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[1 July 2011] Tracing Vaishnava Strains in Tagore Joseph T.

OConnell
University of Toronto

Introduction The image of rivers merging and flowing into the sea, oft used by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), may well be applied to the poet himself. He drew to himself, as the sea its rivers, diverse streams of experiences and influences only to blend and transmute them within his oceanic consciousnessever creative, reflective, dynamic. Among those streams that fed into consciousness of Rabindranath was the Bengali Vaishnava (or Baishnab) tradition of religious devotion, literature and song. Surprisingly, till now little systematic scholarly attention has been given to Vaishnava resonances and possible influence in Tagores work, apart from his Bhanusimha Thakurer Padavali, teenage compositions in imitation of medieval Vaishnava hymns on the Krishna-Radha theme. This paper attempts to correct this situation somewhat by examining selections from Rabindranths prose writing as well as his poetry ranging in time from his youthful experiment with padavali to personal correspondence at the age of seventy. It indicates in what ways the poet was exposed to the Vaishnava tradition and illustrates in what respects and to what degree he seems to have been sympathetic to or influenced by that tradition. It also takes note of how he was critical of that tradition, even repelled by aspects of it. 1 Rabindranaths engagement with the Vaishnava tradition in Bengal was in fact a significant component of the complex experience of the world in which he lived. It was a sensitive and discerning engagement that merits careful study. We may expect thereby to refine our understanding of Rabindranaths own aesthetic sensibilities and ethical values by observing how discerningly and critically he resonates to Vaishnava

2 sentiments, imagery and values. And we may gain a more nuanced appreciation of the Vaishnava tradition in Bengal by viewing it through Rabindranaths perceptive eyes. As a basis for examining Rabindranaths engagement with the Vaishnava tradition this paper first provides a sketch of salient characteristics of that Hindu devotional tradition in Bengal. It next recounts the manner and extent of Rabindranaths exposure to that tradition. It addresses also the countervailing influence upon him of the Brahmo Samaj as mediated by his father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore. Against this background, it looks at Rabindranaths Bhanusimha Thakurer Padavali and samples of his prose writings in which there is explicit Vaishnava content or reference. It asks how intimately and accurately he understood the Vaishnava elements he treats and how approving or critical he was of them in what respects and why. Finally it enquires into several poems in his English Gitanjali where, despite the absence of explicit Vaishnava reference or allusion, there are evident resonances with characteristic Vaishnava moods and motifs. In reflecting upon these poetic passages we may assess how Rabindranaths conception of a broadly common element or theme converges with typical Vaishnava expression of it, but also how in most or all cases he construes somewhat differently even that which he shares. Such differences are hardly surprising in view of his complex cosmopolitan mentality and his personal religious orientation, which was not specifically that of a Vaishnava devotee of God as Krishna, but rather a more generic theism, what he eventually came to call the religion of man.2 We may expect to gain through this sort of enquiry some insight into how particular segments of a complex cultural heritage can enter into, influence, and in the process be refashioned by, a highly creative personality. In the case of Rabindranath Tagore, the most fundamental pattern of acceptance and rejection of Vaishnava influences would seem to be on the one hand to share much of the underlying moods, sensibilities and expressiveness of Bengali Vaishnava devotional poetry and music, but on the other hand to reject or subject to criticism the sectarian organizational

3 structures and the more dogmatic claims and disciplines of that same Vaishnava tradition.

1. History and Characteristics of the Bengali Vaishnava tradition a. History of the Bengali Vaishnava tradition. Before we go further, some consideration of what is meant by Vaishnava tradition in Bengal may be in order. The term Vaishnava means related to Vishnu. Vishnu is the name of a deity addressed in ancient Rig Veda hymns and understood by many in the post-Vedic Hindu religious tradition as the supreme personal deity. Vishnu is understood to take diverse forms, among these Krishna, and as such to appear on earth from time to time in human form. Early in the sixteenth century, there was a remarkable surge of popular devotion to God understood as Krishna in the Bengal region of what is now eastern India and Bangladesh. At the heart of this enthusiastic wave of devotion or bhakti was a Bengali Brahman of intense ecstatic devotion known as Krishna-Chaitanya, or simply Chaitanya (1486-1533). Many of his followers believed him to be God Krishna himself (or even Krishna combined with his divine consort Radha), appearing in human form to instantiate the ideal model of religious faith, namely loving devotion (prema-bhakti) to God Krishna (or Krishnacum-Radha). Chaitanya and his followers proclaimed that such loving devotion should be accessible to all people, especially those who had been discriminated against religiously, namely women, low caste Shudras and sinners. To this end they championed kirtan (lit., praising) as the primary means for propagating such devotion widely. Kirtan for them meant singing aloud, preferably in groups, the sacred names, forms and pastimes of God Krishna, especially Krishna with Radha. This Vaishnava tradition inspired by Chaitanya in the sixteenth century has continued to be a significant component of the Bengali religio-cultural complex ever

4 since, due in large part to its impressive production of Bengali (and also Sanskrit) religious literature and song. A blending of aesthetic and theological, emotional and devotional, erotic and mystical elements in Bengali Vaishnava literature and song has enabled Vaishnava sensibilities to permeate and influence a broad spectrum of Bengali mentalities: Hindu and Muslim, Vaishnava and Shakta, devout and secular, culturally sophisticated and rustic.3 It is in relation to this Vaishnava-influenced religio-cultural milieu that I am concerned to trace Vaishnava strains in the mentality and writings of Rabindranath, receptive as he was to so vast a range of Bengali, Indian and global cultural phenomena. b. Characteristics of the Bengali Vaishnava tradition. The following are some of the fundamental themes and sentiments of the Vaishnavas in Bengal that would have been well known to and likely influenced to some degree Rabindranath Tagore. Loving devotion. Very basic to Bengali Vaishnavas is their insistence on the primacy of love as the essential quality of religious devotion to Godand as such the ultimate ideal of human life. Prema-bhakti, loving devotion, is their ideal of human-divine relationship, a reflection, they say, of the essential relationship within the androgynously conceived divinity of Krishna with Radha. Vaishnavas further emphasize that such loving devotion is most intense, purified and authentic when tested by the absence of the beloved, painful such love-in-separation ( viraha) may be. For love to be most perfect, most pleasing to God Krishna (which they affirm to be the ultimate purpose of all existence), it should also be spontaneous and free: free of constraint, free of fear, free of obligation and authority. Vaishnavas speak of this as madhurya, sweetness or gentleness. Moreover, the Vaishnavas declare that loving devotion expressed in mutual service should be the norm for interaction among humans in mundane affairs as well. For, even though union with the divine in the most lovable form of Krishna may remain tormenting and elusive, Vaishnavas still acknowledge some divine presence as the inner self (paramatman) of each individual

