The link between Tagore and Sri Aurobindo has been too insufficiently explored. There is no book as yet in English, which has attempted to integrate the two makers of the modern Indian tradition. One searches in vain for a critical comparative study of the two writers in any other Indian language. The book traces back the formative influences of the two mighty Bengalees growing up almost together without any interaction between them till the first decade of twentieth century. While Tagore took a direct initiative in meeting the yogi in Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo wrote about his contribution silently listing him as one of the pioneers of the future poetry along with Whitman, Carpenter and others. Basically, both poets are in love with this oppressed earth, wishing it to change one day into a beautiful planet. The Divine is certainly an engaging passion for both of them. But they are not quite satisfied with God who stays far away from us hidden in the high far blue. They wish to catch Him in the net of their poetry and love and bring Him down here on this polluted and plundered globe. Dreamers of a new creation on earth, they wish to form a rainbow bridge marrying the soil to the sky.
Goutam Ghosal tells the story of that magic pairing lucidly, keeping the balance throughout. He seeks for an integral view of the two masters, which comes out through his observations on their poetry and fiction, drama and criticism, letters and casual notes. A new approach to Tagore’s music and painting is an added charm of the book.
Poet, critic and translator, Dr Goutam Ghosal (b. 1953), D. Litt., Professor of English, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, is presently the Editor-in-Chief of The VisvaBharati Quarterly. He is an interpreter of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and literature. His major books include Sri Aurobindo’s Prose Style; Sri Aurobindo and World Literature; and Notes on Prayers and Meditations, the last being a detailed textual commentary on the Mother’s famous diary prayers. Of late, he has translated from Bengali a series of poems, which are illustrations of the paintings of Jogen Choudhury. His other areas of interest are Tagore and Shakespeare, on whom he has written extensively.
Educated On an alien soil, Sri Aurobindo was back in India in 1893, in the crucial moments of resurgence. Tagore was then about to take up the mantle of “culture hero” from Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. And Vivekananda was going out to the West to announce the message of true India. Primarily poets, Tagore and Sri Aurobindo were never out of action. Contrary to the popular belief, Tagore worked hard with his own socio political agendas under the guise of an “innocent” poet. The poet’s glory dimmed the patriot.
Despite his questionable concept of nationalism preached in 1917, he did enough service to the nation and humanity through his mighty pen. He remains the soul of Bengali culture and of late many Indians from other provinces have been taking interest in him. His international fame is on the rise, thanks to the efforts of the translators, both from the West and the East.
Sri Aurobindo, never a public figure from 1910 to the day of his death in 1950, has been asserting his relevance to the present and the future since the beginning of the new millennium. It has now become obvious that together the two poets stand as the chief architects of a modem Indian tradition. This comparative study seeks to find the links between them, the cultural issues that bind them together. By and large, mine is an integral approach, an effort at interpreting their total achievement as poet prophets of humanity. The book intends to shed light on the meaning of their contemporaneity.
The link between Tagore and Sri Aurobindo has been too insufficiently explored. One searches in vain for a “critical” comparative study of the two writers, the awesome two, who form the modern Indian tradition. Criticism is suspect. Even Goethe s suggestion Criticize we must, but on bended knees remains unacceptable to the devotees of Tagore and Sri Aurobindo. But mere worship and critical neglect send a writer to the dusty shelves of a library. Not many have noticed that The Life Divine itself is a very critical text, which leaves the past scriptures behind by the pressure of progressiveenlightenment. Such are also the leading texts of Tagore.
Rabindranath Tagore suffered long in the hands of his devotees, till Buddhadeva Bose and Sisirkumar Chose rescued him and gave a new life to his works. Sri Aurobindo was fortunate, because his detractors kept criticizing him for thelast five decades and a man called K.D. Sethna kept answering them, backed up by K.R.S. Iyengar, V.K. Gokak, Sisirkumar Chose and a few others. Thanks to the hostile views on Sri Aurobindo, the researcher of the Supramental has now crept into the university canteens and tea-stalls! Similarly, Tagore continues to live his glorious life despite the revelations made by Ketaki Kusari Dyson.2 Has not Sri Aurobindo told us that human beings are always mixed?3 Those revelations do not degrade the finer qualities of Tagore or his very fine mystic poetry verging quite often on the spiritual plane.
