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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 3 January 20, 2024

Rabindranath Tagore’s Spiritual Journeys | M.R. Narayan Swamy

Friday 19 January 2024, by M R Narayan Swamy



Rabindranath Tagore: Among Saints
Bipul Kumar Gangopadhyay

Translators: Swaraj Kumar Chakrabarti and Dr Amitava Sanyal

163pages; Price: Rs 395
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 8119670892
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-8119670895

To the world at large, Rabindranath Tagore is an icon in literature and philosophy, a man deeply committed to the idea of India, a deserving Nobel laureate, and a rarity among geniuses who wrote the national anthem of not one but two countries. Not much is known, however, about the spiritual side of Tagore, who came to be revered as Gurudev by Mahatma Gandhi, who himself had an eclectic spiritual side to him.

The primary reason which slowly and steadily pushed Rabindranath on to the path of spiritual was his saintly father, Maharishi Debendranath Tagore. As his youngest son, Rabindranath enjoyed his father’s sacred company for 44 long years before the latter passed away in January 1905 at age 88. During these four decades, Rabindranath met various saints at home with his father, at Brahmo Samaj gatherings, while accompanying his father to the Himalayas, and by meeting numerous saints on his own.

Truly in line with India’s spiritual legacy, Rabindranath kept these interactions with spiritual giants private throughout his illustrious lifetime. He rarely spoke about any of his meetings with realized souls. It remained an unknown aspect of the sage poet but it greatly guided him as he produced a huge volume of literary output including songs, drawings and letters, earning recognition and multiple awards from around the world.

Bengalis became aware of Rabindranath’s spiritual odyssey courtesy the author of this book’s Bengali original, Bipul Kumar Gangopadhyay, a well-known name in India’s spiritual world and literature. It was from the many saints he met that Gangopadhyay learnt about Rabindranath’s hidden spiritual side. His book in Bengali on the subject received widespread accolades.

Perhaps the most famous and revered among the saints Rabindranath met at an early stage was Mahayogi Bahera Baba of Gyanganj. On the invitation of Debendranath who was a devotee, Bahera Baba attended Rabindranath’s wedding on December 9, 1884 in Calcutta. The Baba was then 100 years old and a spiritual bomb. After blessing the young couple, the Baba told Debendranath: “This youngest son of yours will be world famous. He will perceive the divine and achieve Brahma consciousness. But his wife’s longevity will be short.” The seer’s predictions came true. Rabindranath always remained respectful towards Bahera Baba, who passed away at the Bellevue Nursing Home in Calcutta in December 1979 when he was said to be 200 years old.

Only two years older to him, Rabindranath also had a warm and loving relationship with Narendranath who later became famous as Swami Vivekananda. When young, Narendranath often sang songs – including those dedicated to Goddess Kali — composed by Rabindranath at different congregations. He also wrote notations for Rabindra Sangeet. They also together called on Ramakrishna Paramhansa, one of the greatest mystics. Much later, the poet-sage wrote to philosopher and writer Romain Rolland about Vivekananda: “If you want to know India, then learn about Vivekananda.”

Rabindranath was 27 years old when he met an enlightened mystic Baul singer, Lalon Fakir, in East Bengal’s Kustia district. Lalon, with whom the poet interacted many times, was 114 years old then. (He would pass away two years later.) It is Rabindranath who introduced Lalon through his beautiful Baul songs to the literary world. All his life, both through Lalon and others, Rabindranath was greatly swayed by Baul philosophy, its intense feeling and mystic worship of the formless inner self.

Thanks in part to the Shantiniketan, Rabindranath enjoyed close and spiritual ties with Bhupendranath Sanyal, who was a worthy discipline of one of India’s greatest yoga gurus, Shyamacharan Lahiri. Rabindranath frequently discussed spiritual issues with the self-realized Sanyal. It was because of Sanyal that Rabindranath became attracted to Kriya Yoga. Sanyal also introduced the poet to his own guru, Krishnaramji, a siddha yogi who lived in Benares.

Rabindranath also came in contact with Dharmananda Bharati, a siddha tantrik who had written extensively on tantra both in Bengali and English. Bharati went on to write on different facets of yoga in Bangadarshan Patrika, which Rabindranath edited. Another spiritual master Rabindranath had the fortune of meeting courtesy his father was Bijoykrishna Goswami, who was reverentially known in spiritual circles as a Mahatma.

One of the most respected self-realized souls Rabindranath encountered was Sri Sri Bamakhyapa, a renowned tantric from Birbhum in West Bengal. Years after his father met the saint for the first time, Rabindranath called on him at his out of the way ashram in Birbhum. At the end of their meeting in 1906, Bamakhyapa told Rabindranath: “Listen, with Tara Ma’s blessing, you will be famous in the world.”

Yet another saint who greatly impressed Rabindranath was Ramnath Aghoribaba, who enlightened the poet about Vaishnav creed, yoga, tantra and Shaiva sadhana. “Rabindranath asked Aghoribaba if he could demonstrate some Yogic Kriya and superhuman power. Yogiraj Aghoribaba within a few seconds gave a demonstration. Rabindranath was stunned by this.”

It was finally the 31-year-old Buddha Bose who, on Bhupendranath Sanyal’s request, initiated Rabindranath into Kriya Yoga. The poet was then 78 years old and suffered from health issues. In normal circumstances, Kriya Yoga is not taught at such a ripe age but Sanyal and Bose decided to make an exemption after seeing Rabindranath’s earnest desire. Bose was married to the daughter of the younger brother of the iconic Paramhansa Yogananda. (Jawaharlal Nehru also greatly admired Bose and his yoga practices.)

It is only because Rabindranath was a truly self-realized soul – and not a publicity hungry politician — that he never publicised these links with the many saints. Every spiritual encounter strengthened Rabindranath’s extraordinary mind and universal consciousness. As the authors rightly say, he was a poet nurtured behind the scenes by spiritual bliss. This is truly an enlightening book. Thanks to the translators, we now have a Bengali gem in English.

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