5 self (jiva). Accordingly, through their literature and devotional practices (sadhana) they are expected to foster a non-violent, accommodating ethos and a sense of respect for fellow humans as actual or potential devotees and as bearers of the divine presence within. Aesthetic expressiveness. The Vaishnavas put great stress on the beauty of the divine couple, Radha and Krishna, in an idyllic transcendent realm which devotees visualize and express through poetry, song and drama. They likewise stress the beauty and charm of Chaitanya, affectionately called Gauranga (Golden-bodied). Accentuation of visual beauty, literary refinement and musicall attuned to devotional sentimentsgive the Vaishnava tradition in Bengal a decidedly aesthetic quality. The aesthetic emphasis is not, however, limited to elite circles of Vaishnava littrateurs. As Tagore himself has attested, Vaishnava poetry and song exhibit a degree of freedom from fixed literary conventions that enables them to express human emotions simply and effectively.4 The combination of aesthetic beauty, imagination and emotional expressiveness is especially evident in Bengali Vaishnava song, kirtan, whether it be chanting the names of God ( nam-kirtan), recital of lyrical hymns (padavali-kirtan), dramatic performances based on theme-related hymns ( lilakirtan), group singing (samkirtan) or singing in public procession (nagar-kirtan). Egalitarian ethos. Group singing, samkirtan, has a further social implication. It not only symbolizes and effects the emotionally expressive and aesthetic aspects of Vaishnava devotion in Bengal but lends collective empowerment to its popular egalitarian thrust. As Hiteshranjan Sanyal has recounted, such group kirtan traditionally has given a sense of solidarity and confidence to otherwise timid and unorganized peasant folk.5 This egalitarian collective dynamism of the Vaishnava tradition in Bengal goes back to the time of Chaitanya. Even though it rarely led to radical social or political change, it served to enhance the self-respect and dignity of the disadvantaged and has remained an evocative symbol for aspiring toward a more egalitarian and humane conception of society, as Rabindranath explicitly depicted in some of his fiction and non-fiction. On the other hand, as the Vaishnava tradition in

6 Bengal became more organizationally structured in subsequent generations, with leadership largely in the hands of hereditary gurus, mostly Brahman Goswamis, its egalitarian and mildly reformist thrust weakened and opportunities emerged for exploiting the faith of simple devotees, a theme also articulated by Tagore. But mediating as it were the image gap between the more egalitarian and more exploitive characterizations of Bengali Vaishnavas is the Bairagi (the one who is passionless / detached), the wandering Vaishnava mendicant, often enough himself or herself a singer of kirtan. All these images and influences of the Vaishnavas were circulating in the popular and literary milieu in which Rabindranath lived and of which he must have been well aware. 2. Exposure of Rabindranath to Vaishnava influence There was considerable exposure of Rabindranath to Vaishnava influences especially in his impressionable early years. The family into which he was born hand been for generations a traditional Vaishnava one. His grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore (17941846), provided funds for Vaishnavas and opposed restrictions on religious processions, so popular with kirtan-singing Vaishnavas.6 Debendranath Tagore (1817-1906), the poets father, as noted by Kathleen OConnell, used to accompany his Didima [grandaunt, Alakasundari] when she went to worship and cry bitterly if she went on a pilgrimage to Puri or Brindaban [both Vaishnava pilgrimage sites] without taking him. Sometimes Alakasundari would hold all-night Vaishnava festivals of musical kirtan and stories and at other times take Debendranath to the old family house to see the family idol, Gopinath Thakur. 7 Sister Nivedita (Margaret Noble, 1867-1911), Swarnakumari (Rabindranaths sister, 1855-1932) and others reported that the women of the Tagore household were orthodox Vaishnavas 8 and were tutored by Jati-Vaishnava women recommended by the Brahman Goswami women of the Vaishnava temple at Kardhaha, north of Kolkata. 9 Various Hindu pujas and Vaishnava kirtan recitals were held within Jorasanko, the Tagores Kolkata mansion, which impressionable young Rabindranath would have witnessed. 10 Rabindranath himself tells of his excitement when a collection of old lyrical poems

7 composed by the poets of the Vaishnava sect came into his hands when he was no more than fourteen.11 Rabindranath and his elder brother Dvijendranath are reported to have read and enjoyed the Bhagavata Puranathough more for its romantic rendering of Krishna and his sweethearts than for its treatment of him as God. 12 Rabindranath himself confided to Hemantabala Devi that he had at one time immersed himself in the sixteenth century Chaitanya-bhagavata (sacred biography of Chaitanya by Brindabandas) but that the same path that had taken him there also drew him away.13 Throughout his early and middle years Rabindranath would have been aware of a not insignificant buzz over Bengali Vaishnava matters, some of it addressing (critically or defensively) orthodox devotional practices such as image worship, some of it decrying alleged transgressive sexual practices of marginal Vaishnava Sahajiya and hybrid quasi-Vaishnava sects, much of it enthusiastic literary recovery, publication and discussion of pre-colonial Bengali Vaishnava literature. He would have known of, and in some cases known personally, prominent individuals associated in various ways with Vaishnava affairs: e.g., Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838-1894), Keshub Chandra Sen (1838-1884), Bijoy Krishna Goswami (18411899), Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886), possibly Kedarnath Datta Bhakti Vinode Thakur (1838-1914).14 Regarding formal religious philosophy, Rabindranath as a young man would have been more intensively exposed to the Neo-Vedanta of the Brahmo Samaj tradition with its emphasis on Upanishads than to any Vaishnava school of thought. However, both he and his father favored a more loving, caring personal interpretation of the divine Brahma than did Rammohun Roy (1772-1833) or other yet more rationalist or monist Neo-Vedantins.15 While Rabindranath did not address the divine as Krishna or by any other anthropomorphic name-and-form, he often wrote of a personal divine presence within his heart (jivan-devata, maner manush), much as Vaishnavas would speak of God within the individual soul as paramatman . He is said to have been attracted to the theistic Vishishtadvaita of Ramanuja (fl. early 12th

8 century),16 but I am not aware of his having studied the works of the Goswamis of Brindaban (16th century) that provide the theological-philosophical backbone of the Vaishnava tradition in Bengal.17 Countervailing influence of Debendranath Tagore and the Brahmo Samaj Contrasting with the traditionally Hindu and specifically Vaishnava milieu to which Rabindranath was exposed from his childhood was the strong influence of his father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, leader for many years of the Brahmo Samaj. 18 Initially Rabindranath was more or less comfortable with the Brahmos and their ideals of personal though non-anthropomorphic monotheism and ethical responsibility. He served as secretary of the Samaj and composed Brahmo hymns. But he was so receptive to human and natural realities in their fullness and so imaginative and creative, that he eventually outgrew this narrow regimen and withdrew from membership. Nevertheless the impact of Brahmo principles on him in his early and middle adulthood was considerable and the Brahmo emphases on individual moral responsibility,19 on seeking truth vs. superstition and prejudice, on avoiding idol-worship,20 on working for social justice and on discretion in speaking about sexual matters seem never to have left him.21 Rabindranaths explicit treatment of Vaishnavas and Vaishnava themes a. Bhanusimha Thakurer Padavali and Padavali-kirtan It was a volume of poems by the Maithili (northern Bihar) poet Vidyapati (late 14 th to early 15th century) discovered in the family library that triggered young Robis fascination with both the archaic language and the poetic content of medieval lyrics on the Vaishnava theme of love between Radha and Krishna. As a precocious early teen, Rabindranath took great pains to decipher the archaic conventional Brajabuli language in which these and many other Vaishnava hymns (padavali) were written. Animated by fascination for decoding the peculiar language of the poems and for the

