Poet Rabindranath Tagore’s collection of verses, “Gitanjali” was the subject of an important event at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on Thursday. The Nobel laureate who was born in Calcutta, British India in 1861 was honored for the universal messages of mutual respect, cross-cultural understanding, tolerance, and harmony. Abulkalam Abdul Momen, the Vice-President of the General Assembly referred to Tagore’s poems and music as very much like that for “self-enrichment, purification, and salvation.”
The United Nations Department of Public Information’s Academic Impact initiative has organized an ongoing series with the purpose of bringing together experts from leading New York institutions for an exchange of ideas with senior officials of the UN. This event was part of the series.
Tributes in verse and song
Representatives from nations around the world, including India, South Korea, Japan, China, France and Argentina performed a variety of interpretive lingual expressions of the poet’s work. Singer Bangali Rizwana Chowdhury Bonnya, an associate Professor at Dhaka University sang a few lines of Tagore’s poem entitled “Endless, you have made me.”
Rabindranath Tagore was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. It was the first time in history that a non-European poet from Asia was given the prize for his “consummate skill.” He was praised by the Awards committee for his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse.” The Nobel selection committee lauds the way he has expressed his poetic words in English making his work a significant part of Western literature.
Vice President Momen who also hails from South Asia praised Tagore and called him a role model. He added that the poet’s “firm stance against communalism and all forms of fanaticism” is a reminder to all of the importance of vigilance and unity as humanity rejects all forms of injustice, bigotry, and violence. Mr. Momen quoted Rabindranath Tagore: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
Among the many initiatives that Tagore, the poet engaged in during his lifetime were artistic endeavors. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan in West Bengal, India. This academic institution was intended to become a place where teachers and students from the East and West would learn from each other, engage in the pursuit of truth together in a place where there is no clash of civilization. This institution is often referred to as Tagore’s life’s work.
A valued ambassador of Indian culture
Rabindranath Tagore was not just a poet and writer. He was also a philosopher and considered an important ambassador of the culture of his native India to the world. Aside from poetry, his talent in writing encompassed a wide range of styles including dramas, short stories, novels, essays and articles. He was also a painter. Tagore was a great humanitarian and a patriot. His compositions were the sources of the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh.
Tagore died on August 7, 1941 in Calcutta, a year after being bestowed the prestigious distinction of a Doctorate of Literature from Oxford University.
Photo Credit: Rabindranath Tagore