Tagore’s Gitanjali: Spiritual Quest for Identity-Jay Basu

Tagore’s Gitanjali: Spiritual Quest for Identity

Tagore’s Gitanjali – a string of more than one hundred lyrics, later presented to the West in English prose translation – encompasses the whole gamut of a sensitive man’s spiritual quest and soul-searching for self-identity.

Significantly it is a twofold quest. One is the solitary, inwarded journey to an One-essence that permeates the whole of Creation. And it shies away from the entire repertoire of rituals, idolatry and loud chantings that resound from the temples. And of course, this quest is shorn of the least material attachment and aspiration. The other that runs parallel to this inner quest is that for the sensuous prehension of the eternal One within the fetters of the Finite.

Sufi and Baul cults and the old Upanishadic wisdom underscore the poet’s intuitive longing for a merger with the sublime One. He comes up with the conviction that a simple, plaintive carol is enough for this merger between a unique “I” of the manifested many and the unmanifested “One Absolute”. This Vedantic and more precisely Upanishadic motif contradicts the values of Hindu ritualism that runs its course from the medieval to the modern era.

While the unmanifested One remains elusive, Tagore begins to ‘see into’ the presence of an “ever-One” as immanent or permeated in the manifested and the differentiated, the manifold and the variegated of ever-changing pageants.

He rejects the idea of renunciation and espouses his own mortal being and its numberless bonds. His transcendental vision perceives “the countless created many” as the manifestations or vibrations of the One. And he ecstatically celebrates his inseparable belonging and bondage to the panorama of the circumambient and proliferating many.

Very recent scientific observations point to

the mystery of our present universe expanding spatially but not thinning out in terms of the density of mass and energy. This points to the Infinity of the primal source that can requantify itself from infinitude.

The Tagorean vision is coextensive to the thesis that the differentiated multiples reel about, centrifugally springing out from

a grand One in the expanding phase of

the created universe, and all of which are

fated for their unforeseeable Destiny to

recoil or collapse to their fathering single root.

Incidentally, after meeting Tagore, Einstein observed that all he (Einstein) knew from his Scientific curiosities and studies were known to the lucid vision of the Indian sage and poet, R N Tagore.

With absolute certitude Tagore seems to perceive that the Absolute One’s Will (Vital Force) is moment by moment taking shape

in his selfwill, the will of his own “I” or that

by extension of each, unique “I”-entity of all

the breathing beings, and by further extension by all the creatures or created beings in a grand system.

This experience of the melt-down of the I-singularity – this reaffirmation of ‘One inseparably into the Many’ or of “the Many inseparably from the One – elevates the poems in Tagore’s Geetanjali to a sublime Spiritual dimension.

And alongside ‘death’ Tagore captures in his transcendental vision the deathless perpetual flow – the eternally transforming pageant of creations as bubbles coming up and disappearing on a borderless ocean, in a never-ending Leela or playfulness of a Super-Mind behind Creation and Time.

The baffled quest for reaching out to the

One is amply recompensed by the thrill of

a suddenly visitating joyous and eclectic

vision of the One vibrating and permeating

in the Many – from Man to the Microbes,

from the Matter to the Energy in all their possible cosmic ramifications: the endless span of Diversity in the very depth of Unity.

The visible and the palpable are now felt

and realized as types and symbols of eternity.

This swing from the sensuous or even contemplative charms of “the realized

Many” to the enigmatic, faintly unrealized

feel of the uncircumscribed, unmappable

One runs like a fibrous thread through his

poems in Gitanjali. This makes Tagore

one among those very few poets, whose poetics surpasses the range of conscious artistry and makes poetry as melodies of

divine Illumination.

Tagore is primarily a lyrical genius, but morphed constantly by his visions into

a prophet as well, who sees “into the life

of things”. The truth and beauty of that life

coextend to the whole of what is created

and what is not.

In fine, Gitanjali, translated in English

with the title “Song Offerings” presents

in a string of lyrics the consummation of

a sage’s quest for self-identity and the identities of the numberless “Not-Me”

around the “self” in a grand sweep of spiritual vision that abrogates the principle of division, differentiation and proliferation as apparent and relativistic crude physio-chemical dynamics and experience of the cosmos although this principle remains necessarily the fulcrum and prop of the creative, evolutionary flux that drives the universe and all within it, living and non-living…

®© Jay Basu. Anandapur, Kolkata 700107

14:52 PM. May 11, 2022.

Cover page image of GITANJALI (1913)

Image Courtsey: Internet