Rabindranath Tagore Additional Biography


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Nobel laureate Tagore, known for his lyric poetry, synthesized Eastern and Western spirituality in his numerous literary and philosophical works. He described a “religion of man,” which emphasized the divinity of humanity and the humanity of God.

Early Life

Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7, 1861, into a prosperous Bengali family in Calcutta, India. The fourteenth child and eighth son of Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi, he grew up surrounded by the artistic and intellectual pursuits of his elders. Agricultural landholdings in East Bengal supported the family’s leisurely lifestyle, and their Calcutta mansion was a center for Bengalis who, like the Tagores, sought to integrate Western influences in literature, philosophy, arts, and sciences into their own culture. Young Tagore was a sensitive and interested child who, like his siblings, lived in awe of his father, a pillar of the Hindu reform group Brahmo Samaj. Cared for mainly by servants because of his mother’s ill health, he lived a relatively confined existence, watching the life of crowded Calcutta from the windows and courtyards of his protected home.

From an early age, Tagore’s literary talents were encouraged. Like the other Tagore children, he was thoroughly schooled in Bengali language and literature as a foundation for integrating culturally diverse influences, and, throughout his long career, Tagore composed most of his work in Bengali. In 1868, he was enrolled in the Oriental Seminary, where he quickly rebelled against formal education. Unhappy, transferring to different schools, Tagore nevertheless became appreciated as a budding poet during this time both in school and at home. In 1873, he was withdrawn from school to accompany his father on a tour of northern India and the Himalayas. This journey served as a rite of passage for the boy, who was deeply influenced by his father’s presence and by the grandeur of nature. It also provided his first opportunity to roam in the open countryside.

Returning to Calcutta, Tagore boycotted school and, from 1873 on, was educated at home by tutors and his brothers. In 1874, he began to recite publicly his poetry, and his first long poem was published in the monthly journal Bhārati. For the next four years, he gave recitations and published stories, essays, and experiments in drama. In 1878, Tagore went to England to prepare for a career in law at University College, London, but he withdrew in 1880 and returned to India. Tagore’s stay in England was not a happy one, but during those fourteen months, his intellectual horizons broadened as he read English literature with Henry Morley and became acquainted with European music and drama.

Life’s Work

Returning to India, Tagore resumed his writing amid the intellectual family life in Calcutta, especially influenced by his talented elder brothers, Jyotirindranath (writer, translator, playwright, and musician) and the scholarly Satyendranath. Tagore’s view of life at this time was melancholy; yet, with the metrical liberty of his poems in Sandhya Sangit (1882; evening songs), it became clear that he was already establishing new artistic and literary standards. Tagore then had a transcendental experience that abruptly changed his work. His gloomy introspection expanded in bliss and insight into the outer world, and Tagore once again perceived the innocent communion with nature that he had known as a child. This vision was reflected in Prabhat Sangit (1883; morning songs), and his new style was immediately popular. By his mid-twenties, Tagore had published devotional songs, poetry, drama, and literary criticism and was established as a lyric poet, primarily influenced by the early Vaishnava lyricists of Bengal and by the English Romantics. In 1883, he married Mrinalini Devi and continued to reflect his optimism in a burst of creativity that lasted for the next twenty years. During this period, he began to write nonsymbolic drama, and his verse Kari O Komal (1887; sharps and flats) is considered a high point in his early lyrical achievement.

In 1890, Tagore’s father sent him to Shelaidaha, the family home in eastern Bengal, to oversee the family estates, and thus began the most productive period of Tagore’s prolific career. His sympathetic observation of the daily activity of the Bengali peasant, as well as an intimacy with the seasons and moods of the rural countryside, sharpened Tagore’s literary sensitivity and provided him with subject matter for his poems and essays during the 1890’s. Tagore also wrote short stories—developing the genre in Bengali literature—and in 1891 started the monthly journal Sadhana, in which he published some of his work. In addition to literary output, Tagore began to lecture and write on his educational theories and the politics of Bengal, and he came more and more into public life. In 1898, he took his family to live in Shelaidaha, planning to spare his children the schooling against which he rebelled by educating them himself. The family soon moved to Santiniketan at Bolpur, where Tagore founded his experimental school, which became a lifelong commitment. He continued to write ceaselessly during this time: stories, poems, essays, textbooks, and a history of India. In 1901, he became editor of The Bengal Review and also launched into a period as a novelist, reflecting the political situation of the time in his work. Tagore’s Gora (1910; English translation, 1924) is considered by many to be the greatest Bengali novel.

The year 1902 saw the school in serious financial condition and also brought the death of Tagore’s wife. Others close to him passed away—his daughter in 1903, his favorite pupil in 1904, and his father in 1905—and Tagore experienced a time of withdrawal. In 1905, he was pulled back into public life by the division of Bengal. Tagore served as a highly visible leader in the antipartition nationalist movement and composed patriotic prose and songs popular with the people....

