Tagore and Western Melodies

While I do not claim to be a Tagore specialist like most Bengalis (no offense on this as the overwhelming impression of Tagore in the hearts of Bengalis is immense) – I’d grown up with Tagore tales, music and poetry and found there’s something about Tagore which cannot and should not be ignored by anyone with a love for culture.

While his contribution to the world of Bengali literature is tremendous, be it in poetry, novels, short stories or music, one area that always inspired me is Tagore’s love for Western melodies and how he transformed them in his own way.

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 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

Tagore had described his own Bengali family as the product of “a confluence of three cultures, Hindu, Mohammedan and British”. Likewise, it is not surprising that Tagore was influenced by melodies from across the world and different religion from time to time. Western melodies, Irish and Scottish tunes to be more specific, have been presented innumerable times with different permutations and combinations of their original versions.

The western fascination in composition stemmed from the fact that Tagore went to England at the impressionable age of seventeen, and heard the tunes of Irish melodies and Scottish reels. While he went to become a barrister there (which did not happen as a matter of fact) the young man used his time in the foreign country to gain insights into its culture and music.

He returned full of high spirits and began composing songs for the evening entertainments that were a regular feature of his ancestral home; and many of these songs were inspired by his musical experiences abroad. His musical plays, “Valmiki Pratibha” and “Kal Mrigaya” feature quite a few of these songs, conveying emotions such as laughter or merriment, which was unknown in the Indian musical repertoire at that time.

Although Tagore did choose Bengali primarily as his medium of expression, he is indeed part of the global phenomenon, being the first legend from the east to have won the Nobel Prize. He is often called “Vishwa-Kavi”, which means the poet of the world – as his legendary writings crossed its boundary the Bengali culture to India and all over the world.

While I would not want to get into the theory on Tagore’s western influence etc – which I believe are sufficiently available online and offline, I would like to highlight a few of Tagore songs – from the many tunes he had composed- which are based on the western melodies and are very close to my heart.

Ami chini go chini

kotobaro bhebechhinu

Purano shei diner katha

Tomar Holo shuru

Alo Amar Alo

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