Sri. Rabindranath Tagore’s Supra-mental Philosophy in Gitanjali Aiding the creation of the unique identity – Dr Sandhya Tiwari, Hyderabad

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Tagore, a great exponent of divinity in man, explained in Gitanjali, “Song Offerings”, how mankind can be united by the religious bond of love and compassion. In the pattern of rhythmic prose, Gitanjali reveals Tagore’s tremendous intellectual depth and variety. It exhorts people to liberate themselves from vanity and hunger for power. He asserts that spiritual bond of love and worship should ultimately culminate in service to humanity. The poet considers everyday activities are service to God. His work resonates the philosophy of Upanishads, Gita, Vaishnavism, Brahmosamaj, Bauls etc. Though the impressions of such and thoughts must have shaped his persona, his devout humanism is not borrowed and it is this distinct quality of Tagore’s work, which has won universal appeal irrespective of caste, creed, gender, race etc. His assertion in God, the Supreme Being is neither a creed nor a philosophy but a practical and realistic way of looking at the world with a pure soul.

Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Vol. 8) emphasizing Tagore’s intelligent sense of balance puts it – combining “the best insights of humanists… and of otherworldly seekers; of naturalists… and extreme partisans of spirit; of determinists and defenders of free will; of hedonists and ascetics; and of romantics and realists” (75) and seek to explain away his reputation as an Oriental sage. Bracketing away Tagore’s spiritual outpourings may lead us to ignore the essential aspects of his philosophy, which is purely related to every other aspect of his vast output, and indeed the natural metaphor itself is central to his worldview.

The very opening line of Gitanjali reflects the inner harmony that the poet has experienced. The words are an outburst endeavouring to articulate the intense pleasure that the poetic experience has conferred upon him:

“Thou hast made me endless such is thy pleasure”.


‘Thy’ here becomes poetic inspiration itself and ‘thou’, the one who inspires. Anyone is bound to be ecstatic if his prayers are answered. We see the poet here starting at the peak of inspiration. He experiences eternity for in a state of eternity only a single entity exists and articulates this oneness that he has experienced by means of language- articulate abstract, extra-sensory. Tagore elated experiences divinity, as a humble being who is completely aware of the all-encompassing spirit of the divine being. In a state of wonder, awe and admiration there is no room for the poet’s vanity to exist when he is subject to the ‘grandeur of divine inspiration’.

My poet’s vanity dies in shame before thy sight. O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet. Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.”

It is said it takes moral courage to accept truth as it stands. The poet here confesses how his own vanity vanishes when he realizes that in no way he can surpass the ‘master’ poet, and he desires to surrender at his feet and earnestly emulate Him. The Supreme Being, the master poet, is one single entity, who bestows poetic inspiration upon man is a poet himself, his creation being the universe. The poet is only an instrument, like a flute, and it is the divine giver of inspiration who fills it with music. The poet knows that it is only as an instrument that he must ideally come before his master’s presence:

“I know that thou takest pleasure in my singing. I know that only as a singer I come before thy presence.”

Also note these lines:

“I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement.

The light of thy music illumines the world. The life breath of thy music runs from sky to sky. The holy stream of thy music breaks through all stony obstacles and rushes on.

My heart longs to join in thy song, but vainly struggles for a voice. I would speak, but speech breaks not into song, and I cry out baffled. Ah, thou hast made me captive in the endless meshes of thy music.”

Nirad C. Chaudhuri, in an essay, Identifies Tagore as a combination of mystic and humanist, and explains it thus: “in the history of Hindu religious creeds, and particularly in certain folk cults, which have held sway among the Indian masses in the last three or four centuries, there is evidence of an intense faith in supramundane life going hand in hand with a child-like clinging to mortal existence. Even mendicants with their backs turned on the world and going about with the beggar’s bowl have sung with poignant conviction about the value of life, and with equally poignant regret of its transience. In Tagore’s work combined mysticism and humanism, one often detects insistent notes of these folk creeds”. (Chaudhuri, The East is East and the West is West 10).

The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore – (Asiatic, Vol. 4, No. 1, June 2010 32)

All that is harsh and dissonant in my life melts into one sweet harmony- and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird on its flight across.”

Tagore believed that God, nature and man required one another, that the eternal diversity of forms in nature was crucial to the Supreme Being’s self realization that between the Supreme Being and each individual’s self sustains a cherished and personal relationship of liveliness which was boundless giving meaning to both. God, Nature and Man shared a supramental concord in which each retained its distinctive individuality.