Tagore would have laughed at the idea of being spiritually equated with the trekker of the Supermind and Sri Aurobindo would have mocked at the idea that there was just one great writer in the world called Sri Aurobindo. The point is: both are writers of superior status; both believe in inner victories; both are Indians and global at the same time; both are important for the future of India and humanity; the works of both are complementary for the most part. One lights up the status of the other. Realization colours their works. The degree and intensity of realization may not be the same. Unfortunately, Tagore wrote in Bengali, which helps only a particular race to feel the spiritual touch behind his aesthetics. In translation, the authentic experiential flavour is gone. Tagore has prepared a language for spiritual use. A mellow Bengali sensitivity, the grandeur of Sanskrit words and the aspiration of Vaisnava Padavtjli — all these three have contributed to the making of a language, which is now for the use of the Aurobindonians writing in Bengali. The success of Jyotirmala4 is just a pointer to the fact.
Tagore was born in Calcutta, eleven years before Sri Aurobindo’s birth, in 1861, when the nation was waking up in the heat of New Thinking. His family was well-off and cultured but luxury was not allowed to spoil him and the other children growing up with him under the supervision of servants. The school was a terror for the imaginative child and he could not move far with format education. The cultural environment in the family was an immense help for young Rabindranath. There was that special company of Devendranath Tagore, his father, who took him to England in 1878 and kept the young poet with him for two years. Just a year later, Sri Aurobindo reached England and joined school to begin a bright academic ci’reer. The two heroes of the modern scene stayed close without knowing each other. Both were writing poetry from their childhood; both were bent on creating language; both were under the spell of the romantic poets who had just preceded them. The heat of nationalism touched Sri Aurobindo in England, possibly in the mid-1880s through the letters from his father. The heat increased in 1890 when news from India began flowing in the corridors of Cambridge, in its lusty lawns, which might have been temptation enough for a brilliant student. To the older poet, the heat had reached earlier.
Unlike Sri Aurobindo, Tagore was not an activist, but he was not at all innocuous in the eyes of the rulers. They detected quite early the camouflaged rebel trying to spread national education, through the ideas of an alternative school and through positive ventures at village reconstruction. In 1906, Tagore was known more as a poet than as a nationalist, although he was by then directly involved in svadeshi. Sri Aurobindo was simply known then as an “extremist” with an outstanding command over the English language. As the editor of Bande Matarain, he was bitingly aggressive, but he was always constructive with his views on the doctrine of boycott and passive resistance. He became quiet when he came out of jail in 1909. Talking then of the national awakening in Bengal he spoke of the ‘lyrical spirit in Bengal very significantly and after that singled out Abanindranath Tagore as a great force in favour of nationalism.
The lyric and the lyrical spirit, the spirit of simple, direct and poignant expression, of deep, passionate, straightforward emotion, of a frank and exalted enthusiasm, the dominant note of love and bhakti, of a mingled sweetness and strength, the potent intellect dominated by the self- illuminated heart, a mystical exaltation of feeling and spiritual insight expressing itself with a plain concreteness and practicality — this is the soul of Bengal. . . In Bengal, again, the national spirit is seeking to satisfy itself in art and, for the first time since the decline of the Moguls, a new school of national art is developing itself, the school of which Abanindranath Tagore is the founder and master.
Apart from offering a distinct hint at Rabindranath’s genius, the passage also indicates Sri Aurobindo’s approval of Abanindranath as a nationalist force working in collaboration with the activists. About a decade later, Rabindranath Tagore appears in The Future Poetry on sixteen different occasions. Here is a significant observation.
Today much of the poetry of Tagore is the sign of such a sad hana, a long inheritance of an assured spiritual discovery and experience.
Talking of the future of poetry, he remembers the Bengali lyricist repeatedly, finding in him signs of incantation and the promise of evolution in the lines drawn up by him in The Future Poetry. In the 1930s, Tagore appears again and again in his letters on poetry reflecting the controversies going on in Bengal then regarding Tagore’s experiments.
Tagore met Sri Aurobindo twice, very humbly, recognizing in him the light unerringly. Sri Aurobindo’s famous tribute needs to be interpreted properly. One seldom sees an interpretation added to that oft-quoted statement. Let us examine that remark again.
