Freedom is the essence of life
Freedom is the very essence of life, the life which is ever creating innumerable forms in line, and color, sound and movement, in our inner thoughts, in our outer actions and our physical environment [...] It is an insult to his humanity, if man fails to invoke in his mind a definite image of his own ideal self, of his ideal environment, which it is his mission to reproduce externally. It is the highest privilege of man to be able to live in his own creation. (R. Tagore, quoted in R. S. Kumar, ed., The Last Harvest, Ahmedabad, 2011, p. 22)
Rabindranath Tagore led by example. His approach to life, his graciousness, dignity, fearless universal humanism and true understanding of social responsibility is as inspiring and timely as it was during his lifetime. Today, the world remembers him primarily as the first Asian to win the Noble Prize in Literature in 1913. This achievement alone stands as testament for an extraordinary life, but Tagore was much more than a Noble Laureate -- he was the very embodiment of cultural awakening and is as much a national figure, influential in shaping modern India as Gandhi.
Tagore grew up in a family of reformers and patriots, his father Debendranath Tagore was a leader of the Brahmo Samaj and his family was famous for debating ideas on religion, politics and literature. Throughout his life he travelled extensively, exchanging ideas with the greatest minds of his time. Besides being a poet, he was a novelist, a writer of short stories and plays, a composer, an essayist, a philosopher and a painter. "Through his novels and plays, he connected his readers with the political and cultural issues of his time; through his music, he connected his listeners with nature and their own inner world; and as an activist, educationalist and environmentalist, he tried to change their attitude towards the world they lived in and tried to enhance their sense of human dignity." (R. S. Kumar, ed., The Last Harvest, Ahmedabad, 2011, p. 10)
Tagore's vision of the world is eloquently expressed in his poem "Where the mind has no fear" originally printed in the Gitanjali, his most famous collection of poems. For Tagore, as Amartya Sen explains, "[...] it was of the highest importance that people be able to live, and reason, in freedom. His attitudes toward politics and culture, nationalism and internationalism, tradition and modernity, can all be seen in the light of this belief.
His qualified support for nationalist movements-and his opposition to the unfreedom of alien rule-came from this commitment. So did his reservations about patriotism, which, he argued, can limit both the freedom to engage ideas from outside 'narrow domestic walls' and the freedom also to support the causes of people in other countries. Rabindranath's passion for freedom underlies his firm opposition to unreasoned traditionalism, which makes one a prisoner of the past (lost, as he put it, in 'the dreary desert sand of dead habit')." (A. Sen, 'Tagore and His India', as published at www.nobleprize.org)
First published in Bengali in 1910, the poems of Gitanjali were translated and later published in English in 1912-13 with the support of W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound. Tagore's concept of freedom awakened the world to a new consciousness, passionately described by Yates in his introduction, "I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics -- which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention -- display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes." (W. B. Yeats, 'Introduction', Gitanjali, London, 1913, pp. xiii-xiv)