Creation, Kabir says again and again, is full of music: it is music – Rabindranath Tagore

Kabir was essentially a poet and musician: rhythm and harmony were to him the garments of beauty and truth. Hence in his lyrics he shows himself to be, like Richard Rolle, above all things a musical mystic. Creation, he says again and again, is full of music: it is music. At the heart of the Universe “white music is blossoming”: love weaves the melody, whilst renunciation beats the time. It can be heard in the home as well as in the heavens; discerned by the ears of common men as well as by the trained senses of the ascetic. Moreover, the body of every man is a lyre on which Brahma, “the source of all music,” plays.

Everywhere Kabir discerns the “Unstruck Music of the Infinite”—that celestial melody which the angel played to St. Francis, that ghostly symphony which filled the soul of Rolle with ecstatic joy.

Songs of Kabir by Rabindranath Tagore, p. 19
https://archive.org/details/songs-of-kabir

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)

“I savour the taste of freedom” – Tagore on individual exploration

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

In 2020 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of a visit to the Netherlands, one that was eagerly expected by many in September 1920

By Ludwig Pesch

“Vrije Gemeente” (Paradiso) image © Ludwig Pesch

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.)1

From a letter to his Dutch translator, writer Frederik van Eeden (signed in London, 9 August 1913)
Tagore Sketched by Martin Monickendam in September 1920 | Stadsarchief Amsterdam >>

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), India’s first Nobel laureate, established his Santiniketan school and Viswa-Bharati University on and amidst several Santal villages. It is therefore hardly surprising that he often compared the Infinite Being to a flute player whose “music of beauty and love helps us to transcend our egotistic preoccupations”.2

Such longings, here reiterated by one of world’s most celebrated poets – belong to a greater tradition that seeks to overcome barriers such as language or faith with the help of music. This is more than evident from sources that reveal his admiration for both, the “mad” Baul minstrels and Kabir, an equally rebellious poet whose song lyrics he knew and recommended:3

In several plays Tagore introduced a baul inspired character who would voice his message and philosophy […] roles that Tagore himself delighted in playing with abandon.

Reba Som, Rabindranath Tagore: The Singer and His Song (New Delhi, 2009), p. 76

The play he was most fond of himself, playing the role of the “fakir”, is Dakghar, translated into English under the title “The Post Office”, and Dutch (De brief van den koning, first published in 1916 and again as Amal en de brief van de koning in 1992).4

Its essence seems as relevant in today’s world as in Tagore’s own times, as Bhaswati Ghosh would put it: “In Dakghar (The Post Office), young Amal, the protagonist, bonds with numerous strangers with the spontaneity and guilelessness typical of most children. The play cleverly unravels Tagore’s thoughts on freedom.” Quoting from his Foreword to S Radhakrishnan’s The Philosophy of Upanishads,

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.5

The essay by Bhaswati Ghosh is aptly prefaced by Tagore’s forceful proclamation, one worth pondering time and again: ours being a moment in history when freedom – human rights and democracy – can no longer be taken for granted, anywhere. So it is may be read as an urgent appeal directed at aspiring artists, educators, even “opinion and decision makers”; namely to take and share responsibility for this may well decide over their own survival when modern society relentlessly puts their very legitimacy into question in times of perpetual crisis:

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

What makes his all-embracing outlook so relevant for all of us – to this very day – is this: “Tagore remains a staunch votary of exercising individual exploration as a key to finding freedom.” (Bhaswati Ghosh, Parabaas 2011)

This call for making individual choices in the face of social or political pressures, runs like a red thread through Tagore’s life and work, as can be gleaned from his letter written to the aforementioned Dutch writer, Van Eeden in 1924 (quoted by Rokus De Groot, p. 123):

Men like yourself in Europe prove that her soul is not dead and that the stream of life giving water runs deep under her spiritual soil, seeking its outlets in individual lives.

