Book Reviews

Indian Philosophy in Gitanjali

I boasted among men that I had known
you. They see your pictures in all works
of mine. They come and ask me, `Who is
he?' I know not how to answer them.
I say, `Indeed, I cannot tell.' They blame
me and they go away in scorn. And you
sit there smiling.
I put my tales of you into lasting songs.
The secret gushes out from my heart.
They come and ask me, `Tell me all your
meanings.' I know not how to answer
them. I say, `Ah, who knows what they
mean!' They smile and go away in utter
scorn. And you sit there smiling.
(Gitanjali, Macmillan India Ltd, 1983, p.67)

Thou art the sky and thou art the nest
as well.
O thou beautiful, there in the nest it
thy love that encloses the soul with
colours and sounds and odours.
There comes the morning with the
golden basket in her right hand bearing
the wreath of beauty, silently to crown
the earth.
And there comes the evening over the
lonely meadows deserted by herds, through
trackless paths, carrying cool draughts
of peace in her golden pitcher from the
western ocean of rest.
But there, where spreads the infinite
sky for the soul to take her flight in, reigns
the stainless white radiance. There is no
day nor night, nor form nor colour, and
never, never a word.
(Ibid, p.45)

Pothi padh padh kar jag mua, pandit bhayo na koye
Dhai aakhar prem ke, jo padhe so pandit hoye

- Kabirdas

While taking up Gitanjali, several things conjure upon and keep flashing on the mind’s eye, Gitanjali as a philosophical text, a devotional work so profound and meaningful and so many things connected with it and the feeling of self-surrender, inner yearning to meet the Divine the heart-matter, the core-content of it which but forming a major chunk or crux of study of these lyrical off-shoots or overflows. A work written in a Brahminical tradition continuing down since long, it is a work of Indian thought and culture, tradition and philosophy, ethics and morality, cosmology and metaphysics, yoga and sadhana, myth and mysticism, spirituality and religion, faith and belief. As the flowers lie embedded in a garland and is offered to the Divine so are the things herein. The songs of Gitanjali are flower petal-like decorating the deity, the divine. It is but the bhakti, Vaishnava-tradition which he dwells upon. Surdas, Kabirdas, Mirabai, Tulsidas, Rahim, Rashkhan, Jayasi, Nanak, Dadu, Tukaram, we have not which continue to add to. The rhythms of the kirtana, Ram nam japa, Hare Rama, hare Krishna, Hari bols he has tried to capture the incantation resounding and vibrating. The Gayatri mantra and its meaning, Om and its vibration he has always striven to know, feel it. It is a book of realization, self-realization and reckoning. Generally, the Hindus start any sort of ritual with the worship of Ganesha and with the words stressing upon, I am a sinner, sinful are my deeds, sinful the soul, redeem you from.

The poems of Gitanjali are in the form of a prayer, as do we during the prayer time of the aarti-time, showing of the light during the morn and eve times and offering of prayers to the household deity. God, Man and Nature are the aspects around which the whole story moves. The title means the anjali of geets, the offering of songs.

Gitanjali is one of the most lyrical texts ever written in the history of Indian English poetry rich in devotional fervor, metaphysical reckoning, prayerful tone, sentimental overflow and powerful heart-matter, lessening the gap between theism and atheism, strong belief and agnosticism, faith and doubt, nihilism and existentialism, strengthening the emotional bonding between the Soul and the Supreme Soul, the Mind and the Over Mind, taking the flights of imagination. Replete with Indian philosophy, carrying over the gists and kernels of it, down the ages as the remnants of our glorious thought and tradition, Indian culture and its sublimity, Tagore as a spokesperson of the East enlightens upon what it endowed us with, handing over archetypally that bhakti tradition which held its sway and kept the people engulfed in even during the times of crisis and annihilation. Drawing from household myths and mysticism, he delved into the heart-matters, transcendental aspects and didactic stuffs doing the rounds. The Vedas, the Upanishadas, the Puranas; the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavadgita moulded his thoughts and ideas and he drew heavily from and dwelt upon these borrowings. Indology, Sanskrit studies and vernacular renderings added to his imagery and depth and he tried to transliterate his verses. Had he not read the New Testament, he could not have put in a garb like that of it to be called biblical as for his syntax and phraseology. The land of yogis, sadhus, fakiras, great sadhakas and tantricas, India has always eluded, always captivated with the snake-charmers, jugglers, bear-men, monkey showmen and acrobats. Indian superstitions too took a heavy toll upon and we paid heavily for it in addition to far-flung areas, diverse variations, multi-ethnicity, differing caste, creed and culture. India cannot be India without Rama and Krishna; India cannot be India if we know not the tales of it and Tagore imbibed all that to represent it to the West which it failed to comprehend and had been in search of.

