30 November 2013

Rabindranath Tagore On Swami Vivekananda

The relationship between Rabindranath Tagore (1861—1941) and Swami Vivekananda (1863—1902) might be a subject of scholarly studies. In the youth Swami Vivekananda (then known as Narendrath Datta) was fond of Rabindra Sangeet (songs written by Rabindranath Tagore). In the book Sanget Kalpataru (published 1887, Swami Vivekananda (as Narendranath Datta) was a co-editor of this book), twelve Rabindra Sangeets were included. Tagore himself taught Narendra notations of two of his songs.

After more or less 12 years, when Vivekananda had become a world famous religious speaker, on 28 January 1899, both Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda were invited in an evening tea-party. Though Tagore and Vivekananda met each other many times before, in this evening tea-party they completely ignored one another.[Source] (Bengali)

Swami Vivekananda reportedly asked Sister Nivedita not to befriend with the members of Tagore family and told, "Remember, Tagore family has poisoned the culture of Bengal with Sringara Rasa (Bengali: ওই পরিবার বাংলাদেশকে শৃঙ্গার রসের বন্যায় বিষাক্ত করছে।)[Source] (Bengali)

But wait, here we can not conclude anything about the relationship between Tagore and Vivekananda. Though Tagore ignored Vivekananda in the tea party, later, years after Vivekananda's death he gave Vivekananda a big certificate. He suggested Vivekananda to read Vivekananda to know about India—"'If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him, there is everything positive and nothing negative."[Source]

Anyway, as said, the subject — relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda should be a subject of scholars' examinations and studies. In this page, we'll limit our work in making a collection of Rabindranath Tagore's quotes, comments and opinions on Swami Vivekananda.

Rabindranath Tagore wrote—
    If you want to know India, study Vivekananda.
    In him everything is positive and nothing negative.
    —Rabindranath Tagore
    Image source: Wikimedia Commons
  • If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative. (Romain Rolland, in a letter written to Swami Ashokananda informed that Rabindranath Tagore once told him these words. Acknowledgement: Sandeep Biswas, see discussion in the comment section below. —Ed.)
  • In recent times in India, it was Vivekananda alone who preached a great message which is not tied to any do's don'ts. Addressing one and all in the nation, he said: In every one of you there is Brahman (Bengali: ব্রহ্ম); the God in the poor desires you to serve Him. This message has roused the heart of the youths in a most pervasive way. That is why this message has borne fruit in the service of the nation in diverse ways and in diverse forms of sacrifice. This message has, at one and the same time, imparted dignity and respect to man along with energy and power. The strength that this message has imparted to man is not confined to a particular point; nor is it limited to repetitions of some physical movements. It has, indeed, invested life with a wonderful dynamism in various spheres. There at the source of the adventurous activities of today's youth of Bengal is the message of Vivekananda— which calls the soul of man, not his fingers.[Source]
  • Some time ago Vivekananda said that there was the power of Brahman in every man, that Narayana (God) wanted to have our service through the poor. This is what I call real gospel. This gospel showed of infinite from man's tiny egocentric self beyond the limits of all selfishness. This was no sermon relating to a particular ritual, nor was it a narrow injunction to be imposed upon one's external life. This naturally contained in it protest against untouchability— not because that would make for political freedom, but because that would do away with the humiliation of man— a curse which in fact puts to shame the self of us all.
    Vivekananda's gospel marked the awakening of man in his fullness and that is why it inspired our youth to the diverse course of liberation through work and sacrifice. (see image below)[Source]


Tagore's comments in his own handwriting.

This page was last updated on: 3 February 2014, 10:21 pm IST (UTC+5:30 hours)
Number of revisions in this page: 3


  1. Tagore never written such letter to Rolland. Rabindra Nath tagore's now famous dictum ''If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him, there is everything positive and nothing negative" has been used for propaganda for many years. We now know that this 'famous' statement is non-existent in Tagore's works and it was apparently started by hagiographers Ashokananda-Rolland in the book 'Chintanayak Vivekananda' (Vivekananda The Thought Leader), 2nd edition, page 981. Original evidence was not shown. (See 'Swami Vivekananda in India: A Corrective Biography' by Dr Rajagopal Chattopadhyaya, page 314. Chattopadhyay belonged to The Ramakrishna Order and he could not find any verifiable proof).
    In a footnote on page 981 of 'Chintanayak Vivekananda' it has been mentioned that "Romain Rolland, in a letter written to Swami Ashokananda disclosed that Rabindra Nath Tagore once told him these words. The authors of this book has learnt this from Swami Ashokananda."

