Rabindranath Tagore beloved ‘northeast’ pays tribute to the poet

Agartala, May 10 (Calcutta Tube) It is yesterday once more in the northeast cultural calendar as the region brushes the dust off its ties with Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who was recognised as a ‘great poet’ by the then king of Tripura at a time when few others did 128 years ago.

Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and Manipur have planned year-long celebrations starting Sunday in the run up to the 150th birth anniversary of the poet who penned famous dance-dramas, songs and novels during his visits to the region, especially his favourite haunts Agartala and Shillong.

‘Tagore took skilled weavers from Assam to Bengal to develop and popularise weaving. He inducted Manipuri dance teachers in Santiniketan. He also sought the assistance of erstwhile Tripura kings for scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose,’ said researcher Pannalal Roy.

‘The bard was a viaduct between northeast India and the rest of the world,’ he told IANS.

Tagore had visited many times and stayed in Agartala and Shillong between 1899 and 1927.

‘It surprised many in the literary circles of Bengal that after reading ‘Bhanga Hriday’ in 1882, the then king Maharaja Birchandra Manikya sent his emissary to the Tagore house at Jorasanko to congratulate and recognise young Rabindranath as a ‘great poet’ in the making,’ said Bikach Chaudhuri, a renowned Tagore expert from the northeast.

‘During those days (1882) Tagore was not a popular name and the critics of Bengal derisively described his work as ‘puerile pastime,” Chaudhuri told IANS.

‘The great poet, throughout his life, gratefully acknowledged this noble occasion of his first ever recognition in life with utmost humility.’

Tagore’s close relations with the princely state of Tripura and its four successive tribal kings form an important chapter in the state’s history. This relationship prompted him to visit the state as many as seven times between 1899 and 1926.

Roy said, ‘After the death of Birchandra Manikya (1896), Tagore was the true guardian of three kings (1896 to 1947) — Radhakishore Manikya, Birendra Kishore Manikya and Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya. He helped them and guided them in many ways that included administrative advice to rule the state and about conspiracies against them by rivals.’

Tripura had a special place in many of Tagore’s songs and he wrote a number of novels with the then princely state’s history as the theme. Some of these are ‘Bisharjan’, ‘Rajarshi’ and ‘Mukut.’

‘The poet during his visit to Guwahati in Assam in 1919 got a huge public reception there. From Guwahati, he tried to go to Manipur, but the Manipuri kings under the pressure of British rulers did not give him permission,’ Roy said.

Tagore visited Shillong for the first time in 1919 and stayed at Brookside Compound, a house in the Rilbong area on the outskirts of the city. He visited again in 1923 and this time stayed for over a month at Jeet Bhumi, a little away from Brookside Compound.

It was during this visit that he penned his famous drama ‘Yakshapuri’ (later published as ‘Raktakarabi’) and poem ‘Shillong-er Chithi’.

The bard visited Shillong for the third and last time in the summer of 1927.

It remained a place close to his heart. This is evident from the fact that later, Shillong was given importance in his masterpiece ‘Shesher Kobita’. Brookside, the house in Meghalaya where he began writing the novel, has been declared as the Rabindranath Art Gallery.

‘Brookside and the surrounding landscape will be protected with technical assistance from the Victoria Memorial Hall authority in Kolkata,’ former Meghalaya chief minister D.D. Lapang, who took personal initiative to protect places associated with Tagore, told IANS.

Launching the year-long celebration of Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar will on Sunday lay the foundation stone of a Rs.275-million Rabindra convention complex in Agartala.

Sarkar, a Tagore fan, has constituted more than a dozen committees to mark the anniversary.

‘Through year-long commemorative programmes, we will take Tagore’s works to every place and every man, woman and youngster,’ said Sarkar.

Tripura Information and Cultural Affairs Minister Anil Sarkar, who is also a renowned poet and writer, said: ‘The state’s culture, literature and dance occupy a special place in Rabindranath’s literary repertoire and Kabiguru’s visits over a decade resulted in blending of the cultures of Tripura and Bengal.’

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

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