In hindsight, such high expectations may hardly seem justified given the many failures of judgement among Europe’s leading men (women having little, if any, say in such matters), such as preventing or mitigating the unprecedented suffering of yet another “World War” that was to follow the first one; an equally senseless one yet even more cruel war than the war that had just ended when Tagore visited the Netherlands in September 1920. It had caused untold suffering to millions of Indians.

Historical facts such as armed conflicts must not, however, dishearten those presently working towards lasting peace and intercultural dialogue, irrespective of one’s national, religious or class identity – the very notions Tagore had reason to question when seeking support among responsible fellow citizens at home and abroad. This may explain why music seemed best suited to the purpose of transcending even those obstacles others would have despaired of:

Tagore was “attracted by the distinctive styles of regional music [he] wrote about the great evocative power of tunes wafting across distances–carrying the message of an unknown address whispered in the ear by a traveller–bringing a note of hope and encouragement across oceans of divide.”6

Image © Tagore Centre >>

The above quote also reminds us of the fact that reed and bamboo flutes are the world’s most “democratic” to this very day, both literally and figuratively. His interdisciplinary approach to any major challenge – as pioneer in rural education, campaigner for social reform and international peace activist – remains likewise inspiring for countless artists, both well known (especially those with Bengali roots) and otherwise. His continuing influence reflects his prolific output and depth of thought on important issues, in the form of novels, theatre plays, poetry, stories, and essays.

Tagore’s commitment to bridging the divisions in India’s social fabric was unwavering even in the face of enormous pressure and political unrest. The wide appeal of his quest is evident from the fact that over two thousand of his songs continue to be sung by Bengali speakers in and outside India; and this in spite of the fact that these are spontaneous outpourings in need of being memorized while he sung them “without knowing how to write music” (Reba Som). One notable exception from this rule may be a poem that was later arranged in his presence and therefore lent itself to becoming independent India’s national anthem: “Jana-gana-mana”.

In later life he immersed himself in painting. His unusual oeuvre comprises seemingly surreal paintings besides hundreds of drawings resulting from a long habit of “doodling” in his manuscripts. Rejecting both academic Western and “Oriental Art“, Tagore is now regarded as path-breaking visual artist in his own right, initially by the surrealists who arranged an exhibition in Paris at short notice. As he told Romain Rolland during a conversation in Geneva (1930),

Words are too conscious; lines are not. Ideas have their form and colour, which wait for their incarnation in pictorial art. Just now painting has become a mania with me. My morning began with songs and poems; now, in the evening of my life, my mind is filled with forms and colours.7

Tagore believed that art, music, painting and dance elevate man from a mere being to a personal man:

Personality [is] conscious of its inexhaustible abundance; it has the paradox in it that it is more than itself; it is more than as it is seen, as it is known, as it is used. And this consciousness of the infinite, in the personal man, ever strives to make its expressions immortal and to make the whole world its own.8

This he amply illustrated by his own song lyrics, as it were, imbued with synaesthetic connotations such as these:

A light touch do I feel, a few words do I hear / And I conjure in my mind spring’s full moon / The intoxicating red of the ‘palash’ / Mixed with a dash of champa’s heady fragrance / I weave with music into a net of colour and fervour / Whatever comes close through intervals of time / Paints dream in the startled nooks of my mind / Whatever goes afar sets my tunes atremble with emotion / And with these I pass my days / Keeping count to the beat of anklets.9


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.10

Whatever is true and noble in life, nature and art is also beautiful” – Rabindranath Tagore quoted by the Archaeological Survey of India (Unesco)

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.