9 romantic spirit of their content, he then composed in imitationand in Brajabuli!a remarkable set of padavali of his own, for which he teasingly declined to claim authorship for several years.22 Rabindranath later wrote:
Fortunately for me a collection of old lyrical poems composed by the poets of the Vaishnava sect came to my hand when I was young. I became aware of some underlying idea deep in the obvious meaning of these love poems. I felt the joy of an explorer who suddenly discovers the key to the language lying hidden in the hieroglyphs which are beautiful in themselves. I was sure that these poems were speaking about the supreme Lover, whose touch we experience in all our relations of lovethe love of natures beauty, of the animal, the child, the comrade, the beloved, the love that illuminates our consciousness of reality. They sang of a love that ever flows through numerous obstacles between men and Man the Divine, the eternal relation which has the mutual relationship of mutual dependence for a fulfillment that needs the perfect union of individuals and the Universal. The Vaishnava poet sings of the Lover who has his flute which, with its different stops, gives out the varied notes of beauty and love that are in Nature and Man..23

About that discovery of Vidyapatis lyrics

The encounter with Vaishnava poems obviously had a deeply moving impact on young Rabindranath, but, more than that, as Tony K. Stewart points out in the recent translation of Bhanusimha Thakurer Padavali by him and Chase Twichell, those compositions remained a lifelong concern for the poet. By examining subsequent editions of the poems and the changes Rabindranath made to them, Stewart observes that the tone and character of them changesfrom more or less straight imitation of Radha-Krishna eroticism to a more universalized spirituality:
There is a subtle increase in ambiguity, or, rather, less Vaishnava specificity, a tendency to generalize and abstract from what was in earlier versions more precisely delineated. The dominant erotic mood subtly gives way to a humility in the face of unrequited love, especially when the focus of the poem shifts from Radha (the proper subject for a Vaisnava lyric) to her confidante Bhanu (out of humility, the devotee ought never be the subject). It is a shift that is consonant with Rabindranaths mature religious sensibility, Krishna does not remain the cowherding cad of Braj, but seems to be recognized as the Lord, immanent in all creatures, and in the hearts of his devotees. One is reminded of Rabindranaths attitude of reverence and submission to his jvan devat, his indwelling lord.24

For Rabindranath, Radha, with her prolonged torment of separation and longing (viraha), is not the eternal divine consort of God Krishna, but rather a

10 symbolic embodiment of intense human emotions, an extreme exemplar of what the poet would later call the religion of man. Nor does he, so far as I know, in his later compositions again explicitly imitate Vaishnava lyrics, though some may come close. What he does do, however, is carry over into humane poetry, song and spirituality much the same emotional sensibility, psychological insight and religio-aesthetic values as animate and refine Vaishnava padabali. There is another significant affinity or parallel between Vaishnava padavali-kirtan and the poets own style of songs, Rabindra-sangit, namely the merging of poetry and music. This merging is a characteristic that he highlights, along with flexibility and openness to expressing human feelings with minimal formal ornamentation, when extolling the merits of kirtan.
In the Bengali kirtan, the musical forms are intimately related to the play of the several emotions of life. The current of life, like that of a river, pursues its way through evernew scenes at every bend, it is not an artificial lake encased in its surrounding shores. To this progressive broadening out of the winding stream of life, the kirtan seeks to give form with word and tune. It has yet another characteristic due to the history of its origin in the democratic age of religious realization or enjoyment, ushered in by the Vaishnava revolution. The emotions that then surged up in the mass mind, sought utterance in mass singing, not in ordered congregations, but on the open road of the countryside. Its freedom from intricacy of musical phrasing made the kirtan an elastic vehicle for the mingling of the voices of their emotion, broad as the plains of Bengal herself, wherein the numerous rivers coursing southward and eastward in quest of the one Sea, meet and mingle in a network of speaking waters. 25

Though his own Rabindra-sangit may have somewhat more elaborate and refined structure than kirtan, the matching of emotion to musical form and the urge toward freedom (from fixed literary conventions) of expression are kirtan-like qualities that he would emphasize in his own compositions. How much these underlying similarities should be attributed to influence from the Vaishnava tradition and how much to Rabindranaths own sensibility developed in relation to so many other external stimuli it may be difficult to determine precisely, but that Vaishnava influence, direct and indirect, was considerable would seem prima facie to be the case. Here is a typical sample from Bhanusimha Thakurer Padabol, its final poem, in Chase Twichells very free expressive rendering:

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Ive fallen from my life, friend my tears since birth have washed my charms away. But Ive known pure love. If I glimpse for an instant my own Dark Lord on the forest path, I kiss the dust at his feet a hundred times, as if each grain were a jewel. Unlucky star-crossed birth, I long only to stay within the shadow of his flute and taste from afar his dark smile. Radha is the Dark Lords Mistress! May her pleasure be endless! But its grief thats endless, a river of unseen tears. Is your indifference endless also, Black One? Its half-bloomed flowers fall unseen Into the river of human tears.

b. Chaturanga Chaturanga (1916) is a short but intense and tightly structured novel in which one of the four main characters is a prominent Vaishnava, Swami Lilananda. Tagores treatment of the swami in relation to his disciples amounts to a sustained critique of Vaishnava preoccupation or obsession with devotional sentiment, rasa, induced by group indulgence in kirtan.26 In this case it is no longer the expressive virtues of kirtan such as Tagore celebrated elsewhere, but its alleged misuse in suppressing participants sense of reality and moral responsibility. Here he treats Lilanandas kirtan regimen as inducing an artificial mentality which is not cognizant of the individual personal feelings and needs of others (in particular of the heroine, Damini) and which blinds its devotees to ethical issues and social duties. He criticizes reliance on (artificial) symbol (rupaka) in place of appreciating (real) form or beauty (rupa). Tagores treatment of Swami Lilananda himself is detailed and insightful, but on the whole negatively critical. He evidently acknowledges the skill and in its own obsessive way the coherence or integrity of the swamis modus operandi. There is no

12 allegation of rank dishonesty, fraud or sexual indulgence by the swami, though he is presented as a master of manipulation, keen to keep in his retinue, if possible, the prestigious former young male atheists, Sachis and Sribilas, as well as the attractive young widow, Damini. Let me quote here (as recounted by Sribilas, the narrator, in Asok Mitras translation) a passage from Chaturanga demonstrating Tagores sensitive treatment of Damini as she submits (ephemerally, temporarily as it turns out) to the guruship of Lilananda under the seductive influence of his Vaishnava song:
The day has waned, when at last we meet at the turning, And as I try to see your face, the last ray of evening fades into the night. We had heard that song before, but never with such complete rapport between singer, audience and surroundings. Damini was affected to tears. The Swami went on to the second verse I shall not grieve that the darkness comes between thee and my sight,-Only, for a moment, stand before me that I may kiss thy feet and wipe them with my hair. When he had come to the end, the placid eventide, enveloping sky and waters, was filled, like some ripe golden fruit, with the bursting sweetness of melody. Damini rose and went up to the Master. As she prostrated herself at his feet, her loose hair slipped off her shoulders and was scattered over the ground on either side. She remained long thus, before she raised her head. 141-142

Here, as Tagore deftly analyzes the personal dynamics of disciples straining to please their guru with the latter ever ready to accept their fealty, I find myself wondering if he may be holding up, as it were, a mirror for his own self-reflection and warning. By this time in his life, he too was being revered as a guru by many who were charmed by his song and drawn to the mildly idyllic way of life in his rustic Santiniketan. When we shift attention away from the problematic Swami Lilananda and toward the tragic young heroine, Damini, we find a striking resonance, I think, with Radha of the Bhanusimha Thakurer Padavali. Both women are courageous, capable of intense self-sacrificing love. Both face societal restrictions and abuse for their intense unconventional love. Each dedicates herself to a male (young Sachis in Daminis case, Krishna in Radhas) who, despite his charms and passion, is all too often unresponsive to the womans feelings, abandons her and causes her great pain.

