Rabindranath and World-Life
(Rabindranath O Bishwajiban)*

Niharranjan Ray

Translated from the original Bangla by

Narasingha P. Sil


The two poems of Rabindranath, “Antaryami” (The Interiorized One) and “Jibandebata” (Lord of Life) in the collection titled Chitra reveal a delectable mystery of the poet’s life.

E ki kautuk nityanutan
          Ogo kautukmayi
Ami yaha kicchu chahi balibare
          Balite diteccha kai?
Antar majhe basi aharaha
Mukh hote tumi bhasa kade laha
Mor katha laye tumi katha kaha
          Mishaye apan surey
Ki balite chai sab bhule yai
Tumi ya balao ami bali tai
Sangitsrote kul nahi pai
          Kotha bhese yai dure.

("Antaryami", Chitra)

[What's this whimsy of yours
         My capricious one!
Why don't you let me say my bit?
Seated inside me all the time
You speak stealing my word
And I forget mine and speak
Only what you wish me to.
I am being swept away by the
Surging waves of my lyrics.]

Who is this capricious and mysterious female commandeering the poet’s thoughts into his lyrics and poems? He has no control over his own words—all his output happens to be the product of this amazing dea ludens (lit. “playful goddess,” rahasyamayi kautukmayi)?

Ohe antaratama
Mitechhe ki taba sakal tiyas
         Asi antare mama?
Duhkha sukher laksa dharay
Patra bhariya diyechhi tomay
Nithur pidane ningadi baksa
Dalita draksa sama

("Jibandebata", ibid)

[My lord, have you drunk enough of me?
I have crushed my breast like vineyards,
Filling your cup with my joys and sorrows.1]

Who is this antaratama, the innermost one to whom he offers cupful of his weal and woes wrung out of his heart? The poet has declared her as the one who resides in his innermost being—the presiding deity of his life, Jibandebata [note the change of gender here. Translator] He hasn’t sought him out. The jibandebata has welcomed him. This god (or goddess) is the guardian angel whom the poet offers his lyrics and poems as ritual flowers. The poet’s life is a lyre, as it were, tuned by Jibandebata, who makes the poet create music. Does this deity reside in the poet’s own imagination, who bursts out of his heart in poetic form? Probably his own thoughts, sensation, or consciousness, or realization (anubhuti) have become the sovereign lord of his whole life to whom the humble poet brings his meager offerings:

...Debi, nishidin kari paranpan
         Charane ditechhi ani
Mor jibaner sakal srestha sadher dhan,
         Byartha sadhan khani.

         ...Tumi yadi debi palace kebal
Kara kataksha sneha sukomal
Ekti bindu phela yadi ankhi jal
         Karuna mani.
Sab hate tabe sarthak habe
         Byartha sadhan khani.


[...My goddess, I bring to your feet
         All my failed enterprise,
The prized possession of my life.

         ...I shall deem it very kind of you
If you, Debi, look at me
With compassion
         even for a moment.
Then all my failed efforts
Will have received some justification.]

There is little doubt that this deity is the poet’s Jibandebata. All his failings and failures, his unspoken words, unsung lyrics, and unfulfilled aspirations have been offered to this deity’s feet seeking fulfillment. But, who’s this god?

All human beings harbor a creative impulse inside them propelling them to express themselves in art and literature, indeed in all their actions. Rabindranath often felt the presence of this creative impulse deeply. An intense urge from within him expressed itself through his work. The three pieces cited above illustrate how this anubhuti manifests itself aesthetically. This impulse from within him triggers his works to express it.

But the question is: Does this CREATIVE IMPULSE well up from within only? Isn’t there an external source for it? Does this impulse, which Rabindranath calls kautukmayi antaryami [the mysterious indwelling deity], awaken spontaneously without any external stimuli? I think not, though I cannot argue my point philosophically. Human mind appears to be incapable of appreciating the beauty of the world unless it is inspired by something in this world or universal life (vishwajiban) that triggers human capacity to appreciate beauty. Human creativity is thus dependent upon forces from the phenomenal world outside. Surely Tagore’s creative impulse was triggered by the wonderful expression of the variegated life of the world at large.

Human creative impulse, then, does have a springboard and its anubhuti is the lord of life or Jibaner Adhishwar, that is Jibandebata. Thus Tagore’s poetic oeuvres owe to this intimate deity. He feels that all his creations owe to this impulse’s grace. He has offered cupfuls of his joys and sorrows and his life’s greatest treasure to its feet, as it were, and sought assurance that his innermost one [antaratma] is gratified by them. This poet calls this impulse the mysterious innermost being [kautukmayi antaryami] who has filled the poet’s life with new ventures and surprises at all times. As this impulse gains stature inside the poet, he becomes its puppet and devotee, as could be seen in a few poems of Chitra.

However, I do not certainly claim that his empathy with the cosmic life or universal life (bishwajiban) and his creative impulse are one and the same thing. I mean to posit that Tagore’s awareness of this expansive life since his early youth fueled the creative impulse for his work. This awareness has found unique expression at different stages of his life; its flow has taken twists and turns at times—waning in winter and waxing in the rainy season. I claim, even at the risk of repeating myself, that the poet’s creative impulse is instigated by his awareness of the cosmic life and this awareness has been identified by him later as his lord of life.

We get the first clear hint of this awareness in some of Tagore’s letters and in his reminiscences. All of us are familiar with his experience of this sensation as he stood on the balcony of the Sudder Street residence looking at the garden at the eastern corner of the street. We may very well skip this episode, but two passages from the poet’s letters merit mention. In one of his letters the poet wrote:

My memory of my childhood is hazy, though I distinctly recall how some mornings I suddenly felt an intense joy of life (Jibanananda) apparently for no reasons whatsoever. All quarters of the world seemed to be enveloped in mystery. In the granary I used to dig the soil with a stick eager to discover something unknown. I enjoyed the company of a half-familiar gigantic being formed in different shapes out of the beauty and smell, and movements of the earth, the coconut trees in the compound of my home, the banyan tree on the bank of the pond, the shadows upon its waters, the noise from the street, the call of the kite, and the aroma from the garden.

