“Eine kleine Weltmusik: die Musik der Santal” in Klangkörper. Saiteninstrumente aus Indien – Rezension in ASIEN 139

Johannes Beltz; Marie Eve Celio-Scheurer (Hgg.): Klangkörper. Saiteninstrumente aus Indien.
Zürich: Museum Rietberg, 2015. 81 S., 23 EUR | Zur Ausstellung in Indien und über die Englische AusgabeCadence and Counterpoint, Documenting Santal Musical Traditions by Johannes Beltz, Ruchira Ghose and Maria-Eve Celio-Scheurer (eds.) >>

Eine einzigartige Würdigung der visuellen Attraktivität und künstlerischen Qualität der Musikinstrumente der Santal in Indien. Mit einem Text von Bengt Fosshag über seine Passion als Sammler dieser Instrumente und einem kurzen Essay von Ludwig Pesch zur Musik der Santal.

ASIEN 139 (April 2016) in print – Rezension von Heinz Werner Wessler (Professor für Indologie an der Universität Uppsala, Schweden) , S. 138-139 | Mehr über den Rezensenten | LinkedIn >>

Der Band ist Ausstellungskatalog (Ausstellung „Klang/Körper“ im Musum Rietberg), Nachschlagewerk und zugleich ein Beitrag zur Erforschung der Saiteninstrumente der indischen Adivasis (Ureinwohner), insbesondere der im östlichen Indien ansässigen Santals. Die hier dokumentierten Instrumente, die zum größten Teil auf eine aktuelle Schenkung an das Museum Rietberg zurückgehen (einige wenige Exemplare wurden vom Rietberg-Kreis aus der Sammlung Fosshag angekauft), wurden im berühmten Zürcher Museum für asiatische Kunst zum ersten Mal ausgestellt und hier im Rahmen des vorliegenden Kataloges dokumentiert.

Die Sammlung geht zurück auf den Designer und Illustrator Bengt Fosshag, der über viele Jahre Indien bereiste und dabei über Jahrzehnte diese einzigartige Sammlung aufbaute. Dies in einer Zeit, in der lokale Traditionen mehr und mehr gefährdet sind und untergehen, wie das auch mit den Musikinstrumenten der Santals und ihrer Musik der Fall ist (vgl. den Beitrag „Eine Instrumentensammlung für ein Kunstmuseum“ von Johannes Beltz).

Das Museum, das als ein Ort für asiatische hohe Kunst eingerichtet wurde, öffnet sich mit der Annahme der Sammlung damit weiter in Richtung Volks- und Stammeskunst. Ursprünglich hatte sich das berühmte Museum Rietberg vor allem als V ermittler und Bewahrer der klassischen hochkulturellen Kunsttraditionen Indiens etabliert. Das Anliegen, klassische Kunstwerke aus Südasien als Exponate der Weltkunst zu etablieren, hat sich durchgesetzt. Inzwischen gibt es andere Prioritäten, die zu programmatischen Annäherungen zwischen der Weltkunst gewidmeten Museen und den modernen Völkerkundemuseen führten.

Ludwig Pesch macht in seinem Beitrag „Eine kleine Weltmusik: die Musik der Santal“ deutlich, dass die Santal und ihre Musik einerseits völlig eigenständig sind, andererseits aber in einem „Dialog im Flüsterton“ ihren Einfluss auf die indische Moderne hatten, vor allem über Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), der seine berühmte Universität Vishvabharati in Santal-Gebiet gründete. In diesem Sinn versteht sich der Katalog, wie Johannes Beltz schreibt, als „ eine spielerische, poetische Annäherung an die Instrumente“ (S.31) als „Klang/Körper“, das heißt als Klang erzeugende Kunstwerke der Santals.

Die Sammlung Fosshag besteht aus 92 Instrumenten aus der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, fast alles Streichinstrumente, deren Saiten entweder mit einem Bogen gestrichen oder gezupft werden. Ihr Formsprache nimmt die Körperteile des menschlichen Körpers auf, so auch in der Bezeichnung der einzelnen Teile des Instruments in der Santal-Sprache. Auch die ornamentalen V erzierungen sind meistens anthropomorph. Leider sind die Instrumentenbauer und ihre konkrete Herkunft bisher weitgehend unbekannt.

