The profound thought of Rabindranath Tagore on Indian history and his prose writings reflecting on a range of themes from the ancient to the
modern era have been brought out in this fine collection. Rabindranath was interested in the political, economic and constitutional progress of
India and his quest for knowledge of India’s past had flowed together touching upon various aspects of Indian culture and tradition. His early
writings wee dominated by nationalist impulse strongly advocating against the Eurocentric view of Indian history, but later he presented it very
objectively and sought the voice of reason. His view of the reconstruction of the history of India was although similar to the feeling of the then
many educated Indians, his historical consciousness had taken the form of an intensely personal vision of history. It is argued here that his view
of religion that meant a principle which united without enforcing uniformity is to be seen definitely as a very subjective approach to history.
However, his masterly creations include some very concrete problems of Indian history such as why the Sikh and the Maratha nationalism failed
to strike roots. Rabindranath had very neatly distinguished between the history of idea and the history of fact and pleaded for a change of
perspective which the nature of Indian history calls for. In this anthology Jeyaseela Stephen breaks a new ground and offers a unique insight into
the sensitive, versatile and brilliant mind of the poet that craved and sought to explain the foundations of Indian history in its own light.
Jeyaseela Stephen is Professor of History at Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan. He has held teaching and research appointments
at University of Nebraska, Lincoln City (1996) and University of Connecticut Storrs, (2004) USA. He was fellow of the Ecole Francaise
d’Extreme-Orient Paris/Pondicherry, (1994-1999); Editor of Revue Historique, (1995-1997); Senior Advisor to Tata Central Archives, Pune,
(2000-2001); Head of the Department of History, (2001-2004); Coordinator, UGC-SAP, (2004-2008). He is the author of numerous books on
maritime history of early modern India. He has own the best book prize of the year 1999 from the Government of Tamilnadu.
Preface and Acknowledgements
In 1973, my English teacher Rev. Ff. Mathew Vadacherry, SDB at the Don Bosco School introduction me to Gitanjali and Rabindranath Tagore.
It happened so that at almost the same time I also listened to a number of melodious songs of the poet being sung by the choir of St. Thomas
Cathedral, Mylapore in Chennai and by the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master convent there. I enjoyed both the music and the words. To my
memory, other than this, I did not have any knowledge about Rabindranath until I was gifted a book in Tamil (Ravindrar Kathai Thirattu, (Select
Essays of Tagore) translated by T N Senapati, M L J Press, Madras, 1964) on Rabindranath Tagore (still under my possession) when I was invited
for dinner by one of my friends.
In 2001 I joined Visva-Bharati as Professor of Maritime History and became interested in the institutional history and the poet.
During my free time I would visit the Rabindra Bhavana Archives to see the relevant original precious records. I would also pay visits to the
Central Library of Visva Bharati to collect and consult books and articles which supplied me a wealth of astonishing information.
A strong desire to know whether Rabindranath Tagore had a keen sense of history or not slowly gripped my mind. It directed me to
probe into his writings on World history and an Archivist, after working long hours in the Archives, was fully convinced that the Poet had a keen
interest in the study and methodology of writings history. His writings on Indian History, in the form of essays, lectures and addresses,
motivated me very much and I immediately collected the ones available (those which appeared during the lifetime of Rabindranath Tagore) in the
Rabindra Bhavana Archives. Absence of complete and accurate list of Rabindranath’s historical writings, coupled with my lack of fluency in
Bengali language, made the tracing of the various publications of the Poet’s historical writings rather difficult. Mrs Supriya Roy, Mr Santo
Sankar Dasgupta, Mr Dilip Kumar Hazra, Mr Tushar Kanti Singha, Mr Utpal Mitra, Mr Asis Hazra, and Miss Lachmi Gupta of the Rabindra
Bhavana Archives, besides Mr Ukil Roy from Rabindra Bhavana Library helped me immensely and their encouragement and support have been
spontaneous and generous. Otherwise I would never have been able to start my work. There was an urge in my mind to make a comprehensive
anthology and this prompted me to put together in a collection all the writings on Indian History with a critical study of the poet and his
As a compiler and editor, in preparing this collection of writings on Indian History by Rabindranath Tagore, I found it necessary to
retain the original versions either in Bengali or in English without modifying the lengths. Hence it has been ensured that reproduction of these
writings has been made as originally translated and published or composed by the poet. So far as the editorial intervention is concerned, changes
have been made to the minimum. It is a fact that the Poet’s articles had appeared in a variety of publications-research journals, magazines, annual
numbers, and dailies-wherein we find different systems of spelling, with or without diacritical marks. Hence spellings have been made to follow
one system without diacritical marks. Notes to the chapters and glossary were found necessary and have been added. The arrangement of the
Poet’s writings in the volume is not strictly in the chronological order of their publication, but, some sort of chronological order has been
maintained in the sections while the emphasis is chiefly on the thematic division of the articles for the convenience of the book.
