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Tagore’s Universalism

By Pratap Chandra Chunder

Continued from last issue…

At meeting held in the United States of America, Tagore said, India had never had a real sense of nationalism even though from the childhood I had been taught that idolatry of the Nation is almost better than God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching and it is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain their India by fighting against the education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.

Yet in his celebrated address on the crisis of civilization, Tagore, the Nationalist, exclaimed: In India the misfortune of being governed by a foreign race is daily brought home to us not only in the callous neglect of such minimum necessities of life as adequate provisions for food, clothing, education and medical facilities of the people, but even in an unhappier form in the way people have been divided among themselves.

There is no inherent conflict between Tagore’s universalism and nationalism. His nation is a part of the universe and if there is exploitation and oppression within the smaller circle of the Nation the universal poet cannot but protest, as he had stood by the oppressed people elsewhere and recorded his strong denunciation.

In conclusion, Tagore’s universalism comprised the idea of the fundamental unity of man in spite of diversities and was placed on a spiritual and cultural plane. Not that he was not opposed to political, social or cultural exploitation, but also spiritual ethos was uppermost in his mind. Tagore passed away in 1941 in the midst of traumatic horrors of the Second World War. He did not live to see the explosion of atom bombs in Japan. The United Nations Organisation was set up in 1945. Its preamble contains its primary objectives inter alia “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and nations large and small, To practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours” and so on. Similar aspirations had been aired by Tagore during his time. Whereas Tagore raised these aspirations to the spiritual plane, the UNO laid its objectives on the institutional structure. Human right is said to be protected by international law but its rampant violation is the order of the day. European Union, European Parliament and Court of Justice take away a part of the sovereignty of nations in the greater interest of the international community.

Nationalism is subdued as Tagore wanted it to be. But the world today witnesses a strange struggle between centripetal and centrifugal forces. While on the one hand states are sought to be brought under one international umbrella, on the other hand large states such as the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and so on are broken up into pieces. Sub-nationalism, ruthless and militant, overshadows the older brand of nationalism. Fundamentalism has raised its fangs in many countries.

Tagore’s universalism is a far cry. Yet let us agree with him that “it is a sin to lose faith in Man”.


  1. Rabindranath Tagore, Centenary Volume, Sahitya Akademi, 1961
  2. Rabindra Vidusan ltivritta, Aditya Ohdedar, Calcutta 1986
  3. Bangiya Sahitya Parisad Patrika, 66th year Nos. 3-4
  4. The Religion of Man, Tagore, London 1931.
  5. Radha Krishna Reader, Bombay, 1990
  6. Rabindranath Tagore, 125th Birth Anniversary Volume, Govt. of West Bengal. 1988.
  7. Rabindra Rachanavali, Centenary edition, Vol. 12
  8. Great Indians, Radhakrishna, 1949

Courtesy : Natun Bharat

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