Der kleine Band enthält außerdem einige der von Martin Kämpchen in deutscher Übersetzung herausgegebenen Lieder der Santal sowie hochaufgelöste Bilder aller Instrumente der Sammlung.

Heinz Werner Wessler

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

Musik_Politik_Identität_Cover-2016“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.

ISBN13: 978-3-86395-258-7

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

Search for other publications by these authors in a library near you: 
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Unity in Diversity, Antiquity in Contemporary Practice? South Indian Music Reconsidered – Free download

Musik_Politik_Identität_Cover-2016“Unity in Diversity, Antiquity in Contemporary Practice? South Indian Music Reconsidered” by Ludwig Pesch (Amsterdam) in Gardner, Matthew; Walsdorf, Hanna (Hrsg.). Musik – Politik – Identität / Music – Politics – Identity. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag, 2016 (Musikwissenschaften) | Abstract and contents >>

ISBN13: 978-3-86395-258-7

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

Download for free here: http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?univerlag-isbn-978-3-86395-258-7 >>
(Creative Commons licence Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International)

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 *

KG Subramanyam with Pulak Dutta – Santiniketan 2009

Download : Santiniketan Birth of Another Cultural Space (free e-book) here >>

Pulak Dutta. Santiniketan: Birth of Another Cultural Space. Santiniketan 2015.
Contact: pulaksantiniketan@gmail.com

* 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)

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 Surinam 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).

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.

On display until 2017

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. | More information: www.amsterdam.info/museums/tropenmuseum

Some notes on 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, 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:

“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.” (signed in London, 9 August 1913) [1]

This recurring motif may excuse the amusing blunder by a cartoon character (the alter ego of the museum’s former Curator for South Asia), who hails Tagore as “India’s greatest flautist”! [2]

In an earlier letter to Van Eeden, written seven years before visiting the Netherlands, Tagore wrote:

“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.” (signed in Shanti Niketan, 12 December 1913) [1]

Tagore_Vrije_Gemeente_Spaarnestad1920
Rabindranath Tagore in Amsterdam (Vrije Gemeente 1920) © Spaarnestad Photo – click on the photo for more details and to zoom in

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.” [3]

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. [4]

 

[1] Learn more about Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Frederik van Eeden (1860-1932) and the spread of Tagore’s educational ideas through Noto Soeroto in “Tagore in The Netherlands” by Liesbeth Meyer:
www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pMeyer.html
(visited 14 March 2016)

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)

[2] For the record: it is a well known fact that Tagore did not play any musical instrument other than the 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). So if you visit the exhibition and watch its audiovisual contents, kindly ignore this blunder by an over-enthusiastic museum team member. Here you may enjoy the rare and instructive media contents supplied by many contributors including the Embassy of India in The Hague.

[3] More information is found in the English Abstract by Rokus de Groot for his article titled “Van Eeden en Tagore. Ethiek en muziek” in Tijdschrift van de Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis, D. 49ste, Afl. 2de (1999), pp. 98-147. The  abstract and article (in Dutch) are found here:
www.jstor.org

[4] In 1923 the building on the corner of Mauritskade and Linnaeusstraat was completed and the collections from Haarlem could be moved to Amsterdam. On 9 October 1926 Queen Wilhelmina officially opened the new Colonial Institute. The history of the Tropenmuseum is outlined here (in English):
www.geheugenvannederland.nl/?/en/instellingen/tropenmuseum

Tip

Listen to “Tagore: Unlocking Cages” from the series of podcasts by BBC 4 titled “Incarnations: India in 50 Lives”. Sunil Khilnani tells the story of the Bengali writer and thinker Rabindranath Tagore. The series is found here: http://bbc.in/1KVh4Cf

Rabindranath Tagore on art, music, painting and dance

The creation of art, music, painting and dance elevates man from a mere being to a personal man. The personality of man, according to Tagore, 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.”

Rabindranath Tagore, Personality, 362.
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 http://www.kritike.org/journal/issue_11/sarma_june2012.pdf
Accessed 21 April 2015

My mind took wing. Fly! Fly! – A homage to Rabindranath Tagore

My mind took wing. Fly! Fly! …

Science recognizes atoms, all of which can he weighed and measured, but never recognizes personality, the one thing that lies at the basis of reality. All creation is that, for apart from personality, there is no meaning in creation.

