Rabindranath Tagore: His Religious View Especially For Islam

. 8/8/12

 By Mohammad Aleem

It has been a widely accepted truth that God created mankind and all other beings on the earth and in the heavens. But many among us also don’t believe in it and form our different opinion regarding it. But what writers and poets of world repute think about it is always a fascinating and intriguing thing to look into. I am here talking about our world poet, Rabindranath Tagore who not only confessed time and again that he was a religious and spiritual person but also had some firm and unique views regarding his religious believes. Rabindranath Tagore was a widely read poet and had travelled far all over the globe. He had been in contact with almost people of every faith. Being an Indian he had seen many religions coming and flourishing in the long period of its history. He was a native of Bengal where most of the population consisted of Hindus and Muslims. Christians were also a part of that greater confluence of religion and culture. But it will be interesting to note what his views of religion were finally. I quote here from one of his greatly admired essays, the religion of an artist, he says:
“I was born in 1861. This is not an important date in history, but it belongs to a great epoch in Bengal, when the currents of the three movements had met in the life of our great country. One of these, the religious, was introduced by a great hearted man of gigantic intelligence, Raja Ram Mohan Roy. It was revolutionary, for he tried to reopen the channel of spiritual life which had been obstructed for many years by the sands and debris of creeds that were formal and materialistic, fixed in the external practices lacking spiritual significance.”1

Rabindranath Tagore always took Raja Rammohan Roy as his role model and followed his path religiously and very dedicatedly. Not only he but his father was also greatly influenced by that great thinker and social reformer of his time. Rabindranath recalls those days in these words quite vividly:

“I am proud to say that my father was one of the great leaders of that movement, a movement for whose sake he suffered ostracism and braved social indignities.”2

There were two other important movements also going on at that time. What were those two movements could be easily understood by the words of the poet himself clearly. He writes:

“There was a second movement equally important. Bankimchandra Chatterjee, who though much older than myself, was my contemporary and lived long enough for me to see him, was the first pioneer in the literary revolution which happened in Bengal about this time. Before his arrival, our literature had been oppressed by a rigid rhetoric that chocked its life and loaded it with ornaments that became its fetters.”3

He elaborates further:

“There was yet another movement started about this time called the national. It was not fully political, but it began to give voice to the mind of our people trying to assert their own personality. It was a voice of impatience at the humiliation constantly heaped upon us by people of who were not oriental, and who had, especially at that time, the habit of sharply dividing the human world into the good and the bad according to the hemispheres to which they belong.” 4

After going through these extracts, one can easily understand what the poet thought about his own religion which he was following and practicing during those days when he lived. He was not a practitioner of religion in the traditional sense in any way. So forming any view regarding his religious beliefs outside of this discourse would be quite difficult. He discards the beaten path of religious practices openly and brave heartedly. He says:

“These three movements (Raja Rammohan Roy, Bankim Chander Chatterjee, and national movement) were on foot and in all three the members of my own family took an active part. We were ostracized because of our heterodox opinions about religion and therefore we enjoyed the freedom of outcast. We had to build our own world with our own thoughts and energy of mind.”5

But when we delve deep into his writings we find some other interesting things also. He doesn’t look discarding the all religions so bluntly and brutally but he gives due respect and importance to all great religion of the world but in his own way and with his own understandings. He says:

“My vagabondage in the path of my literary career had another reason. My father was the leader of a new religious movement, a strict monotheism based upon the teachings of the Upanishads. My countrymen in Bengal thought him almost as bad as a Christian, if not worse. So we were completely ostracized which probably saved me from another disaster, that imitating of our past.” 6

But how he looks upon other religion is equally interesting to know. He gives homage to one of the great religions of the world, Islam in following words:

“Islam is one of the few great religions of the world and the responsibility is immense upon its followers who must, in their lives, bear testimony to the greatness of their faith. Our one hope of mutual reconciliation between the communities inhabiting India, of bringing about a truly civilized attitude of mind towards each other in this unfortunate country depends not merely on the realization of an intelligent self-interest, but on the eternal source of inspiration that comes from the immortal lines of these messengers of truth who have been the beloved of God and lovers of men. I am taking this advantage of the auspicious occasion today when I may join my Moslem brothers in offering my homage of adoration to the grand prophet of Islam and invoke his blessings for India which is in dire need of succor and solace.”7

Rabindranath Tagore takes his religious views regarding the Islam always in the greater interest of the mother country. He was aware of the fact that until we keep ourselves united as a cohesive force of power and love we can’t taste the sweetness of freedom. In one of the messages for the prophet number of the Peshwa, a famous journal of his time, he writes:

“I take this opportunity to offer my homage of veneration to the Holy Prophet, Mohammad, one of the greatest personalities born in the world, who has brought a new and potent force of life into human history, a vigorous ideal of purity in religion, and I earnestly pray that those who follow his path will justify their noble faith in their life and the sublime teaching of their master by serving the cause of civilization in the building of the history of the modern India, helping to maintain peace and mutual goodwill in the field of our national life.”8

