: 21 2021
: Science in Russia, 5, 2011, C.44-50 (c)


by Acad. Yevgeny CHELYSHEV

We are marking the birth sesquicentennial of Sir Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the Hindu poet, philosopher and social theorist... a public figure, composer, artist... he is best known as a man of letters. Received Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and knighted the same year. Tagore flung open the window into his native land to all of the world to show India in the consummate beauty of her nature and soul.

Rabindranath Tagore in 1879/1880.

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Tagore is definitely a standout in India's history. In scope, too. He lived in an eventful, hectic age that saw a reawakening of the self-awareness of his fellow citizens and an upsurge of the mass national liberation movement that brought forth a galaxy of bright personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime-minister. As Nehru put it, Tagore was "head and shoulders above the best, and little by little all of India acknowledged his indisputable superiority... Tagore made the people stop and ponder over broader problems touching humanity. Tagore was India's great humanist" (The Discovery of India, Moscow, 1965).

Inspired by the idea of world harmony, Tagore condemned the colonial regime. In his works he married national traditions to the best of world culture, English first and foremost. In it he drew upon new sentiments and upon the striving to do away with the oppression of man by man... That is why English romantic poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) for one, were akin to him: nature, Shelley believed, was a source of human joy and beauty, a source of man's moral improvement. Tagore's poetry, scholars say, is permeated with the idea of "The Godhead of Life", the jiwan dewata. And in the opinion of Victor Iavbulis, a Riga professor, Tagore's poetry is a symbol of what is nice, beautiful in Nature, wherein resides the might of Tagore's creations. And according to Alexander Gnatyuk-Danilchuk, an eminent Tagore scholar in Russia, this might is anchored in the intimate tie of the individual Ego and the omnipresent supreme source. And here is what Suniti Kumar Chatardji, a Tagore disciple and follow-

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er, says: The Godhead of Life embodies "supreme beauty impregnated by inner consciousness." These words are echoed by Prasad Dwiwedi, a literary critic: "Even under most adverse conditions Tagore has never been disillusioned in his great and ever-present Godhead of Life, always manifest in Beautiful and immortalized in its consummate incarnation in the image of man."

Tagore's works are playing a great part in present-day Indian literature, its romantic line in particular. In 1910 Tagore published his Gitanjali, or Sacrificial Songs, in Bengalese. Three years after, he translated it into English by supplementing these songs with other ones akin in spirit, and had this poetry published in a second edition, the work that merited a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. A momentous event it was for India and the world community at large: the first Indian was in for this honor. Tagore became famous overnight. His creations were being translated into many world languages and caught the eye of critics.

Consonant with folk songs, Tagore's poems read like music. For all the garb of religious and mystic symbols, they are essentially humanist and deeply concerned about the future of his native land and all of humanity. The pessimistic overtones do not muffle the joyful, radiant melody of life, the faith in man's victory and life-asserting optimism. This poetry is full of elation. "Invited into this world I was to sacrifice to Joy. Praise, praise to thee, human life."

Tagore's poetic images are aso present in his dramaturgy and prose writings of those years, particularly Gora (1907-1910), a most significant novel on pathways of India's liberation. His multidimensional creations had an immense role to play in the advancement of Indian

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national literature in many of the ethnic languages. In fact, Tagore is the father of multilingual Indian literature. The Literary Academy set up in 1954 stems from the Tagore culturological heritage, with Jawaharlal Nehru its first president. The author of the present article was elected its honorary member.

Tagore's great contemporary was Mohandas Karamchanda Gandhi (1869-1948), an Indian political, social and religious leader best known as Mahatma Gandhi, "mahatma" meaning a "great soul". Like Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian bard was extolled as "Gurudew", which could be rendered as "Teacher from God", or "Godchosen Teacher". Tagore's voice is heard far beyond India. Early in the 20th century his Sacrificial Songs saw four editions in Russia, as interpreted by Jurgis Baltrusaitis, a Russian and Lithuanian symbolist poet, translator and diplomat. "India shall never forget Gitanjali, Sadhana and all of Tagore's inspirational heritage," said Nicholas Roerich*, a Russian artist who, heeding Tagore's advice, left the West in 1924 to settle in India that became his second Motherland. Roerich's talent flourished out there, in India, and he became world famous. "The bonds of our two glorious nations are truly great," the painter noted. "It was in the Russian translations that Tagorian songs became so melodious. In other languages they lose much of their melody, their flame and soul-stirring intimacy is gone. India's thought is quite at home in the Russian idiom. Small wonder that we have so many words cognate with Sanskrit. This affinity has been but little studied as yet."