Celebrating Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, we at AIUME gladly share our delight in the great Bengali poet-composer’s contribution to world civilization and peace.

He is remembered for his far sighted contributions to many fields. Perhaps more than even during his lifetime (1861-1941), his insights are relevant and inspiring.

Many of Rabindranath Tagore’s creations and contributions are yet to be made accessible to the general public outside his native Bengal. Some of his literary works are presently being made available in English, German and other languages for the first time as to reach a global audience.

His love for nature and faith in the future of mankind  found their highest expression in Santiniketan (“Abode of Peace”), the school and centre for rural development he established in rural West Bengal in 1901. Unlike the schools known until then, pupils and teaches alike could put the concept of learning without fear into practice. By making lifelong learning a requirement rather than a pious wish, Rabindranath Tagore was far ahead of his time:

A most important truth, which we are apt to forget, is that a teacher can never truly teach unless he is still learning himself. A lamp can never light another lamp unless it continues to burn its own flame. Visva-Bharati and its institutions–Santiniketan1961, p. 28

In Nationalism (1917) “he discusses the resurgence of the East and the challenge it poses to Western supremacy, calling for a future beyond nationalism, based instead on cooperation and racial tolerance.” – Synopsis for the Penguin reprint as part of the “Great Ideas” series (2010)

As observed by Harish Trivedi in his insightful 1991 Introduction to Edward Thompson’s Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist, “Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was arguably the greatest writer of modern India. Yet the precise nature of his literary greatness and the evidence for it have by and large remained a fairly well kept Bengali secret.” This has remained the case in most parts of the world ever since his short-lived and quite unexpected stardom among western readers and listeners in the wake of receiving the Nobelprize in 1913:

Tagore had early success as a writer in his native Bengal. With his translations of some of his poems he became rapidly known in the West. In fact his fame attained a luminous height, taking him across continents on lecture tours and tours of friendship. For the world he became the voice of India’s spiritual heritage; and for India, especially for Bengal, he became a great living institution.

Rabindranath Tagore Biography
Nobelprize.org

His immeasurable friendship found its appropriate expression in the works of fellow poets, artists, composers and peace activists around the world. Dutch artist Rie Cramer (1887-1977), reckoned among the best illustrators of children’s books of the 20th century, created a series of six miniatures for the Dutch edition of The Post Office. Just one of these very illustrations will suffice to convey the tenderness that permeates Tagore’s literary and educational work and continues to inspire fellow artists; and this even at a time when he suffered personal tragedies and challenges from political leaders.

The world of sound is a tiny bubble in the silence of the infinite. The universe has its own language of gesture; it talks in the voice of pictures and dance. Every object in the world proclaims in the dumb signal of lines and colours, the fact that it is not a mere logical abstraction or a mere thing of use, but it is unique in itself, it carries the miracle of its existence.–Rabindranath Tagore quoted by Dinkar Kowshik in
Doodled Fancy, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan 1999, p. 8

The following quotation leaves no doubt that it is never too late to rediscover the intrinsic beauty and timelessness of his contribution. In order to do justice to his genius, this effort needs to make sense to a younger generation, the world’s youth he cared for so much but as yet knows so little about him:

Amal: And what about streams and waterfalls?
Thakurda: … They flow like molten diamonds, and how the drops dance! The small pebbles in the streams hum and murmur as the waters gush over them, until finally they plunge into the ocean. No one, not even a doctor, can restrain them for even a single second.

By way of homage to Rabindranath Tagore, we invite you to join in Thiruvalluvar’s ancient celebration of water in chaste Tamil; here in a modern rendition appropriately set to Amritavarshini, the raga traditionally associated with rain in South India and Sri Lanka:

Thirukkural excerpt sung by Yoga Manickam Yogeswaran

By the continuance of rain the world is preserved in existence; it is therefore worthy to be called ambrosia.– Thirukkural (from Rev. Pope’s 1886 English Translation and Commentary found on the projectmadurai website)–Recording: Thirukkural in 133 Raagams by Saint Thiruvalluvar– Tamil Classics CD 2000

