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Rabindranath Tagore

(1861—1941) poet and educationist

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Indian writer, who was awarded the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1915 he was knighted but repudiated the honour in protest against the Amritsar Massacre (1919).

Tagore was born into a distinguished Bengali family in Calcutta; his father was the Maharishi Debendranath Tagore, the Hindu reformer and mystic. Privately educated, he read Bengali and English poets and wrote poetry from an early age. In 1877 he went to England to study law but soon returned, married (1883), and undertook the management of his family's estates. By the early 1890s he was the chief contributor to leading Bengali journals. He also published his first poetic collections – Manasi (1890), Chitra (1895), and Sonar Tari (1895), in which he pioneered the use of colloquial Bengali instead of the archaic literary idiom then approved for verse, and wrote his first plays.

In 1901 he founded Shantiniketan at Bolpur near Calcutta: this famous educational establishment was a blend of traditional ashram and western schools. His best novel, Gora, appeared in 1908 and his most famous collection of lyrics, Gitanjali, followed in 1909. The King of the Dark Chamber (1910) is one of his most successful dramas, though generally his plays were too symbolic and literary to exert a lasting influence. On a visit to England (1912) Tagore showed his own English version of Gitanjali to William Rothenstein and W. B. Yeats, under whose auspices it was published in England. Lecture tours in the USA (1912–13) and Britain (1913) followed; Tagore was hailed as a sage and lionized in western intellectual circles.

Tagore used his Nobel Prize money to improve Shantiniketan, adding an agricultural school (1914). He continued writing, with the lyric collection Balaka appearing in 1914 and the novel Home and the World in 1916. Not naturally drawn to politics, he shunned active resistance to British rule, seeking instead ways of harmonizing eastern and western world views. To this end he added an international university to the Shantiniketan complex (1921) and divided the rest of his life mainly between its affairs and travelling abroad on lecture tours. He sought to interpret Indian philosophy to other cultures. His 1930 Hibbert Lectures at Oxford were published as The Religion of Man (1931).

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Works by Rabindranath Tagore