Rabindranath Tagore: The Image of the Poet as Pilgrim

By Boboc, Raluca | International Journal on Humanistic Ideology, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

Rabindranath Tagore: The Image of the Poet as Pilgrim


Boboc, Raluca, International Journal on Humanistic Ideology


Motto:

"I have had my invitation to this world's festival, and thus my life has been blessed". (Gitanjali)

A creator of beauty and meaning in many a way, a poet of many voices, a man of many travels and a traveller of many miles, Tagore rewrites the artist's strategies of reaching universalism. A new concept of universal artist takes shape feeding upon the poet's religion of revealing the everlasting meaning of reality, his vision of man evolving into an All-Man (Vishvamanava) and not least on the poet's picture of himself as "wayfarer of the endless road".

Since his first travelling experience at the age of 12 - when he joined his father on a trip to the Himalayas and on the way back wrote his first literary piece1 - Tagore was awakened to a sense of adventure, bondage with nature and freedom which would later take him even farther on the ways of the world, adding to his philosophy of internationalism, till he became a world traveller in all senses of the word. He was in the first place a traveller on the map - to the West and to the East, to the North and to the South. But progress in space, on the geographical map, was also progress in time spent in encountering and understanding the Other, who belongs to spiritually and culturally different environments; the poet's travels on the map engendered progress in terms of knowledge and self-broadness as well as of love and recognition by the world. To England for example, Tagore travelled several times, each of which differently: as a young student of law, as a cultural tourist, as a fellow artist, as the author of Gitanjali, as the winner of the Nobel Prize and as a widely recognized poet and seer, "with friends known and unknown in a hundred homes"2.

It was also from England that he first extended his travels to the USA as well as to Western and Northern Europe; repeated travels to the Western world were in store at that moment, materializing progressively along with Tagore's gaining access to its mentality and finding new ways and forms of addressing it. Significant steps in this travelling sequence were represented by Rabindranath' s lectures on Indian philosophy, his criticism of Western materialism and of nationalism, and his idea of establishing a centre for EastWest fellowship - all of which were delivered and pursued in WesternEuropean countries and, "once the war had closed doors to the West", in America and Japan. Visits to France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Italy were followed by others to Central and Eastern Europe, Prague and Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest, Sofia, Belgrade, Athens as well as to Northern Africa in Cairo. Several travels to and inside China and the 1927 South-Asian voyage to Malaya, Java, Bali, Siam and Burma were charged with thematic emphasis on the quest for a related cultural heritage and with continuous preoccupation for the traditional exchange within Asia3, while the South American stop was essential for the poet's taking to doodling and discovering painting as a new way of artistic expression. From this moment, along with lectures and book launches, Tagore's personal painting exhibitions would be a significant part of his late years' travelling to Europe, which was this time followed by the poet faring eastwards, to Russia. Later, at the invitation of the King of Iran, Tagore travelled overseas for the last time in 1932, to the land of the Bedouins whose free spirit he had always admired.

I have realized that God does not intend me for the life of a householder. Therefore I am a constant traveller, unable to set up home anywhere. The world has received me with open arms, I want to do the same with the world.4

No doubt, Tagore's extensive wayfaring is illustrative of the poet's creed in a peripatetic life. Nevertheless, the Indian poet's peripatetic career is far from the itinerant troubadours in Medieval Europe or the mystic wandering minstrels in Iran and even farther from the peripatetic ideal in the Romantic period, to the same extent to which Tagore's love of man is far from the manintoxicated Western humanism which "has put man at the centre of the scheme of things"5. …

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