The Forum

Rabindranath Tagore: The Bard of Bengal

So prodigious was the polymath Rabindranath Tagore, there’s a saying in Bengal that one lifetime is not enough to consume all of his work. Poet, playwright, thinker, activist, educator, social reformer, composer, artist… the list of his talents is long. Today his name is known all over India and Bangladesh; children recite his poetry at school and his legacy lives on in many different ways.

When he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, Tagore was feted for a time by American and European literary figures who saw in him someone who embodied Western preconceptions of a mystic Oriental sage. As a result of his newfound fame outside India, Tagore travelled widely and exchanged ideas with many celebrated world leaders and thinkers from Einstein to Gandhi. Today Tagore’s thoughts on education and his stance vis-à-vis the natural world and our relationship to the environment are seen as remarkably forward-looking.

Rajan Datar is joined by Kathleen O’Connell, retired lecturer in South Asian Studies from the University of Toronto and the author of Rabindranath Tagore: the Poet as Educator; the writer Aseem Shrivastava who lectures on Tagore and his ecological thought at Ashoka University in Delhi; and Chandrika Kaul, Reader in Modern History at the University of St Andrews, who’s published widely on imperial and modern India.

Produced by Fiona Clampin for the BBC World Service.

[Photo: Rabindranath Tagore. Credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images]

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