Tagore has been a wayfarer towards the same goal as ours in his own way — that is the main thing, the exact stage of advance and putting of the steps are minor matters. His exact position as a poet or a prophet or anything else will be assigned by posterity and we need not be in haste to anticipate the final verdict.
The statement contains quite a few subtle hints within a balanced structure. The beginning is a striking recognition and a caution to those who still believe Tagore should not be called a spiritual seeker or a sadhak. One easily feels the emphasis on the expression “that is the main thing.” By the phrase “in his own way” Sri Aurobindo possibly meant his musical way, which is a powerful means of opening the psychic and inviting the higher sources to change the consciousness. The inward turn is enough achievement in a man’s life; the rest is a matter of time and Grace of the Divine. Hence, he says, “Putting of the steps are minor matters.” The last sentence is expressive of Sri Aurobindo’s critical stance, which relies a lot on the future, on the judgement of posterity. He seems to have been unwilling to give his own verdict on the poet and the prophet.
For practical reasons, one suspects, Sri Aurobindo wished to leave the “final verdict” in the hands of the future. Tagore was his contemporary, a Bengali poet, immensely popular, and his school was also popular. Here, Sri Aurobindo was bound to curb his usual straightforwardness. And yet on another day, at another time, he spoke boldly in defence of Tagore’s English Gitanjali.
Tagore’s Gitanjali is not in verse, but the place it has taken has some significance. For, the obstacles from the other side are that the English mind is apt to look on poetry by an Indian as a curiosity, something exotic (whether it really is or not, the suggestion will be there), and to stress the distance at which the English temperament stands from the Indian temperament. But Tagore’s Gitanjali is most un-English, yet it overcame this obstacle.
Time and again, Sri Aurobindo remembers the Bengali poet to indicate the change that will take place in the poetry of the future. Tagore, equally conscious, recognizes the achievement of the poet of yoga: “I thought he would light up the outside with his inner light.”9 Together, they began a new age of Indian poetry, Indian aesthetics and a new age of Indian spirituality, which refuses to ignore material life.
In constructing a new theory of poetry based on an old poetics, Sri Aurobindo specially refers to his favourite trio: Tagore, Whitman and Carpenter. The idea is to draw our notice to the new ways in poetry, which bear the memory of the great Sanskrit poets of ancient India. The trio should not be mistaken for some mere revivalists. For all of them seem to have been aware of the dynamic nature of the poetry of incantation or mantra. The stress on Tagore in The Future Poetry points to the new theory, which Sri Aurobindo himself was trying materialize in his own style. Sri Aurobindo observes.
The poetry of Tagore owes its sudden and universal success to this advantage that he gives us more of this discovery and fusion for which the mind of our age is in quest than any other creative writer of the time. His work is a constant music of the overpassing of the borders, a chant-filled realm in which the subtle sounds and lights of the truth of the spirit give new meanings to the finer subtleties of life. The objection has been made that this poetry is too subtle and remote and goes away from the broad, near, present and vital actualities of existence. Yeats is considered by some a poet of the Celtic romance and nothing more, Tagore accused in his own country of an unsubstantial poetic philosophizing, a lack of actuality, reality of touch and force of vital insistence. But this is to mistake the work of this poetry and to mistake too in a great measure the sense of life, as it must reveal itself to the greatening mind of humanity now that it is growing in world-knowledge and towards self-knowledge.
Tagore was a living example before Sri Aurobindo, who was then searching for the traces of mantric poetry in his contemporaries or near-contemporaries. The poetry as a rhythmic voice of inner life or the poetry of vision had virtually been too infrequent in the English poetry before the arrival of Whitman and Carpenter.
In Vedic Sanskrit, the word kavi meant the person who simply saw the inspired word and sang. He was not a logical analyser or scientific reasoner. He was neither a thinker nor a philosopher proper. He just saw and recorded his vision. Rhythm or music used to be born out of the inmost being of the poet or from the higher sources of inspiration. Vision is the keyword in Sri Aurobindo’s theory of mantric poetry; vision was the essential poetic gift in the ancient seer-poets of India. The interference of intellect means the exit of vision. The prophet or the philosopher intellectualises; the true poet sees straight the living face of Truth.
The inspired word comes, as said of the old Vedic seers, from the home of truth, sadanad rtasya, the high and native level of a superior self which holds the light of a reality that is hidden by the lesser truth of the normal sense and intelligence. It is rare, however, that it comes direct and unaltered, ready embodied and perfect and absolute.
