Rabindranath Tagore was born in Calcutta, British India in May of 1861. Of the thirteen surviving children born to his parents, Tagore was the youngest. His parents Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi gave the care of their child over to their household servants. Tagore’s mother died when he was very young and his father was not present, spending most of his time traveling. The family was very esteemed within the Bengal renaissance. A period in India’s history noted for its outpouring of literature, theatre and music. These elements converged in the Tagore household.
Tagore was not the only one of his siblings who entered into the arts. His oldest brother was a philosopher and poet and another brother was a musician and playwright. One of his sisters also became a novelist. As a young boy Tagore did not have much interest in a traditional classroom education. He ended up being tutored by his brother who punished him if he refused to complete his work. Tagore gained an education in both Sanskrit and English. It was in 1877 that Tagore’s writing career began. He wore Bhikharini” or “The Beggar Woman.” This work is noted as the first of the Bengali-language short stories.
In 1878, Tagore was enrolled by his father in a public school in Brighton, East Sussex in England. He was unable to remain in one school for long, briefly reading law at University College London before leaving to study Shakespeare’s plays. Only two years later he returned to Bengal without a degree. It was this two year period in London that jump started Tagore love for literature. As well as his particular passion, fusing European and Brahmo traditions. He began publishing poems and stories. These works were locally extremely important but garnered little attention nationally or internationally.
Marriage and Literary Career
In 1883 he married a ten-year old girl, Mrinalini Devi. This was a common practice at the time and resulted in their having five children together. One of Tagore’s best-known works, Manasi, was soon published. This period also saw him move to manage his ancestral estates in what is today part of Bangladesh. His family had a great deal of property, making this a full-time job. His wife and children remained at his side. It was these years, ranging from 1891 to 1895 which were his most productive.
His large collection of stories, Galpaguchchha, was mostly completed during these years. Within Galpaguchchha he reflects upon his surroundings and on various intellectual concepts. The work contained eighty-four total stories.
Additionally, he became known for his writings regarding the lives of India’s poorest people. He examined their lives and portrayed them with great feeling such as had never been done before in Indian literature.
In 1901, he moved to Santiniketan where he intended to found an ashram. It was here that his wife and two of his children died. His book, Naivedya as published this same year. His father died four years later. At this point he began to receive monty payments from his inheritance. He also sold off properties and possessions belonging to his parents. In 1906 he published Kheya.
Noble Prize and Knighthood
In 1913, Tagore won the Novel Prize in Literature. He was later awarded a knighthood by King George V. This position did not last long. The poet renounced it after the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, an event which resulted in British troops firing on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in the Punjab region; several hundred people were killed. Two years later he worked alongside an agricultural economist to set up what would come to be called, “Abode of Welfare.”
Later Life and Death
Tagore’s next period of work ranges from 1932 to 1942, ending with his death. These years saw fifteen new volumes published. Including, Punashcha in 1932 and Patraput in 1936. His final years saw his interest turn to science. He published Visva-Parichay a collection of essays in 1937. Science also made its way into his poetry.
The final years of his life were filled with chronic pain. He lost consciousness in the later part of 1937 and remained comatose for a long period of time. A second similar spell occurred in 1940— this time though he did not recover. Tagore died in August of 1941 at the age of eighty.