13 Yet he still remains the cherished object of her great love, a love that deepens the more she endures the pain of separation (viraha). Radha in the song laments: Ive fallen from my life, friend my tears since birth have washed my charms away . Damini in the novel actually dies from an injury inflicted upon her unwittingly by her idol, her unresponsive beloved and ultimate guru, Sachis. Rabindranath throughout his literary career remained the champion of the talented, courageous, but unappreciated and victimized women as depicted in the Vaishnava image of Radha and human image of Damini. b. Boshtomi In a short story called Bostomi (1914-15) Rabindranath displays his acquaintance with another aspect of the overall Vaishnava phenomenon in Bengal: a socially marginal group known as Jati-Vaishnavas (or Jat Boshtom or simply Boshtom). Generally poor and of relatively low status, this group includes married members, celibates who have renounced marriage to foster devotional life and others not unambiguously married or celibate. Some support themselves by singing kirtan and begging, some by diverse other occupations. The Boshtomi (i.e. female Boshtom) in the story is a somewhat mysterious figure, reflecting the paradoxical character of the whole Jati-Vaishnava caste without caste. She enters the scene suddenly, introducing herself to the narrator, whom surprisingly she calls Gaur (short for Gauranga, i.e., Chaitanya), after having lived for a number of years as a Boshtomi. She evidently had overcome earlier somewhat undisciplined ways and become an exemplary Vaishnava radiating humility, non-violence and love of all living things and displaying insight into the meaning of human life. She at length discloses to the narrator that out of penance for her negligence in the death of her son and for complicity in mental, though not physical, seduction by her husbands guru, she renounced married life to live as a Boshtomi in pursuit of truth and truth alone. She tells him: In this world of mine, there were only two who loved me bestmy boy and my husband. That love was my God, and, therefore, it could brook no falsehood. One of these two left me, and I left the other. Now I must have truth and truth

14 alone.27 The eminent Vaishnava scholar Bimanbehari Majumdar considers that the highest ideal of Vaisnavism has been portrayed in the character of the Bostami. 28 Perhaps, but my own reading is that while Tagore does portray favorably her virtues attained in maturity, he remains non-committal and non-judgmental about her early life and her unrecorded intervening years living as a Boshtomi. c. Prayaschitta and Achalayatan In the drama Prayaschitta (Penance, 1909) there is a radically different portrayal of a radically different type of prominent Vaishnava, the ascetic Bairagi (one who is passion-free). The theme of a saintly Vaishnava or other ascetic figure leading downtrodden or harassed subjects in successful protest against repressive material forces is one that we find in several of Tagores prose works, especially in the first two decades of the twentieth century.29 In Prayaschitta he portrays a Vaishnava ascetic, Dhananjay Bairagi, leading poor but courageous peasants in a non-violent anti-rent protest against Raja Pratapaditya (15611611) of Jessore.30 That Tagore was acquainted with the popular story of Chaitanya successfully leading a mass protest early in the sixteenth century against one Chand Qazi, who had disrupted a nagarkirtan, is virtually certain. It features prominently in Brindabandass classic sixteenthcentury sacred biography, Chaitanya-bhagavata (ca. 1548) in which, as he acknowledged to Hemantabala Devi in 1931, he had at one time immersed himself.
31

The Raja Pratapaditya, like Chaitanyas qazi, is profoundly moved by the integrity

and fearlessness of the Bairagi. He is even depicted as declaring that he too would like to take to the path of [presumably Vaishnava] renunciation. That ordinary village people could be stirred to overcome fear, even during communal riots, by collective chanting of samkirtan is not far-fetched, if we may credit the accounts given in Hitesranjan Sanyals Bangla Kirtaner Itihas of Hindu peasants during 1946 communal riots in Noakhali in rural east Bengal.32 In Tagores Achalayatan (1912) it is a guru who leads low-caste tribal people in a protest against a fortress-like educational institution where rigid maintenance of

15 traditional customs is stifling creativity and vitality. 33 Here the guru is a beacon of freedom and champion of the poor and weak, a far cry from the exploitive or obscurantist gurus presented in Chaturanga and Boshtomi. This guru succeeds in breaking down the walls of the institution, thereby bringing freedom and vitality to its inmates and the common folk thereabout. Rabindranath evidently knew his Vaishnava (and other Hindu religious) types well enough and was perceptive and fairminded enough to distinguish and depict the range of variationsthe good, the bad and the mixed among them. d. Letters to Hemantabala Devi34 In letters written to one Hemantabala Devi (1898-1976) in the early 1930s 35, some twenty years after Chaturanga, Bostomi and Prayaschitta, we find among other topics a blunt person-to-person critique of Vaishnava practices akin to what appears as fiction in Chaturanga. In this later correspondence, however, it is dedication to image worship, as practiced and defended by Hemantabala that is the butt of his criticism rather than devotional rapture (or ecstasy to use Asok Mitras translation of rasa) artificially aroused by Lilanandas kirtan. But the moral basis of the criticism remains much the same: irresponsible neglect of the needs of fellow humans, especially the poor and vulnerable, in favor of indulgence in emotional selfsatisfaction. In the earliest letters in their correspondence, Rabindranth is very critical of Vaishnava preoccupation with ritualized service of the deity in iconic form, though he repeatedly assures Hemantabala that he is not at all angry with her. Hemantabala evidently kept declaring her satisfaction in performing service to the divine in the form of her iconic image as Rabindranath kept reiterating his position in replies to her frequent letters (unfortunately not included in Chithi-patra). The evidently forceful Hemantabala must have challenged Rabindranath to admit his own Vaishnava-like qualities. For he replies:
You seek the Vaishnava within me. He has not fled, but together with him is the ascetic Shaivabeggar and ascetic. The flute of the king of sentiment (rasa) [i.e., Krishna] is sounding; there is also the dancing of the king of dance [i.e., Shiva]. The boat floats on the Yamuna [river by Krishnas

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Vrindavan] but in the end sinks into the Ganga [by Shivas Varanasi], which Ganga, donning ochre garment, goes to the sea.36

