Born in a Bengali family on May 7, 1861, he evolved into a towering personality. He was a genius from his very childhood. At an early age of 16, he published his first poetry book under pseudo name ‘Bhanusimha’. He continued to refine his poetry and over time, placed himself in the category of world class poets and writers. He wrote over a thousand poems, eight volumes of short stories, eight novels, over two dozen plays, a large number of essays and 2,230 songs.
His most famous works include Gitanjali, Gora, Ghara Bare, Yogayog and Dak Ghar. Most of his works have been translated in all the major languages of the world. He also excelled in music and painting. His genre of music earned its own brand known as ‘Rabindra Sangeet’. The quality of his writing is reflected in the fact that the National Anthems of India and Bangladesh were written by him. Given his enormous contribution to literature and culture, he is aptly described as the Father of Bengali Renaissance.
Tagore left a lasting imprint on well-known literary figures of his time. His admirers include Robert Frost, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Albert Einstein, William Yeats, Romain Rolland, Pablo Neruda, Gabriella Mistral, Octavio Paz, Jose Ortega and Juan Ramon Jimenez. During his visit to Iran, he was hosted by Reza Shah Pahlavi.
The depth and popularity of his poetry was recognized in 1913 when he was bestowed the Nobel Prize in literature and became the first Nobel Laureate in Literature outside Europe. His mesmerizing personality, flowing hair and spiritual thinking earned him a prophet-like reputation around the world.
Tagore was not only a writer and a poet; he was also a great philosopher and a spiritual thinker. He delivered learned discourses on philosophical issues based on the Vedas and the Upanishads. His family’s association with Arya Samaj enriched his contemplation on philosophical thoughts.
It was Tagore who coined the name ‘Mahatma’ for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and since then, Gandhi has been known as ‘Mahatma Gandhi’. Similarly, for his spiritual teachings, Tagore is popularly known as ‘Gurudev’. He hated class-room schooling and wanted to revive ancient Indian Guru-Shishya Parampara (teacher-disciple system). He was far ahead of his time and firmly believed in pluralism, diversity, democracy and tolerance.
Tagore also opposed imperialism and supported the Indian Independence Movement. He saw British Rule in India as a political symptom of a social disease. He renounced his knighthood to protest against the infamous Jalianwala Bagh massacre. These personal beliefs and values are well reflected in many of his writings. In order to realize his scholarly, artistic and spiritual pursuits, he established ‘Vishva Bharati University’ in Shantiniketan near Kolkata, which continues to be a place of excellence and learning. Connecting India with the rest of the world remains one of the principal objectives of this university.
Tagore was also a prolific traveler. In those times, more than a century ago, he travelled to over 30 countries on five continents. During his travels abroad, he left a deep imprint on poets, writer and literary critics around the world. During one of his visits to Europe, Tagore arrived in Budapest on October 26, 1926 and stayed in Hungary for almost three weeks.
Tagore and sanatorium medical director Ferenc Schmidt
During his stay, he was invited for lectures, discussions and artistic programs.
This enabled him to interact closely with the artistic and cultural personalities in Hungary, leaving an indelible mark on all of them. His visit received extensive coverage in the local press, particularly in Pesti Hírlap and Magyar Hírlap. Due to the deterioration of his health, he was hospitalized in Balatonfüred for recovery of his heart ailment at the invitation of Dr. Frigyes Korányi who gave his utmost attention to Tagore.
Apart from the medical treatment, he received tremendous love and affection of Hungarian people, which enabled him to recover quickly. Love, warmth and goodwill showered by Hungarians left a lasting impression on the poet. Ferenc Zajti, Prof. Gyula Germanus, Ervin Baktay, Gyula Pekár, Dezső Kosztolányi, Béla Bartók and many others became close friends of Tagore during his short stay in Hungary. Soon after the visit, most of Tagore’s works were translated into Hungarian language by Hungarian scholars.
Welcoming Hungarians in India
Some of these scholars travelled to Shantiniketan. Elizabeth Sass-Brunner and her daughter, who traveled to India following a mysterious dream, stayed at Shantiniketan for two years. Subsequently, they made India their home for the rest of their lives and became symbols of Indo-Hungarian artistic history. Before his departure from Balatonfüred on November 8, 1926, Tagore planted a linden tree and wrote the following words expressing his profound admiration for Hungarian people:
“I am planting this tree in resemblance of my stay here, for nowhere else I was given what I received here. It was more than hospitality. It was the awakening of the feelings of kinship. I sense that I have come to the land of a nation which is emotionally akin to India”.
While the tree planted by Tagore has grown strong and tall; simultaneously, it has also nurtured Indo-Hungarian relations. The Indian nation is particularly grateful to the Hungarian people for naming the main avenue in Balatonfüred after Tagore and for the installation of his bust there. This is reflective of their love not only for Tagore but for India as a whole.
Balatonfüred is a 'must-see'
Over decades, Balatonfüred has turned into a place of pilgrimage for Indian dignitaries visiting Hungary. It is similar to Darjeeling in India where legendary Hungarian Indologist Sándor Kőrösi Csoma was laid to rest. Many visiting Presidents and Prime Ministers, including Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, Dr. Zakir Hussain, Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Mr. Rajiv Gandhi have planted trees at this very place, which are flourishing – as do our bilateral ties.
We are privileged to inherit this historical legacy which continues to nurture artistic, cultural and political contacts between our two nations. It is, therefore, natural that the Government of India chose Hungary as the venue for an international conference on Tagore to commemorate his 150th birth anniversary. I am grateful to Hungarian artists who came together to contribute 27 marvelous paintings to pay tribute to this legendary scholar.
I am particularly indebted to ELTE University for providing venue and logistic support for the conference held on March 19-20, 2012. Tagore, like Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, is truly a symbol of Indo-Hungarian ties.