According to Tagore God being all pervasive was present in mind, body and action. Therefore it is imperative, if a man wants to satisfy the nobility of being born as a higher order species, to stay pure in thought and action. It is pertinent to consider Tagore’s mystical experiences in relation to the tradition of Indian mysticism. The Indian conception of “ultimate” reality (i.e. Brahman in its cosmic aspect and the atman in its personal aspect) has its origins in “Hindu infancy” (Kakar, The Inner World 128). Kakar identifies mysticism as “the mainstream of Hindu religiosity,” so that “a Hindu mystic is… normally quite uninhibited in expressing his views and does not have to be on his guard lest these views run counter to the officially-interpreted orthodoxy” (Kakar, The Analyst and the Mystic 3).

To Tagore, God’s presence can be experienced in the realm of everyday experiences, more than at conceptual level of understanding. Tagore himself records that his childhood was spent in a state of communion with nature: Almost every morning in the early hour of the dusk, I would run out from my bed in a great hurry to greet the first pink flush of the dawn through the shivering branches of the palm trees which stood in a line along the garden boundary, while the grass glistened as the dew-drops caught the earliest tremor of the morning breeze. The sky seemed to bring to me the call of personal companionship, and all my heart – my whole body in fact – used to drink in at a draught the overflowing light and peace of those silent hours….

I felt a larger meaning of my own self when the barrier vanished between me and what was beyond my self. (The English Writings, Vol. 2, 590)

William Rothenstein first read Tagore’s manuscript of Gitanjali with W.B.Yeats as the editor responsible for selecting and arranging sent it to Tagore with the comment, “…we are not moved because of its strangeness but because we have met our own image…….” The Portuguese translator of Gitanjali says “…Tagore still shows us the future: the day when each human being will finally be able to exclaim in ecstasy –“Thus it is that thou hast come down to me. O thou Lord of all Heavens, where would be thy love if I were not?” (2003:285)

In conclusion the vision and philosophy of existence of Rabindranath Tagore finds expression in Gitanjali etched with universal appeal. It is an indicator of the need for introspection and inner journey. Apart from having great aesthetic appeal, Gitanjali projects his deep understanding and the subsequent vision about the immense possibilities and potentialities of attaining sublime ideals in ones life. He asserts this attainment is the beginning of human beings emancipation beyond the self and societal bonds. In the present materialistic world where people are drifting away into vanities leading an aimless life of transient pursuits, Tagore monumental work brings with it the rays of robust outlook and positive attitude to architect a society “where the mind is without fear where the head is held high, where knowledge is free….into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.” (LXXX111,55)

Tagore, a great exponent of divinity in man, explained in Gitanjali, “Song Offerings”, how mankind can be united by the religious bond of love and compassion. In the pattern of rhythmic prose, Gitanjali reveals Tagore’s tremendous intellectual depth and variety. It exhorts people to liberate themselves from vanity and hunger for power. He asserts that spiritual bond of love and worship should ultimately culminate in service to humanity. The poet considers everyday activities are service to God. His work resonates the philosophy of Upanishads, Gita, Vaishnavism, Brahmosamaj, Bauls etc. Though the impressions of such and thoughts must have shaped his persona, his devout humanism is not borrowed and it is this distinct quality of Tagore’s work, which has won universal appeal irrespective of caste, creed, gender, race etc. His assertion in God, the Supreme Being is neither a creed nor a philosophy but a practical and realistic way of looking at the world with a pure soul.

Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Vol. 8) emphasizing Tagore’s intelligent sense of balance puts it – combining “the best insights of humanists… and of otherworldly seekers; of naturalists… and extreme partisans of spirit; of determinists and defenders of free will; of hedonists and ascetics; and of romantics and realists” (75) and seek to explain away his reputation as an Oriental sage. Bracketing away Tagore’s spiritual outpourings may lead us to ignore the essential aspects of his philosophy, which is purely related to every other aspect of his vast output, and indeed the natural metaphor itself is central to his worldview.

The very opening line of Gitanjali reflects the inner harmony that the poet has experienced. The words are an outburst endeavouring to articulate the intense pleasure that the poetic experience has conferred upon him:

“Thou hast made me endless such is thy pleasure”.


‘Thy’ here becomes poetic inspiration itself and ‘thou’, the one who inspires. Anyone is bound to be ecstatic if his prayers are answered. We see the poet here starting at the peak of inspiration. He experiences eternity for in a state of eternity only a single entity exists and articulates this oneness that he has experienced by means of language- articulate abstract, extra-sensory. Tagore elated experiences divinity, as a humble being who is completely aware of the all-encompassing spirit of the divine being. In a state of wonder, awe and admiration there is no room for the poet’s vanity to exist when he is subject to the ‘grandeur of divine inspiration’.

My poet’s vanity dies in shame before thy sight. O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet. Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.”