Further put on the defensive, it would seem, by Hemantabala, Rabindranath concedes that as a poet he too uses images, but explains that he does not treat them as divine realities (as would orthodox Vaishnavas). He goes on to explain that the images he uses follow from or depend upon the feelings he wants to express. They have no priority over real feelings nor any independent significance in his work; the images can be changed for the sake of expressing feelings better. In a rather interesting twist to Rabindranaths conception of the selfsacrificing character of women, he accounts for Hemantabalas desire to ritually feed and otherwise do service (seva) for her iconic Lord (thakur, presumably a Vaishnava image) as due to her female gender. Women by nature, he opines, desire to nourish their children and spouses and this carries over to their devotion to the religious image. He also acknowledges the presence, but of a less prominent sort, of desire for serving on the part of males like himself, but insists that his desire to serve is to serve fellow humans. After a couple of months of surprisingly frequent correspondence in 1931, Rabindranth softened his critique of Hemantabalas icon-focused Vaishnava devotional service. He assured her that it was quite right for her to continue that service and to remain faithful to her (presumably Vaishnava) guru. By this point in the correspondence, he was becoming enthusiastic about her literary talent and more inclined to discuss with her literature rather than religion. I suspect that as he came to appreciate how impressive a person she could be despite her image worship he began to soften (or in any event cease applying in her case) the brusque moralistic stereotype of Vaishnava icon-worshippers as deluded, morally irresponsible seekers after selfish emotional satisfaction. Whether or not thanks to recognizing Hemantabalas evident capacity to be a devout image worshipping Vaishnava while still being a talented and engaging writer and correspondent Rabindranath in his seventies became more open to appreciating Vaishnava devotees generally for the

17 real people they are (as Swami Lilananda had failed to do in Chaturanga) rather than as instances of artificial stereotypes it would be instructive to determine. Vaishnava strains implicit in Gitanjali It would seem likely that more could be learned of Vaishnava resonances in the mind, heart and work of Rabindranath Tagore by reviewing his songs and poems, both in their Bangla originals and in English translations or adaptations of them as done by the poet himself. So let us let complete our sampling of Rabindranaths compositions by considering some selections from his English Gitanjali: Song Offerings, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
2. When thou commandest me to sing it seems that my heart would break with pride; and I look to thy face, and tears come to my eyes. All that is harsh and dissonant in my life melts into one sweet harmony and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird on its flight across the sea. I know thou takest pleasure in my singing. I know that only as a singer I come before thy presence. I touch by the edge of the far-spreading wing of my song thy feet which I could never aspire to reach. Drunk with the joy of singing I forget myself and call thee friend who art my lord. 37

This song expresses both Vaishnavas and Rabindranaths conceptions of what is quintessentially humane and spiritual. Here Rabindranaths delight with the divine command to sing before thy presence because the divine takes pleasure in the singing runs parallel to Vaishnavas own yearning to be admitted to circle of Krishnas intimates and be assigned some small task contributing to his divine pleasure. Both share not only the idea of the divine taking pleasure in human song but the yet more striking notion that the divine depends for fulfillment upon humans love.38

18 Drunk with the joy of singing, I forget myself and call thee friend who art my lord. Vaishnavas, like the poet-songster in Rabindranath, revel in forgetting themselvesand in forgetting that the lovable human-like Krishna is God Almighty; they treat God as friend, child, lover. They do not, however, simply credit the singing itself with this power of forgetting, as Rabindranath does, but attribute it to Yogamaya, a personified divine power of provident concealment and deception. Though he avoids here such specifically Vaishnava categories as Yogamaya and the explicitly Vaishnava notion of divine lila (play), Rabindranath, like the Vaishnavas, extols such freedom, spontaneity and playfulness as animate Vaishnava literature in Bengal. Vaishnavas too, like Tagore, desire to look upon the face of God while acknowledging their unworthiness. They depend on the mercy ( krpa) of Krishna or a saintly Vaishnava to gain such a vision; Rabindranath acknowledges dependence upon the spontaneous initiative of the divine person, or later man the universal, working through himself, a mere instrument. Vaishnavas, even more so than Rabindranath, are all too prone to breaking into tearsof joy or grief or other devout human emotion. 18. Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens . Ah, love, why dost thou let me wait outside at the door all alone? In the busy moments of the noontide work I am with the crowd, but on this dark, lonely day it is only for thee that I hope. If thou showest me not thy face, if thou leavest me wholly aside, I know not how I am to pass these long, rainy hours. I keep gazing on the far-away gloom of the sky, and my heart wanders wailing with the restless wind. What Rabindranath here writes is a classic expression of viraha, painful neglect and longing in separation from the beloved. It resonates with so many abhisarika poems wherein Radha goes out to meet Krishna on dark rainy nights. But we may note in Tagores poem the absence of such melodramatic Vaishnava imagery as rainsoaked body, menacing snakes and thunderbolts. Rather, for the mature Rabindranath who recently had lost to death his wife, father, children and favorite teacher and

19 years before that his beloved sister-in-law-cum-muse Kadambarihis is the patient longing and sadness of a lonely person waiting through yet another gloomy day. But still, like the Vaishnava poets, he makes fine poetic use (though not so agonistic) of imagery from nature: my heart wanders wailing with the restless wind. 11. Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee! He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the pathmaker is breaking stones. He is with them in the sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil! Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all for ever. Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow. Of all the songs and poems in the English Gitanjali, this may be the most censorious of what are obviously Vaishnava practices (though some would apply to a wider range of traditional Hindu religiosity than just the Vaishnava): chanting, singing, telling of beads, temples, deliverance, meditations, flowers, incenseall these are typical expressions of Vaishnava piety in Bengal. Vaishnavas themselves, of course, might reply that they too would negate such elements, if done without genuine devotion; that they do them, rather, as expressions and stimulants of loving devotion, prema-bhakti. They might also point out that they too have a fundamentally egalitarian commitment to the poor and burdened, although they typically express that commitment by sharing Krishna bhakti and fellowship with the lowly rather than by socio-political empowerment or economic development. They might also point out that many of their adherents are themselves tillers of the hard ground.

20 Lest we leave this brief probe into Gitanjali on a mildly sour anti-Vaishnava note, we may contrast it with:
34. Let only that little be left of me whereby I may name thee my all. Let only that little be left of my will whereby I may feel thee on every side, and come to thee in everything, and offer to thee my love every moment. Let only that little be left of me whereby I may never hide thee. Let only that little of my fetters be left whereby I am bound with thy will, and thy purpose is carried out in my life and that is the fetter of thy love.

This brief song, humble and devout, is so quintessentially Vaishnava in its spirit and phraseology that, were it given in Bangla and without attribution, it might well pass for a devout hymn in the celebrated Prarthana (Prayer) of Narottamadas (midlate 16th century).