Part of another letter reads:

We can derive great happiness from nature by feeling an intimate connection with it. Our pulse beats along with the grass, the breeze, the revolving light and shadow, the movement of the planets and stars, and the innumerable successions of life on earth. We are set in the same rhythm with the world and our mind responds to its movement and music.…We are not a class apart from what we call inanimate and thus we coexist, otherwise there would been two distinct worlds.

Although most poets have enjoyed a deep delight in nature, in Rabindranath this bliss has found a special intensity. He has felt a profound intimacy (nigudha atmiyata) with nature’s abundant expressions. All the beautiful and variegated expressions of the world of nature filled his being with a single grand whole….The sensation of this mysterious innermost one suddenly touches the poet’s soul making it restive and frantic apparently for no reason. The world of nature vibrating within the poet’s heart leads it to seek itself out in the outer world. It’s not easy to recognize this anubhuti, it’s a mysterious, mystical, quasi-familiar being. Perhaps this wondrous mystery is hidden in every expression of nature. The truth, however, is that it actually lies within the poet’s psyche and not elsewhere. Yet there is little doubt that this stranger resides in the poet’s interiority as his indwelling companion—the first faint signifier of cosmic life.

This faint hint becomes clearer and expresses itself beautifully for the first time in numerous poems of Prbhatsangit [Song of the Dawn], especially “Nirjharer Swapnabhanga” [The Spring Wakes from Its Dreams]. The sentiment and sensation welling up to burst out of the poet’s soma and psyche (deha-mon) find their release in the infinite varieties of the phenomenal world….

Hriday aji mor kemane gela khuli
Jagat asi setha karichhe kolakuli.
Dharay ache yata manus shata shata
Asichhe prane mor hasichhe galagali

… … … … … … … … … … … …

Paran pure gela harase hala bhor
Jagate keha nai, sabai prane mor.

[My heart unfolded today
To embrace the world.
All the humanity of this earth
Have come to join my life.

… … … .. . … … … … … …

My life has filled with joy and when dawn came
Every one in the world has come in my life.]


Aji e prabhate rabir kar
Kemane pashila praner par
Kemane pashila guhar andhare,
Prabhat pakhir gan.
Na jani kenare etadin pare
Jagiya uthila pran.

("Nirjharer Swapnabhanga", Prabhat-Sangeet.)

[How have the sun's rays in my heart
Entered this morning! How have the songs
Of morning birds into the dark cave broken!
Who knows why, after long, my soul has woken!2 ]

Everywhere one notes occasional flashes of this sensation. The poet subsequently named it Jibandebata [lord of life] and this anubhuti, appearing in various guises, has been his intimate consort throughout his life. Nevertheless, in Prabhatsangit this sensation is still pretty vague and unformed.

It is not really difficult to discern the concept of this sensation and it is Rabindranath’s favorite and familiar concept. In fact the poet himself has explained the concept behind his anubhuti in numerous poetical works and other writings. 3 It also has been echoed by some thinkers in our country and overseas. The innumerable visible manifestations of universal life could be realized within the confines of our heart as a complete sensation [anubhuti]. However, this akhanda anubhuti [undivided sensation] refuses to rest within, always seeking to break all bounds to realize itself in the infinite universal life. To be sure, what is limitless is neither real nor realizable; the unbound is formless, it has its raison d’etre only with bounds. The unlimited cannot be realized unless it is comprehended within limits. By the same token, nothing within bounds can reach perfection until it transcends its limitedness and merges in the unlimited and the unformed. The finite and the infinite, the form and the formless, the part and the whole coexist. Our individual mortal life is thus organically related to the universal eternal life. We realize the latter within the finitude of our personal life. There is nothing in creation that cannot be apprehended in our interiorized feelings. Otherwise, our individual life, even the life universal, would be devoid of any meaning.

A poem composed in his maturer years expresses this concept wonderfully:

Dhup apanare milaite chahe gandhe
Gandha se chahe dhupere rahite jude
Sur apanare yog dite chahe chhande
Chhanda apani phire yete chai sure.
Bhab pete chai ruper majhare anga
Rup pate chai bhaber majhare chhada
Asim se chahe simar nibid sanga
Sima hate chai asimer majhe hara.
Pralay srijabe na jani e kar yukti
Bhab hate rupe abiram yawa asa
Bandha phirichhe khunjiya apan mukti
Mukti magichhe bandhaner majhe basa.

(Chhabi O Gan.)

[The incense wants to dissolve into its aroma
And the aroma wants to stick to the incense
The music wants to join the meter
The meter wants to return to the tune.
The thoughts seek form and
Form seeks release in thoughts.
The infinite seeks close touch of the finite
The finite wants to be lost in the infinite.
Whose idea is this: creation and dissolution?
Moving back and forth from thought to form?
Confinement seeking release and freedom residing in restraint?]

….As will be seen later, as the poet advanced in age, his realization of an intimate connection with the cosmic life grew deeper and possessed his literary life. While his Prabhatsangit gives a faint hint to this realization, it becomes clearer in “Rahur Prem” [The Demon’s Love] (Chhabi O Gan) [Pictures and Songs]:

Shunechhi amare bhala lage na
Nai ba lagila tor,
Kathin bandhane charan bediya
Chirakal tore raba ankadiya
Lauha shrinkhaler dor.
Tui ta amar sangi abhagini,
Bandhiachhi karagare
Pranete shrinkhal diyechhi pranete
Dekhi ke khulite pare.

Jagat majhare yethai bedabi
Yethai basibi yethai dandabi
Ki basante shite, dibase nishithe
Sathe sathe tor thakibe bajite
E pasan pran ananta shrinkhal
Charan jadaye dhare
Ekbar tore dekhechhi yakhan
Kemane edabi more.


[I hear I do not please you:
                      Let it be.
           Like rugged iron ankle-bands
           I'll clasp your feet with grappling hands
A wretched captive in my thrall,
           I've seized you,
Fettered your life in my life's chains:
           Who'll free you?

