Q Answers: Rabindranath Tagore On The Vedas

By Sunil Kumar

Rabindranath Tagore was the most famous personality of the Thakur family. Thakur in Bengali means a Hindu priest. But Rabindranath’s forefathers were not priests. Their surname was Kushari. Jagannath Kushari was ostracized from the society for socializing with the Pirali Brahmins.

As the consequence he, along with his brother, had to shift to Kolkata from their ancient hometown Khulna. They started to live in the Horijon Polli (ghettos) of Kolkata and it was rumored that some priests came to teach idolatry to the Horijon community. The communities believed the Kusharis to be the priests, and they were surnamed Thakurs.

English: Rabindranath Tagore and Indira Devi i...

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in English: Rabindranath Tagore and Indira Devi in Valmiki-Pratibha, 1881. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rise of the Thakur family transpired in the time of the East India Company.The term ‘Pirali’ historically carried a stigmatized and pejorative connotation; its eponym is the Mohammad Tahir Pir Ali, who served under a governor of Jessore. Pir Ali was a Brahmin Hindu who converted to islam; his actions resulted in the additional conversion of two Brahmin brothers.

As a result, orthodox Hindu society shunned the brothers’ Hindu relatives (who had not converted), and their descendants became the Pirali ~ among whom numbered the Tagores. This unorthodox background ultimately led the Tagore family to dispense with many of the customs followed by orthodox Brahmins.

Now; for Rabindranath Tagore’s views on the Vedas. It is speculated that Tagore apart from Gandhi was influenced by the ancient texts and the Upanishads; given his poetic/playwright bent of mind. Tagore’s philosophy was more of a syncretic(all-encompassing) humanism; and he did not believe in aggressive nationalism. This fact supposedly concerned Gandhi; who was more concerned with getting India rid of foreign rule.

With his semi-priestly antecedents; Tagore would have been certainly aware of Vedic texts; and ideals; but he was also a wide reader and fond of different cultural idioms. The fact that he founded a university called “Visva-Bharati”; which was meant to be the communion of the world with India. Rabindranath Tagore testifies to this in the preface to his work “Sadhana”- his words:” the writer has been brought up in a family where the texts of the Upanishads are used in daily worship, and he has had before him an example of his father; who lived his life in communion with God; while not neglecting the duties of the world.”

The Rig Vedic creation myth is also mentioned as an influence for “Gitanjali”; the poetic work which led to his fame and Nobel Prize.

His father was also a prominent member of the Brahmo Samaj; and is said to have inspired a translation of the Rig Veda. Tagore was also influenced by the Vaishnavite Bauls. So; influences on him were multiple; including Buddhism; Jainism; the British romantic poets(Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats), contact with Christian missionaries; Islam in Bengal etc; other foreign cultures etc.

His views on the Vedas would have been of a detached reverence for ancient seers.


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