Summary reflections: from Vaishnava bhakti to Rabindranaths religion of man resonance and dissonance From what we know of Rabindranaths childhood as exposed to the Vaishnava influences of the women within a traditionally Vaishnava family and of his adolescent and adult acquaintance and experimenting with Vaishnava literature, it is evident that he was familiar with that stream within the complex Bengali religio-literary cultural milieu of his time. That familiarity, however, was far from a passive acquiescent one. Even in his most enthusiastic engagement with Vaishnava lyrics as a teenager, Rabindranath did not hesitate to manipulate the form of Radha-Krishna padavali to suit his precocious fancy. In later fictional depictions of Vaishnava figures and institutions and in some correspondence and other non-fictional prose he selectively chose to endorse aspects of the Vaishnava tradition that he favored and to castigate those that he found wanting, be it on aesthetic, religious or ethical grounds. In his poetry, likewise, there is implicit and explicit evidence of similar discerning approval and disapproval of typically Vaishnava characteristics. The Vaishnavas sense of the

21 divine as personal and as present within each human heart; the prominence of love and beauty as Vaishnava values; the pain of separation from ones beloved (human or divine); the flexibility and freedom of Vaishnava lyrics to express such feelings; the humane egalitarian promise of the Vaishnava ethosall these aspects of the Bengali Vaishnava tradition resonated harmoniously with his own sensibilities and very likely helped shape and reinforce them. On the other hand what he considered exaggerated Vaishnava emotionalism, confining of religious and literary sensibility and expression to the erotic pastimes of Krishna-Radha, irresponsible neglect of suffering humanity while indulging in childish idol worship or rapturous kirtan singing, exploitation of the credulous by unscrupulous gurus and temple priestsall these alleged aspects or distortions of the Bengali Vaishnava tradition ran counter to Rabindranaths ethical and broadly humane conception of the religion of man and drew his censure. Straddling these pros and cons, and what I find especially intriguing, are instances, such as in Chaturanga, where Rabindranath seems to be employing Vaishnava figures and situations in ambiguous ways, as admonitory mirrors, as it were, for himself, especially scenarios wherein the problematic dynamic of gurudisciple relationships plays itself out. What we find emerging from the poetry of Gitanjali is that at the underlying levels of aesthetic, emotional and spiritual sensitivity there is a pronounced resonance between Rabindranath and the Vaishnavas of Bengal. But where Rabindranath would express a shared or closely similar sentiment or symbol, he would do so with nuances reflecting his own unique conception and refinement of the sentiment or symbol in question. Dissonance between Rabindranath and the Vaishnavas, on the other hand, becomes evident even in his poetry when alluding to externalized practices and professional roles that he judged to be distortions of genuine religious sensibility or distractions from ethical responsibility.

22 More extensive enquiry into the prose and especially the Bangla poetry of Rabindranath Tagore would, no doubt, disclose yet more detailed evidence than has been garnered in this exploratory probe that in his fundamental religio-aesthetic sensibilities the poet was profoundly in harmony with the Vaishnava tradition in Bengal (apart from the latters tendency toward melodrama and emotional excess) and very likely indebted to that tradition for its influence upon him. Additional enquiry would also likely further elaborate his critique of those institutional and dogmatic aspects of the Vaishnava tradition in Bengal that he viewed as diminishing the ethical responsibility and spiritual freedom that, together with aesthetic sensibility, characterize his own conception of the religion of man. It may be hoped that this exploratory probe will lead to yet more thoroughgoing study of the Vaishnava strains influencing the mentality and works of Rabindranath Tagore.

WORKS CITED

Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India: The Namasudras of Bengal, 1872-1947. London: Curzon Press, 1997. Dasa, Shukavak N. Hindu Encounter with Modernity: Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda Vaisnava Theologian. Los Angeles: Sanskrit Research Institute, 1999. Kling, Blair. Partner in Empire: Dwarkanath Tagore and the Age of Enterprise in Eastern India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Kripalani, Krishna. Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography. London: Oxford University Press, 1962; 2nd rev. ed. Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1980. Majumdar, Bimanbehari. Heroines of Tagore: A Study in the Transformation of Indian Society, 1875-1941. Calcutta: K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1968.

23

Mukherjee, Prabhat Kumar. Rabindra Jivani, Pratham Khand. Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1392 reprint [1985]. Nivedita, Sister (Margaret Noble). Letters of Sister Nivedita, Vol. I. Edited by Sankari P. Basu. Calcutta: Nababharat Publishers, 1982. OConnell, Kathleen M. Rabindranath Tagore: The Poet as Educator. Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 2002 [revised 2nd edition appearing in 2011]. Radice, William. Atheists, Gurus and Fanatics: Rabindranath Tagore's `Chaturanga' (1916), Modern Asian Studies 34. 2 (2000), pp. 407-424.
Roy, Dilip Kumar. Simplicity and Elaboration in Music: A discussion with Rabindranath by Dilip Kumar Roy, The Visva-Bharati Quarterly (July 1928). Reprinted in English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore [EWRT], Vol. 4, 1994,

pp. 676-682. Sanyal, Hitesranjan. Bangla Kirtaner Itihas. Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi & Co., 1989. ________. Kirtan o gramin krishti (Kirtan and Village Culture), the final chapter of Hitesranjan Sanyals Bangla Kirtaner Itihas. Translation with introduction and notes by J.T. OConnell. Journal of Vaisnava Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Fall 2009), pp 5-37. Sen, Sabujkoli Tagores Religion. India Perspectives, Vol. 24, No. 2 (2010), pp. 60-65. Sen, Sukumar. A History of Brajabuli Literature: Being a Study of the Vaisnava Lyric Poetry and Poets of Bengal. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1935. Tagore, Debendranath. The Autobiography of Debendranath Tagore . Translated by Satyendranath Tagore and Indira Devi. London: Macmillan and Co., 1914. Tagore, Rabindranath. English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore [EWRT]. Edited by Sisir Kumar Das. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1994- [Vol. 4 completed by Nityapriya Ghosh, 2007]. ________. Gitanjali: Song Offerings. Introduction by W.B. Yeats. New Delhi: Full Circle Publishing, 2002 reissue [1st edition 1912].

24

________. Reminiscences. Madras etc.: Macmillan India, 1987 reprint [1st edition 1917]. ________. The Religion of Man. Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 2008 reprint [1st edition 1931]). ________. Citti-patra, Navam khand, Srimati Hemantabala Debi ebam tahar putra kanya jamata bhrata o douhitrake likhita patrabali. Assembled and edited by Kanai Samanta and Sanatkumar Bagchi. Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, enlarged edition 1404 BA [1997].
________. Boshtomi. In RT. Galpaguccha. Kolikata: Visva-Bharati, 1396 BA [1983], 658-668.

________. Caturanga. In Rabindra Racanavali [Collected works of RT], Vol. 7. Kolikata: Visva-Bharati, 1975, pp. 427-496. ________. Chaturanga: a novel. Translated by Asok Mitra. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1963 [2009 reprint]. ________. The Lover of God [Bhanusimha Thakurer Padavali]. Translated by Tony K. Stewart and Chase Twichell. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005. Tagore, Swarnakumari. Sekele Katha. Pradip, Bhadra, 1336 BA [1929].

