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What Religion Meant to Rabindranath

Somdatta Mandal

By Amiya P. Sen
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 242, Rs. 495.00


The 150th year of Rabindranath Tagore’s birth in 2011 generated a lot of renewed interest in the writer’s works and the fruit of that is discernible in various new volumes available in the market. Each book comes out with fresh perspectives in reading the multifaceted genius that Tagore was and assessing his contribution as a poet, writer, painter, musician, educationist, and Nobel laureate—no mean task. Also several new translated volumes of his oeuvre, which had never been done earlier, have made the poet more accessible to a panIndian as well as a global readership. Several of them focus on areas that have been marginalized because of the more dominant and compelling desire to establish Tagore primarily as a mystical poet and philosopher. The volume under review brings together the translation of selected discourses, addresses and letters of Rabindranath Tagore regarding religion and has treated it as a comprehensive but separate genre of study. Though the spiritual life force as inculcated in the Upanishads has been reiterated in many of his songs, especially in the series under ‘Puja’, and even in many of his poems, the lay reader is often confused by the different facets of Tagore’s thought pattern regarding religion. Beginning from childhood when he accompanied his father Debendranath in his sojourns to the Himalayas, and who being a Brahmo, inculcated the spirit of the Upanishads in his son, Tagore’s religious beliefs are not only deeprooted but operate at many levels. He was deeply influenced by the nirguni sants of North India, inspired by the Vaishnava poets’ belief in divine love, spoke about Christ, admired Kabir’s spirit of radical social protest, critiqued several practices of the contemporary Hindu faith, propagated ethical activism, and found solace in the Baul singers who used songs as their medium of expression. Generally speaking, Tagore’s religious ideas have been eclipsed by his fame as a poet. Reading the prose pieces therefore not only supplements the poetic expressions but is at the same time instructive and useful. This anthology is divided into three sections. The first section entitled ‘Essays and Other Miscellaneous Writings’ contains excerpts from fourteen selected pieces. Beginning with the song of the Baul in ‘The Power of Universal Love’, the different discourses focus on dharma (‘all paths lead to the same destination, the only difference being that some of them are more circuitous than others’), Mukti (‘the ...

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