           Wherever you walk in this world,
           Wherever sit, wherever stand,
           In spring or winter, day or night,
           You'll bear the ceaseless clanking weight
Of this hard heart in shackles round your feet.... 4 ]

Unmistakably the hazy and misty sensation of Prabhatsangit is becoming clearer and assuming a distinct and intimate form in the poet’s imagination, as if another life, the life eternal, is seeking to mingle with and blossom in his life ephemeral. This fragile and fleeting life is surrounded by eternal life in every season and every direction and in every mood at every moment. The eternal universal life finds expression in the entire cosmic life.

Anantakaler sangi ami tor
Ami ye tor chhaya
Kiba se rodane, kiba se hasite
Dekhite paibe kakhan pashete
Kakhan samukhe kakhan pashchate
Amar adhar kaya

… … … … … … …

Ye dike chahibi, akashe amar
Andhar murati anka
Sakali padibe amar adale
Jagat padibe Dhaka.


[I am your partner for all time,
                     your shadow.
               Now in tears and now laughter,
               Now before you and now after,
Now beside, my dark shape you will see.


               No matter where: look at the skies,
My darkening form will hide the world from sight.5 ]

Another piece from Chhabi O Gan, “Nishith Jagat” [World at Night], evokes this anubhuti elegantly and eloquently in its poignant presentation of an acutely charged sensation. Clouds are gathering in the western sky, lightning flashing in the cloudy horizon, “bats flying and owls hooting”; in this stormy night a child walks to the forest holding his mother’s hand. Suddenly he frees himself from his mother’s clutch in a playful mood and falls behind. The mother calls for her boy and cannot find him. He sits in the forest alone:

Sahasa samukh diyeke galo chhayar mato,
Lagila taras.
Ke jane sahasa yena kotha kondik hate
Shuni dirghashvas.
Ke base rayechhe pashe? Ke chhuinla deha mor
Himhaste tanr?


[Who goes like a shadow all of a sudden
It’s eerie.
I know not where I hear a sudden sigh from.
Who’s sitting near me? Who’s touching me with
A chilly hand?]

Who is this invisible man? He pervades the whole cosmos with all the invisible creatures of the dark. The child has also drowned in the dark vast life universal. He cannot even recognize himself because his own self is submerged in him. It is impossible to see this imprisoned self:

Andhakare apanare dekhite na pai yata
            Tata bhalobasi,
Tata tare buke kare bahute bandhiya laye
            Harasete bhasi.
Yata yena mane hai pachhe re chalite pathe
            Trina phute pai,
Yataner dhan pachhe chamaki kandiya othe
            Kusumer ghai.


[The more I can’t see myself in the dark
            The more I love him,
The more I hold him in my arm
            With delight.
I dread his being stung
By a thorn while walking
            Or shocked
(even) by the flower falling on him.]

This “precious treasure” [yataner dhan] may be his beloved mate whom he wishes to see:

Sakhare kandiya bale—“Bado sadh yai sakha
            Dekhi bhalo kare.
Tui shaishaber bandhu, chirajanma kete galo
            Dekhinu na tore.
Bujhi tumi dure achha, ekbar kachhe ese
            Dekhao tomai!”
Se amni kende bale—“Apanare dekhi nai
            Ki dekhabo tore?”


[He entreats his mate “It’s my
only desire to look at you up close, my friend.
You have been childhood companion, and
All my life is spent without seeing you.
I know you stay far away, but come to me
And reveal yourself just for once.”
He responds in tears “What could I show
You, alas, I haven’t even seen my own self.”]

Had he been visible, that anubhuti would have vanished in the thin air. His mystery consists in his invisibility. That is why there is so much anxious longing to see him and recognize him.

As I have observed, the very first piece of the poet’s collection titled Manasi bears testimony to the nexus between his concepts of Jibandebata and bishwajiban….In “Upahar” [Gift] we get a glimpse of how the waves of life are striking against the poet’s heart relentlessly and how the different tunes of bliss and blight of life are resonating inside him….He takes all the music of the vast world outside inside himself and shapes the goddess of his imagination [manasi-pratima] with his love and logos. This manasi-pratima keeps company with him sometimes as a male playmate, sometimes as his dearest female lover, sometimes as his interiorized deity [antarer debata] or sometimes as the presiding goddess of life [jibaner adhisthatri debi]….

Bahire pathay bishwa katagandha gan drishya
Sangihara saundaryer beshe
Birahi se ghure ghure byathabhara kata sure
Kande hridayer dware ese.
Sei mohamantra gane kabir gabhir prane
Jege uthe birahi bhabana,
Chhadi antahpurabase salajja charane ase
Murtimati marmer kamana.
Antare bahire sei byakulita milanei
Kabir ekanta sukhochhwas
Sei anandamuhurtaguli taba kare dinu tuli
Sarbashrestha praner prakash.

[The world sends out so much beauty in
sight, smell, and sound that
Moves about as a forlorn lover and weeps
In piteous melody at the portals of my heart.
This mystical music inspires lover’s thoughts [birahi bhabana]
In the innermost core of the poet’s heart.
The perfect form of his desire
arrives in hesitant steps.
The poet’s greatest bliss lies in this passionate union of the outer and the inner.
I dedicate to you those blissful moments as the greatest gift of [my] life.]

Even the last piece in Manasi [“Amar Sukh” (My Pleasure)] is worth noticing. The poet feels that he has scored one up over his constant companion residing in him. The latter never enjoyed the aesthetic delight [madhuri] that he did….The poet believes that he himself has been fused with the world and hence he is infinite and eternal. But he has turned on him who has graciously enabled the poet to have such a realization:

Tumi ki karechha mane dekhechha, peyechha tumi
Simarekha mama?
Pheliya diyachha more adi anta shes kare
Pada punthi sama?
Nai sima agepachhe, yata chao tata ache,
Yatai asibe kachhe tata pabe more.
Amareo diye tumi e bipul bishwabhumi
E akash e batas dite paro bhare.
Amateo sthan peta abadhe samasta taba
Jibaner asha.
Ekbar bhebe dekho e paran dhariachhe
Kata bhalobasa.