NOTES

At the outset I wish to acknowledge and thank the Tagore Centre UK and in particular Dr. Devi Kundu and Sri Kalyan Kundu for inviting me to speak on this topic at the Centres Revisiting Tagore event (May 6-8, 2011) in London celebrating the 150 th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore; and my wife, Dr. Kathleen OConnell, an authority on Rabindranath the poet as educator, for encouragement and advice. I wish to thank also the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and its Director, Shaunaka Rishi Das, for the opportunity to participate in that Centre as a Shivdasani Fellow for Trinity Term in 2011 and give a lecture on this theme on 20 May, 2011. Prof. Mahmud Shah Qureshi helpfully enabled me to make an earlier (9 March, 2011) presentation on the same theme to his staff at Gono University (Savar, Bangladesh) for the benefit of critical feedback. 2 Rabindranath Tagore [hereafter in notes RT], The Religion of Man, Being the Hibbert Lectures for 1930 (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 2008 reprint [1st edition 1931]). 3 The plethora of Bengali Muslim poets composing lyrics on the Krishna-Radha theme, the emergence of a milder Vaishnava-style mode of Kali devotion in Shyama-sangit, the adaptation of symbolism and sentiments, albeit sometimes transgressively, by lefttantric Vaishnava Sahajiyas and diverse hybrid sects on the margins of the more orthodox Chaitanya Vaishnava tradition plus diverse modern secular renderings of Vaishnava symbolism and themes illustrate the protean character and wide range of appeal of Vaishnava themes, sentiments and symbolism in Bengal. 4 RT as quoted in Simplicity and Elaboration in Music: A discussion with Rabindranath by Dilip Kumar Roy, The Visva-Bharati Quarterly (July 1928). Reprinted in RT, English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore [EWRT], edited by Sisir Kumar Das (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1994-, Vol. 4, 2007 [completed by Nityapriya Ghosh], 676-677. See extract quoted below in section of text treating Bhanusimha Thakurer Padavali. 5 Hitesranjan Sanyal, Kirtan o gramin krishti (Kirtan and Village Culture), the final chapter of Hitesranjan Sanyals Bangla Kirtaner Itihas, translated with introduction and notes by Joseph T. OConnell, Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Fall 2009), 5-37. 6 Blair Kling, Partner in Empire: Dwarkanath Tagore and the Age of Enterprise in Eastern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 22-23 cited in Kathleen M. OConnell, Rabindranath Tagore: The Poet as Educator (Kolkata: VisvaBharati, 2002), p.12, n.25. 7 K. OConnell 2002, p. 16, n. 41, citing Debendranath Tagore, The Autobiography of Debendranath Tagore, translated by Satyendranath Tagore and Indira Devi (London: Macmillan and Co., 1914), 50-51. Alakasundari was the adopting mother of Dwarkanath, K. OConnell 2002, p. 7, n. 14. 8 Margaret Noble (Sister Nivedita), Letters of Sister Nivedita, ed. Sankari P. Basu (Calcutta: Nababharat Publishers, 1982), Vol. I. p. 55; cited in K. OConnell 2002, p. 27, n.25. 9 Swarnakumari Tagore, Sekele Katha in Pradip, Bhadra 1336 [1929], cited in Bimanbehari Majumdar, Heroines of Tagore: A Study in the Transformation of Indian Society, 1875-1941 (Calcutta: K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1968), 61. Majumdar also writes that Vaishnavis (female Vaishnavas) recommended by women of the Khardaha Goswami lineage [descended from Chaitanyas close associate and foremost propagator of Krishna-bhakti in Bengal, Nityananda] were allowed to teach the Tagore women. 10 Sabujkoli Sen, Tagores Religion, India Perspective, Vol. 24, No. 2 (2010), 60-65; also personal communication, January 2011. 11 RT, The Religion of Man, Ch. VI The Vision, 61. 12 Sabujkoli Sen, personal communication, January 2011. 13 Had I remained in that state I would not have been a resident, I would have been a captive. RT, letter of 13 May 1931 to Hemantabala Debi (wife of RTs nephew Dvipendranath Tagore) in Chitti patra vol. 9, enlarged edition, 1404, 25-26. Translations of correspondence with Hemantabala are by J.T. OConnell. 14 Notable among those associated with Vaishnava affairs known to Rabindranath were his early rival, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (author of Krishna-charitra); his fathers disciple-turned-nemesis, Keshub Chandra Sen, who after breaking with the Adi Brahmo Samaj became an exuberant leader of Vaishnava-style kirtan and exponent of bhakti; Bijoy Krishna Goswami, after whom some (unconvincingly) suggest, Swami Lilananda in Caturanga may have been modeled; possibly Kedarnath Datta Bhakti Vinode Thakur, friend of Dvijendranath, elder brother of Rabindranath, devout convert to and revivalist of the Vaishnava tradition in Bengal and father of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati (founder of the Gaudiya Mission and guru of Swami Bhaktivedanta, founding guru of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, ISKCON); Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (another, though unlikely, suggested model for Lilananda), who, although of primary Shakta devotional inclination, was treated by some as an incarnation of Vaishnava deities Rama and Krishna. See William Radice, Atheists, Gurus and Fanatics: Rabindranath Tagore's `Chaturanga' (1916), Modern Asian Studies 34, 2 (2000), 407-424. My own guess is that it was less due to any particular model than to his own engagement with Vaishnava poetry, song and music that deep and subtle influences on Rabindranath would have taken place and that his acquaintance with Vaishnava gurus and bairagis was derived from widely ranging observation and hearing/reading about Vaishnava leaders and their behavior. 15 The truth which is supremely personal is God and the paths that lead to Him are not one, but are manifold according to the differences of our personality.Religion is the expression of human aspiration seeking the fundamental unity of truth in the divine person of God. RT, Brahmo Samaj Centenary, English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, EWRT, 4.748.

