All Aboard the Cultural Express: Celebrating 150 years of Rabindranath Tagore

A 35-member panel led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was set up “to suggest, formulate and plan a number of events that would rekindle public interest in Gurudev’s rich cultural legacy and in his thoughts, ideals, teachings and values,” and commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore on May 9th 2011.

Over the last year places from Shantiniketan to Shanghai have been celebrating the Bengali bard with notable events. Who knew Tagore influenced prominent Chinese poets? That they called him Chu Chen-Tan (Thunder and Sunlight of India) Rabi=Tan=Morning Sun, Indra=Chen=Thunder, India=Thien-chu=Heavenly Kingdom (an ancient Chinese name for India)? Or that for a year his entire life is a traveling exhibit across India in a five-coach train?

sanskriti express

Sanskriti Express

The Sanskriti Express is packed to showcase Tagore’s works. The five coaches are dedicated to his legacy of dance, music, literature and art, and this mobile museum has been to 120 stations across India during its year-long journey, stopping at each for a few days. It was flagged off from Kolkata last May and will journey to all of India’s states over the course of the year and will reach Bolpur in Santiniketan on May 8th 2011.

A video clip online here.

Every coach displays different aspects of Tagore’s legacy.  ‘Jibon Smriti‘ or ‘Life Memories’ is a journey through Tagore’s life through photographs, with rare pictures of Santiniketan and Sriniketan, is the first coach. The second coach is named after his famous work ‘Gitanjali’ that won him the Nobel prize for literature in 1913. A copy of the Nobel certificate and the medal is also displayed. A large framed letter addressed to Lord Chelmsford, the then viceroy of India by Tagore, resigning from his knighthood after ‘Jallianwala Bagh’ massacre, as a protest, is an attention getter. Visitors can read his songs, verses and poems, besides, looking at a rare collection of his photographs with Mahatma Gandhi at Shantinikatan in 1940.

Muktodhara‘ the next coach is a pictorial collection of his novels, short stories, essays and plays. Photograph of Tagore as the actor in his own famous play ‘Post Office’ at Santiniketan in 1917, is on display. Rare pictures of his other famous plays ‘Taser Desh’ and ‘Chandalika’ are also exhibited.

Chitralekha,’ the fourth coach displays the paintings, portraits and sketches by Rabindranath Tagore, who started painting only at the age of 65. Gandhiji’s famous birthday telegram to Tagore on his 80th reads “Gurudev four score not enough. May you finish five score.

Sesh Katha‘ and ‘Smarnika‘ is the last coach with photographs depicting Tagore’s final journey and the last days of his life.

It is an effort to create public interest and awareness in the works of one of the world’s foremost cultural personalities  and India’s most important cultural touchstone. Rabindranath Tagore was a mystic, a poet, philosopher, musician, writer, and educationist, and perhaps the only litterateur who penned anthems of two countries – Jana Gana Mana, the Indian national anthem and Amar Shonar Bangla, the Bangladeshi national anthem. A great friend of Mahatama Gandhi, Tagore died on Aug 7, 1941 in Calcutta.

The incredible legacy of this thought leader is a guiding light and in his own words…

Where The Mind is Without Fear

WHERE the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

~ Rabindranath Tagore


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One Response to All Aboard the Cultural Express: Celebrating 150 years of Rabindranath Tagore

  1. Rajat Dasgupta says:

    Dear Poonam,
    Simply overwhelming! While a cripple at home, ailing variously, I could have a good glimpse, including visuals, of this great project of Miss. Mamata Banerjee (Hon’ble Minister of Indian Railways) to unfold a glorious cultural history of Bengal to the Indian hoi polloi. I think, I missed her name in your article. Nevertheless, your effort to highlight it to the global stage is equally commendable. It really holds “India’s head high” to the world community.
    I am grateful to you for your great effort.
    Yours sincerely,

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