(“Amar Sukh”, Manasi])

[Do you think you’ve fathomed my limit
And discarded me like a book read from beginning to end?
I am unlimited.
You’ll have more of me the more you come near me.
You could fill the universe
With my self.
Let all the aspirations of your life
Rest in me.
You need to consider
How my own life harbored
So much love.]

We get to see Rabindranath’s mysterious creative impulse as the ideal woman of his imagination in the poet’s collection titled Sonar Tari [Golden Boat]. My reason for citing this piece is that we get a glimpse of the poet’s mysterious creative impulse in it. We noted how a half-familiar being representing all the beauty, smell and movements of the world used to give him company. Though he did not yet get to know know this companion fully, the poet used to have regular tryst with her in his room, on the rooftop under the sky in the morning and in the evening. She was his constant childhood companion as a little girl but now she appears in “Manassundari” [the Pretty Woman of his Imagination] as his lover [preyasi] of his adult years. The poet asks:

Mane ache kabe kon phullayuthi bane,
Bahubalyakale, dekha hata dui jane
Adh-chenashona? Tumi ei prithibir
Pratibesinir meye, dharar asthir
Ek balaker sathe ki khela khelate
Sakhi, asite hasiya, tarun prabhate
Nabin balikamurti, shubhrabastra pari
Usar kirandhare sadya snan kari
Bikacha kusumsama phullamukhkhani
Nidrabhange dekha dite niye yete tani
Upabane kudate shephali. Bare bare
Shaishab kartabya hate bhulaye amare,
Phele diye punthi-patra, kede nite khadi,
Dekhaye gopan path dite mukta kari
Pathshala-kara hate; kotha grihakone
Niye yete nirjanete rahasya-bhabane;
Janashunya grihachhade akasher tale,
Bhulate amare, svapnasama chamatkar
Arthahin, satya mithya tumi jana tar.

(“Manassundari”, Sonar Tari)

[Recall the time long ago when we two children
Half-familiar with each other used to have a tryst at
The fully blossomed juthi grove?
You, a little girl from a neighboring planet [prithibir pratibeshinir meye,]
Used to play with a restive boy of the earth, clad in a white dress and
Bathed in the bright light of the dawn;
You used to appear as a blossoming flower to awake me
And drag me to the garden to collect shephali flowers.
So many times you made me oblivious of my child’s chores
And discard my books and you took away my chalk and showed me
The secret alley, thus rescuing me from my school prison-house.
You dragged me to some secret niche of the desolate mysterious
Mansion or the lonely rooftop to play with me or to entertain me
With your wonderful stories under the blue sky; this was like
A wondrous dream that’s meaningless and purposeless—you only
Know if these were real or not.]

But the poet’s childhood is now over. Even his female playmate has crossed over the juvenile playground. His life is now swayed by the first Spring breeze of mature youth; new aspirations and anxieties as well as the world spirit have touched his heart with new magic and new form. The poet now looks at his childhood companion:

--Khelakshetra hate
Kakhan anatarlakshmi esechha antare,
Apanar antahpure gauraber bhare
Basi achha mahisir mata.
Chhile khelar sangini
Ekhan hayechha marmer gehini,
Jibaner adhisthatri debi.


[You, the goddess of my heart, have
Left the playground and come gloriously into my heart,
Your own dwelling, where
You sit as my queen.
You were my playmate
But now you’ve become my soulmate,
The presiding goddess of my life.]

The childhood companion now appears to the poet as his lover…. this innermost lover is no longer confined within him, she has revealed herself in the infinite world of nature outside. The sensation remains the same, though it has taken another form. This indwelling lover can no longer be confused with his inner self, she has blossomed in the infinite world of nature outside. Perhaps she had blossomed in his heart in a previous birth. Though death has snapped the tie their love now pervades the whole universe. Hence the poet beholds the majestic beauty of his lover everywhere in the universe:

Ekhan bhasichha tumi
Ananter majhe; swarga hate martabhumi
Karichha bihar; sandhyar kanakbarne
Rangichha anchal! Usar galitaswarne
Gadichha mekhala; purna tatinir jale
Karichha bistar, taltal chhalchhale
Lalita yaubankhani, basanta-batase
Chanchal basanabyatha sugandha nihshase
Karichha prakash; nisupta purnima-rate
Nirjan gagane, ekakini klanta hate
Bichhaichha dugdha shubhra biraha shayan.


[You’re now hovering in eternity between heaven
And earth; dipping the corner of your garment in
The golden hue of evening; making your girdle
With the molten gold of dawn; mixing and spreading
Your luscious liquid youthful [beauty], and exuding
Your restive pangs of desire in the fragrant breath
Of the spring breeze.
You have spread
The milky white lonesome bed with your
Tired hand in the sleepy desolate
Firmament in the full-moon night.]

However, the poet is unable to find solace and satisfaction in the mere touch of the anubhuti of his indwelling lover. He longs to see his manasi in real life, and he asks her:

Sei tumi
Murtite dibe ki dekha? Ei martabhumi
Parash karibe ranga charana tale?
Antare bahire bishve shunye jale sthale
Sarba thnai hate, sarbamayi apanare
Kariya haran, dharanir ekdhare
Dharibe ki ekkhani madhur murati?


[Would you, please, assume a tangible form
And touch this earth under your colorful feet?
Would you take yourself off from all quarters of the
Universe you pervade and
Show your magnificent visage in a
Corner of the earth?]

Anyway, this anubhuti of the world of nature never materialized in any tangible form to the poet though he felt touched by its myriad manifestations. One day he wakes up suddenly to find his lover, his “paran” [life], as it were, embrace him in trepidation. His heart dances in joy under her unrelenting delightful clutches. Until now he has carefully and tenderly nurtured his manassundari lest she is hurt or otherwise importuned, he has smothered her with his passionate kisses and filled her with all that is sweet and charming. In her euphoria she is now senseless to touch and unable to bear the weight of flowers even. But the poet is concerned lest he should lose his charming lover in the bottomless pit of the ocean of dream. He must get her back again.

