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Guru Rabindranath Tagore

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Rabindranath Tagore is one of the most famous sons on Bengal, and India. Born on May 7, 1861, he was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. He is credited with reshaping Bengali literature and music by introducing new prose and verse forms and the use of colloquial language. Rabindra Sangeet can be considered a product of the changes he brought about.

Growing up in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Tagore started writing poetry at a very early age. At age 16, he released his first collection of poems under the pseudonym Bhanusiṃha (‘Sun Lion’). Soon he started writing short stories and dramas, this time using his real name. Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced), and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World) are amongst his most popular works. But his real claim to fame across all of India and internationally was that two of his compositions were chosen by two nations as their National anthems: Jana Gana Mana became India’s National anthem and and Amar Shonar Bangla was adopted by Bangladesh. The composer of Sri Lanka's national anthem, Sri Lanka Matha was a student of Tagore, and the song is inspired by Tagore's style.

The youngest of thirteen surviving children, Tagore was born in Calcutta to parents Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. The Tagore family patriarchs were the Brahmo founders of the Adi Dharm faith. Debendranath had formulated the Brahmoist philosophies espoused by his friend Ram Mohan Roy, and became focal in Brahmo society after Roy's death.

Rabindranath was raised mostly by servants; his mother had died in his early childhood and his father travelled widely. His home hosted the publication of literary magazines; theatre and recitals of both Bengali and Western classical music featured there regularly. Tagore's oldest brother Dwijendranath was a respected philosopher and poet. Another brother, Satyendranath, was the first Indian appointed to the elite and formerly all-European Indian Civil Service. Yet another brother, Jyotirindranath, was a musician, composer, and playwright. His sister Swarnakumari became a novelist. Jyotirindranath's wife Kadambari, slightly older than Tagore, was a dear friend and powerful influence.

Tagore was never fond of formal education. However, he enrolled at a public school in Brighton, East Sussex, England in 1878 honoring his father’s wish of seeing him become a barrister (lawyer). Eventually, in 1880 he returned to Bengal without a degree. In 1883 he married Bhabatarini Devi, later renamed as Mrinalini Devi. They had five children together before Mrinalini Devi’s death in 1902.

In 1901 Tagore moved to Shantiniketan and founded an ashram with an experimental school, groves of trees, gardens, and a library. He published Naivedya (1901) and Kheya (1906) during that time and translated poems into free verse. In November 1913, Tagore won the Nobel Prize in Literature for a small body of translated material from his 1912 creation - Gitanjali (Song Offerings). In 1915, the British Crown granted Tagore knighthood. He renounced it after the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

In 1921, Tagore and agricultural economist Leonard Elmhirst set up the "Institute for Rural Reconstruction", later renamed Shriniketan or "Abode of Welfare. He sought aid from donors, officials, and scholars worldwide to free villages from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance by providing knowledge. In the early 1930s he targeted the social issue of untouchability. He lectured against this practice and campaigned successfully to open the Guruvayoor Temple to Dalits (untouchables).

Tagore’s literary work continued abundantly during the last decade of his life. Some of the notable prose-poem works include Punashcha (1932), Shes Saptak (1935), Patraput (1936). Experimentation continued in his prose-songs and dance-dramas:  Shyama (1939), and Chandalika (1938); and in his novels: Dui Bon (1933), Malancha (1934), and Char Adhyay (1934).

Rabindranath Tagore died on August 7, 1941.

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Guru Rabindranath Tagore