The perfect word is distorted quite often, because the intellectual mind interrupts the flow of the message, moulds it, and gives its own intellectual interpretation of the true message. Inspired poets like Tagore and Whitman have been deliberate in rejecting the excessive interference of the intellect. Instead, they indulged in the free play of the intuitive reason, the intuitive senses and the intuitive delight soul residing in them. Speaking for Tagore and Whitman, Sri Aurobindo was virtually speaking for himself. It was a distinct revolt against any kind of intellectual poetry. Tagore was important to Sri Aurobindo, because he indulged in finer passions, fancy, dream and imagination. All subjective poetry tends to turn inward and this inwardization opens up possibilities for the visional stuff In the case of intellectual poetry, the brain overactive. The result is the birth of a poetry from the thinking mind, a poetry which is manufactured with great labour. Discouraging this practice, Sri Aurobindo takes us back to the ancient poets to clarify the essential nature and role of poetry.
To us poetry is a reveal of intellect and fancy, imagination a plaything and caterer for our amusement, our entertainer, the nautch-girl of the mind. But to the men of old the poet was a seer, a revealer of hidden truths, imagination no dancing courtesan but a priestess in God’s house commissioned not to spin fictions but to image difficult and hidden truths; even the metaphor or simile in the Vedic style is used with a serious purpose and expected to convey a reality, not to suggest a pleasing artifice of thought.
Tagore was the first Bengali poet to revive the true spirit of poetry with a deliberate memory of the Upanishads. He had an additional advantage: he was a spontaneous singer. It is this element in him that instantly relates him to the Sanskrit poets of the past. Sri Aurobindo’s words shed illuminating light on his poetic or musical achievement. “A balanced harmony maintained by a system of subtle recurrences is the foundation of immortality in created things, and material movement is simply creative sound grown conscious of this secret of its own powers.”3 Even when Tagore has broken his Bengali rhythm in his English translations, something of a strange rhythmic voice is heard in the new creation.
That gleaming look from the dark came upon me like a breeze that sends a shiver through the rippling water and sweeps away to the shadowy shore.
Yet, it is impossible for a person without the knowledge of the Bengali language to feel the magical music of Tagore’s Iyrics in original. Sri Aurobindo might be thinking of the wonderful recreations included in Gitanjali (1912) and Gardener (1913). The citation above shows that “unusual bringing together of words,”15 which, according to Sri Aurobindo, is one characteristic of the poetry of incantation or mantra. As the original defied translation, Tagore wished to discover fresh lines of incantation in the English language. Even in his acquired tongue, Tagore could bring forward something from behind the mind or the vital emotion or the physical being, -something which speaks of the cosmic self and its consciousness. Instances abound in his English writings, which may not seem Queen’s English to many purists of the language
A flutter of flitting touch brushed me and vanished in a moment, like a torn flower petal blown in the breeze
Amidst judgements and statements on life, he discovers from time to time the secret vibrations of the soul, which go beyond all analysis. Such inspired selections are more frequent in his original Bengali poems.
Like Sri Aurobindo, Tagore wishes to see life as a whole. Every experience pushes us towards the Infinite through a natural process of evolution. One can hasten this process of evolution from nature to Super nature the other may prefer a slow, leisurely walk. But, once the soul has become aware of the Divine, there is no going back to sleep again. Both of them dream of a new species on earth, although the present image of man shows little hope. They are infinitely optimistic because of their steady faith in the Divine. They know that the change of the individual is a condition for the change of the earth- consciousness. Society is the enlargement of the individual.