    1. Chattopadhyaya in his book Corrective Biography made a number of different and/or exceptional claims. For example, when most of the biographers agree that Vivekananda's (then Narendranath Datta) initial belief was shaped by Brahmo Samaj, Chattopadhyaya alone stood up and told Naredranath was not much interested in Brahmo Samaj's religious theories. We discussed it at Wikipedia. And there consensus was not to include Chattopadhyaya's opinion, unless it is supported by some other scholarly works.

      Here too Chattopadhyaya states something different. But in many other (scholarly) works such as Concise Encyclopaedia of India by K.R. Gupta & Amita Gupta, (see more such books in Google Books) we find the same information. Chances are some of them used Chintanayak Vivekananda as source. But all of them simply copied information from that book in their scholarly works without doing any kind of verification or studies is more unacceptable than what you are claiming here. In short, I am reluctant to accept it based on only one scholarly works.

      BTW, if you are thinking we are here against Chattopadhyaya's book, you are wrong. We agree that is a wonderful work on Vivekananda. In Wikipedia (as a primary editor of WikiProject Swami Vivekananda), we very much prefer to rely on and cite this book, see here.

    2. Sir,

      I feel you have missed my point. This website says "Rabindranath Tagore wrote (in a letter written to Romain Rolland)..." etc. I wanted to point out that there is no evidence that Tagore wrote such a letter to Rolland. I am right now having the book 'Chintanayak Vivekananda' page 981 open in front of me, which says in Bengali "এই কথাগুলি রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর রোমাঁ রোলাঁকে বলেছিলেন। রামকৃষ্ণ মঠ ও মিশনের সন্ন্যাসী স্বামী অশোকানন্দকে লেখা একটি চিঠিতে রোমাঁ রোলাঁ এই তথ্যটি জানান। স্বামী আশোকানন্দের সূত্রে আমরা এটা জেনেছি" ("Romain Rolland, in a letter written to Swami Ashokananda disclosed that Rabindra Nath Tagore once told him these words. The authors of this book have learnt this from Swami Ashokananda").

      Your webpage gives off the impression that Tagore wrote a letter to Rolland while there is absolutely no evidence or indication of such a letter from the poet. I request you to edit that part of your webpage otherwise I feel it is propagating misinformation.

      Thank you.

    3. @ Sandeep Biswas, okay that is fine, we have made the change with acknowledgement. We have linked your Google Plus page as attribution link. If you want we may change that to your Facebook page or website or blog URL (you need to provide the URL).

      Yes, I felt you were questioning the validity of the statement. Let me tell you a story. Do you know about Emma Calvé, who was highly depressed after her daughter's sudden death etc and wanted to commit suicide etc and then came to Vivekananda and found solace? Now we find these in Ramakrishna Mission books. Now, in Wikipedia when we were expanding Emma Calvé article, a French woman editor strongly protested it. She cited multiple references to establish that Calvé's daughter death is far thought, she did not have any daughter at all. In an interview given to New York Times she clearly told she did not have any daughter (or child). In her autobiography too, there is no mention of daughter. We find that daughter's mention only in Ramakrishna Mission's books. Unfortunately I could not completely discard her points. If you want you may see that details discussion on Calvé here. (please do not edit that page, that is an archived discussion. If you want to restart the discussion, let me know, I'll tell you where to restart the discussion at Wikipedia).

      We feel one should study secondary references (that means non Mission books) too specially if (s)he is writing a paper or creating on website. But, only secondary references are correct, and all Mission books are "hagiography" — that is incorrect as well.

  2. I agree. Unfortunately some of the works from Nikhilananda, Saradananda, Rolland, Nivedita etc have to be blamed for that impression. The book titled 'The Life of Swami Vivekananda' from Advaita Ashrama is full of exaggerations and mythical stories. For the purpose of research, fact based information is important but personal anecdotes should be avoided.

