This is a collection of one hundred lyrics of Tagore - freely translated in full rhyme and keeping intact the Poet’s original metrical pattern as far as possible - from his songs’ onmibus Geeta Bitan, trilingual in Bengali, Hindi and English scripts. The lyrics are intensely touched by mysticism and devotion. God here is onmipresent and omnipotent by the Poet’s conviction, yet omniscient only in his wonderment. There are seldom prayers for succour and lucre, but sharing of luminous thoughts on existential weal and woe, solace and peace, with little allusion to physical qualities of created beings. In the initial stage, the lord is viewed as the ‘king of kings’, but later on, God is perceived as intimate and keen to come to His devotee. At the end of life, the divinity is awaited as the formless and as infinitely companionable, providing freedom and limitless bliss.
Dr. Utpal K. Banerjee (1935) has been an adviser on Management and IT for 35 years, and having Ph.D. as a Commonwealth Scholar. He has been National Project Director for IGNCA relating to the UNDP project on Multi-media Database for Art and Culture Documentation and Computerisation, 1991-93. He was utilised by ICCR to lecture on Indian Art and Culture in Canada in 1990, South America in 1998 and Canada in 1992 and 1995, as invited by Kalabharati Foundation to universities, museums and inter-cultural organisations. He gave lectures on Indian Art and Culture for the IFS probationers and in the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) to the Afro-Asian diplomats. His article on “Role of Cultural Diplomacy” appeared In the two- volume work Indian Foreign Policy Agenda for the 21st Century, from FSI. His comprehensive book on Indian Performing Arts, 1992 has gone into several editions and Bengali Theatre: 200 Years came out from Publications Division, Government of India, 1998. His recent books are Indian Performing Arts: A Mosaic, Millennium Glimpses of Indian Performing Arts, Indian Theatre in 21st Century, Exuberance of Indian Classical Dance, Indian Contemporary Dance Extravaganza, A Journey with the Buddha (Vol. 1 & 2), etc. Govt. of India’s Leaders of India was launched as a website on A-V material on Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in 2010, for which he was Chief Coordinator.
This book offers a selection of one hundred mystic songs of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) - India’s, and the world’s, litterateur nonpareil - culled from his libretto-omnibus, Geetabitan. First published in 1938 during the Poet’s lifetime, Geetabitan contains, in volume one, 617 lyrics on Puja (Worship) that form the staple of his devotional songs, although several other songs elsewhere - out of a total of some 2300 left for posterity - have a remarkable underpinning of mysticism and spirituality. The selection is my own: meant to be purely illustrative and by no means exhaustive. The ordering of the songs has been kept as per their original sequence according to bhav (mood), as Tagore followed in Geetabitan. The sequencing is neither chronological nor patterned on subject-categories.
In providing fully-poetic translation of the selected songs, the idea is to proffer to the English-speaking readership of the world some glimpse into the lilting rhythm and poetical metre of Tagore’s original writing in Bengali language. The translation- format has been as follows:
The original rhyme-scheme has been closely followed in English, allowing - as much as possible - the original’s rhythmic resonance to emerge;
Tagore’s antarmil (internal rhyme), too, has been carefully observed, marked by upper case at the start of broken lines within the lyric;
The original metre, as determined by the number and length of ‘feet’ in Tagore’s lines in the lyrics, has been as scrupulously followed as possible;
Punctuation-marks follow the original, except when warranted by the meaning in English;
Translator’s creative freedom, unavoidable in sticking to the original rhyme, has been kept to the minimum and as close to the original’s meaning as possible. Such minimal poetic licence will be hopefully forgiven and considered far less than the self-confessed ‘transmogrification’ by Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883): in rendering his world-famous Rubayyat of Omar Khayyams (first published in 1858), where Khayyam’s all the original dohas (couplets) were, in translation, made into choberis (quatrains), to start with.
A point, about translation here, is breaking each lyric into four or more parts: according to the four lyrical segments of stayed, anthrax, saccharin and abhor. This is in accordance with the musical pattern of Dhrupad compositions: as the Poet’s favourite schema (even used for his Khayal compositions) and demarcated by him in his lyrics by double-period (‘I’) at each segmental line’s end, as distinct from single-period (‘II’) used for other lines’ ends. There are a few departures from this pattern, which have also been honoured.