Bhebechhi ajike khelite haibe
Nutan khela,
Marandolai dhari rashigachhi
Basiba dujane bado kachhakachhi
Jhanjha asia atta hasia
Maribe thela—
Amar pranete kheliba dujane
De dol dol!
De dol dol!
E mahasagare tuphan tol
Badhure amar peyechhi abar—
Bharechhe kol.

Pranete amate mukhamukhi aj
Chine laba donhe chhadi bhai laj,
Bakshe bakshe parashiba donhe
Bhabe bibhol.
De dol dol.

(“Jhulan” [Swing], Sonar Tari)

[Hence have I thought to play today
                    A novel game
                    In the night-time.
      Clutching fast the death-swing's ropes,
      The two of us shall nestle close,
      The storm will come and give a push
                   With laughter high:
We two shall play the swinging game
                   At midnight-time,
                   My soul and I.

                   Swing, swing!
                   Swing, swing!
      Raise a tempest on this sea!
      My lap is full—my bride again
                   Has come to me!


Face to Face, my soul and I
Today, all shame and fear laid by,
Will know each other, breast to breast,
                     On rapture's wing:
                     Swing, swing! 6]

We now witness the poet’s wondrous jhulanmela and the tumult in the his heart as well as in the air and in the sky. However, at another moment this same manassundari is dragging him somewhere without a destination [niruddesh]; the poet does not even know what is his sojourn for except that he is being led by his indwelling goddess to nowhere. On his way he asks his innermost companion:

Ar kata dure niye yabe more
He sundari?
Balo, kon par bhidive tomar
Sonar tari?
Yakhani shudhai ogo bideshini
Tumi hasa shudhu madhurhasini—
Bujhite na pari, ki jani ki ache
Tomar mane.
Nirabe dekhao anguli tuli
Akul sindhu uthichhe akuli,
Dure pashchime dubichhe tapan
Ki ache hothai-chalechhi kiser

(“Niruddesh Yatra” [Voyage without End], ibid.)

[How much further will you lead me, fair one?
Tell me what shore your golden boat will moor on.
      Stranger-woman, when I ask
      You only smile, sweet-smiling one:
I cannot tell what passes in your mind.
      You point a finger silently
      Towards the heaving shoreless sea,
The sun upon its western edge inclined.
What waits us there? What do we go to find?7]

And yet, the poet was acutely aware that in spite of multiplicities this anubhuti has a single undivided reality in him and it is the presence of his manassundari or his Jibandebata...

Jagater majhe kata bichitra tumi he
Tumi bichitrarupini

[You wear multiple masks
In this variegated world]
… … … … … … … … …


Antarmajhe shudhu tumi eka akaki
Tumi antarbyapini

[And yet in my innermost being
You remain as the only and lonely one.]


We have seen that the single anubhuti of the world of nature has pervaded the poet’s interiority as his manassundari whom he has found in every manifestation of the life universal and who is giving expression to his life guiding it, straying him off his path at every step on to nowhere. He has no word of his own it being provided by his manassundari who is also the presiding deity of his life [Jibandebata]. What is this unfathomable mystery, how queer—without purpose, without end!

E ki kautuk nityanutan
Ogo kautukmmayi,
Ami yaha kichhu chahi balibare
Balite ditechha kai!

(“Antaryami” [The Innermost One”, ibid.)

[What prank is this yours,
My mischievous one!
Why don’t you let me speak
What I want to say?]

Is that all? Are you making a mockery of my lyric and logia? You have also made my life an object of your purposeless fun—I want to go one way and you lead athwart that direction, you have made me a puppet of yours—

Ekada pratham prabhatbelai
Se pathe bahir hainu helai
Mane chhila, din kaje o khelai
Kataye phiriba rate.
Pade pade tumi bhulaile dik,
Kotha yaba aj nahi pai thik,
Klantahriday bhranta pathik
Esechhi nutan deshe.


[When one morn I went out casually
I thought of spending the day in work and play
And return at night]
[You made me forget my way at every step,
I can’t find my destination.
I now come to a strange land, a tired and wayward traveler.]

But have you been gratified yet after having accepted my life as the offering for your worship, made me your puppet and an object of your fun and pleasure?

Ohe antaratama,
Mitechhe ki taba sakal tiyas
Asi antare mama.

(“Jibandebata”, ibid.)

If you have made me bankrupt after having possessed my lyric, spirit, and splendor, if your night of love tryst with me is over, then you create me anew so that we start a new tryst. You yourself are ever changing, let your unending playfulness find expression in my transience:

Bhenge dao tabe ajikar sabha,
Ano naba rup ano naba shobha,
Nutan kariya laho arbar
Chirapuratan more.


[Let’s be done with our tryst today.
Bring new form and beauty
Make a new man out of my
Familiar old self.]

Yet this novelty has no limit, no end. The grapevine of the poet’s life has blossomed due to the touch of this indwelling one. He again invokes this antaratama in his life:

Tumi esa nikunja nibase
Esa mor sarthank sadhan.
Lute lao bharia anchal
Jibaner sakal sambal,
Nirabe nitanta abanata
Basanter sarba samarpan.
Hasimukhe niye yao yata
Baner bedan nibedan.


[Come, enter my grove
O my fulfillment!
Take away my life’s spring treasures
Humbly and silently offered.
Take all the pain and pangs of this
Grove with a smile.]

We have endeavored to get to know the anubhuti of life in Rabindranath’s poetical career from the composition of Prabhatsangit to Chaitali. Though numerous poems of his provide a glimpse of this anubhuiti, those bearing a clearer stamp of it help us comprehend this wondrous mystery. We noted that from the beginning of his literary career the poet demonstrates a close connection between his inner sensibilities and the myriads of manifestations of the external world of nature.