Both have a strong aspiration for Beauty. Sri Aurobindo’s yoga is a call for the Beauty of the Light to descend on earth. It does surround his life. Tagore has at least the power to materialize his dream of Beauty in his poetry. Nolini Kanto Gupta believes that the central motive in Tagore’s poetry is an aspiration for Beauty.17 He observes Beauty and expresses that Beauty beautifully. He culls Beauty from everywhere, — from Nature or from his inmost self — and creates an ideal Beauty. The sense expresses Beauty; the language expresses Beauty. Tagore is a magician of Beauty. The creation of Beauty is the inner law of his nature, his svadharma. The inner Tagore has appeared from the land of Beauty. “Knowledge and power have occupied a lower place in his consciousness,” says Nolini Kanto Gupta, “They have remained there as the obedient servant of Beauty.”18 This sense of Beauty is the basic foundation of his concept of love, truth and goodness. His concept of nationalism is governed by his sense of Beauty. He does not wish to quarrel with the foreign rulers; he wishes to construct with the help of internal harmony. He has helped the descent of Beauty in the practical life of Bengal, which had long suffered from the lack of vitality, denial of life, poverty, frustration and a general state of chaos. Nolini Kanto Gupta’s remarkable observation helps us understand the basic law of Tagore’s nature. It is this sense of Beauty that integrates all the other aspects of Tagore’s life and works.
Beauty is also a guiding force in Sri Aurobindo’s life and works. There is the same equation of Beauty and love that we see in Tagore. Sri Aurobindo has harmonized with them the element of Knowledge and Power, austerity and the discipline of yoga. Both are in love with the world, which is suffering in pain. They have two different ways to help her. One of their ways is identical: poetry. Tagore’s poetry has a soothing effect. Sri Aurobindo’s art is less attractive, but more active. If poetry can heal and fulfil, here is the poet, who has lived beyond the public gaze. The following lines from Sri Aurobindo will speak of the combined effect of Love, Knowledge and Beauty.
Tagore has his own sweet ways to describe things of beauty. He is close to us and speaks of familiar things, which have escaped our notice
I filled my tray whatever I had, and gave it to you. What shall I bring to your feet tomorrow, I wonder. I am like the tree that, at the end of the flowering summer, gazes at the sky with its lifted branches bare of their blossoms.
Tagore transfers the feminine element of his mother tongue into his acquired language. His language lacks the masculine force of Sri Aurobindo’s Poetry. But who can deny the new charm in Tagore’s poetry? Both the poets seek to express the totality of life, the integral vision of life. Less logical than Sri Aurobindo in his prose, Tagore has a roundabout way of logicizing with the help of superior poetry. By and large, it is an intuitive logic specially discovered in the Bengali language.
When we go through Tagore’s early poetry, we do not fail to see his restless yearning for a romantic world of beauty. The yearning matured around 1912 and then it became less frequent in his poetry. Although his prose retained the yearning, his later poetry moved in various directions and changed its complexion frequently. From the middle of 1870s till 1912, we see him struggling to search for the Essence behind the common flavours of life. The immature poetry of his teens speaks of a Vaisnava poet of the new age. Sri Aurobindo saw him in the right light before leaving for Pondicherry in 1910.
One of the remarkable peculiarities a1 Rabindra Babu’s genius is the happiness and originality with which he has absorbed the whole spirit of Vaisnava poetry and turned it into something essentially the same and yet new and modern. He has given the old sweet spirit of emotional and passionate religion an expression of more delicate and complex richness voiceful of shutter and more penetratingly spiritual shades of feeling than the deep-hearted but simple early age of Bengal could know. The old Vaisnava bhava — there is no English word for it — was easily seizable, broad and strong. The bhava of these poems is not translatable in any other language than the poet has used.
This spirit of Vaisnavism fused curiously with his quest for a natural ecstasy. He would like to take delight in the things that came to him naturally. He felt the eternal around him in the natural objects. We see in him a strange yearning for a half-identified beloved in his early poetry. We find it in the poem entitled upahar. Woman or someone else, one cannot be In Probhat utsab (Festival of the Dawn) another early poem, Tagore projects his cosmic awareness. This might have been the influence of Walt Whitman. However, the realisation seems genuine and his language too speaks of his own awareness.
In Ananta Jibon (Infinite Life), the poet expresses his awareness of the Divine.
The young poet lacks in concrete images, but his growing perception is unmistakable. Sometimes, there creeps in the typical mysticism of Tagore in immature verse. But then, even in his immaturity, the effort to discover an original voice is much too obvious. Let us attempt a translation from Punormilon Reunion).
This is mysticism in the nursery class. This manner grows and deepens throughout the 1880s and towards the close of the century it shapes itself out in an original mystic style. The strong attachment for the earth is visible even in his early poetry, which is quite in harmony with the mystic sense. The mature mystic manner is to be found in Sonar Tori, Chifra, Nabedyo, GitinaIya, Gitanjali and the other poems of the middle period.
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