This work originated in a project for which the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, made the necessary funds available
and so I would like to record my sincere thanks to the Council. During the last eight years, debts have been accumulated to a large number of
intellectuals, whose help and advice have been invaluable. Some friends and well-wishers provided inspiration, wise counsel and support that
were beneficial to the project. Many persons were good enough to give prompt replies to my numerous queries and they have wished to remain
anonymous. The staff at Rabindra Bhavana Archives, Santiniketan, The Central Library at Visva-Bharati, the National Library, Kolkata, and the
British Library, London, were extremely helpful. I am deeply indebted to the authorities of these institutions for I enjoyed their warm
hospitality. Prof. G Subbiah and Prof. Ajit Neogy in Santiniketan rendered encouragement for which I appreciate them. Dr R. Sathyanarayanan of
the French Institute, Pondicherry helped me in the transliteration of the Sanskrit quotation and related texts.
Finally I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr Rajasekhar and Mrs Kumudha Rajasekhar of Pondicherry for their
assistance in typing. I thank UBS Publishers’ Distributors Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi for neat production and publication. This book is an attempt to
show a way to a new future, firmly grounded in historical thinking. May the readers discover India and its history, adopt the message of
Rabindranath by understanding and following the same.
Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7 May 1861 at Jorasanko in Calcutta as the youngest of the seven sons of Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905),
whose family had enough zamindari-landed property and wealth acquired through business. Rabindranath’s grandfather Dwarkanath Tagore
(1794-1846) was one of the trustees of the Brahmo Samaj (Divine Society) and a personal friend of Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) who
founded the Brahmo Samaj in 1828 and established its first mandir in 1830. They sought to clean the orthodoxy and creeds of the caste ridden
Hindu society because it suffocated the spiritual life of the people. Dwarkanath was also the first Indian member of the Asiatic Society of
Bengal. Rabindranath’s father was a man deeply influenced by the thought of Upanishads. He was associated with the Brahmo Samaj and the gave
a new lead to the pioneers and reorganized it. Rabindranath, during his boyhood days, was very fortunate to be in the company of Rajnarain Bose,
the Brahmo Samaj leader who was dreaming of an independent India. When Rabindranath grew up he was sent to St. Xavier’s School in Calcutta
but left it at the age of thirteen. He revealed his first literary talent by publishing Abhilas (The Ambition), a poem, as early as in November 1874
in the Tattwabodhini Patrika. He recited in 1875 at the Hindu mela a patriotic poem of his own composition when he was fourteen. He was also
found to be arguing for issues such as the women’s rights in 1877. Rabindranath was later sent to England at the age of seventeen to study and
become a barrister. He left for Europe from Bombay on 20 September 1878 and lived there for eighteen months but returned to Calcutta in
1880 without fulfilling the ambition and dream of his father. Rabindranath married Mrinalini Devi in 1883. He began to engage himself in
writings and composed poems and dramas.
In Bengal many of the educated people at that time had little interest in the study of Sanskrit literature. They were more familiar with
the classics of Europe than with those of their own country. Rabindranath made a diligent study of the Indian epics and the works of Kalidasa,
Banabhatta and other poets of ancient India. In his memoirs Rabindranath recollects how the recitations from Kalidasa’s Meghadut during the
rainy days attracted and impressed him. He could not follow the lines but the words, the sheer rhetoric, left a permanent imprint on his mind.
Later, he got hold of a copy of Kumar Sambhava and recited some stanzas by himself. He particularly liked the two words Mandakin’
tnirjhara-nikara and Kwnpitodebadaru which literally stole his heart.
We find interesting details of Rabindranath’s early reading habits His memory goes back to the days of reading a Bengali translation
of the Chankaya Sloka. He recalls the names of the other books that he read with the help of his father such as Rju Patha, Part II, and a section
from Sanskrit texts by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891). His first acquaintance with the original Valmiki Ramayana also happened to be
at this time and the book was titled Kaikaeyi Dasaratha-Sambada.
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