References
  1. See abstract and article (in Dutch) by Rokus De Groot: “Van Eeden En Tagore. Ethiek En Muziek.” Tijdschrift Van De Koninklijke Vereniging Voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis, vol. 49, no. 2, 1999, pp. 98–147. JSTORwww.jstor.org/stable/939183, p. 109 (visited 11 June 2020[]
  2. My memories of Einstein (German ed. ’Meine Erinnerungen an Einstein’, 1931) in Das Goldene Boot, Winkler Weltliteratur, Blaue Reihe (2005) – WorldCat.org >>[]
  3. “Kabir, (Arabic: “Great”) (born 1440, Varanasi, Jaunpur, India—died 1518, Maghar), iconoclastic Indian poet-saint revered by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.” (visited 9 June 2020)
    https://www.britannica.com/biography/Kabir-Indian-mystic-and-poet[]
  4. “Tagore wrote The Post Office in Bengal in 1911, not long after losing his son, his daughter, and his wife to disease. In the middle of the night, while lying under the stars on the roof of his house in Shantiniketan (the ‘Abode or Peace’), he had a strange experience. ‘My mind took wing. Fly! Fly! – I felt an anguish … There was a call to go somewhere and a premonition of death, together with intense emotion – this feeling of restlessness I expressed in writing Dak Ghar The Post Office.’ Soon afterward, Tagore’s worldwide odyssey began.” – Translators’ Preface to The Post Office, translated by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson with illustrations by Michael McCurdy and an Introduction by Anita Desai, St. Martin’s press New York, 1996. (Amal’s dialogue with the Thakura, Tagore’s alter ego, is found on p. 35.[]
  5. Tagore’s Foreword to S Radhakrishnan’s The Philosophy of Upanishads, quoted by Bhaswati Ghosh in “Freedom in Tagore’s Plays — an essay”. Parabaas Rabindranath Section. (visited 11 June 2020)
    https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pBhaswati.html[]
  6. Reba Som, Rabindranath Tagore: The Singer and His Song (New Delhi, 2009), p. 147; this can be read quite literally, given “he stepped into the streets singing songs and celebrating Rakshabandhan between members of the Hindu and Muslim communities (1905)” as noted by Abhijit Sen in “In Search of a New Language for Theatre” published on the in a special issue that celebrates the 150th year of Tagore: Indian Horizons, Vol. 24, No. 2/2010 p. 42[]
  7. The Oxford India Tagore: Selected Writings on Education and Nationalism, pp. 190-1[]
  8. Rabindranath Tagore, “Personality” in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, vol. 2, ed. by Sisir Kumar Das (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2008). Source: © 2012 Arup Jyoti Sarma (visited 21 April 2015) http://www.kritike.org/journal/issue_11/sarma_june2012.pdf[]
  9. “Ektuku chhoya lage” in Reba Som, Rabindranath Tagore: The Singer and His Song, p. 260[]
  10. The Santiniketan Aesthetic in Unesco’s “World Heritage List Nominations” (visited 9 June 2020)
    https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5495/[]

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. – Tagore in his foreword to S. Radhakrishnan’s The Philosophy of Upanishads. (More about this is found on parabaas.com.)

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. Tagore’s Nationalism should be mandatory reading in today’s climate of xenophobia, sectarianism, violence and intolerance. 11

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. 12

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. 13

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.” 14

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 >>
References
  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. Read the full commentary by Ramachandra Guha Nationalism on Worldcat.org.”[]
  12. “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[]
  13. Bhaswati Ghosh in “Freedom in Tagore’s Plays — an essay”. Parabaas Rabindranath Section.
    https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pBhaswati.html[]
  14. 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][]

“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

Rabindranath Tagore on new creations: a fundamental human need

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

“It is not the distinctive quality of man to be a mere repetition of his ancestors. Animals cling to the nests of their effete habits; man expresses himself age after age in new creations.” 

Rabindranath Tagore in 1931 
Source: Tagore on Gandhi, New Delhi 2008, p. 31

More on fundamental human needs on wikipedia >>

Human scale development is a response to the neoliberalist and structuralist hierarchical development systems in which decisions are made at the top and are directed downwards instead of democratic decisions. It focuses on development by the people and for the people and is founded upon three pillars: fundamental human needs, increasing self-reliance and a balanced interdependence of people with their environment. This system of development gives people a platform for community organizing and democratic decision making to empower people to take part in the planning process to ensure it meets their needs. 

Date accessed: 21-3-20

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)