The three paths which lie it enumerated in the Bhagavadgita, the Gnan-marga, the Karma-marga and the Bhakti-marga, the path of knowledge, the path of action and the path of devotion and the adherence to one these leading unto him are the things discussed in here which but Tagore refers to in Gitanjali when he talks of karma and dharma, papa and punya and prayaschita, action and piety, sin and expiation. God as daridranarayana is the thing , God is there in giving kangalbhojana are the things to be deliberated upon which but Adi Shankaracharya felt it while separating himself from the untouchables. At Puri Jagannatha temple the prasad used to be served to all when even there had been differentiation in terms of untouchability and lower caste matter. The very first poem talks of eternal birth and eternal death as discussed by Shankaracharya in his book.

The Light Divine which Thomas Traherne, Goswami Tulsidas, sadhus and sadhakas talk of, the Pure Ring-like Milky White Light, the same thing the poet uses in here in a different context of reflection. Actually, through devotion, surrender to the divine with utmost humility and affection, the poet seeks to reach. Tamaso maa jyotirgamay, lead us from darkness to light.

Light, my light, the world-filling light, the
eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light!
Ah, the light dances, my darling, at
the centre of my life; the light strikes,
my darling, the chords of my love; the
sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter
passes over the earth.
The butterflies spread their sails on the
sea of light. Lilies and jasmines surge up
on the crest of the waves of light.
The light is shattered into gold on every
cloud, my darling, and it scatters gems in
Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my
darling, and gladness without measure. The
heaven's river has drowned its banks and
the flood of joy is abroad.
(Ibid, p.37-8`)

When Tagore talks of the myth of Yama and his coming, Yama as the messenger of God to take the life-spirit away, it seems to strike the household chord of imagery and reflection as the Hindus believe, take to. Such a myth exists in the Savitri-Satyavan story; Vajashrava and Nachiketa one. The mrityunjaya japa, the death conquering recitation mantra is the thing to be discussed here. The search of the sanjiwani buti, life-saving herb which may save Lakshmana from trance adds to our imagery. The fear of death he transmutes it otherwise, racially, achetypally and mythically. Deepavali, the Festival of Lights is connected with one such illumination, dispelling of darkness and its foreboding. Herein lies it bhaya, aatanka, dar, fear, terror, intimidation, something bibhatsha, terrible, horrible, incorrigible. Different people take Yama differently. Some fear it, some challenge it, some pray to. The Jains and the zens take to otherwise. Death is sleep, slumber, rest, peace. To Rossetti it is a journey, to Keats it is terror, to Tennyson an in memoriam, crossing the bar and to Donne it is a dual with and also a liberation. Death the great leveler also holds truth. Earthquakes, floods, epidemics, disasters, tragedies take a toll upon. Daruwalla too tries to understand tragedy with Greek tragedies and the book of Aristotle’s Poetics in his hand. A policeman he is one of curfew, prohibitory orders, tension, unrest and firing and these the things of his word-stock. The double-barrelled guns, gun shots and bayonets speak the language of his poetry. But Tagore prays to in a submissive way, utterly private and personal, as do the Brahmins do, the temple priests, asking the Dharmaraj to be kind and compassionate. The traveler will hesitate to go out, but will have to go. Though may take time, but to some death is kaal, mrityu, shesh, vinasha just like the toll of the bell and the serpent-bite. Death is darkness; destruction; one’s doom. Death is ignorance; nightly darkness. But one should it in mind from the same darkness dawns it upon the beaming light. Dark is also beautiful. Kaalratri, Maharatri, Moharatri is she the Divine She, Kali, Shyama Kali, Samshana Kali, the Dark Divine. Yama as a messenger, a watchman, a time-keeper, executing orders, carrying out the ordeals, running on errands is the image seen mythically. When we talk of Yama, hard-hearted and gigantic as seen by Savitri, the picture turns to that of Kalpurusha, Kalbhairava and Dharmaraja representing time cosmic and supernatural and the keeper of it going unchanged, static and stable. The work of the Dharma, King of Religion is to the ledge-book work, entering, adding, subtracting and totalling it finally, sin and virtue.

