Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Gitanjali: A Magnum Opus of Rabindranath Tagore

The light of thy music illumines the world (III).
“Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee.” (CIII)
Being introduced to Tagore is like entering in a world that was blurred and musty in the subconscious and is suddenly brought forth vividly with gust of tenderness and purity of gurudev’s mystic touch. Born on 7 May 1861, Tagore was a versatile genius who as a literary artist excelled in various forms of art such as poetry, drama, novel, criticism, music and painting. He was a philosopher and occasionally ventured in national politics too.

Tagore was born with a silver spoon in his mouth but did not have formal education in a school or college. Tagore cemented the way for a style of writing that reconciles poetry with prose, art with morality and religion with science. His predecessors Madhusudan, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bankim Chandra had already set trends in poetry and in that expectant ambience Tagore exhibited infinite possibility.

In 1912 when W B Yeats found the prose translation of poet’s Gitanjali he felt: “it had stirred his blood as nothing had for years.” In the introduction to Gitanjali Yeats writes again about Tagore and his verse, as:-“I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics-Which are in the origin, might Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention—display in their thought of old I have dreamed of all my life long. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes……. Mr. Tagore, like the Indian civilization itself, has been content to discover the soul and surrender himself to its spontaneity.”

From the day of its publication in 1912, ‘Gitanjali’ took the world by storm. It also brought the most coveted prize for literature for him ‘Nobel Prize’ in 1913. The Nobel Prize citation reads as follows: “Mr. Tagore, who is fifty –two years old, is Bengali poet, beloved and almost worshipped in his country. He is one of those rare authors who have produced fine literature in two languages.”

Gitanjali is a proof of Tagore’s towering genius and marvelous artistic predilection. Our amazement increases when we consider that Tagore was quite unaccustomed to write English when he began to translate Gitanjali. R I Paul writes in ‘Tagore Centenary Souvenir’ that “it is really a wonderful literary feat to be reckoned one of the few living masters of English style on the strength of one’s first and, at the same time, only published work.”

Apart from friends and admirers, Gitanjali received laud and appreciation by The Times Literary Supplement (Dec 1912), citing Gitanjali as the noble contribution to literature.

Gitanjali is primarily a collection of 103 devotional songs translated by Tagore from his various poetical works in Bengali. It has been written in lyric tradition of Vaishnava Hinduism. The influence of study of Upanishads, which he undertook accompanying his father Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, is clearly seen in the spiritual contours of the songs. The relationship between God and Man is the apparent core of all songs. Here this relationship has been looked at from different angles and herein lies the beauty of these songs. In his songs Tagore tried to find inner calm, a bliss that comes only with the experience of divine, and tried to explore the themes of divine and human love:--

"When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose touch of the one in the play of the many"(LXIII)

Gitanjali thrives on Hindu mysticism and presents complex of thoughts. Tagore tries to establish an inseparable link between individual soul and greater soul. His mediations on God, man and nature, in the Gitanjali, not only echo the Vedantic awareness of the Absolute but also transmit the fervor of a Vaishnava bhakta's love for God. K R Srinivasa Iyengar points out that “The Gitanjali songs are mainly poems of bhakti in the great Indian tradition….. The current coin of India’s devotional poetry is melted and minted anew by Rabindranatn, but the pure gold shines as brightly as ever, even though the inscription on the coin is in English. The imagery, the conceits, the basic experience, the longing, the trial, the promise, the realization –all have the quaintly unique Indian flavour and taste.”

Gitanjali represents the journey from finite to infinite. The songs in Gitanjali embrace the whole gamut of tender human feelings – love, humility, detachment, devotion, affection, dejection, and gratitude. WB Yeats believed that in these songs “A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasurably strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination; …”

This journey to infinite begins with imagining God as flute player and poet himself as flute, -
“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.” (I)

Boundless admiration for Master’s a skill in music overwhelms the disciple:
“I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement. The light of thy music illumines the world. The life breath of thy music runs from sky to sky. The holy stream of thy music breaks through all stony obstacles and rushes on.”(III)

Humility for Tagore is the mean of communion with the Master who sits on the throne:
“Here is thy footstool and there rest thy feet where live the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.” (X)

Gitanjali is a poem of detachment and the earthly defences crumble in it. Not earth but supernal regions temps the poets soul:
“I know that the day will come when my sight of this earth shall be lost, and life will take its leave in silence, drawing the last curtain over my eyes.” (XCII)

The poet has in Gitanjali given considerable thought to the stern reality of death, but death is not painted a dark, grey or fearsome, instead death is powered by the poetic touches of Tagore:
“On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships get wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.” (LX)

The journey to infinite ends with complete surrender and thereby merger with infinite spirit. Poet devotes everything and every possible effort to the Almighty:
“In one salutation to thee, my God, let all my senses spread out and touch this world at thy feet.”(CIII)

A long poem runs the risk of disunity of thought. Tagore has maintained this unity by coalesce of the theme. Gitanjali is indigenous in its content. K R Srinivasa Iyengar truly calls it “poetry unmistakable”. It is a kind of spiritual therapy for the ailing souls. W B Yeats observation is also similar; he sees its long lasting relevance: “… as the generations pass, travelers will hum them on the highway and men rowing upon Rivers. Lovers, while they await one another, shall find, in murmuring them, this love of god a magic gulf very in their own more bitter passion may bathe and renew its youth.”

To explore the undying muse of Rabindranath Tagore in a short span is impossible. Tagore was a solitary pilgrim whose quest was nothing but ceaseless bliss, that which is beyond mundane faculties of experience. He devoted his life in search of transnational and universal form of religious and spiritual expression, rooted at the same time in Indian ethos.

This is my prayer to thee, my lord---strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart. …
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love. (XXXVI)

1 comment:

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