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The youngest of fourteen children, Rabindranath Tagore was born into the gifted and aristocratic Tagore family, one of the most important households in the history of nineteenth century Calcutta, capital of British India. He received an enlightened upbringing at home, in an atmosphere in which the spirit of knowledge reigned supreme, in which intellectual discussions on international subjects were encouraged, and in which all members of the large joint family regularly participated in a variety of cultural activities. His career in school was undistinguished—he disliked its institutionalized discipline and often played truant. In any case the education imparted at home in tutorial sessions conducted by his elder brothers was probably more substantial, as was the influence of the personality, erudition, and spiritualism of Debendranath Tagore, his father. He wrote his first poem when he was eight years old and had his first poem published at the age of fourteen. At sixteen he made his acting debut, in his brother Jyotirindranath’s adaptation of Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670; The Would-Be Gentleman, 1675). At the age of eighteen, he began writing his first play, in verse, and at twenty, he had composed and acted the lead role in his first musical.

In 1878, Tagore was sent to England to complete his studies, but with characteristic indifference he left University College, London (where he was to study law), and returned home. He married Mrinalini Devi, of Jessore (now in Bangladesh), in 1883. His father dispatched him in 1890 to Shelaidaha in East Bengal, to oversee the family estates there. This sojourn placed him in intimate contact with rural Bengal and her people. The exposure at home to the world of learning, humanities, and the arts had been one permanent influence...

(The entire section is 741 words.)


(World Poets and Poetry)

Rabindranath Tagore was born into a wealthy, influential, and culturally active Brahmin family. The name Tagore is an English corruption of the title Thakur (that is, Brahmin), and the name Rabindranath means “lord of the sun” (rabi means “the sun”). Tagore’s father was Maharishi (Great Sage) Devendranath Tagore, an important religious writer and leader of Brahmo Samaj (Society of God), a new monotheistic religion founded on a return to the Upanishads and progressive political ideas. A response both to orthodox Hinduism (characterized by idolatry, the caste system, suttee, and similar oppressive practices) and to Western culture (especially Christianity), the reformist Brahmo Samaj virtually defined the...

(The entire section is 1063 words.)


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

Tagore began to write poetry as a child. His first book was published when he was seventeen years old. After returning to India from a trip to England in 1878 to study law, he became the most popular author of the colonial era. Through the short stories, novels, and plays that he wrote, he conveyed his belief that truth lies in seeing the harmony of apparently contrary forces. He was not interested in building a philosophical system; instead he wanted to deepen mutual Indian and Western cultural understanding. He was very much influenced by the Upanisads but interpreted them theistically. His artistic nature made him more of a follower of the way of bhakti, or “devotion,” than of the...

(The entire section is 638 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Rabindranath Tagore (tuh-GOR), whose name is sometimes transliterated as Ravindranatha Thakura, was born in Calcutta, India, on May 7, 1861, the fourteenth of fifteen children of Devendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi Tagore. His grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore, was a Brahman, a landowner, and the wealthiest Indian merchant of his time, as well as a reformer strongly influenced by the European Enlightenment. Rabindranath’s father, Devendranath, was also reform-minded. He became a leader of the Brahma Samaj, a sect founded by Dwarkanath’s friend Raja Rammohan Roy, which scandalized traditional Hindus by rejecting polytheism, ritualistic worship, and the caste system. Devendranath’s broad-mindedness in religious matters and his...

(The entire section is 895 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry, his plays, his fiction, and his prose are all infused with the writer’s belief that the goal of human life is union with the divine, a being who is always accessible in prayer and in nature. An obsession with material goods, social status, or power shrinks the soul and harms both other individuals and society as a whole. So do rampant nationalism and narrow adherence to religious creeds. Even though Tagore recognizes the fact that in this world the righteous often suffer, he believes that only a soul that is unpolluted can know the joy of that mystic union.

His Bengali writings brought Tagore recognition as the father of modern Bengali literature. His English works and his translations made him famous throughout the world. However, it is not just his originality and his lyricism that account for the high regard in which he is still held. Above all, he is valued as a profound thinker and a deeply spiritual man.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Rabindranath Tagore (tah-GOR), who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, is considered the founder and shaper of modern Bengali-language literature. He was the fourteenth of fifteen children born to Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. His mother, Sarada, died when he was thirteen years old. His name Rabin means Lord of the Sun. Tagore’s ancestors came from what is now Bangladesh to live in Calcutta, located in the eastern region of India known as Bengal. His immediate family was wealthy by Indian standards of the time; his grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore, was referred to as a prince.

Tagore was a precocious child who was educated primarily at home by tutors. He wrote his first poem at the age of eight. The...

(The entire section is 769 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

Tagore was born on May 7, 1861, in Calcutta, India. He was the youngest of fourteen children. His father, Debendranath Tagore, was a writer,...

(The entire section is 490 words.)