Moreover, he visualizes with his eyes or in his imagination [maner dristi], hears, and feels with his touch a bird’s song, wind’s murmur, the sun, the moon and the stars in the firmament, human movements, trees and shrubs, rivers, and everything else—they all have gathered in his innermost being. He is partially familiar with this holistic form and yet it is his constant companion. However, this undivided form cannot realize itself within the confines of the poet’s interiority; it seeks to mingle with the wider world outside. The pieces of Prabhatsangit express this aspiration. As I mentioned earlier, the hazy presence of this indwelling being gradually achieves a distinct profile. Appearing initially as a composite of the multiplicities of the world of nature it goes on to become the poet’s playmate, his intimate consort—the childhood companion becomes the presiding deity of his heart in his youth and ultimately his beloved spouse [marmer grihini]. This marital game [dampatyalila] could become tiresome and boring from time to time requiring a fresh start or it could raise occasional doubts about its success or satisfaction. However, this manassundari is more than just the poet’s lover—she is his jibaner adhisthatri debi.

Really speaking, the realization of this supreme governor, the lord of life, on the poet’s life is eo ipso a wondrous and mysterious aesthetic presence. This is because his Jibandebata is a wonderful representation as well as the realization of the cosmic life. As he is connected to the cosmos by an umbilical cord, as it were, he easily and elegantly finds an aesthetic pleasure in the most trivial natural objects and phenomena. The poems and lyrics of the poet’s opus beginning with the Prabhatsangitthrough Katha O Kahini [Story and History], Kalpana [Imagination], Kshanika [Momentary] contain no somber philosophy or rhetoric but and unlimited reserve of unalloyed beauty and music. The poems of this phase of the poet’s life illuminate the joy emanating from a complete union between the outer and the inner, between earthly life and cosmic life. The [poet’s] entire life is drowned in the beauty, love, and enjoyment of the world of nature—as if he is spiritedly seeking to lose himself in the ever flowing beauty of cosmic life. We sense the Sturm und Drang of this gushing sentiment in such pieces as “Basundhara’ [Earth], “Yete Nahi Diba” [I Won’t Let You Go8], “Samudrer Prati” [To the Ocean], “Swarga Haite Bidai” [Farewell to Paradise], and “Prabasi” [Emigrant]. His anubhuti is arguably wonderfully uncanny.

Trine pulakita ye matir dhara
Lutai amar samne
Se amake dake eman kariya
Kena ye kaba ta kemane?
Mane hai yena se dhulir tale
Yuge yuge ami chhinu trina jale
Se duar khuli kabe kon chhale
Bahir hayechhi bhramane.

E satmahala bhabane amar
Chirajanamer bhitate
Sthale jale ami hajar bandhane
Bandha ye githate githate.

(Sonar Tari)

[I can’t express how
The grass-laden earth beacons to me!
I feel as if I have wandered out
Of the door [of my home]
Behind which I had lived for ages
Under the dust, in the grass, and in the water.

In this grand mansion,
My eternal home,
I remain tied
Knot by knot on land and in water.]

It is common knowledge that Rabindranath’s poetical career starting from Prabhatsangit down to Kalpana and Kshanika is primarily an aesthetic experience. Thereafter begins a new chapter in his life starting with Naibedya [Offerings] and Kheya [Ferry], when the poet parts company with his blissful aesthetic interaction with nature. There is pain in this parting and it finds expression in several poems of Kalpana and Kshanika. However, the anubhuti of Jibandebata still lingers in the poet’s heart. Yet, alas, it’s time say good bye to his manassundari:

Ami nisthur kathin kathor
Nirmam ami aj
Ar nahi deri bhairab bheri
Bahire uthichhe baji.
Tumi ghumaichha nimil nayane
Kanpiya uthichha biraha shayane
Prabhate uthiya shunya nayane
Kandiya chahia rabe…

[I am relentless and unsparing today.
The terrible drum is beating outside,
There’s no time.
You’re sleeping with eyes shut
But you shiver in the pang of separation.
You’ll wake up weeping at dawn
With a vacant look …]

The poet is well aware, and yet—

Samai hayechhe nikat ekhan
Bandhan chhindite habe.


[It’s time now
To cut the knot of the tie.]

...The poet’s parting with his aesthetic life is complete in Naibedya. His close connection with the world of nature could no longer be felt. There will be no realization of beauty in the most trivial and tiny objects; there will be no occasion “to see a world in a grain of sand,” no moments to savor the sheer bliss of experiencing the sublime; this world of joys and jitters, smiles and sorrows will no longer move the poet’s heart. This new phase of his poetic career reaches its acme in Gitanjali [Song Offerings] and Gitimalya [Garland of Songs]. It is the lord of world spirit who now presides over the poet’s new life. We notice a sea change in the poet’s thoughts about his Jibandebata. His heart and soul now remain absorbed in deeper mysteries than his communion with world life. The poet’s anubhuti of jibandebata, that is contingent upon his intimacy with world life, is yielding place to a higher arcana.

We will understand this change better if we bear in mind that consciousness of the world life or spirit is not quite the same as consciousness of the lord of the world. Admittedly, the consciousness of world life and the consciousness of the lord of the world are related. Yet we must not confuse the two. Jibandebata expresses himself not in world life but in individual life. He enacts his lila in the interiority of the individual human being who realizes him in the external world. We realize our temporal life in the world life by the grace of Jibandebata. This is because our life is connected to the world life—“we share the same rhythm” and that is why we feel in our life the pulsation of the life universal. In this sense, Jibandebata is actually a deeper and larger extension of the poet’s own life. However, this is not exactly Rabindranath’s understanding of god or the lord of the world. Yet it seems that for him the Jibandebata consciousness merged gradually with that of world spirit and he was led to the realization of the lord of the world or god through his identification with the cosmic life. There are sparks of thoughts of the divine in some of the poems of Kheya, Gitanjali, and Gitimalya.

My analysis of the mysteries of Rabindranath’s poetic life highlights a simple truth of which I have tried to provide but a faint hint. Perhaps the mysterium tremndum of his Jibandebata underlies this truth. I do not think it necessary to unravel the mysteries of Rabindranath’s poetic consciousness through such lofty philosophies as monism or Hegelianism. The poet’s mystery belongs primarily to the affective domain….Rabindranath is a poet par excellence and not a pedantic scholar. The font of his poetic consciousness is neither an identifiable philosophy nor esoteric knowledge about truth, but rather his extraordinary spontaneous capacity for feeling. This faculty has enabled him to unravel the inscrutable mysteries of life—na medhaya na vahudha shrutena [neither by ratiocination nor with the help of profound philosophies]. Hence I do not try to search for a theory or a philosophy to explain the mystery of Jibandebata as I do not think any such theorizing will help us know the poet or grasp his output.