Here in Russia the interest in Tagore saw a new high in the years of Soviet government. Anatoly Luna-charsky, a statesman, writer, translator and art critic, called Tagore "an Indian Leo Tolstoy". "The works of Tagore... are so much filled with colors, and so much rich in spiritual emotions and truly magnanimous ideas to become part of the treasures of human culture," Lunacharsky wrote in 1923.

The Tagore birth centenary celebrations held in Moscow in 1961 became a major event in Soviet-Indian cultural exchanges. Many still remember the spring of that year. Tagore festivities were preceded by the joyful welcome ceremony of Yuri Gagarin** upon his pioneering space mission in April. Next followed the traditional May Day festivities. Moscow was still in festive attire as the facade of the Bolshoi Theater displayed a portrait of an aged gray-haired man with noble facial features and bulging clever eyes looking kindly on passersby. That was Rabindranath Tagore.

According to the national Book Chamber, Tagore works appeared in this country in a total print of more than 8 mln during the Soviet years, both in Russian and in many ethnic languages spoken in the USSR. That is why the Tagore birth centennial was marked in a grand way like that. Opening the gala meeting, Nikolai Tikhonov, a poet-laureate and public personality, stressed the importance of Soviet-Indian cooperation and the movement of solidarity of the writers of Asian and African countries out to establish their national literatures. Tikhonov advanced a program for studying and popularizing Tagore's literary heritage, pointing to the need of publishing a new edition of his writings.

It would be in place to name scholars who made a signal contribution to the first Russian edition of Tagore's selected works published in 1955 to 1957. These are Vera Novikova, Yevgenia Bykova, Alexander Gnatyuk-Danilchuk, Maria Kafitina... they had to peruse in Bengalese the entire twenty-eight volumes of the poet's creations and select what they found was the most significant and interesting to our readership. Tagore's works had to be rendered into ethnic languages of this country from the Russian translation. The publication of the first volume of Tagore's works in Russian was timed for the historic visit of Jawaharlal Nehru to our country.

* See: O. Lavrenova, "Along the Mountains and Deserts" in the present issue of our magazine.--Ed.

** See: Ye. Fomkin, "Cosmonaut Number One", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2011.--Ed.

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Speaking at the gala memorial meeting at Bolshoi, Nikolai Tikhonov suggested that work should start on a new edition of Tagore's writings in 12 volumes. He voiced regret that his works had been translated from the English, not the Bengalese. The best translators and scholars, too, were to be enlisted for this effort. Tikhonov asked me, secretary of the Tagore jubilee committee and head of the Indology Sector at the Institute of Oriental Studies, to invite poets Sergei Shervinsky and Adelina Adalis. We had a good run of luck: cooperating with us were such premier poets as Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova. The new edition of Tagore's works came out in 1961 to 1965.

In August of 1961 India held an international symposium on Tagore's birth centennial. Taking part in it were Vsevolod Ivanov, a prose writer, and I, the author of the present article. After the forum Professor Khumaiun Kabir, India's Minister of Culture, invited me to visit Calcutta, Tagore's home town. I went there, of course. I visited his family estate, Shantiniketan and the university he founded there. I met teachers, his pupils and fellow poets, and spoke to students. Particularly memorable to me was a talk with Professor Probhotkumar Mukhopadh, one of Tagore's closest fellows and the author of the famous four-volume biography of the writer in Bengalese, still a handbook for Tagore scholars.

I must say that in his speech Ivan Anisimov, heading the Institute of World Literature, at the Bolshoi Theater meeting in 1961 urged a better understanding of the true significance of the great Indian. As I see it, he made a successful attempt by regarding the Tagore legacy in the mainstream of world literature, mainly Tagore's bright publicistic writings of the late 1930s, consonant with the writings of Maxim Gorky, Romain Rolland, Bernard Shaw, Heinrich Mann, Theodore Dreiser and great folk writers of the 20th century.

Mahatma Gandi and Rabindranath Tagore have done much toward the making of what is India today. This matter needs further research. Tagore called upon the aboriginal nationalities and ethnic groups to rally together irrespective of their race, language and creed; in this unity and consolidation he saw a pledge of India's economic, political and cultural welfare. Abiding by long-standing spiritual traditions, he said time and again that the age-old idea of "unity in diversity" was an essential condition for national prosperity and stability. This idea, often regarded as the national idea of India, recurs in many of Tagorian writings, such as The Song of Morn, the Soul of the People prayer (Janaganamana, 1911).