    Thank you for the edit. That is all I requested. As for that word of appreciation from Tagore, personally I am doubtful given the history of their relationship. You mentioned that many other writers have used the same quotation and therefore you are inclined in its favour. Even though truth cannot be decided by number of votes, for the time being I will not bother to start a debate on this.

    I would like to take this opportunity to clarify one more things on this page. The verbatim quote for the "Sringara Rasa" remark seems to be “As long as you go on mixing with that family, Margot, I must go on sounding this gong. Remember that, that family has poured a flood of erotic venom over Bengal.” (Letters of Sister Nivedita edited by Sankari Prasad Basu, Vol I, page 128, Nababharat Publishers, Calcutta 1982).

    1. You have hit a wrong reply button. Anyway, that's not an issue.

      "You mentioned that many other writers have used the same quotation and therefore you are inclined in its favour."
      — Not actually. I am not inclined to discard it based on only one scholarly works. Generally if such confusion arises the best thing is to mention the source with text directly "As mentioned in ABC's book DEF. . ."

      I do not have a copy of Nivedita's letters yet.

    2. I have sent you a copy of Nivedita's letter in your Google+ account.

    3. Also, the manuscript you have displayed on your site is not authentic. The image you have given has a heading as "Vivekananda" and there is a signature of Tagore at the end, as if he has certified this note. In reality, this note is part of a larger manuscript which was never published. I have sent you the actual scanned copies for reference (Courtesy: School of Cultural Texts & Records, Jadavpur University)

      (http://bichitra.jdvu.ac.in/manuscript/manuscript_viewer_bn.php?manid=642&mname=BMSF_093%282%29) See page 50 and 51.

  3. 1 ) Another Mention of Vivekananda was found in the essay "Purbo o Paschim" by Rabndranath. He mentioned Vivekananda's contribution in bringing India and West closer. Also he mentioned Vivekananda as 'Mahatma'.
    2 ) Apart from that he appreciated Vivekananda's "Prachya o Paschatya". He selected prose and poetry from Vivekananda's writing for Sankalan,
    3 ) AND He sent his son Rathindranath to Kedar Badri with "Swami Sadananda" (Gupta Maharaj) and other Sannyasin

    1. That is a good comment. I'll check the mentioned books soon.

    2. The essay "Purbo o Poschim" is a great example of Tagore's comment on Vivekananda.

      Actually Tagore has seen the full of Vivekananda. But Vivekananda has not seen the complete Tagore. He has no read Tagore's spiritual writtings. Geetanjali , Geetimalya, Raja, Dakghar was written between 1910 and 1913. But Swamiji died on 1902......

      Still a few points to note -
      1 ) The novel "Gora" some shadow of Vivekananda is obtained. (May not be directly, but ..)
      2 ) When Rabindranath visited Almora, he visited an temporarily stayed at the house of "Lala Badrishah", who was very close an admirer of Swamiji, and his GuruBhai's
      3 ) After Swamijis death, Tagore presided a condolence meeting at South Suburban school t Calcutta

    3. We are not sure, what Swamiji used to say about Rabindranath. Swamiji has not seen the complete Rabindranath.


      one "Here-say" reference is obtained.
      When Okakura came to India, he met Swamiji, as Swamiji already became an interational figure.

      It is heard (reference - Rabi-Jiboni), that , Swamiji referred to him to Tagore via Nivedia.
      Okakura was interested in cultural and Intelletual transaction.

      Swamiji said (May be) - "Ekhane (Ramakrishna Sannyasi Sangha) to sarbashya tyag. Ekhane apnar subidha hobe na. Apni Rabindranath er sandhane jaan, Uni ekhono jiboner madhye achen.".

      Possibly the last sentence was the evaluation. But still no written doc ....

      FInally, in Jorasanko Thakurbari, in Japan Gallery, there is a photo of Swamiji, as Indo-Japan ( or Rabindra-Okakura) relation indirectly started via Swamiji ......

      We will discuss a later ...

  4. That's interesting.

  5. The most important point is - does Romain Rolland's letter to Ashokananda exist or not.

    IF it exists - I see no reason to doubt Rolland's words - even if the letter of Tagore to Rolland could not be found.

    If Rolland's letter does not exist - I agree with the doubt raised.

    So, my question is - does that letter exist ? Is there a confirmation/denial from Ashokananda ? Can someone check ?

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