But let me return to the theme of our discourse. Is it really the case that the poet of Kalpana or Kshanika lost the wonderful anubhuti of his manassundari or Jibandebata? Apparently, the poet seems to have lost it. Would the poet’s beloved manassundari who lived inside the poet’s heart be lost forever? Would the lord of the world replace his lord of life [bishwadebata]?

It is fairly known that Rabindranth, the composer of Gianjali-Gitimalya-Gitali, found a new life in Balaka [The Crane]. This “born again” experience of the poet is truly wonderful. We used to think that Rabindranath finally eschewed his aesthetic sensibilities of Gitanjali-Gitimalya and surrendered himself to the feet of Bishvadebata. Indeed this would been the normal evolution of human nature. But this was not the case with Rabindranath. I have discussed this elsewhere and do not wish to repeat my arguments here. Balaka is poetry of restlessness and movement celebrating love, youth, and beauty with a high intellectual appeal. The poet’s Jibandebata tantalizingly larks behind this motion and emotion of love, youth, and beauty. “Matta sagar padi dila gahan ratrikale, ai ye amar neye” [“My helmsman set sail in turbulent sea at the dead of night”]—we hear the faint footsteps of this stranger, the man in the heart [of the poet] in this line. Balaka is followed by Palataka [The Fugitive] which testifies to the poet’s concern with the mundane multiple trials and tribulations, and the weal and woes of human life, which is a part of universal life. It seems that his poems in Palataka seek to probe the varied experiences of life through the variegated emotions and sentiments of human heart expressed in them. It is becoming clear that the consciousness of his female playmate of childhood, companion of his adolescence, and the pretty princess of his youthful imagination mysterious and inscrutable, approaches slowly closer to his heart’s sanctum. Ever she comes, she comes.

In fact she arrives in Purabi [titled after an Indian musical note], in spite of the poet’s deeper consciousness of the lord of the universe. This is because world life is dearer than the lord of the world to Tagore. Rabindranath is a poet of human and universal life. I have discussed the deeper thoughts of Purabi elsewhere, though I find it necessary to reproduce some parts of my critique here.9 For whatever reasons, Rabindranath’s poetic career that had been grounded in deep spiritual thoughts staged a comeback to his deep engagement with the smiles and sorrows, with the water, dust, grass, and tress of this sacred earth: “punya dharar dhulomati phal hawa jal trina tarur sane.”

Ei ya dekha ei ya chhonwa, ei bhalo ei bhalo
Ei bhalo aj e sangame kannahasir ganga yamunai
Dheu kheyechhi dub thiechhi ghat bharechhi niyechhi bedai.
Ei bhalore praner range ei asanga sakal ange mane.
Punya dharar dhulomati phal hawa jal trina tarur sane.


[That I have seen, touched, dived in the
Confluence of joys and sorrows, and filled my pitcher
And have bid farewell—this is enough.
I am blessed that I have shared
My body and soul with the water, dust, grass, and trees of this sacred earth.]

Now the poet could easily feel:

Aj dharani apan hate
Anna dilen amar pate
Phal diyechhen sajiye patrapute
Ajke mather ghase ghase
Nihshwase mor khabar ase
Kothai achha bishwajaner pran.


[(Mother) earth served me
Food with [her] own hand today.
(She) has put the fruits on plates of leaves
The meadows bring my news in every grass
Where are you the vital force of the universe?]

This echoes the thoughts of his youth—a desire to feel the universal life within his own. The resurgence of this feeling also ensures the return of the poet’s playful companion, his manassundari. She has come:

Duar bahire yemani chahire
Mane hala yena chini
Kabe, nirupama ogo priyatama
Chhile lilasangini.


[I look outside of my door
And feel as if I recognize you.
When did you, my dearest one,
Play with me last?]

(Purabi )

This playmate had met the poet many, many times in the past, opening his doors, and charming him in various guises—sometime as newly bloomed flower or sometimes as newly formed cloud. She has come back at the fag end of the poet’s life. Would he be able to welcome her to his home?

Dekho na ki hai, bela chale yai
Sara haye ela din
Baje purabir chhande rabir
Shes raginir bin.
Etadin hetha chhinu ami parabasi,
Hariye phelechhi sediner banshi
Aj sandhyay pran othe nihshwasi
Ganhara udasin.
Kena abelay dekechhe khelay
Sara haye ela din.


[Alas, time is rolling by
The day is coming to its end;
The sun’s lute is playing
The final note in the Purabi melody.
I have been a stranger here so long
I have lost the flute I had.
My heart is heavy with melancholy without any music.
Why has she summoned me to play [with her]
When the day is coming to an end?
At the end of the day?]

(Purabi )

In several pieces of Purabi we notice the poet’s unmistakable expression of his recovery of the consciousness of his lover of imagination (manasipriya), his lord of life (Jibandebata). The aesthetic delights that had filled his earlier life with bliss and then had been lost have crept stealthily and silently into the realm of his imagination and thoughts in the poet’s later life….

Aj dekhi sediner sei kshin padadhvani tar
Amar ganer chhanda gopane karichhe adhikar,
Dekhi tar adrishya anguli
Svapna ashru sarobare kshane kshane dei dheu tuli.


[I now know the sound of her faint footsteps of yore
Have mysteriously possessed my lyrics,
I also see her unseen fingers causing ripples in the
Tear-filled lake of my dream.]

(Purabi )

The poet’s lover gave her parting kiss long ago. He has almost forgotten it in the hiatus of the long separation. But he now remembers her and asks her forgiveness piteously for his lapse of memory. How many leaves of madhabi flower wilted, how many noons noisy with dove song, how many evenings have left their golden amnesia, how many nights have written an obscure script and lapsed in oblivion after that last kiss. Even if the poet asks forgiveness of his long lost beloved, he nevertheless is fully aware that his lover, his Jibandebata, has already blessed his life with her touch.