Death, thy servant, is at my door. He
has crossed the unknown sea and brought
thy call to my home.
The night is dark and my heart is
fearful---yet I will take up the lamp, open
my gates and bow to him my welcome.
It is thy messenger who stands at my door.
I will worship him with folded hands,
and with tears. I will worship him placing
at his feet the treasure of my heart.
He will go back with his errand done,
leaving a dark shadow on my morning;
and in my desolate home only my forlorn
self will remain as my last offering to
(Ibid, p.57)

C.G.Rossetti’s Up-hill can be quoted and explained in this context of deliberation. This life of ours is an up-hill journey winding and craggy unto the end, full of way-worn fatigue and travel-sore is the reality to be felt in The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer. Also to refer to that in the months of Shravana the people do take a journey on foot travelling to collect the Ganges water and to pour over the lingam of Shiva as for the pilgrim’s progress. The small children dressed as Radha and Krishna on swing on the eve of Jhulan festivity flashes upon.

God has been envisaged as friend, philosopher and guide; lover, guest and mystic; singer, musician and painter. God is mother, father, brother, sister; God kith and kin, near and dear, own blood. There is none as the closer friend of joys and sorrows and to whom to tell them the innermost things of heart? One should learn to accept and take for granted cutting across one’s aspiration and fulfillment. What it in one’s dream and aspiration and what it in one’s expectation and fulfillment? What one aspires for and what one gets in reality? Tagore as a man is timid, weak and feeble as cannot withstand death.

O Thou the last fulfilment of life, Death,
my death, come and whisper to me!
Day after day I have kept watch for
thee; for thee have I borne the joys and
pangs of life.
All that I am, that I have, that I hope
and all my love have ever flowed towards
thee in depth of secrecy. One final glance
from thine eyes and my life will be ever
thine own.
The flowers have been woven and the
garland is ready for the bridegroom. After
the wedding the bride shall leave her home
and meet her lord alone in the solitude
of night.
(Ibid, p.60-1)

Tagore as a poet is one from the school of maya, not from bairagya; one from the school of attachment and illusion, not renunciation though the things of it lie therein. Tagore actually is not a yogi, but one advocating bhogavad laced with saintliness. A Vaishanava he will like to pray from here, not being an ascetic renouncing the world, but as one in worldliness, from being here.

Deliverance is not for me
in renunciation.
I feel the embrace of freedom in a
thousand bonds of delight.
Thou ever pourest for me the fresh
draught of thy wine of various colours
and fragrance, filling this earthen vessel
to the brim.
My world will light its hundred dif-
ferent lamps with thy flame and place them
before the altar of thy temple.
No, I will never shut the doors of my
senses. The delights of sight and hearing
and touch will bear thy delight.
Yes, all my illusions will burn into illu-
mination of joy, and all my desires ripen
into fruits of love.
(Ibid, p.49)

Here the poet takes to childish innocence contrasted with childish ignorance as did Blake drawing from the lamb and the tiger elements. Children generally take pleasure in and indulge in house-making activities. They have nothing to do with shipwrecks and forlorn brothers. The pictures of Longfellow, Auden, Mare and Masefield take us far away.

On the seashore of endless worlds children
meet. The infinite sky is motionless
overhead and the restless water is bois-
terous. On the seashore of endless worlds
the children meet with shouts and
They build their houses with sand and
they play with empty shells. With withered
leaves they weave their boats and smilingly
float them on the vast deep. Children have
their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know
not how to cast nets. Pearl fishers dive for
pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while
children gather pebbles and scatter them
again. They seek not for hidden treasures,
they know not how to cast nets.
The sea surges up with laughter and
pale gleams the smile of the sea beach.
Death-dealing waves sing meaningless bal-
lads to the children, even like a mother
while rocking her baby's cradle. The sea
plays with children, and pale gleams the
smile of the sea beach.
On the seashore of endless worlds
children meet. Tempest roams in the
pathless sky, ships get wrecked in the
trackless water, death is abroad and
children play. On the seashore of endless
worlds is the great meeting of children.
(Ibid, p.39-40)

The lamp of love will keep burning is the theme of the poem, but the way of intercepting a maiden is strange which but a lover can think in such a way. It may be the story of a lamp; of a star. The picture of a maiden lighting an earthen lamp near the basil plant platform in her courtyard of the country home too conjures upon.

