Indian. b: 7 May 1861, Calcutta, d: 7 August 1941, Calcutta. Cat: Poet. Ints: Metaphysics; epistemology; social and political thought; aesthetics. Educ: Studied Law in England, 1878-80. Infls: Advaita Vedanta, Vaishnavism and natural scientists such as Thomas Huxley, Jean Lamarck and Charles Darwin. Appts: Founded Visvabharati, a university at Satiniketan, near Bolpur, West Bengal; Nobel Prize for Literature, 1913.
Tagore's philosophy is a curious mixture of idealism, spiritualism and materialism. This is a consequence of various influences, from the ideas contained in Advaita Vedanta and the Vaishnavite teachings on bhakti (love for personal God) to the views of natural scientists such as Thomas Huxley, Jean Lamarck and Charles Darwin.
Tagore, in the true spirit of Vedantism, accepted Brahman-that which is devoid of subject-object distinction, qualityless, eternal and indescribable-as the absolute truth. He also accepted that nature and the entire world of distinct objects exist objectively and that all the objects and phenomena of nature and the laws by which their existence is governed are knowable.
According to Tagore, perception-the mode through which man acquires knowledge of the world, the laws of nature and the truth-is of three kinds. The first is intellectual perception. Here the intellect interprets sense-data on the basis of their reliability and strength. The second is perception related to practical activity. This kind of perception allows man to acquire knowledge of the behaviour of the various objects around him and the laws of nature so that it can be usefully employed by him for his own ends. The third is perception of the emotions. Here man cognizes not only his own soul but his soul in others.
Unlike Vedanta, which concerned itself solely with man's spiritual well-being, Tagore regarded man's social well-being as important. He was appalled by the social conditions of the Indian people and recommended reforms in areas such as agriculture, education, health care and social structure. Tagore had a great impact on the Indian nationalist movement with his poems, plays and other literary works. According to Jawaharlal Nehru (1931, pp. 182-5):
[He] was a beacon of light to all of us, ever pointing to the finer and nobler aspects of life and never allowing us to fall into the ruts which kill individuals as well as nations. Nationalism, especially when it urges us to fight for freedom, is noble and life-giving. But often it becomes a narrow creed, and limits and encompasses its votaries and makes them forget the manysidedness of life. But Rabindranath Tagore has given to our nationalism the outlook of internationalism and has enriched it with art and music and the magic of his words, so that it has become the full-blooded emblem of India's awakened spirit.
INDIRA MAHALINGAM CARR
Sudanese, b: 1908, village of the Blue Nile province, d: 18 January 1985. Khartum (hanged by Nimeyri's regime). Cat: Islamic jurist and reformer. Educ: Self-taught; studied religious sciences and especially sufism (al-Hallag, al-Ghazali and Ibn Arabi) in his thirties, after a long involvement in the practical problems of agriculture. Appts: Nationalist; fought against British occupation in his youth, imprisoned in