Tabu jani. Ekdin tumi dekha diyechhile bale
Ganer phasale mor e jiban uthechhila phale.
Ajo nai shes

… … … … … … …

Tomar parash nahi ar
Kintu ki parashmani rekhe gechha antare amar
Bishver amrita chhabi ajio to dekha dey more
Kshane kshane akaran anander sudhapatra bhare
Amare karay pan.


[I know my life blossomed in songs because
You came to me.
It’s still not empty yet

… … … … … … …

Though I miss your touch
I know I carry your touchstone inside me
I still behold the immortal visage of the world
And drink the cup of gratuitous bliss every moment.]

(Purabi )

…I have tried to unravel the mystery and mystique of Rabindranath’s jibandebata according to my own understanding. My explanation may not be valid even. Yet, I must conclude by claiming that the font of Tagore’s sensibilities enriching his poetic career and filling it with variegated forms and fragrance is, undeniably, his consciousness of universal life. This consciousness colored his childhood, adolescence, and youth, and the same consciousness brings a twilight tinge to fill the sunset hours of his life.

* Originally published under the title “Rabindra-pratibhar Utsa” [The Source of Tagore’s Genius] in Bharatvarsa (Kartik, 1336 Bangla Sal [1929]). Reprinted in Niharranjan Ray, Bharatiya Aitihya O Rabindranath [Rabindranath and Indian Heritage], Vol. 2, (Kolkata: Dey’s Publishing, 2004), 31-59. Certain sections of the original text have been omitted (marked by ellipses) as they appear to be repetitive in English, although such repetitions add rhetorical flourish in Bengali and Niharranjan was unquestionably a master of Bengali prose noted for its scholarly merit and literary richness. Needless to mention, ample care has been taken to maintain the integrity of the author’s arguments and conclusions. All citations from Rabindranath’s poems appear in Sil’s translation barring a few where other renderings are used and referenced for their better quality and elegance. [Translator].

1 Translation by Buddhadeva Bose in his Tagore: Portrait of a Poet (Mumbai: University of Bombay, 1962), 91. There is a more literal, albeit quite readable, translation in Indu Dutt, A Tagore Testament: Translated from the Original Bengali of Rabindranath Tagore (1969. Third impression. Mumbai: Jaico Publishing House, 1984), 1.

2 Translation by Sukanta Chaudhuri; "The Spring Wakes from Its Dreams"; Selected Poems: Rabindranath Tagore; edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004), 45.

3 [Note as in original. Slightly edited by the translator] A most succinct and elegant explanation of this concept comes from the poet himself writing under the pseudonym Banibinod Bandyopadhyay in a review of Edward Thompson’s two books on Tagore: Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work (1921) and Rabindranath Tagore; Poet and Dramatist (1926).

“It wouldn’t hurt to admit that he [Mr. Thompson] was unable to appreciate the idea of “Jibandebata” as it is expressed in different writings of the poet. We Indians believe in the presiding deities of our village, family, home as well as the personal gods of our choice (istadebata). Such faiths are far from a fetish. Our devotional theology does not recognize the infinite as merely boundless. He remains the infinite in the midst of all limits. Hence the devotees delight in realizing Him in all bounds. We endear the infinite sky within the confines of our hearth and home. …The oversoul [paramatma] resides in each individual soul [jibatma] precisely because He is infinite. Hence we find our bliss to identify our individual soul with the oversoul.…In our desire to gain intimacy with the infinite firmament we have confined a part of it in our home but in so doing we may have denatured the part. We might imprison the infinite sky or envelop it in darkness, or even strip it of its beauty. Hence the poet has pleaded through some of his poems: ‘My lord of life, have I sickened you with my perversions? If I have, please break the bounds of my life and make them anew.’ In other words, if there is any rhyme or reason in confined existence, may I be able to express the infinite in my life beautifully and fully and find my fulfillment [in life].…

The poet often conflates masculinity with femininity in his Jibandebata…...Indian mind does not shy away from conceptualizing an abiding unity among trees, beasts, humans, and even inanimate objects.

Likewise, they [Indians] are not afraid to regard male and female as expressions of the real divinity [bhagabaner swarup]. The realization of the most intense and glorious aesthetic delight in the poet’s life has been sometimes masculine and sometimes feminine. Both realizations are a testimony to the infinitude of joy. Thus it’s not a problem for him to address his jibandebata endearingly in masculine as well as in feminine terms.” Banibinod Bandyopadhyay, “Rabindranath Sambanddhe Reverend Thompson Saheber Bahi” [“Rev. Thompson’s Book on Rabindranath”], Prabasi (Shraban,1334 B.E.), 515-16.

Translator’s note: Tagore also published an explanation of his concept of Jibandebata in his own name in 1904 and it is translated by Indu Dutt, Tagore Testament, 3-22. This article (also an article of faith for the poet) led to a misunderstanding with his elder brother Dwijendranath Tagore (1840-1926). Rabindranath responded to his brother’s critique in a note published in Bangadarshan and sections from this rejoinder of the poet are also translated by Dutt, ibid.,109-10.

4 Translation by Sukanta Chaudhuri; "Rahu's Love"; Selected Poems: Rabindranath Tagore; edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004), 47.

5 Ibid. P. 47.

6 Translation by Ananda Lal and Sukanta Chaudhuri; "Swaying"; Selected Poems: Rabindranath Tagore; edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004), 77.

7 Translation by Sukanta Chaudhuri; "Voyage without End"; Selected Poems: Rabindranath Tagore; edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004), 89.

8 See Rabindranath Tagore, I Won’t Let You Go: Selected Poems, trans. Ketaki K. Dyson (Columbia: South Asia Books, 1992).

9 Niharranjan Ray, “Rabndranather ‘Purabi’,” Prabasi (Chaitra, 1332 B.E.). Translator’s note: I plan to translate this piece for Parabaas in the near future.

Published in Parabaas August, 2007

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