Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tagore as historian

Tagore the Historian

Thou Hast Made Me Endless- Part VIII


[Translator's note: Historians have recorded, interpreted and analyzed
the historical events/developments. Tagore, through a number of his
poems, has extracted and presented us hot the human emotions, ego,
uprightness, virtuosity, malice, evil etc. which had propelled our
history. Our students have to cram their history lessons upon
compulsion. Could Tagore's poems anyway supplement their lessons to
enable them to understand the humans of the yore beyond their mere
historical silhouettes? They may find at least some of the chapters of
Indian history e.g. those on the struggles of the Sikhs, Marathas and
Rajputs, the Buddhist period etc. animated by virtue of a good number
of inspiring poems of Tagore based on historical facts and legends
related to these periods, inter alia. Our teachers may give this
proposal a thought. Following are a few examples.]

Poem: Bandi Bir (The Captive Hero} of the book Katha (Legends) written in 1899.

[Notes: This poem is based on the anthology of the British historian
Todd. The facts narrated by Todd have not been distorted in this poem.
However, this is one of the poems where Tagore upholds that the
seeming defeat of the Sikhs was a victory in the test of history. It
was the victory of their spirituality over the brutal force they had
to encounter. That is why Sikh ideal survives as a dynamic force, one
of the noble heritages that will propel the Indian nation forward. And
what happened to the omnipotent rulers (Mughols) who had let the hell
loose on this beautiful earth, cultivated cruelty and inhumanity at
its highest and appeared invincible? In the words of the Poet –
"With blood stained sword in hand, with their bloody look,
They hide face in the children's lesson book……………"]

On the banks of the five rivers,
Up rise the Sikhs spontaneous;
With hair coiled above their head
Inspired by the Mantra their Guru spread
Fearless and unyielding…..
"Glory to Guruji" – thousands of them
Resound the horizon;
At the rising sun of the dawn
The Sikhs stare with deep emotion
With new awakening.

"Alakha Niranjan!" (means 'Holy Spotless'= God)
The war cry of the rebellion;
Let loose their chilvalry;
On their ribs clank swords luminary;
In wild joy was Punjab's insurrection
"Alakha Niranjan!"

There came a day,
Thousands of hearts were on their way
Without any binding or fear,
Life and death at their feet slaves mere;
There on the banks of those rivers
The tale of that day still shivers.

At the tower of the Delhi palace,
Where the Sikhs are apace –
The Badshajada' s (*) drowsy spell (*= Emperor)
Time and again they quell;
Whose voices there, the dark sky tear?
Whose torches set the horizon afire?

On the banks of the rivers five,
For supreme sacrifice was their dive,
Unleashed there was the flood
Of the devotee's blood.
From thousands of hearts torn apart
For destination divine in their lark –
The heroes putting their sacred blood mark
On the forehead of their motherland
There around the five rivers so dear and grand.

In the Mughol and Sikh battle
Their embrace to each other throttle
Like the fight between the eagle and snake,
Deep bruise one to the other did make.

In the fierce fight of that day –
In blood craze "Din Din" the Mughols bay,
"Glory to Guruji" – was the Sikh's commotion
In their divine devotion.

At Gurudaspur castle
When Banda was captured amidst all bustle
In the hands of the Turani troop,
As if a lion fettered with his group;
To capital Delhi they were taken,
Alas, at Gurudaspur Banda was beaten!

The Mughol soldiers march ahead,
Kicking up the road dust in sneer,
Hoisting the Sikh's chopped head
At the blade of their spear.
Follow them Sikhs seven hundred,
Tinkles their chain,
Throng people on the road widespread,
Windows open – a glimpse they fain,
"Glory to Guruji", the Sikhs roar,
For fear of life none is sore,
Sikhs with the Mughols to-day,
Stormed the Delhi road all in gay.

Started the scurry,
For lead in the carnage was their hurry;
They line up at the dawn
Defiant till their execution.
"Glory to Guruji" was their slogan
Until they were done.

Thus over a week,
The arena turned bleak;
With seven hundred lives gone –
Upon the martyrs' immortalization.
On the last round of cruelty
Banda was ordered by the Kazi
To kill his own son,
At ease to be done.

In mere teen was the boy,
With hands tied thrown as a toy
Into the lap of Banda and without a word
He drew him close to his heart.
For a while he put his hand on his head,
Just once kissed his turban red.
He then draws his dagger,
Whispers in the child's ear –
"Glory be to Guruji – fear not my son"
A virile in the boy's face did burn –
In his juvenile voice the court did ring
"Glory to Guruji" as he did sing.
With his left hand Banda held the boy,
With right struck the dagger in his ploy,
"Glory be to Guruji", was all he did implore
As he took to the floor.

Silence fell in the court,
Guruji's inspiration still not abort.
Then with tong red hot
Banda's body was pieced apart;
A word of moan he uttered not
And all in calm did he depart.
As stopped his heart throb
Witnesses closed eyes – silence choked pin drop.

• * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Poem Prarthanatit Dan (Gift Beyond that Begged) of the book Katha
(Legends) written in 1899.

[Translator's note: So far I have read Sikh history, Taru Singh was
taken a prisoner by the Mughols on the charge of treason for helping
the fugitive Sikhs in the jungles in various ways and eventually had
to face death sentence in the cruelest way, with his head forcefully
shaven, for refusing to take to Islam. So, if this poem will raise
eyebrows of the hardcore historians and pundits as to the authenticity
of the Poet's presentation of Taru as a prisoner of war, a scholarly
debate may indeed follow. But we, humbler people, will be least
interested in that and remain happy with the poem so touchingly
flashing the uprightness and holding on to one's faith and
convictions, the highest of human virtues for which the Sikhs stood
during the severest crisis in their history.]

When the Pathans brought them chained
All in calm they remained
The captive Sikhs – though at Sahidgunj town
With their comrades' blood the soil was brown.

Says the Nawab, "Look Taru Singh –
I want to forgive you without misgiving."
Says Taru, "Why for me so much slight?"
Nawab says, "A great warrior you are
That you proved in your fight;
So, to you I bear no anger;
Only I beg of you the gift of your Beni (*)
And you will be spared harm any."
Taru replied, "I owe you as your mercy's nominee;
So offer a bit more, my head with my Beni (*)

(*) Note by Tagore: "To shave off Beni is as good as forsaking
religion for a Sikh".
"Beni" in Bengali means the coiled hair the Sikhs keep.

• * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Poem:: Nakalgarh Poem (False Fort)- of the book KATHA (Legends) written in 1899.
[This poem touchingly reflects the heroic character of the Rajputs and
yet their various factional ego which was the cause of their downfall
at the hands of the Muslim invaders.]

"I'll touch not water"
Thus did the Chitore Rana (*) swear
"Till the Bundi fort
Standing there I can't abort".
"Alas! What an oath;
Impregnable it is" – the ministers quoth;
"You can venture it
But for ignoble defeat".
The Rana says, "If so,
My oath will go".

Chitore and Bundi fort are asunder
But only six miles from one to the other.
The Harabansi tribe there
Dare devil as tigers they are.
Random is their king Hamu's raid
Of any hazard he is not afraid;
All these the Rana heard about –
Evidences now leave him no more doubt.
And it is only six miles away,
So the Rana will no more sway.

Calls all his subservient the minister –
Thus all of them confer –
"Let's build a false fort to-night
That like Bundi will sight;
Let the Rana with his hands own
Hit the fort and see it blown.
Else, just his words to abide
He is heading for suicide!"
So the minister with his aides
The false fort near Chitore lays.

Kumbha a Harabansi, Rana's vassal
Yet with his bravery tribal
On return from his stag hunt
Shoulders with archery load stunt
Smells foul in the hearsay
Early in the day –
Cries aloud, "Who's there!
With a false fort dare
Abase the Harabansi Rajput –
I'll guard the fake castle astute."

Comes Rana amidst bustle
To smash the clay castle –
"Keep afar Your Highness" –
Uproarious Kumbha says,
" A fake Bundi for a fake fight
Never I'll endure this slight;
To defend that clay mound
To-day I'm duty bound".
So does Kumbha thunder –
"Your Highness, keep afar!"

On the ground sets his knees
Shoots arrows in whiz;
Kumbha alone wards off
Their sly plot to scoff
The Harabansi glory
In full fury.

Rana's troop slay his head
All round surrounded
Near the gateway
Of the fort for play.
He drops dead,
His blood crimson red
Sanctifies the castle clean
In ablution of all vicious sin.

Note: "Rana" was the title of the King of Rajputana (now Rajasthan)
whose capital Chitore was once upon a time
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * **

Thou Hast Made Me Endless- Part VIII

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 AD) the Nobel Laureate of 1913 was
introduced to the West primarily through the collection of English
translation of some of his poems/songs captioned as 'Gitanjali'
(=Offering of Songs).
More translations of his works followed by the poet himself and others
after he had won the Nobel, including poems/songs, dramas, short
stories etc. However, such efforts were sporadic and sluggish, mostly
on individual initiative, which still remain so.
As a result, a vast volume of the poet's works remains un-translated
while, it appears, it is an impossible proposition to translate even a
substantial part of the poet's total works to permit those, not
privileged by the knowledge of Bengali language, a reasonably broad
view of his myriad creations where unfathomable perceptional depth of
top grade aesthetics runs through, literally true to his song "Thou
hast made me endless / Such is Thy pleasure".
Notwithstanding this, an upsurge of Tagore translation took place in
the last decade of the twentieth century by virtue of a good number of
eminent poets/translators e.g.
William Radice, Joe Winter, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, to name a few, all
of whom left their valuable contribution to this oeuvre and my book
THE ECLIPSED SUN , published in 2002, is a modest addition to this. I
have put stress on a few aspects of the poet's works, particularly
those in his twilight years, which seemed to me quite inadequately
covered so far. The followings are presented mostly based on this

RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail:

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