 2005), p. 103[]
  8. 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[]
  9. 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[]
  10. “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[]
  11. 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[]
  12. Nationalism, p. 63[]
  13. “As Ramachandra Guha shows in his brilliant and erudite interoduction, it was by reading and speaking to Tagore that these founders of modern India, Ghadhi and Nehru, developed a theory of nationalism that was inclusive rather than exclusive.” – Publisher’s note for the Indian ed. 2017 [Haryana : Penguin Books]
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1099200491[]
  14. 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[]
  15. 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[]
  16. 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.”[]
  17. 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[]
  18. Abstract: “Van Eeden en Tagore. Ethiek en muziek” by Rokus de Groot
    https://www.jstor.org/stable/939183?seq=1[]

Slideshow | India Inspiration – Tropenmuseum Amsterdam

For ten years this exhibition celebrated the sources of inspiration shared by Indian and Western artists; and at the same time, it traced the role of migrants from India via Suriname through songs, memorabilia, and documentary film footage.

Concept and research: Ludwig Pesch (www.aiume.org) in collaboration with museum staff and Architectenbureau Jowa (www.jowa.nl). On display until 2017.

Photographs © Ludwig Pesch

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

Amsterdam-Museum-Tropen_Visit

Storytellers and actors brought their stories to every corner of India. Today their narrative boxes, scrolls and performances are increasingly being replaced by modern mediums, but they have not yet disappeared.

India is a country of stories and storytellers. Opportunities abound in the exhibition Round and About India to watch and listen to narratives about people, ideas and objects. Every item has a tale, every person has something to tell. Whether it is festivals and processions, commerce and history, gods and heroes, pilgrimages and wanderings.

In this exhibition these stories are the central features of performances in dance, theatre and music.

Visit the Tropenmuseum

This museum is one of Amsterdam hidden treasures. Located off city centre in a beautiful old building in East Amsterdam (Amsterdam Oost), Tropenmuseum often remains forgotten, like an old collection of post stamps. However, if you are interested in other cultures, other countries and distant lands – do no miss it.

Amsterdam Tropenmuseum exhibit is modern, fascinating on many levels and inspiring. […] Modern and intelligent presentation makes the visit pleasant to a larger public, including children.  

 

“There is only one history – the history of man” – Rabindranath Tagore on national selfishness, which goes by the name of patriotism

Therefore I ask you to have the strength of faith and clarity of mind to know for certain that the lumbering structure of modern progress, riveted by the iron bolts of efficiency, which runs upon the wheels of ambition, cannot hold together for long. Collisions are certain to occur, for it has to travel upon organized lines: it is too heavy to choose its own course freely, and once it is off the rails its endless train of vehicles is dislocated. A day will come when it will fall in a heap of ruin and cause serious obstruction to the traffic of the world. Do we not see of this even now? Does not the voice come to us through the din of war, the shrieks of hatred, the wailing of despair, through the churning of the unspeakable filth which has been accumulating for ages in the bottom of this nationalism – the voice which cries to our soul that the tower of national selfishness, which goes by the name of patriotism, which has raised its banner of treason against heaven, must totter and fall with a crash, weighed down by its own bulk, its flag kissing the dust, its light extinguished? My brothers, when the red light of conflagration sends up its crackle of laughter to the stars, keep your faith upon those stars and not upon the fire of destruction. For when the conflagration consumes itself and dies down, leaving its memorial in ashes, the eternal light will again shine in the East – the East which has been the birthplace of the morning sun of man’s history. And who knows if that day has not already dawned, and the sun not risen, in the easternmost horizon of Asia. And I offer, as did my ancestor rishis, my salutation to that sunrise of the East, which is destined once again to illumine the whole world.

From Nationalism by Rabindranath Tagore (first published in 1917), Penguin Books – Great Ideas (London: 2010), pp. 31-32

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. – Rabindranath Tagore in Nationalism, p. 63

What India has been, the whole world is now. The whole world is becoming one country through scientific facility. And the moment is arriving when you must also find a basis of unity which is not political. If India can offer to the world her solution, it will be a contribution to humanity. There is only one history – the history of man. All national histories are merely chapters in the larger one. – Rabindranath Tagore in Nationalism, p. 68

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. – Rabindranath Tagore in Nationalism, pp. 76-77

Based on lectures delivered by him during the First World War. While the nations of Europe were at war, Tagore urged his audiences in Japan and the United States to eschew political aggressiveness and cultural arrogance. His mission, one might say, was to synthesize East and west, tradition and modernity. As Ramachandra Guha shows in his brilliant and erudite introduction [for the 2017 Indian ed.], 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. Tagore’s Nationalism should be mandatory reading in today’s climate of xenophobia, sectarianism, violence and intolerance. 