One of the open air classes held at Santiniketan during the dry season

The opening quotes, “My mind took wing. Fly! Fly! …” are taken from the Translator’s Preface for Dak Ghar, English The Post Office. The following should be of special interest in our present context, namely the need for actively involving the world’s youth in issues that concern the future of all of mankind; be it in terms of peaceful coexistence or care for nature and the natural resources we all depend upon. Is this a matter for an enlightened westernized elite? Far from it, and this is why Tagore founded a centre for rural reconstruction to which the modern ecological movement owes so much. In the words of Satish Kumar, paying homage to Rabindranath Tagore in his capacity as Editor-in-Chief at Resurgence:

He not only healed the sorrow and suffering which he had experienced due to death, depression and disappointment in his own life but he worked too to heal the wounds of injustice and inequality within Indian society. …

The worldview of Tagore is seeing the unity of reason and religion, spirit and matter and letting them dance together. This is the big vision where science complements spirituality, art complements ecology and freedom complements equality.
The Wisdom of Tagore (Resurgence, Issue 266 May/June 2011)

 

Like water, or rather the increasing scarcity of this life-giving resource for millions around the world, there are other issues that, according to Tagore, deserve our attention. To set an example, he dedicated his personal resources to an institution that provides modern education to children irrespective of their social background. Their education would include first hand knowledge of several arts as part of their daily routines; and combine the observation of nature with scientific insights. Such knowledge would be provided by visiting experts from many parts of the country and all over the world. The open spaces in Santiniketan, shaded by large trees planted for this purpose, became the preferred locations for holding classes. This effective approach has become a role model wherever resources need to be devoted to the welfare of children and their teachers rather than investing in cement.

Tagore wrote The Post Office in Bengal in 1911, not long after losing his son, daughter and 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 I writing Dak Ghar The Post Office.” Soon afterward, Tagore’s worldwide odyssey began.
From the 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.)

In About the author, the translators provide a succinct biography that ends on a note readers will never forget:

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1913, the first Asian writer so honored. Widely regarded as the greatest modern Indian writer, Tagore was also an accomplished song composer and painter. An educational and social reformer on a par with Gandhi, Tagore was one of the very first to perceive that East and West would be compelled to meet in the twentieth century, a theme taken up in many of his works. His most spiritually moving work and his only play that is still regularly performed outside Bengal, The Post Office served as inspiration to the children of the Warsaw ghetto. It was read over French radio in André Gide’s translation the night before the Nazis seized Paris.

Postscript 8 May 2011

William Radice, renowned translator of Tagore’s work and himself a poet and writer teaching in London, cautions modern admirers of Rabindranath Tagore not to get carried away by their good intentions.  Pious speeches and reflections on Rabindranath Tagore’s ideas and ideals are all very well, but what ultimately makes him relevant is the power of his art:

Putting Tagore the thinker above Tagore the writer has set up a barrier to the full appreciation of his creative achievements, ever since Gitanjali in 1912 launched his international career. His Nobel Prize of 1913 was given to him for his literature (though not for his Bengali writings), but the audiences who flocked to hear him on his extensive foreign tours wanted his message rather than his poetry. He gave them what they wanted, and lived up to his role as a sage by his long beard and unique, ‘pan-Asian’ style of dress. But he often felt constricted by that role. In 1930, he wrote to his close friend, William Rothenstein:
“The rich luxury of leisure is not for me while I am in Europe — I am doomed to be unrelentingly good to humanity and remain harnessed to a cause. The artist in me ever urges me to be naughty and natural — but it requires a good deal of courage to be what I truly am. Then again I do not really know myself and dare not play tricks with my nature. So the good for nothing artist must have for his bed-fellow the man of a hundred good intentions.”
Revealing words that all organisers of the 150th anniversary events and publications would do well to remember!–Read the full piece in The Hindu, 7 May 2011

By contrast, an Indian authority, Prof. Namwar Singh, urged that Tagore “should not be loaded under a wreath of flowers so that he is not even visible” at a seminar on “Tagore’s Universalism” organised by the Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation: “in making him a global figure, we had forgotten that he laid stress on very small things that mattered in everyday life — from a seed flourishing in nature to rural economic development.”–Read the full report in The Hindu, 8 May 2011