on 7 May 1861, in the Jorasanko house at 6
Dwarkanath Tagore Lane, Calcutta, Rabindranath
was the fourteenth child of Devendranath Tagore
(1817-1905) and Sarada Devi (1826/27-1875).
The Tagores belonged to the Pirali class of
the Brahmins-the more orthodox amongst whom
frowned upon inter-dining and intermarrying
with them on account of their supposed intimacies
with Mussalmans in bygone days originally
hailing from Jessore.The family settled in
Calcutta round about the time the East India
Company had founded the city.
Through co-operating with the Company when
they assumed ruling powers, the Tagores prospered
and were recognized among the leading families
of Calcuttas new aristocracy by 1814,
when Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833) initiated
his activities to fight Hindu orthodoxy on
the one hand and to bring about a synthesis
of the culture of India with the liberal traditions
of the West. Rabindranaths grandfather,
Dwarkanath (1794-1846), known by the honorific
title of Princes because of his
great wealth and munificence, became one of
the staunchest supporters of the Raja in all
his public activities.
Likewise, Rabindranaths father, known
as Maharshi for his piety and
faith, became a redoubtable champion of Brahmoism
which may well be regarded as Rammohuns
vindication of the monotheistic tradition
of the Upanishads. The peculiar combination
of tradition and progress, which characterized
Rabindranaths attitude of life, may
best be explained by his immediate family
Notable among Ranbindranaths brothers
and sisters were the poet-philosopher Dwijendranath
Tagore (1840-1926), Satyendranath Tagore (1842-1923),
the first Indian to join the Indian Civil
Service, Jyotirindranath (1894-1925), the
well-known playwright and translator, and
Swarnakumari Devi (1855-1932), the foremost
woman-novelist of her day.
Rabindranaths early childhood was spent
under the tutelage of family servants. He
had to fall back upon his own resources to
feed his appetite for the far-away. His other
source of joy was when some of the maids and
servants initiated him in the love of tales
and fables, rhymes and songs. The twin muses
of song and poetry came to him hand in hand
fairly early in life. He started scribbling
verses soon after he learnt his alphabet and
he imbibed music from the atmosphere at home.
Rabindranaths school career was brief
(1868-74), uneventful and haphazard-he had
to change school four times at least. He did
not react favourably to set lessons.
The generally unruly conduct of his class-mates
and the discipline of the rod disgusted him.
In 1874, when his name did not appear in the
list of candidates promoted to the next higher
class of St. Xaviers School, he was
withdrawn from school. But this only whetted
his appetite for self-education through his
mother tongue in which he received encouraging
support initially from his third brother,
Hemendranath (1844-84), and later from Dwijendranath
Rabindranath was going on for twelve when
(1873) he was invested with the sacred thread
and initiated with the Gayatri. Thereafter
he accompanied his father on an extended tour
which took him as far as Dalhousie-via Bolpur
and Amritsar. It was at Bolpur that he first
really came into close contact with Devendranath-his
saintly father-who exerted a lasting influence
on his personality and character.
The family discovered Rabindranaths
gift for song and poetry quite early in his
life. His first poem to appear in print was
Abhilaash in the Tattvabodhini
Patrika in 1874 where it was described to
be a twelve-year-old boys composition.
The next year, when he was barely fourteen,
he made his first public appearance as a poet
reciting a patriotic poem of his own composition
at the ninth session of the Hindu Mela-a cultural
fair devoted to patriotism and social welfare
organized by Nabagopal Mitra, Rajnarain Bose
and others under the patronage and sponsorship
of the Tagore family.
With the death of his mother in 1875, Rabindranath
passed into the guardianship of Jyotirindranath
and his wife Kadambari Devi (1858-84)-both
of whom, more than any others, helped his
adolescent aspirations come into full flowering.
This was the time when he was enrolled as
the junior-most member of a short-lived secret
society modelled after Mazzinis Carbonari
and named Sanjivani Sabha, of which Rajnarain
Bose was the President.
His first literary writings (verse, narrative
poetry, criticism, fiction, essays, translation,
etc.) appeared first in Dnankur O Prativimba
(from 1876 onwards) and later in the family
literary journal Bharati (from 1877 onwards).
In 1877, he appeared for the first time on
the family stage in the title role of a farce
written by Jyotirindranath, as adapted from
Molieres Le Buorgeois Gentilhomme.
The next year (1878) he accompanied his brother
Satyendranath to England where he studied
English literature for some time under Henry
Morley at the University College, London.
His Letters from a Sojourner in Europe-being
his outspoken, if somewhat indiscreet, comments
on the life and times of London -alarmed some
of his conservative elders and necessitated
his recall from London early in 1880. The
Letters were published in book-form
the next year (1881), however, it being not
only his first book in prose but also the
first in the spoken form of prose.