Source: WorldCat description of the Indian ed. 2017 [Haryana : Penguin Books]
URL: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1099200491
Date visited: 26 June 2020

The bamboo flute of South India

Text: Ludwig Pesch | Art: Arun V.C.

The flute has played a key role in India’s artistic life since antiquity. This is evident from writings on dance-drama, mythology, sculptures and paintings. Its playing technique must have been highly developed for a very long time. Different names are used for it, for instance kuzhal (pronounced like “kulal” or “kural”) in Tamil speaking regions; and bānsurī in northern India. In poetry, song lyrics, classical dance items and films, words like venu and murali evoke its association with Krishna, the ‘dark skinned’ cowherd and flute player.

Early Tamil and Sanskrit poets describe the creation of the original bamboo flute. This did not even require any human intervention: it is an easily observed fact that bumble bees make holes in bamboo stems (Sanskrit vamsha) for their nests. These openings later invite the wind to create ever changing tunes in bamboo groves like those found in some parts of the Western Ghats. Here, and in the hills of North-East India, grow the varieties of bamboo preferred by flute makers.

The nest holes made by some insects have indeed the same size as the blowing and finger holes still seen in most bamboo flutes. Any human being living close to nature is bound to be inspired by such phenomena while making music, dancing or telling stories. As expressed in song lyrics, these sounds are remembered as enchanting experiences and therefore regarded as a gift from heaven. Listening to the nuances of bird song has further contributed to a musical symbiosis that emerges time again in different places. The symbolism associated with the seven notes – and also the rāgas derived from them – still echoes such deeply rooted sentiments.

It hardly surprises, therefore, that Pannalal Ghosh, the pioneer of Hindustani flute music, was influenced by “tribal” musicians belonging to the Santal people. Inspired by his music, other flautists sought to develop styles that probe into our bonds with the natural world, something greater and more sublime. This greater “something” most of us seem to be aware of to the extent of longing for it, “naturally” associating it with impressions from our early childhood, and later reminded of these by any encounter with “beauty” even as modern lifestyles prevent us from realizing its essence on a daily basis:

By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.  – Rabindrath Tagore whose My Boyhood Days includes an anecdote on his attempt at making coloured ink from flower petals which “merely turned to mud” (Ch. XI)

With this dilemma we are in good company: Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), India’s first Nobel laureate, who established his Santiniketan school and Viswa-Bharati University on and amidst the Santal villages of West Bengal.

Far from being bogged down by the fact that “the superconscious self of mine which has its expression in beauty is beyond my control”, he compared the Infinite Being to a flute player whose ‘music of beauty and love helps us to transcend our egotistic preoccupations’.*

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. – From a letter to his Dutch translator, the writer Frederik van Eeden (signed in London, 9 August 1913)


Ludwig Pesch specialized in the Carnatic bamboo flute under the guidance of H. Ramachandra Shastry (1906-1992) whom he accompanied on many occasions.

H. Ramachandra Shastry (Kalakshetra, ca. 1983)

At the invitation of Smt. Rukmini Devi-Arundale, a gurukulavāsa type of personalized apprenticeship became possible thanks to Kalakshetra College (today known as Rukmini Devi College Of Fine Arts), the “institution of national importance” inspired by Rabindranath Tagore: it was his pioneering institution, Santiniketan, that provided a model for the revival of South Indian performing and visual arts just as related crafts.

Tagore in Kalakshetra
image by L. Pesch

For Rabindranath, who was essentially a poet and artist, the realization and the expression of beauty was the supreme objective in human life. His concept of beauty, according to true Indian tradition, was inseparably connected with truth and goodness. Whatever is true and noble in life, nature and art is also beautiful. Thus, aesthetic sensitiveness, in the true sense, is a fundamental aspect of spiritual education. A proper aesthetic culture should also include the perception and expression of the beautiful in human life and social conduct, as well as in art and literature. Rabindranath stated in no uncertain terms that man’s sensory encounter with the environment was as important as his mind’s enquiry into its inner mystery, and any worthwhile society should provide for both.

Source: The Santiniketan Aesthetic in Unesco’s “World Heritage List Nominations”
https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5495/
(accessed 9 June 2020)

Whatever is true and noble in life, nature and art is also beautiful

Book recommendation: Pidhana – The Canopy of Life
Tagore’s ideal of uniting practical, academic, artistic and spiritual education amounts to “lifelong education” and “ecology” in the most modern and comprehensive sense, namely in harmony with nature. Kalakshetra’s unique ecology, like Santiniketan, was painstakingly created from a barren stretch of land, over a period of several decades. This process and the unique environment resulting from it are documented in a beautiful book titled Pidhana – The Canopy of Life (Chennai, 2014, ISBN: 978-81-921627-3-7): richly illustrated, this publication tells the story of the trees found in the 99acre campus of Kalakshetra Foundation.