Stamp On Rabindranath Tagore
The Department of Posts issued a 15 nP stamp on 7th May 1961 to commemorate the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. It is in chestnut-jade green colour, perf. 13, and watermark ‘All over multiple Lion Capital of Asoka’. It was printed by photogravure process at India Security Press, Nasik. The profile of Tagore that the stamp carries is based on a design by Satyajit Ray. The cancellation on the first day cover is from Santiniketan where Visva-Bharati is located. (The Soviet Union also honoured him on that occasion by issuing a stamp (6 kopek) on 8th May 1961). This is the first stamp that carries an autograph.
There are four more stamps onTagore, issued by the Department on different dates. They are: (1) a 12 As stamp in the Saints and Poets series isuued on 1st October 1952 (see Sruti 235), (2) a 20 nP stamp to commemorate the golden jubilee of Visva-Bharati founded by Tagore, issued on 24th December 1971, (3) a one rupee stamp in the Modern Indian Paintings series issued on 23rd March 1978, and (4) a 2 Rs stamp issued on 8th May 1987 on the occasion of Tagore’s 126th birth anniversary.
Tagore was not only a poet, he was a composer too. His musical creations
are collectively called Rabindra Sangeet. It is befitting to feature him now as the year-long celebrations of his 150th birthday commence this month.
A multi-faceted genius
Rabindranath Tagore was a multifaceted genius. He was one of the greatest literary figures in history. He was a musician of the highest order. He was also a composer he composed both the lyrics and the music. He was an artist par excellence. He took to painting when he was nearing 70 and, in a span of ten years, produced almost 3000 pictures. His educational ideas inspired him to start an experimental school in 1901 at Santiniketan Asrama founded in 1863 by his father `Maharshi’ Devendranath Tagore. It grew into Visva-Bharati in 1921. He was steeped in the traditions of the East and its rich cultural heritage. At the same time he welcomed the worthy values proclaimed by the West. Tagore was a universal man of the time.
The brief biography of Tagore below is a slightly edited version of the one given in the information folder issued by the Department of Posts along with the stamp on 8th May 1987. (The Dept. cites the Dictionary of National Biography, edited by S.P. Sen, as its source.)
Tagore was born on 7th May 1861 in the Jorasanko House at 6, Dwarkanath Tagore Lane, Calcutta. He was the fourteenth child of Devendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi.
The family discovered Rabindranath’s gift for song and poetry quite early in his life. His first poem to appear in print was Abhilash in the Tattvabodhini Patrika in 1874 when he was twelve years old. In the next year he made his first public appearance as a poet reciting a patriotic poem he had composed at the ninth session of the Hindu Mela.
His first literary writings appeared in Jnanankur O Prativimba, and later in the family literary journal Bharati. In 1878 he accompanied his brother Satyendranath to England; he studied English Literature at the University College, London. The year 1881 saw him writing his first musical play, Valmiki Pratibha, and himself appearing in the title role.
In 1883 he married Mrinalini. He spent the next decade of his life mainly in the countryside, in close contact with the children of the soil.
In 1891 Tagore founded the monthly Sadhana. He advocated use of the mother-tongue as a medium of education. He described ‘self help’ and ‘self respect’ as backbones of ‘Swadesism’. He invoked India’s history and legends to inculcate patriotic and national sentiments. When the Viceroy proposed vivisection of Bengal, he came out of his seclusion at Santiniketan to lend his powerful voice against it. He preached swadesi, composed heart stirring swadesi songs, wrote trenchant essays and addressed meetings and even headed protest demonstrations.
Tagore is the author of India’s national anthem Janaganamana. He is also the author of Bangladesh’s national anthem Amar sonar Bangla.
He received the Nobel Award in Literature in 1913 for his poems Gitanjali (originally written in Bengali, and subsequently translated into English by him). In 1915 he was knighted by the King Emperor. However, he later relinquished it as a protest against the Jalianwala Bagh massacre.
Tagore founded Visva-Bharati (World University) in Santiniketan; it was inaugurated in December 1921. On 7th August 1940, Oxford University conferred its Doctorate on Tagore at a special convocation arranged in Santiniketan.