To let the global readership partake of the originals colour and flavour, the Tagore’s Bengali original has been transliterated into three major scripts: Bengali, Devnagari and Roman. I hope that for the bulk of non-Bengali Indian readers and the rest of Western readers’ taste of the original text will thus be at hand. Needless to say, the Bengali script of the original Geetabitan is also there for the Bengali readers, who have the born privilege of enjoying and nurturing Tagore’s own language for his lyrics.
Musical notations for these lyrics are available in appropriate volumes of Tagore’s notation-omnibus, Swarabitan, being published from 1935 onwards since his lifetime. Like Western composers (but unlike most Indian musicians), Tagore was particular about his music being notated and Swarabitan volumes are a joy to explore. The lyrics selected here carry the names of raga and tala - as only indicative and in no way prescriptive - to provide the ambience of his songs.
Tagore wrote once: it is the purpose of music to express the text of the song through its melody. I intended to let the song’s words stand on the shoulders of its melody. I craft my melody in order to express the text’s meaning.. .lt has to be realised that the enormous heritage of Indian classical music has always been the vehicle of lyrical expression on inner feelings, but not necessarily with highly meaningful libretti. This has not been the case in the West where the early English pioneer Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), followed by the German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883), averred that melody should follow the spirit of what poetry could do to form the libretti.
This was already happening in the West and the German Lieder or Lied (art-song) was one of the great glories of music, with Franz Schubert (1797-1828) as one of its masters, who achieved real perfection in a previously unattained unification of poetic text and music. His wonderful sense of melody and expressive harmony combined to explore the text of a poem to a great depth. The texts Schubert set to music came from the greatest of German lyric poets - Johan Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) and Heinrich Heine (1797-1856).
Schubert’s very first compositional masterpiece was a song based on a Goethe poem from his Faust (1814): later extended to another 59 poems of Goethe. Tagore not only held the same view on combining poetic text with music as was prevalent in the contemporary West; he was unique in having possessed both poetic prowess of Goethe for ‘art songs’ as well as musical acumen of Schubert to compose his own variety of melodious music. He not merely penned his exquisite poems, but set them to ethereal music himself.
Tagore’s God - as seen in our one hundred mystic lyrics - is omnipresent and omniscient by the Poet’s conviction, and omnipotent in his wonderment, There is little reference to Vedic deities or Puranic gods by name, and no appellation cited from India’s vast mythology. Subdued echoes of ‘looking within’ are evident as from Chandogya Upanishad: Tat Tvam Asi (You are That); from Aitareya Upanishad: Prajnanam Brahman (consciousness is Brahman); from Mandukya Upanishad: Ayam Atma Brahman (That Self is Brahman); and from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: Aham Brahmasi (I am Brahman); and its most exalted prayer: Asatoma sadgamayah, tamsoma jyorirgamayah, mrityorma amritangamayah (From the unreal lead me to the Real, from darkness lead me to Light, from death lead me to Immortality). There are seldom prayers for succour or lucre, but sharing of ardent thoughts on weal and woe, solace and peace: with little allusion to attributes of the primordial qualities of created beings.
