Social Background of Rabindranath Tagore's Era

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Age of Rapid Changes:

      The age of Tagore was the era of changes and activities. There were a lot of intellectual, cultural and national activities. The period of (1860-1880) represents the Bengali Renaissance in its full tide. It was an age when India was beginning to respond to new influences from the West, an age of transition from the old to the new, an age in which man of genius like Tagore, came in the lime-light.

British came to India and, with them, brought the queue of transitions. The establishment of various schools and colleges by the Christian missionaries, who also arranged for the western influence on Indian soil. The young Tagore grew up, as a matter of fact, in an atmosphere thick with western influence. All his long life Tagore was deeply interested in and in close touch with goings on in western countries, which he visited several times. His prose essays, his criticisms, his reminiscences, travel diaries and correspondence, and his translations reveal an extensive acquaintance with and a profound appreciation of the intellectual heritage of the west. His visits to Germany, Sweden and a number of other cosmopolitan culture in an Indian framework that he tried to build up in later years at the Visva-Bharati. In March 1924 after his visit to South America, he dedicated his poetry to her, whom he called Vijaya. Some other examples of foreign influence on him are The Religion of Man, The Manchester Guardian vehemently criticising fascism.
Rabindranath Tagore


British Rule - The Beginning of Changes:

      British came to India and, with them, brought the queue of transitions. The establishment of various schools and colleges by the Christian missionaries, who also arranged for the western influence on Indian soil. The young Tagore grew up, as a matter of fact, in an atmosphere thick with western influence. All his long life Tagore was deeply interested in and in close touch with goings on in western countries, which he visited several times. His prose essays, his criticisms, his reminiscences, travel diaries and correspondence, and his translations reveal an extensive acquaintance with and a profound appreciation of the intellectual heritage of the west. His visits to Germany, Sweden and a number of other cosmopolitan culture in an Indian framework that he tried to build up in later years at the Visva-Bharati. In March 1924 after his visit to South America, he dedicated his poetry to her, whom he called Vijaya. Some other examples of foreign influence on him are The Religion of Man, The Manchester Guardian vehemently criticising fascism.

      Brahmo Samaj: Raja Ram Mohan Roy an enlightened man of genius, opposed idolatry, Sati, child marriage and a number of other social abuses. He founded Brahmo Samaj, and became the first Indian to visit England. He had a wide following and caused religious social and cultural ferment in Bengal. After his death the work of Brahmo Samaj was carried by Tagore family. Later the foundation of the Adi Brahmo Samaj brought the most dominating influences Bengali social and religious life. The Brahmo Samaj was based on tne philosophy of Upanishad and monotheism of Islam. It started the movement against the orthodoxy, narrowness and evil tradition of the Hindu religion. The influence of Brahmo Samaj can be seen in his writings The worship of "One true God' the Unsearchable, Eternal and Immutable being, who is the author and preserver of the Universe is one of the teachings of Brahmo Samaj depicted in Tagore's writing as in Gitanjali (1910). Other teachings of criticism of casteism, untouchability, idol-worship all are worked upon by Tagore to reform these social injustice and taught the true 'religion of man' - humanism.

Reaction Against the Western Influences:

      Due to Western influences there was much free thinking which was rather negative in its religions conclusions. The result was a reaction. There was a movement for the revival of Hinduism. Nalin Sen, the poet, has a prominent place in this reaction against Western influence. In the Battle of Plassey he made a powerful appeal to patriotic emotions. Bankim Chandra Chatterji, "the Scott of Bengal", also lent his support to this neo-Hindu movement. This movement was also taken up by Ramkrishna Paramhansa and his famous disciple Vivekananda. Swami Dayanand founded the Arya-Samaj. Thus there were movements and counter movements, much freedom of thinking and aping of western models, and reaction against it. Bengal was on march. The old order was disintegrating and the new was yet to be born. Tagore was really lucky at the time of his birth.