Tagore was a man of love and beauty. He would draw his inspiration from nature. He loved to be in the company of birds and tranquility of the natural surroundings. His believing in the reward of great effort put by him was not earning a place only in the paradise but to feel that beauty and life on the earth itself. He says:

“I believe that the vision of paradise to be seen in the sunlight and the green of the earth, in beauty of the human face and the wealth of human life, even in the objects that are seemingly insignificant and unprepossessing. Everywhere on this earth the spirit of paradise is awake and sending forth its voice. It reaches our inner ear without our knowing it. It tunes our harp of life which sends our inspiration in music beyond the finite, not only in prayers and hopes, but also in temples which are flames of fire in stone, in pictures which are dreams made everlasting, in the dance which is ecstatic meditation in the still centre of movement.”9

Tagore never relied only on the destiny decided by God but he believed in the love of labor and the fruition of his desire in a sublime way. He puts his views regarding work and destiny in a very beautiful and delectable way. He says:

“A full life with full work can alone fulfill the destiny of man. When his worldly life is thus perfected, it comes to its natural end, and the fetters of work are loosened and drop off. As a help to view life and life’s ending with this simple, natural way, the Ishopanishad asks us to remember that, All that is in this world is enveloped by God. Enjoy that which he gives you. Covet not the wealth of others.”10

He had visited the many Muslim countries and earned good reputation and regard. Especially his visit to Iran and Iraq was worth remembering. The poet has very intimately written about the experiences of those days. He was a lover and great admirer of their great poets. These things clearly show that he was not aloof from Muslim society and its culture. And if one becomes so close to any culture, it is bound to take some effects of it also. We can’t say that Tagore was critical about any other religion. He loved and admired all and gave full merit to them. He knew that to make mankind more humane and considerate towards other it is necessary to follow some type of religion. But he was against ritualistic practices of any religion as we have seen from above mentioned extracts in which he has clearly opined that how a decadent system of religion makes the very worth of human life a mere game of undue practices and beliefs. He wants to see a man as a man and more humane and loving towards others. He writes in one of his articles in these thought provoking words:

“If you analyze the past history of India you find one remarkable thing. The names of the successful fighters and conquerors have all been forgotten, because they did not solve the racial and religious problem- problem of unity- which was so special India’s own problem to unravel. There have been kings and emperors, for instance, who fought against Buddhism and re-established Hinduism in India; but their names have been absolutely forgotten even by Hindu India itself. Our people have no respect for those who fought in order to persecute or overcome by force, religion or races which they thought to be alien to their own. But, on the other hand, such names as those of Kabir and Nanak are ever remembered by a grateful posterity. There is a long series of saints, who came into prominence during the great conflict between religious ideas of Hinduism and Islam in northern India. It was their noble mission to reconcile and harmonize religious truth by reaching out to a higher spiritual ideal. You have to keep in mind that most of these saints have come from the lower classes of the Indian community. One of them was a Muhammadan weaver; some were cobblers, some were outcasts. These saints are still held in the highest reverence because they helped, in their lifetime, to harmonize the differences of religion and race.”11

I take pleasure in the end in reciting one of his very famous poems from his masterpiece, Gitanjali:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken into fragments by sorrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action-Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. 12


1. The English writings of Rabindranath Tagore, page, 684, volume, 3, Sahitya Academy, Delhi.
2. Ibid, page no. 683
3. Ibid, page no. 683
4. Ibid, page no. 683
5. Ibid, page no. 684
6. Ibid, page no. 686
7. Ibid, page no. 802
8. Ibid, page no. 802
9. Ibid, page no. 697
10. The English writings of Rabindranath Tagore, page, 240, volume, 4, Sahitya Academy, Delhi.
11. Ibid, page no. 289
12. The English writings of Rabindranath Tagore, page, 53, volume, 1, Sahitya Academy, Delhi.

Bookmark and Share


Ekla Maanjhi (Lone Helmsman) said...

It was a pleasant read, though I expected a bit more digging into the subject. Nevertheless, I thank the writer for touching one of the less analyzed and discussed parts of Rabindranath's life and philosophy.


Anonymous said...

Rabindranath Tagore (RNT) never visited any Muslim home; he never wrote on Muslim icon; though used to shop in a megashop Whiteways and Ludlow's in Muslim area in Calcutta, he never visited any Muslim Institute; he never paid even a single rupee for any Muslim school, in spite of managing a million USD from Iran. No need of elaborating the list.

In simple words he was a fundamentalist Hindu writer, an extraordinary genious, of course. He was a great success in spite of many of his failure writing (vide recent observations by Girish Karnad.). Brahmo Samaj was just a drama!

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License Add to Technorati Favorites Visit blogadda.com to discover Indian blogs