On the slope of the desolate river among
tall grasses I asked her, `Maiden, where
do you go shading your lamp with your
mantle? My house is all dark and lone-
some---lend me your light!' She raised her
dark eyes for a moment and looked at my
face through the dusk. `I have come to the
river,' she said, `to float my lamp on the
stream when the daylight wanes in the
west.' I stood alone among tall grasses
and watched the timid flame of her
lamp uselessly drifting in the tide.
In the silence of gathering night I
asked her, `Maiden, your lights are all
lit---then where do you go with your lamp?
My house is all dark and lonesome---
lend me your light.' She raised her dark
eyes on my face and stood for a moment
doubtful. `I have come,' she said at last,
`to dedicate my lamp to the sky.' I stood
and watched her light uselessly burning
in the void.
In the moonless gloom of midnight I
asked her, `Maiden, what is your quest,
holding the lamp near your heart? My
house is all dark and lonesome---lend me
your light.' She stopped for a minute and
thought and gazed at my face in the dark.
`I have brought my light,' she said, `to
join the carnival of lamps.' I stood and
watched her little lamp uselessly lost
among lights.
(Ibid, p.42-3)

Gitantali as a literary text and treatise is replete with Indian philosophy. There is nothing new in it. Tagore has just tried to present the archetypal psyche of India. Atman, parmatma, jiva, prana, chetana, day, maya, sansar, jagat, brahma, brahmanda, papa, mukti, nirvana, moksha, Yama, jyoti, pida, such, dukh, panda, karma, dharma, prayaschita, rasa, bhava, bimba, chhaya, smriti, ehaloka, parloka, bhutatma, jivatma, prana-vayu, vikar, vasana, yaveg, swikarokti, guna-dosh, papa-vimochan, all these come under the purview of delving, connected with action, piety, guilt, feeling, confession and surrender. Brahma satyam, jagat mithya, can be related to, in the words of Adi Shankarachaya.

Maya maha thugani hum jaani, maya is a great cheat that I know, in the words of Kabira, alludes to all that he has expressed. Buddha’s Middle Path, story of Enlightening under a peepul tree incorporating sukh-dukha, the causes of it, his renouncing of life, letting them, Yasodhara and Rahul in sleep still haunt us emotionally. The aasakti of Bhartrihari for Queen Pingla, infatuation with which he realizes as futile adds to our gossip. We made the rock-built temples, cutting, hewing and chiseling them just to house the deities and the divine, not for us. We even do not know who those architects and sculptors were. The terracotta plates denoting dharma-artha-kaama-moksha, the sculptures in love, devotion, war and duty are the things of his fascination. Tagore himself has translated the poems of Kabir, the famous disciple of Ramananda. The stories of Valmiki, Tulsidas and Kalidasa are well-known and their transformation from. Athitidevo bhava and god is Tagore’s athiti, guest, relative sitting on the rope-cot of his cottage. When it lightens, he sees the Lord-god as his lover. When it drizzles, he thinks of Kalidasa’s Meghdutam and Abhignanshakuntalam. Together with them, the images of Maxmuller, Rolland, Goethe, Deussen, Winternitz, Macdonell, Keith flash upon the mind’s eye. Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Tolstoy, Forster, Kant, Schiller, how to forget them? Last of all, Kadambaridevi’s pain he cannot discern it. Tagore cannot be Tagore if think we not about Kadambari Devi, as Pandit Ravi Shankar cannot be without Annapurna Devi. Eklavya, Drona, Karna, these add to our imagery; Sita, Draupadi, Hidimba, Surpanakah, Putana, Yasoda. Yasoda’s glimpses, Krishna and Radha swinging, Mira’s pangs of love are things of Tagore, nay Uddhav’s philosophy of nirguna to be given to the pining gopis after the departure of Krishna to the capital. A lover cannot take to the philosophy of bairaga. How can a teenage, adolescent girl take to rosary beads? Leave the talk of Kumarasambhavam, Shiva as a brahmachari testing the love of Parvati in penance. What in karma, dharma, who can but say it? As did say it Buddha, as you sow so you reap, is the truth. The power of sadhna, who can but? The great sadhakas and tantricas of India kept doing sadhna oblivious of the cobras around and lions roaming and roaring. Life is sadhana and season you it. Life is karma, be you a karmayogi, do you action and in your karma, lies it dharma, the good and bad of yours and their calculation. Even the nautch girls crossing over, dancing in the distant taught Buddha otherwise, forbidding to tighten the strings of the veena so that the wires break not down, forbidding to loosen so that music comes to not. Austere austerity is not good. There is definitely something as fate, luck, lot, but believe you not blindly. Bhagya too can be changed through action. Too much of fatalism adds to ignorance and inaction. To be a fatalist is to be superstitious and inactive and it wreaked havoc during the medieval times in the forms of the purdah-pratha, sati-pratha and baal-vivaha.

The pain and pine of living, he has felt, come to terms with in Gitanjali, Song Offerings. Personal losses and sorrows he has tried to transcend them; joys and sorrows he comes to share with. The things of prayerful singing at eve and dawn break, showing of the earthen lamp-light and the worship with reverence and utmost devotion have definitely benefitted him. Tagore is also a weaver singing the names of Rama but without the spinning wheel as Kabira was singing the songs of Rama and Rahima, Gandhi too did it with

Raghupati raghava rajaram
Patita pavana sitaram
Ishwar allah tero nam
Sabko sanmati de bhagavan.

