Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Gitanjali - Rabindranath Tagore


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action--
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake



Gitanjali means song offerings. There a total of 103 verses. Fortunately this work is translated by Tagore himself.

The verses contain no preaching, no dogmas (as one might think) but humble, sincere expressions of the author’s feelings that can be classified as confessions of love, quest for someone, invitation to death and expression of devotion.

Sometimes, it seems he is addressing God and sometimes a beloved. Or is he addressing a beloved who is the embodiment of God?

I would have been able to appreciate the work better if I could read the original in Bengali. Reading a translation is like “reading an enchantress turned into a plain Jane” (a phrase I read in Anu’s blog)

Some verses went above my head. But I could understand most of them (or so I presume!). The beauty of the language, the metaphors, the figures of speech are truly remarkable.
Only a master like Tagore could express the nuances of the eastern world in a language of the west.

One has to be at least an Indian if not a Bengali to appreciate this work of poetry.
When “lotus” is used as a metaphor for instance, an Indian knows the many connotations that the flower brings with it, that it is a sacred flower, that it is the seat of Goddess Lakshmi and so on. An Indian would know why the author has chosen this flower and not any other flower like the rose or the jasmine.
The figurative meaning of a verse would be completely lost on a westerner to whom the lotus is just another flower.

Similarly, when flute is used as a metaphor, one has to know that flute is not another instrument like a guitar or a saxophone but an instrument that adorns Lord Krishna.

That being the case, I am really surprised to know that this work which is so full of nuances of the eastern world, was so very well recieved by the west, that it made Tagore the first Asian to recieve the Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Prize acceptance speech that was an invitation to the west to unite in harmony with the east, was most humble.
I have to visit Shantiniketan someday which Tagore founded and to which he dedicated the sum of money he received along with the Nobel Prize.

I shall post some more of the verses that I really liked...

2 comments:

Anupama Kondayya said...

I picked up Gitanjali last year while ambling through the Corner Bookstore for the reason that it is the work of an Indian Nobel Prize Winner and being an Indian I should have read it.

But now I know that it is the wrong reason for picking up that book...every Indian should read this book not because it was our first Nobel or anything...but because it shows you that even beauty can be associated with Patriotism...we usually think of Patriotism and what comes to mind is Passion or Aggression...but Gitanjali is about the beauty in love for your motherland, whenever it talks about that.

Lovely post!

Sowmya said...

Everyone's experience of reading a book is unique.
I did not really see patriotism in the work itself. Tagore addresses a beloved, God and death in this work.

But Tagore fully well understood what differentiates east from the west... The home of the east and the office of the west, the spiritualism of the east and the technology of the west, the beauty of the east and the utilitarianism of the west..... He has alluded to the difference in many of his works and his pride in belonging to the east and this country in particular can be seen in his works.... I understand and appreciate the verses from Gitanjali as I read it again and again...