For a similar reason my personality craves the touch and guarantee of an infinite personality. To this infinite personality I give the name God. RT, My Conception of God, EWRT 4.636. 16 Sabujkoli Sen, Tagores Religion, India Perspectives, Vol. 24, No. 2 (2010), 64. 17 He did, however, read at one time the Bhagavata Purana, on which scriptural text Bengali Vaishnavas and their Brindaban Goswamis claim to base their teachings. Both Rabindranaths and his fathers philosophical theology shows affinity with Ramanujas conception of the physical world and spiritual souls as being in relation to the personal Supreme Being as body to soul, as parts of one integrated whole, related as servants to a divine master. The philosophical theology of the Bengali Vaishnavas, formulated primarily by the Vaishnava Goswamis, scholar-ascetics who were said to have been directed by Chaitanya to reside in Brindaban (deemed the site of Krishnas amorous pastimes), similarly has a strongly personalist conception of the divine. Their philosophical theology conceives the physical world and spiritual souls as real (not illusory as in Advaita Vedanta), as dynamic shaktis, i.e., powers emanating from one divine source. 18 Debendranath took special interest in his precocious youngest son, bringing him with him on pilgrimage to the Himalaya, making him secretary of the Brahmo Samaj and having him compose hymns for it, giving him responsibility for managing extensive zamindari estates in eastern Bengal and allowing him to use the Brahmo Samaj ashram at Santiniketan as the venue for his experimental school. The school even today respects basic Brahmo rules, including prohibition of religious images and pujas rituals on the ashrams grounds. 19 For Vaishnavas a worthy guru is to be revered as the living presence of God Krishna himself. By contrast, the Brahmos, in theory, if not altogether so in practice, are critical of submission to human gurus. Members of the Adi Brahmo Samaj, however, tended to revere Debendranath as Maharshi (Great sage) and presumably sought his guidance as virtually a teaching guru (shiksha-guru); and Keshub Chander Sen, after he formed the schismatic Brahmo Samaj of India, assumed the character of a divinely inspired quasi-Vaishnava guru leading his followers in kirtan celebrations in emotional Vaishnava style. 20 One fundamental Brahmo Samaj principle is opposition to anthropomorphic conceptionsin name and visual or tangible form of the divine, which conflicts starkly with Vaishnava delight in rituals, singing and contemplation focused on consecrated images of Krishna and Radha or of Chaitanya and Nityananda. Furthermore, Brahmos, though theists like the Vaishnavas, are strict monotheists denying the reality of multiple divine figures, whereas for Vaishnavas the grand pantheon of Hindu deities are realities albeit dependent upon, subordinate to and emanations from the one Supreme Being, who quintessentially is Krishna with Radha. 21 If the Brahmo Samaj, in contrast to the Vaishnavas, is minimalist in its recourse to emotionally expressive as well as mythological, ritualistic and other symbolic aspects of religious life, it is maximalist in its emphasis on strict moral behavior, especially social reform (variously interpreted by them). Morality and reformist inclination need not conflict with Vaishnavas fundamental values, as the latter too in principle eschew socio-ritual discrimination in devotional practices and stress moral values like non-violence, service, simplicity and sexual propriety (leaving aside Vaishnava Sahajiyas who may clothe certain sexually transgressive tantric practices with Vaishnava symbolism). For Vaishnavas, however, moral behavior is not an overriding end in itself, as it tends to be for many Brahmos, but a preparation for what is far more enthusiastically pursued, namely devotional experience, i.e., loving devotion (prema-bhakti). 22 Prabhat Kumar Muhkerjee, Rabindra Jibani, Pratham Khand (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1392 reprint [1985]). Mukherjee reports that Rabindranath showed great skill as a linguist and even produced a volume of notes on Brajabuli, which he lent to a scholar writing on the same subject only never to have it returned by the man. He also reports (p. 150) that Rabindranath felt that even finer poems than Vidyapatis were those of a 16 th century Bengali Vaishnava devotee, Vasanta Ray, a Brahman who spent his latter days in Brindaban. Bhanusimha (Lord of the Sun) is but a synonym for Rabindranath. Bhanusimha Thakurer Padavali, as the poems were entitled when first published as a set (1884), caused no little excitement among scholars and littrateurs. For examples and analyses of Brajabuli language and literature, see Sukumar Sen, A History of Brajabuli Literature: Being a Study of the Vaisnava Lyric Poetry and Poets of Benga (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1935). 23 RT, The Vision, The Religion of Man (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 2008 reprint [1st edition, 1931]), 61. 24 RT, The Lover of God, translated by Tony K. Stewart and Chase Twichell (Port Townsend: Washington, 2003), 108-109. The final poem (Ham sakhi darida nari), epitomizing the mood of Bhanusimha Thakurer Padavali, occurs on p. 85. 25 RT as quoted in Simplicity and Elaboration in Music: A discussion with Rabindranath by Dilip Kumar Roy The Visva-Bharati Quarterly (July 1928). Reprinted in EWRT, Vol. 4, 2007, pp. 676-677. 26 RT, Chaturanga in Rabindra Racanavali, 7.429-496; RT, Chaturanga: a novel, translated by Asok Mitra (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1963 [2009 reprint]). See also William Radice, Atheists, Gurus and Fanatics: Rabindranath Tagore's `Chaturanga' (1916), Modern Asian Studies 34, 2 (2000), pp. 407-424. 27 As given by B. Majumdar in Heroines of Tagore, 61. 28 RT, Boshtomi in RT, Galpaguccha (Kolikata: Visva-Bharati, 1396 BA [1983]), 658-668. B. Majundar, Heroines of Tagore, 62. Majumdar goes on to report: Rabindranath idealized the life of a Vaisnavi named Sarvakhepi, who used to call him Gaur. He writes in a letter that the Bostomi did leave her home but not Guru, which means that she lived in adultery with him. 29 P.K. Mukherjee in Rabijibani 2:272 tells us that Dhananjay Bairagi was the prototype for later remarkable characters in Tagores dramas such as Thakurda, Guru, Dadathakur and that Dhananjay Bairagi himself reappears in the more symbolic play,

Muktadhara, some thirteen years later (1922). Comments herein on Prayaschitta and Acalayatan are based on the summaries given in B. Majumdar, Heroines of Tagore, 62-64. 30 B. Majumdar points out the interesting coincidence that in December of 1909, the year in when Prayaschitta was published, M.K. Gandhi (the son of a Vaishnava family with Jain influences) addressed a message to the Indian National Congress urging passive resistance as an infallible panacea for the many ills we suffer from in India. Majumdar does not think that either Tagore or Gandhi was influenced by the other in these virtually simultaneous affirmations of non-violent resistance to evil forces. 31 RT, Citti-patra, Navam khand, Srimati Hemantabala Debi ebam tahar putra kanya jamata bhrata o douhitrake likhita patrabali , assembled and edited by Kanai Samanta and Sanatkumar Bagchi (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, enlarged edition 1404), 25-26. 32 Kirtan o gramin krishti (Kirtan and Village Culture), the final chapter of Hitesranjan Sanyals Bangla Kirtaner Itihas with translation with introduction and notes by J.T. OConnell. Journal of Vaisnava Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Fall 2009), 5-37. Hitesranjan Sanyal, Bangla Kirtaner Itihas (Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi & Co., 1989). Another example of group kirtan having demonstrable effect in mobilizing poor people may be supplied by the Matua Sect among low-status Namasudras in southern Bengal, whose now influential socio-political organization relied heavily on Vaishnava-style group kirtan in its initial efforts at mass mobilization. See Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India: The Namasudras of Bengal, 18721947 (London: Curzon Press, 1997). 33 Krishna Kripalani, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 2nd revised ed. 1980), 212. 34 RT, Citi-patra, Navam khand, Srimati Hemantabala Debi ebam tahar putra kanya jamata bhrata o douhitrake likhita patrabali, assembled and edited by Kanai Samanta and Sanatkumar Bagchi (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, enlarged edition 1404) 35 It is surprising to me that RT took the time to send so many letters (every few days in the spring of 1931) to someone he had never met. His own explanation is that he was so much impressed by the literary quality of her writing that he enjoyed receiving her letters even though he disagreed with her on a number of matters. 36 Amar madhye vaisnabke tumi khonjo / se palay ni / kintu tar sangei ache shaiba bhikhari abang sannyasi / rasrajer vamshio baje natarajer nrtyao hay jamunay naoka bhasan diye sheshkale pari giye sei gangay je ganga gairik pare calecchen samudre / iti Srirabindranath Thakur. Letter of RT to Hemantabala Devi, 14 May 1931, Citti-patra, 33. 37 RT, Gitanjali: Song Offerings, with an introduction by W.B. Yeats (New Delhi: Full Circle Publishing, 2002; original edition 1912), song 2, p. 18. 38 Vaishnavas would specify Krishnas dependence on the love of human devotees--and even more so on the love of his divine sweethearts. Sanatana Goswami in Brhad-bhagavatamrtam even wrote of Krishna as lying sunk in depression for absence of Radha, an excess of anthropomorphism and melodrama that Rabindranath would hardly have countenanced!