In a foreword to the jubilee edition of Tagore's works timed for his birth centennial in 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru recalled how late in the 1930s he visited the poet's estate Shantiniketan. Like many of our fellow citizens who would make a pilgrimage to Yasnaya Polyana, Leo Tolstoy's family estate, to meet and talk to the great writer and thinker, so leaders of the Indian national-liberation movement felt they had to see and talk to Tagore. That was the last meeting of Tagore and Nehru.

At the end of their meeting Nehru asked Tagore to write an anthem of Independent India--both were certain about her ultimate independence. The poet promised to fulfill this request. But he fell ill soon after and died in 1941. Therefore as India won independence in 1947, her national anthem, as suggested by Nehru, became a song from the anthology of lyrical poems awarded a Nobel Prize in 1913. I was happy beyond words, Nehru recalled, to have done my bit. He felt deep satisfaction: a great national song, it calls up the memory of Tagore to the Indian people.

Back in those days I decided to translate this song into Russian. Looking into this matter, I discovered quite a few translations. By translating it into English in 1919, Tagore made it within the reach of the whole world. It was very difficult to find proper Russian idioms for the meanings coded in the polysemantic Sanskrit vocabulary. I tried to do my best to keep the

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music and melody of Tagore verses. In 1970 the India magazine published by the Embassy of the Republic of India in Moscow carried my Russian translation of this song.

Like many outstanding figures of the age of India's reawakening when her peoples were coming to their national selfhood and self-identity, Tagore saw a remedy for their cohesion in defending their national interests and religion. The anthem's central image of the "Ruler of India's Destinies" directing people in the path of their life, relieving them from grief and anguish, is quite in key with the poet's pet leitmotif of the "Godhead of Life" and universal spirituality of the world. Tagore is passionate in asserting the idea of the grandeur and immortality of the spirit. He is passionately in love with Mother Nature, always in flux, in the protean diversity of her countenance. All these images are associated with Motherland, always ready to help her children.

A globe-trotter, Tagore visited many countries, especially in the latter half of his life. He stayed for two weeks in Moscow in 1930. In his letters to friends he wrote about what he saw in our country. The next year he published them in the book Letters from Russia. What he admired most was that for the first time ever learning was brought within the people's reach, the doors of schools, theaters and museums flung open to all.--They, the Soviet people, are creating something utterly extraordinary, whatever you call it: the common cause, spiritual unity, public ownership...--I am dreaming of a time when my country, the land of ancient Aryan civilization, would receive a great blessing for education and equal opportunities for the whole

Science in Russia, No.5, 2011

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people, Tagore wrote.--I am grateful, truly grateful to all of you who have helped me to see in my mind's eye the coming true of the dream of emancipated human reason, ever-fettered before.

Tagore, however, warned: The Soviets... forget one cannot strengthen a collective by enslaving the individual. If man is in fetters, society cannot be free. The dictates of a strong personality will reign supreme then. The power of one over many cannot be fruitful. Censorship, however, deleted the critical remarks about the Soviet way of life, though these comments were made by our friend and well-wisher. Only decades later, in the 1980s, our Hindu scholars restored the full text. I should name above all Dr. Sergei Serebryany who took part in this work.

In his brilliant article The Crisis of Civilization Tagore pronounced a sentence on the capitalist system and pilloried "the arrogant Western civilization"; he broke up with it, he said. Actually it was his political behest. Yet Tagore never advocated self-isolation of his countrymen, he spoke up for closer East-West contacts, in cultural relations, too, where he won support from his pen brothers of Europe and the Americas.

In 1990 a Tagore monument was set up in Moscow opposite the Khimki river terminal (sculptor, Gautham Pal of India). I had the honor of participating in the unveiling ceremony of this monument to the sincere friend of our country. I addressed the public, mostly

Indian students enrolled in Moscow colleges and universities, in their native Hindi... Last, I wish to recall what Tagore said just shortly before his death. His words are especially dear to me both as an oriental scholar and as a veteran of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 who took part in the Victory Parade of June 1945. Here's what Prasantha Mahalanobis, his close friend and follower (a major mathematician elected to the national Academy of Sciences of the USSR in 1958 as foreign member) told me.--In July 1941 each morning Tagore was eager to learn news from the battle-fronts in Russia. He said it again and again that Russia's victory would mean great happiness to him. Each morning he was anxious for good tidings. If it was bad news, he threw the newspaper and never read it again. Half an hour before surgery, Tagore asked, "Tell me any good news from Russia?" As I said that things were getting better, his face beamed. "They shall do it. Only they can do it!" These were Tagore's last words he said to me. I was happy to see his radiant face. He had an abiding belief in that man should overcome.

Yevgeny CHELYSHEV, INDIA'S GREAT HUMANIST // : " ", LITERARY.RU. : 21 2021. URL: ( : 19.01.2022).

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