born May 7, 1861 , Calcutta, India
died Aug. 7, 1941 , Calcutta
Rabindranath Tagore is regarded as one of the greatest writers in modern Indian literature. Bengali poet, novelist and educator, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore was awarded the knighthood in 1915, but he surrendered it in 1919 as a protest against the Massacre of Amritsar, where British troops killed some 400 Indian demonstrators protesting colonial laws.
Tagore was born in Calcutta in a wealthy and prominent Brahmin family. His father was Maharishi Debendranath Tagore, a religious reformer and scholar; his mother Sarada Devi, died when he was very young. Tagore’s grandfather had established a huge financial empire for himself, and financed public projects, such as Calcutta Medical College. The Tagores were pioneers of the Bengal Renaissance and tried to combine traditional Indian culture with and Western ideas.
The youngest child in the family, Tagore started to compose poems at the age of eight. He received his early education first from tutors and then at a variety of schools. Among them were Bengal Academy where he studied Bengali history and culture, and University College, London, where he studied law but left after a year without completing his studies.
His first book, a collection of poems, appeared when he was 17; it was published by Tagore’s friend who wanted to surprise him. In 1901 Tagore founded a school outside Calcutta, Visva-Bharati, which was dedicated to emerging Western and Indian philosophy and education. It become a university in 1921. He produced poems, novels, stories, a history of India, textbooks, and treatises on pedagogy.
Tagore’s reputation as a writer was established in the United States and in England after the publication of Gitanjali: Song Offerings, in which Tagore tried to find inner calm and explored the themes of divine and human love. The poems were translated into English by Tagore himself. His cosmic visions owed much to the lyric tradition of Vaishnava Hinduism and its concepts about the relationship between man and God. Much of Tagore’s ideology comes from the teaching of the Upahishads and from his own beliefs that God can be found through personal purity and service to others. He stressed the need for new world order based on transnational values and ideas, the “unity consciousness.”
Between the years 1916 and 1934 he travelled widely, attempting to spread the ideal of uniting East and West. Only hours before he died on August 7, in 1941, Tagore dictated his last poem.