Manmohan Singh’s address on Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th anniversary inaugural function

New Delhi, May 7 (Calcutta Tube / IBNS) The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, addressed the inaugural function of 150th Anniversary commemorations of Rabindranath Tagore. Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address on the occasion:

We have gathered here today to salute and celebrate the life and work of a multifaceted genius who was a poet, a painter, a philosopher but above all a humanist who inspired and elevated his fellow men and women. It is a great honour and privilege for me to be present here today, at the inaugural function of the 150th Birth Anniversary Commemoration of one of the greatest luminaries of modern times, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.

The Great Sentinel – as Mahatma Gandhi called him – was a moral force behind our freedom struggle and one who gave a vivid and expressive voice to the depressed soul of India .  Reading Gurudev’s sublime poetry or masterly prose, one wonders if humankind today has lost some of the finer sensibilities that inspired his works – the intimacy with nature, the quest for inner truth, the sense of solidarity and community that transcends borders and breaks down presumed barriers of religion, race or language.

The commemoration events planned over the next one year are intended to rekindle interest in Rabindranath Tagore’s thoughts and teachings as much as in his verses, his paintings and his music. In commemorating Gurudev’s birth anniversary, I hope that we can inspire each one of us to a moment of quiet reflection of his ideals and an urge to rise above the desert sands of dreary habit, in the immortal words of the poet.

Rabindranath Tagore’s ideas on universal humanism resonate well in today’s world.  His belief in the essential spiritual unity of East and West and indeed of all peoples is a powerful message of redemption for a world beset by greed, callousness and irreverence. His association with great minds such as William Butler Yeats, Romain Rolland and Albert Einstein, to name but a few, helped him to forge personal and intellectual bonds abroad that reinforced his ideas of international brotherhood.  A number of commemoration events have been planned abroad, particularly in countries with which Tagore had some association.

Within the internationalism he espoused, Rabindranath Tagore had a clear vision of how India should stand among the comity of peoples. He wrote, ‘In India what is needed more than anything else is the broad mind which, only because it is conscious of its own vigorous individuality, is not afraid of accepting truth from all sources’. So many years after these words were written, I wonder if we can honestly say that we have understood and imbibed their precious wisdom.

I was delighted when last year Her Excellency Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh agreed to oversee joint celebrations of the Birth Anniversary in a befitting manner. The decade that Tagore spent in the serene and enchanting surroundings of Shilaidah, Shahzadpur and Patisar was a particularly fulfilling and creative period.  His friendship and admiration for his fellow Bengali poets like Kazi Nazrul Islam, Kazi Abdul Wadood and Begum Sufia Kamal did a lot to promote literary creativity and diversity. I extend a very warm welcome to His Excellency Air Vice Marshall A.K. Khandaker who is representing the Government of Bangladesh in today’s celebration of Tagore’s shared legacy.

I am happy to announce that the Government of India has decided to institute a prestigious International Award, in the name of Rabindranath Tagore, to recognize very distinguished contributions towards the promotion of international brotherhood and fraternity. A jury headed by the Prime Minister will select each year a citizen of the world of outstanding public eminence who in his or her life and work epitomizes the high universal ideals that Rabindranath Tagore stood for.  We hope to present the first award by the end of this commemoration period.

A wide range of projects are being undertaken as part of the commemorations to make Rabindranath Tagore’s works more accessible to a wider audience and to preserve his work for posterity.

The digital collection of his paintings, entitled the ‘Rabindra Chitravali’, which was released today, has been put together for the first time with great effort and with the support of our government.

Some important archival materials on Tagore that are on celluloid have been restored and packaged, for national and international dissemination, after sub-titling in English. A unique project that has been taken up by scholars of international repute of Jadavpur University is the creation of an ‘online electronic variorum’ edition of the works of Tagore in English and Bengali. I am particularly glad to learn that special efforts are being made to translate the literary works of Tagore and also encourage performances of his plays in different Indian languages.

With a view to revitalize some of our important cultural institutions and to encourage high quality research into their precious resources, the Ministry of Culture has introduced a new Tagore National Fellowship for Cultural Research.  Under the scheme, renowned scholars have been invited to take up research projects on unknown or lesser known cultural resources that lie within our cultural institutions. I invite distinguished scholars, from India and the world over, to avail of this prestigious and well funded Tagore Fellowship.

Rabindranath Tagore had very definite views on the prevalent education system. He felt that it had little connection with the reality of Indian circumstances and did little to stimulate the power of a child’s thought and imagination. In his evocative words he wrote “…… we are coolies of the goddess of learning, carrying loads of words on our folded backs”.  He visited many universities abroad. Finally his quest for a method of learning that would draw directly from the experience of life and nature led him to the charming rural hamlet of Shantiniketan.

He established Visva Bharati as an international university, which he described thus: a place where the whole world meets in one nest.  It stands as a living symbol of the poet laureate’s enduring faith in the learning ability and creative power of a young mind and free spirit.  Viswa Bharati should rightfully be one of the crown jewels of our academic world. But a lot of work needs to be done to restore this institution to its former glory and for it to live up to the true ideals of its founder.

In this 150th birth anniversary year of Gurudev, I can think of no more important task than the revival of Viswa Bharati. As the Chancellor of the University, I am personally committed to this important task. The Government of India is putting a lot of resources into Viswa Bharati, including a special grant of Rs. 95 crores.

We are working with Viswa Bharati to preserve Shantiniketan’s cultural properties. The Archaeological Survey of India is assisting in the conservation efforts and 27 heritage buildings have been restored.  A new auditorium is planned and as is the complete upgradation of the museums of Rabindra Bhavana and Kala Bhavana.  The Ministry of Culture and Visva Bharati have also taken up the conservation, restoration and digitization of all the priceless collections, paintings, books and manuscripts.

But in the final analysis the future of Viswa Bharati depends not so much on official patronage or resources but the dreams and ambitions of its teachers, students and alumni.

Before I conclude, I must compliment my senior colleague Shri Pranab Mukherjee for the effort and energy he has put into making a success of these commemoration events as the Chairman of the National Implementation Committee.

I conclude by remembering the following lines penned by Tagore:

“When I am no longer on this earth, my tree,
let the ever-renewed leaves of thy spring
murmur to the wayfarers:
“The poet did love while he lived.”

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