Rabindranath Tagore: A Nobel Laureate’s Perspective on Guru Nanak and Sikhism

Rabindranath Tagore, man in blue button up shirt carrying girl in pink and white stripe shirt

Rabindranath Tagore, (1861-1941) the renowned poet, philosopher, and Nobel laureate (1913), had a profound appreciation for the teachings of Guru Nanak and Sikhism. While he is widely known for his literary contributions and his role in shaping the cultural landscape of India, Tagore also expressed his admiration for Guru Nanak and his philosophy.

Rabindranath Tagore on Guru Nanak:

In one of his interactions with the legendary actor Balraj Sahni, Tagore made a fascinating revelation. Once actor Balraj Sahni asked the late Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore, You have written the national anthem for India. Can you write an international anthem for the whole world? He mentioned that Guru Nanak had already written an “International Anthem” called “Gagan Mein Thaal.” This revelation highlights the universal nature of Guru Nanak’s teachings and their relevance beyond the boundaries of any particular community or nation. He translated “Gagan Mein Thaal,” into Bengala and can be found in the fourth volume of the birth-centenary edition of Rabindrarachanavali.

Gagan mein thaal rav chand dipak bane, tarika mandal janak moti,  Arti, a part of the Sohila baani or Sikh bedtime prayers

Tagore is the composer of independent India’s national anthem, as well as that of Bangladesh. He wrote the anthem, “Jana Gana Mana,” which later became the national anthem of India. This composition showcases Tagore’s deep understanding of the diverse cultural fabric of India and his desire to unify the nation under a common identity.

Tagore’s thoughts on Sikhism and Guru Nanak were marked by respect and admiration. He recognized Guru Nanak as a spiritual leader who transcended religious boundaries and emphasized the importance of love, compassion, and equality. Tagore believed that Sikhism, with its emphasis on social justice and the pursuit of truth, had the potential to bring about positive change in society.

Tagore’s views on Sikhism were marked by admiration for its egalitarian principles and social justice teachings. Sikhism emerged in the 15th century as a response to the social inequalities prevalent in medieval India. Tagore was drawn to Guru Nanak’s emphasis on the oneness of humanity and the rejection of caste distinctions. The Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, resonated with Tagore’s vision of a harmonious society where all individuals, irrespective of their background, could coexist in peace.

In his writings, Tagore often reflected on the teachings of Guru Nanak and their relevance in the contemporary world. He acknowledged the profound impact that Guru Nanak’s message of unity and harmony had on him personally and on society as a whole. Tagore believed that Sikhism’s emphasis on the oneness of humanity and the rejection of caste and religious divisions aligned with his own vision of a harmonious and inclusive society.

In conclusion, Rabindranath Tagore’s admiration for Guru Nanak and Sikhism was evident in his writings and interactions. His recognition of Guru Nanak’s contributions to humanity, including the composition of an “International Anthem,” highlights the universal appeal of Guru Nanak’s teachings. Tagore’s own compositions, such as “Jana Gana Mana,” reflect his belief in the power of music and poetry to unite diverse communities. Through his writings, Tagore advocated for the principles of love, compassion, and equality that are at the core of Sikhism, thereby reinforcing the importance of Guru Nanak’s teachings in today’s world.

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