Ananya Mukherjee

May 252011

Click the items below to read more about Tagore:

As a way to begin Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations, we thought Aung San Suu Kyi’s beautiful words below are the most appropriate.

“There are no words of comfort in the poem. No assurances of joy and peace at the end of the harsh journey. There is no pretence that it is anything but evil luck to receive no answer to your call, to be deserted in the middle of the wilderness, to have no one who would hold up a light to aid you through a stormy night. It is not a poem that offers heart’s ease, but it teaches you that a citadel of endurance can be built on a foundation of anguish. How can anybody who has learnt to ignite his heart with the thunder-flame of his own pain ever know defeat? Victory is ensured to those who are capable of learning the hardest lessons that life has to offer’

This was Suu Kyi’s message on 8th December 2001 when all living Nobel Peace Laureates gathered to honour her as a fellow Laureate, at an occasion which marked the 10th anniversary of her own Peace award and the centennial anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize itself.

Courtesy: The Burma Campaign UK

One day while I stood watching at early dawn the sun sending out its rays from behind the trees, I suddenly felt as if some ancient mist had in a moment lifted from my sight… The invisible screen of the common place was removed from all things and all men, and their ultimate significance was intensified in my mind; and this is the definition of beauty. That which was memorable in this experience was its human message, the sudden expansion of my consciousness in the super-personal world of man.

The full text of the lectures, titled the Religion of Man, is available at this link.

April 13, 1919: It was Baisakhi day, a festival when people celebrate the beginning of the harvesting season. As every year, people were congregating in community fairs in the city of Amritsar, Panjab. A large unarmed crowd of ordinary people had gathered near a public square called Jalianwallah Bagh. They did not know that a political meeting was being held there. General Dyer, a powerful Commander in the British army, wanted to break up the meeting by force and ordered the battalion at his disposal to fire. The square was bounded on all sides, with a very narrow entrance and pathway, so that people could not escape from the firing. Official estimates reported 379 deaths but unofficial estimates were much higher.  Below is the letter  Tagore wrote to the Viceroy asking that his knighthood be revoked:


Romain Rolland with Rabindranath Tagore en Villeneuve, Suiza, 1926-FDr

Romain Rolland with Rabindranath en Villeneuve, Suiza, 1926. (c): Filosofiadigital on Flickr

While looking for Tagore’s works in the public domain, I came across this wonderful book Rolland and Tagore published in India in 1945.  It contains essays, letters, conversations between Romain Rolland, the great French intllectual and Nobel Laureate and Tagore.  The exchanges occur between 1919 and 1940, a time of crisis for the `West`.  As the editors write in their introduction:

Perhaps the most significant fact about their friendship is that they met when night had fallen over the continent of Europe.  Neither of the two was young any longer.  But while Rabindranath still cherished hopes in regard to a reawakening of the West, Rolland was the more disillusioned of the two.  … Their last letters were written during the final cataclysm. Night had fallen over the mountains. They could no longer hear their voices in the storm. Two solitary giants they clasped each other`s hands waiting for the dawn for which they had sung all their life. Continue reading »

Tagore and LK Elmhirst, photo from Parabaas (July 15 2001)

Tagore was deeply dissatisfied with the system of education. Education and pedagogy therefore became Tagore’s preoccupation. He decided to found his own school in 1901, with 5 students and 5 teachers.  This evolved into an entire university, which Tagore named Visva-Bharati.  The Sanskrit name, as Tagore explained at the university’s inaugural ceremony in 1921, means ‘where the whole world forms its one single nest’.

The philosophy behind the university was unique. First, it would bring together knowledges from the East and West.  Second, the university would connect to, and become an integral part of the community within which it was located.  Tagore’s objective was to break with the traditional model of the university where the elite pursued knowledge for its own sake. Rather, a university must touch the lives of ordinary people and build a true human community where no one was marginalized.  It was no accident that Tagore’s Visva Bharati was located in a village and not in a city, not amidst the urban, British-schooled affluent classes.  Very close to Visva Bharati Tagore established the Institute of Rural Reconstruction, yet another institution designed specifically to serve the rural economy.

LK Elmhirst was an agricultural economist trained in Cornell University, USA who was invited by Tagore to assume the directorship of the  that Tagore established.  Tagore wrote to him:

I remember how you came fresh from your university and you were absurdly young, but you were not the lean academic or aridly intellectual. With your instinctive humanity you came into the closest touch with the living being which is the village, and which is not a mere intellectual problem that could be solved through the help of arithmetical figures. Continue reading »

Our Tagore events

  • Oct 6, 2012 AUTUMN EXTRAVAGANZA, Michael Power St. Joseph High School, Toronto. A variety show with Tagore’s works, and a multicultural Dance Ensemble with folk dances of Ukraine, Chile, and India.

  • Sep 25, 2012 'Walking Alone: Justice and Inequality in Tagore's thought', talk by Ananya Mukherjee-Reed at Princeton University, USA.

  • May 4, 2012 Soul of Spring,McMichael Art Gallery, Kleinburg, Ontario. A medley of music, dance and poetry based on Tagore's play. It was performed during an exhibition of Tagore's paintings 'The Last Harvest' at the gallery.

  • Jan 19, 2012 'Race and Diversity in Tagore', talk by Ananya Mukherjee-Reed at the University of Toronto

  • Sept 30, 2011 Tagore reading at the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts

  • October 2, 2011 A panel on Tagore featuring Uma Dasgupta and Martha Nussbaum on Writers & Company, CBC Radio One Broadcast time 3:05 pm Eastern. Click here for more details and podcast
  • Dec 3-4, 2011: A film festival featuring the North American premier of two films based on Tagore's work.
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