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] >>

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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.”1

  1. Sunil Khilnani quoted in a review by William Dalrymple in The Guardian, 14 March 2016[]