The year 1881 also saw him writing his first
musical play, Valmiki Pratibha,
and appearing himself in the title role, delivering
his first written lecture on Music and Feeling
before the Bethune Society, and foiling one
more of the familys plans to send him
abroad-this time to qualify for the Bar. Returning
from Madras en route to London, he took up
residence with Jyotirindranath at Sudder Street
where he experienced his poets vision,
which he immortalized in a poem entitled
The Awakening of the Waterfall-presaging
the upsurge of a fine frenzy of creative writing.After
spending some time with Satyendranaths
family in Karwar, he returned to Calcutta
late in 1883 to be married to Mrinalini (b.
1873). The next year (1884) saw the tragic
death by suicide of Kadambari Devi-an event
that left a lasting scar on his mind. The
same year he was appointed Secretary of the
Adi Brahmo Samaj and crossed swords with Bankim
Chandra Chatterjee, the leading literary figure
of Bengal of the day, on the ideals of Hinduism.
In 1885, he became associated with another
family magazine, the Balak, and assisted its
Editor, Jnanadanandini Devi (Satyendranaths
wife), in its management. Some of his earliest
juvenile writings appeared in the Balak. That
was also the year when the first collection
of his songs came out with the title Rabichchaya-indicative
of his popularity as a lyricist-composer.
His eldest child (a daughter), Bela or Madhurilata,
was born in 1886. The same year he composed
and himself sang the inaugural song at the
second session of the Indian National Congress
Literary biographers agree that Rabindranaths
many-sided genius entered a new phase with
the composing of the poems of Manasi,
the musical play Mayar Khela and
the drama Raja O Rani-all of which
were written during 1887-90. During this time
he first participated publicity in political
controversy when he protested against the
reactionary anti-Indian policy of Lord Cross,
the then Secretary of State for India, and
advocated the appointment of elected representatives
of the people as members of the Viceroys
His eldest son, Rathindranath, was born in
1888. There was a brief interlude of about
three months which he spent on a visit to
England in the later part of 1890. The diary
he maintained of the visit made scintillating
reading when published in book-form.
Towards the end of 1890, on return from England,
Rabindranath was entrusted by his father with
the management of the extensive family estates
in the Rajshahi district-with his headquarters
at Shilaidah. His third child Renuka, was
born early in 1891.
Rabindranath spent the next decade of his
life (1890-1900) mainly in the countryside,
in close contract with the children of the
soil. In the first phase, his confrontation
with the rural situation took the form of
exquisitely sensitive vignettes of the life
around-The Postmaster was one
of the crop of these short stories which were
published, week by week, in the Hitavadi.
Thereafter, when the monthly Sadhana was founded
by him in 1891, with his nephew, Sudhindranath,
as editor, it became almost the sole organ
of his self-expression.
The Sadhana published some of his best writings-including
Sonar Tari and Panchabhuter
Diary. In 1894 he assumed the editorship
of the periodical itself and remained its
editor until it ceased publication in 1895.
His exquisite letters addressed to his niece,
Indiradevi, later collected as Chhinnapatra,
belonged to this period.
His youngest daughter, Mira, was born in
1893 and Samindra, his youngest son, the year
The Sadhana phase was also a phase of constructive
nationalism for Rabindranath. His patriotism
now became not only an abstract love of the
people- the village folk-who constituted the
country. In 1893, at a public meeting presided
over by Bankimchandra Chatterjee, he read
out a well-argued political essay on Ingraj
O Bharatbasi. From then on, he began
to point out that while in the West the State
formed the nucleus of the body-politic, traditionally,
in India, the rural community or society constituted
such a base.
He therefore advocated widespread use of
the mother-tongue as a medium of education
and described self-help and self-respect as
the backbone of Swadeshism. On the other hand,
he invoked Indias history and legends
in the poems of Katha O Kahini
to inculcate patriotic and national sentiments.
A totally different genre of lightly tripping
lyrics of the idyllic kind are to be found
in Kshanika written about the
The end of the century saw Rabindranath preoccupied
more and more with the fundamentals of the
Indian problem and his growing conviction
that these were tied up with the prevailing
faulty system of education. Instead of sending
his own children to the existing schools he
started his own home-school for them at Shilaidah.
That was when he conjured up his vision
of a Tapovana school-where it might become
possible to link up learning and living in
an atmosphere of freedom, in the midst of
nature, in a community where teachers would
be gurus and pupils disciples in the traditional
Upanishadic sense. He held up these ideals
in the poems of Naivedya, and
followed them up by founding a school in the
Asrama built by his father at Santiniketan
near Bolpur and bequeathed by him to a public
trust. That was in 1901.
Earlier in the same year, he took over the
editorial charge of the Bangadarshan-a periodical
founded by Bankimchandra-in its new series
and contributed to it his novel Chokher
Bali (Binodini in English)-being
the first psychological novel in any Indian
language-in serial instalments.
A series of disasters-in the shape of family
bereavements and chronic financial difficulties-followed
close on the heels of the newly started school.
His wife Mrinalini Devi died barely a year
after (1902) and Renuka the next year. Satischandra
Roy, a young man of unusual talents and one
of Rabindranaths devoted followers who
dedicated themselves to the work of the school,
died of smallpox at Santiniketan in 1904.
And then early in 1905, passed away his revered
father, the Maharshi who was like a guru to