If one is allowed to divide the mystic lyrics into three broad chronological stages, the first stage is marked by Tagore’s deep involvement with the Brahmo Samaj and its thoughts, sans its ceremonies: marked by words like ‘lord’, ‘father’, ‘the pious one’, ‘the compassionate one’, ‘the king of kings’, and rarely ‘the beloved one’. The Poet seeks shelter at His feet; considers Him as the eternal fire; pleads for a vision; and appeals for strength to bear His banner. Three instances from our selected lyrics in this genre chronologically are as follows:
1884 Shower on the world (Barishha dharaa maajhe)
1899 From fears to the fearless (Bhay hate taba abhaya maajhe)
1900 If evermore my heart’s door (Jadi e amaar hridayaduyaar)
In the second broad stage, the Poet’s spiritual thoughts were imbued with many expressions: generally the perceived God is intimate here. The eagerness to unite with Him is not merely ardent, even God is keen to come to His devotee. On one side, this urge minors the extensive Vaishnava literature, but on the other side, it is akin to the Sufi ethos: moving from mundane love of Ishq Majazi (where both lovers endure earthy feelings of joy and pain, agony and ecstasy) to ethereal love of Ishq Haqiqi (where the lover is a human being and the beloved is God). Over a score of instances can be cited from our selected lyrics chronologically in this genre:
1904 In whole cosmos, in outer space (Mahaabishbe mahaakaashe)
1907 Please bring my head down (Aamaar maathaa nata kare daao)
1907 Do save in danger (Bipade more rakshhaa karo)
1907 You in evernew garbs (Tumi naba naba roope eso praaNe)
1907 0 dearest one, allow blossoming (Antara mama bikashita karo)
1909 I’ve plunged in sea of grace (Roopsagare dub diyechhi)
1909 To have union with me (Aamaar milan laagi tumi)
1909 On earth under throne of yours (Oi asantaler maatir parhe)
1909 On earth, in oblation of mirth (Jagate aanandaJa Mge)
1909 Within limits, o infinite one (Seemar majhe aseem tumi)
1909 When life does get perched up (Jeeban jakhan shukaaye Jaay)
1909 Now do make quiescent (Ebaar neerab kare daao he tomaar)
1912 With soul, filling with thrust (PraaN bhariye trishhaa hariye)
1913 That night when doors of mine (Je raate mor duyaarguli)
1914 You lay hidden in my soul (Aamaar hiyaar maajhe lukiye chhile)
1914 There I’ve gained your company (Ei labhinu sa’Mga taba)
1914 Don’t take away your feet (CharaNa dharite diyo go aamaare)
1916 My lamp of all the sorrows (Aamaar sakal du:kher pradeep)
1917 Breaking my house-key helping (Bhe’Mge mor gharer chaabi)
1918 Today in dark night if you (Aaji bijana ghare nisheetha raate)
In the third and final stage, Tagore’s mindset, touched by stillness, serenity and a composed anticipation of the life’s end, was reflected in his lyrics. Launching his sojourn to the limitless ocean of peace, the Poet had rid his mind of all mortal bondages and now awaited the formless, infinitely companionable God: providing freedom and limitless bliss. Here is a small, chronological sampling from among our selected lyrics:
1922 I pay my heed to my (Aami kaan pete rai)
1924 Life and death’s beyond (Jeebana maraNer seemaanaa chhaarhaaye)
1931 Master of melodies (Surer guru daao he surer dikhshhaa)
The overall mystic features of Tagore’s songs can be summarised as follows:
1. The early libretti were influenced by the divine consciousness of the Brahmo worship, but devoid of any touch of ritualism;
2. Occasionally, though infrequently, this consciousness seemed clouded by doubt and incredulity;
3. Tagore’s God was never a ‘domestic one: accountable in terms of personal virtue and vice, gain and loss, good and evil, but subject to an all-abiding ‘quest’;
4. As the Poet advanced in age, God and Man and Nature all intermingled into an impregnable whole, making clear-cut distinctions virtually impossible, but yet making for a conflict less coexistence of truth-untruth, love-apathy and benevolence-malevolence, such as,
I pay my heed to my (Aami kaan pete rai, O aamaar)
Whatever were the songs (Aami tomaay Jata)
In your vast world (Tomaar aseeme praaNamana laye)
In conclusion, Tagore’s enduring sense of spirituality is as stated by him: This thought of God has not grown in my mind through any process of philosophical reasoning; on the contrary, it has followed the current of my temperament from early days until it suddenly flashed into my consciousness with a direct vision. This provided the Midas touch to his entire genre of mystic songs.
The idea of the book came originally from Shakti Malik, of Abhinav Publications, who encouraged me at every stage up to publication. Selection of the mystic lyrics was enthusiastically aided by Sudhir Chanda, a Tagore-music connoisseur and by Sampa Ghosh, an ardent Tagore-song lover. In addition, Shri Chanda helped in providing the raga and tala of the songs and Sampa Ghosh carried out the backbreaking transliteration work in Roman script, besides assisting in a myriad other ways. Nishith Ray of IMH Press arranged the equally-arduous transliteration work in Bengali and Devnagari script. Reference material from Samakaler Bangla Gan O Rabindrasangeet (Bengali), by Swapna Bandyopadhyay - who is no more now - from Papyrus, Kolkata, 1992, was of great help.
To all of them, I owe my immense debt of gratitude.
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