It is said it takes moral courage to accept truth as it stands. The poet here confesses how his own vanity vanishes when he realizes that in no way he can surpass the ‘master’ poet, and he desires to surrender at his feet and earnestly emulate Him. The Supreme Being, the master poet, is one single entity, who bestows poetic inspiration upon man is a poet himself, his creation being the universe. The poet is only an instrument, like a flute, and it is the divine giver of inspiration who fills it with music. The poet knows that it is only as an instrument that he must ideally come before his master’s presence:

“I know that thou takest pleasure in my singing. I know that only as a singer I come before thy presence.”

Also note these lines:

“I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement.

The light of thy music illumines the world. The life breath of thy music runs from sky to sky. The holy stream of thy music breaks through all stony obstacles and rushes on.

My heart longs to join in thy song, but vainly struggles for a voice. I would speak, but speech breaks not into song, and I cry out baffled. Ah, thou hast made me captive in the endless meshes of thy music.”

Nirad C. Chaudhuri, in an essay, Identifies Tagore as a combination of mystic and humanist, and explains it thus: “in the history of Hindu religious creeds, and particularly in certain folk cults, which have held sway among the Indian masses in the last three or four centuries, there is evidence of an intense faith in supramundane life going hand in hand with a child-like clinging to mortal existence. Even mendicants with their backs turned on the world and going about with the beggar’s bowl have sung with poignant conviction about the value of life, and with equally poignant regret of its transience. In Tagore’s work combined mysticism and humanism, one often detects insistent notes of these folk creeds”. (Chaudhuri, The East is East and the West is West 10).

The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore – (Asiatic, Vol. 4, No. 1, June 2010 32)

All that is harsh and dissonant in my life melts into one sweet harmony- and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird on its flight across.”

Tagore believed that God, nature and man required one another, that the eternal diversity of forms in nature was crucial to the Supreme Being’s self realization that between the Supreme Being and each individual’s self sustains a cherished and personal relationship of liveliness which was boundless giving meaning to both. God, Nature and Man shared a supramental concord in which each retained its distinctive individuality.

According to Tagore God being all pervasive was present in mind, body and action. Therefore it is imperative, if a man wants to satisfy the nobility of being born as a higher order species, to stay pure in thought and action. It is pertinent to consider Tagore’s mystical experiences in relation to the tradition of Indian mysticism. The Indian conception of “ultimate” reality (i.e. Brahman in its cosmic aspect and the atman in its personal aspect) has its origins in “Hindu infancy” (Kakar, The Inner World 128). Kakar identifies mysticism as “the mainstream of Hindu religiosity,” so that “a Hindu mystic is… normally quite uninhibited in expressing his views and does not have to be on his guard lest these views run counter to the officially-interpreted orthodoxy” (Kakar, The Analyst and the Mystic 3).

To Tagore, God’s presence can be experienced in the realm of everyday experiences, more than at conceptual level of understanding. Tagore himself records that his childhood was spent in a state of communion with nature: Almost every morning in the early hour of the dusk, I would run out from my bed in a great hurry to greet the first pink flush of the dawn through the shivering branches of the palm trees which stood in a line along the garden boundary, while the grass glistened as the dew-drops caught the earliest tremor of the morning breeze. The sky seemed to bring to me the call of personal companionship, and all my heart – my whole body in fact – used to drink in at a draught the overflowing light and peace of those silent hours….

I felt a larger meaning of my own self when the barrier vanished between me and what was beyond my self. (The English Writings, Vol. 2, 590)

William Rothenstein first read Tagore’s manuscript of Gitanjali with W.B.Yeats as the editor responsible for selecting and arranging sent it to Tagore with the comment, “…we are not moved because of its strangeness but because we have met our own image…….” The Portuguese translator of Gitanjali says “…Tagore still shows us the future: the day when each human being will finally be able to exclaim in ecstasy –“Thus it is that thou hast come down to me. O thou Lord of all Heavens, where would be thy love if I were not?” (2003:285)

In conclusion the vision and philosophy of existence of Rabindranath Tagore finds expression in Gitanjali etched with universal appeal. It is an indicator of the need for introspection and inner journey. Apart from having great aesthetic appeal, Gitanjali projects his deep understanding and the subsequent vision about the immense possibilities and potentialities of attaining sublime ideals in ones life. He asserts this attainment is the beginning of human beings emancipation beyond the self and societal bonds. In the present materialistic world where people are drifting away into vanities leading an aimless life of transient pursuits, Tagore monumental work brings with it the rays of robust outlook and positive attitude to architect a society “where the mind is without fear where the head is held high, where knowledge is free….into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.” (LXXX111,55)

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