Rise of Nationalism:

      Bankim Chandra was the man who marched first with the flame of national pride, and patriotism. He filled the Bengal and then whole India with the feeling of nationalism. His art, his song worked as a inspiration to grow the political and cultural consciousness in the Bengal. But under his patriotic zeal he forgot about the harmful effects of old Hindu Institutions and prejudices, under the appeal of nationalism was growing up the orthodoxy. Tagore, along with Brahmo Samaj criticized Bankim's attitude of social reform. In Bengali journal Sadhana came out the words of criticism, denouncing Bankim's orthodoxy. Stil Bankim was in praiseworthy words of Tagore's due to his spirit of national pride, steadfast patriotism and zeal of patriotism gave birth to numerous secret societies pledged to secure independence for India as a step to its cultural and spiritual regeneration. A secret society called Sanjivan-Sabha was founded by Rabindranath's elder brother Jyotirindranath with the object of training young men to work for India's political emancipation. The main objects of this Sabha, where the members had to pledge with the sign of their own blood, were the promotion of Indian industry like spinning, weaving and small-scale cottage manufacture and encouragement of physical culture including hunting. Another institution Hindu Mela, April (1867) promoted the literature and art to bring about Indian reawakening. In some of the meetings Rabindranath read many of his national songs. His brother also an activist in nationalism, Satyendranath wrote the popular-song "Victory of India". These Tagore brothers were a part of this atmosphere of fiery, bookish patriotism. Few other movements of nationalism took form of the Indian National Congress, which was founded in 1885 for securing self-government. The activists like Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Paul advocated boycott of British goods, state universities and government institutions along with the foundation of national schools and colleges and promotion of native industry. Rabindranath Tagore was drawn to the politics, under this influence, wrote in support of national education and native industry and again begging for political regrets, as preached by the members of Indian National Congress.

Partition of Bengal:

      The partition of Bengal (1905) caused tremendous upheaval in the whole country. The Swadeshi Movement began as a protest against this monstrous act of injustice and soon developed into a national movement for Swaraj. Rabindranath took an active part in the movement and soon was in the very front of it. He lectured, toured extensively and organised processions. But he could not see eye to eye with the Indian politicians, and soon it was clear that there was a wider divergence between them. He stressed village uplift, eradication of the caste system, and removal of poverty, ignorance and other social evils. The others did not share his views and the result was he withdrew from politics and sought peace in his Shantiniketan.

Tagore's Further Activities

Rowlatt Bill:-

      The article published by Tagore in his resentment against the imprisonment by Government of Madras of Mrs. Annie Basant was an applauding deed. In 1918, Mahatma Gandhi protested against the Rowlatt Bill recommended by Mr Montagu and Lord Chelmsford for dealing with treason against the government. The Hartal declared by Gandhiji aroused public opinion against the measures and the violence broke out with uncontrollable jury. There was much loss of life as the jury of general mass was suppressed by Punjab Government. Tagore was filled with anger because of this tragedy and renounced the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and in an open letter criticized him for such bloody conflict.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre:-

      On 13th April 1919, Amritsar witnessed the cries and bloodshed of about 400 people who were killed by the orders of General Dyer. No information was given by the newspaper under the restriction of government. No one dared to raise his voice against this but Tagore's letter of resentment and renouncement of his Knight-hood brought him into the lime light. Later the arrest of Gandhiji in 1932 on 5th January, he expressed his indignation in his moving poem The Evil Day.

Other Influences:-

      The bereavement which Tagore suffered in his life were more than an ordinary man's share. The death of his wife, his partner in his visions and worries died in 1902, then his father in 1905 and then a train of griefs came to him in form of the death of his three children one by one. Such tragedy gave him a philosophic column of mind and he learnt a new lesson of accepting death as a part of the rhythm of life.

Conclusion

      All these happenings including cultural and national upheaval, renaissance, shaking of the roots of old cultural and political stagnation, slavery and the tragic elements in his life carved him as a great philosopher, patriot, nationalist, mystic, courageous and bold literary man of his era.

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