By the beginning of 1941 his chronic kidney trouble started causing concern. His 80th birthday was celebrated at Santiniketan on 14 April, the Bengali New Year Day. On 7th August 1941, he breathed his last at Calcutta in the house he was born.
Tagore was a worshipper of truth and beauty, and a spiritualist with a mystical frame of reference. He was essentially a humanist and always thought in terms of world peace.
The term Rabindra Sangeet refers to a body of songs, about 2200, composed by Rabindranath Tagore. It refers to both the genre and the individual songs as well. The songs deal with varied themes and express a wide range of human emotions. It has evolved into a distinctive school of music.
Tagore has divided his songs into five categories. These are: Pooja (devotional), Prem (love), Prakriti (nature), Swadesi (patriotic) and Bibidha (miscellaneous).
Deepak Raja, a sitarist, is trained in Rabindra Sangeet. He is a noted author of books on Hindustani music. His scholarly essays on Hindustani music and musicians have appeared in Sruti. In the glossary to his book Hindustani Music A Tradition in Transition, he gives the following brief account of Rabindra Sangeet:
Tagore was deeply influenced by the devotional lyrics of Bengal Vaishnavites, and their devotional music has its impact on Rabindra Sangeet. Similarly Bauls, the wandering mystic minstrels of Bengal with their message of universal devotion and love, had also shaped Tagore’s spiritual ideals, and he has adapted many a tune of Baul music for Rabindra Sangeet.
An unusual feature
All the songs of Rabindra Sangeet are available with notations and, as stated by Deepak Raja, “the practitioners are required to scrupulously follow the lyrics and tunes as originally written down; no innovation or variant interpretation of the songs is permitted.”
Who notated the songs, and when? Nilaksha Gupta, a respected and knowledgeable music critic, enlightens us on this point. He observes: “The original notations of the songs were made by Dinendranath Tagore, grandson of the eldest brother of Rabindranath Tagore. He noted down the tunes as and when Tagore composed them. He used the Bhatkhande system of notation. The compilation of the songs was done under the supervision of Indira Devi Chaudhurani, daughter of Satyendranath Tagore, second son of Debendranath. The Publications Department of Visva-Bharati brought out a compilation of Rabindra Sangeet. Known as
Swarabiten, it runs into 64 volumes.”
Deepak Raja points out another noteworthy feature of Rabindra Sangeet. “Tagore was the first composer in Hindustani music to adopt the pallavi-anupallavicharanam structure (of Carnatic music) for many of his compositions. In the Hindustani tradition, the structure is either two-part (sthayiantara as in khayal) or four-part (sthayi-antara-sanchari-abhoga as
in dhrupad). Tagore wrote many of his poems in three parts and found the Carnatic melodic arrangement appropriate, and used it to excellent effect. This was his distinctive contribution to the North Indian tradition.”
Tagore and Carnatic music
In 1919, Tagore made an extensive tour of South India. He delivered lectures on different topics at Bangalore, Mysore, Ooty, Coimbatore, Palghat, Salem, Tiruchi, Srirangapatnam, Kumbakonam, Tanjavur and Madras. At Madras he stayed at Adyar as a guest of Mrs. Annie Besant. Tagore had a good understanding of Carnatic music, and during the south Indian tour he availed of opportunities to listen to songs in that genre.
One song, in particular, made a deep impression on him. He was so captivated by the moving melody and the grandeur of the lyrics of that kriti that he instantly composed a Rabindra Sangeet, keeping the original tune almost intact. The song in question is Meenakshi memudam dehi, the famous composition of Muthuswami Dikshitar in Gamakakriya. The lyric of the corresponding Rabindra Sangeet starts with the following words: Baasantee, hey bhuvana-mohini. The song has a pallavi, an anupallavi and a charana, as in the original. What is more significant is that Tagore has borrowed the phrase ‘Madhu-mada-modita hridaye’ occurring in the madhyama kala portion of the charanam and incorporated it in the charanam of his song! He has also closely followed the antya-prasa. I heard this song in the 1970s in a demonstration session at Bangalore but could not find the script. I recently got it, courtesy Surekha Kothari, who is well versed in Rabindra Sangeet. Like her brother Deepak, she too enlightened me on the salient features of Rabindra Sangeet.