Tagore is but a premik and songs come to him as prem geets. From the amorous to the divine, he swings an switches over to. When the physical love burns it totally into the flames of the candle, it comes to naught and the same energies he has re-channelled and re-directed to the service of the diivine. The mantras are from the Taittriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli I.20 that says: matrudevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava, atithidevo bhava. In the Bhagavadgita, it has been said that the soul is immortal, indestructible, never to be annihilated by. The body is composed of five elements and will return to fire, wind, water, earth and sky. The Gayatri mantra and the search for its meaning engages him and he finds significance with.

Indian philosophy he has tried to transcend it in Gitanjali bringing to utter moderation and synthesis, assimilation and compilation. The pain of Yasoda, the foster mother of Krishna, Mirabai, a widowed queen and a yogan mad in Krishnite love, keeping company with sadhus, yogis and fakirs irrespective of royal robe, prestige and honour kept at bay and more recently found in Mahadevi Verma resound in while reading them. Ahilya’s liberation from cursed rock to with the mere touch of his lotus feet, Sabri’s love in the form of offering of half-eaten plums to Rama, poor and alms-taking Brahminical Sudama’s offering of rice grains to Krishna in friendship, we cannot negate them from being put before. Hare Rama, hare Krishna, how have they sung after being lost in, soulfully, heartfully, we mean the Beatles too. Shivoaham shivoaham shivoaham, I am Shiva, Shiva, Shiva I, I Shiva, is the thing of realization to be felt and he has. What is I? What You? What the relationship between I and You? God as the representation of satyam, shivam, sundaram is the stuff. What it is satyam, truth is shivam, goodness and this goodness sundaram, beautiful; our images must be so, an embodiment of all the three. The aesthetic and the lyrical have been stressed upon together with the moral and the didactic in a mythical context bonding. The Hindu Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara which Shelley uses in The Cloud, the Emersonian Over Mind, Over Soul, we get reminded of in Walt Whitman, T.S.Eliot and W.B.Yeats.

Sometimes he approaches the Divine with childish innocence and ignorance, sometimes with the simplicity and purity of heart and emotion, sometimes brooding over karma-dharma, sometimes praying to liberate the body, who knows how the ways of the Divine, what in his predicament, how his bhoga, what it in the writ of his karma and dharma and its calculation?

People say it that Tagore did not ever go to school, but this is not correct at all. He definitely would have attended to a certain level. If this is not, the tutors would have definitely coached him. Without knowing English, how could have one? This is quite unimaginable. Even if one read upto Standard VII, that was no less than? At that time that was enough. People say it that he was allergic to school-going, but it does not make any difference as the same teachers coached him privately and he went to intermittently, had not been so much regular, but got the education from. Tagore had been in England even before for some time and it would have definitely added to enriching his critical and creative faculties for a transfusion.

If asked to prove, His existence cannot be. God can be perceived, but not proved. Sometimes we call it that we have seen God, but it is not true. Who can be more closer than God?

I know thee as my God and stand apart---
I do not know thee as my own and come
closer. I know thee as my father and bow
before thy feet---I do not grasp thy hand
as my friend's.
I stand not where thou comest down
and ownest thyself as mine, there to clasp
thee to my heart and take thee as my
Thou art the Brother amongst my
brothers, but I heed them not, I divide
not my earnings with them, thus sharing
my all with thee.
In pleasure and in pain I stand not
by the side of men, and thus stand by
thee. I shrink to give up my life, and thus
do not plunge into the great waters of life.
(Ibid, p.51-2)

Tagore is a dreamer in verse and poetry to him is but dreaming. His poetry is one of flowers and fragrance, spreading sweetness and the butterflies hovering around. If God is Singer then he the song; if God the King then he a cottager.

You came down from your throne and
stood at my cottage door.
I was singing all alone in a corner, and
the melody caught your ear. You came
down and stood at my cottage door.
Masters are many in your hall, and
songs are sung there at all hours. But the
simple carol of this novice struck at your
love. One plaintive little strain mingled
with the great music of the world, and
with a flower for a prize you came down
and stopped at my cottage door.
(Ibid, p.30-1)

God seems to be a nursery class friend of Tagore and both of them going to pathshala to read with the knapsacks to sit on, slates and lime stick pencils and that too in the midst of nature under the tree-shade. In a prayerful tone of his own, with the folded hands, he prays to the Divine in utmost submission of the inner self unto Him, who is but Life-giver, the Lord of lords, the Maker of man and his destiny.


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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