Selections from Santiniketan

Rabindranath Tagore

Translated from the original Bengali by

Jyoti Prakash Datta


We present a selection of translations from Rabindranath Tagore's (1861-1941) Santiniketan (Shaantiniketana) Volumes I and II.

Santiniketan Volumes I and II, are a compilation of Rabindranath's discourses at the residential school he founded in the early years of 20th century. The collection is named after the location of this school in rural Bengal; the name translates to 'abode of peace'.

Students and teachers at Santiniketan joined Rabindranath at a prayer meeting every Wednesday. Discussion on spiritual themes were interspersed with songs; in conclusion Rabindranath addressed the gathering. The spirit of this weekly congress was inspired by similar observance in the Brahmo Samaj.

Rabindranath's association with the Brahmo Samaj can be traced to strong familial links and his own early predilection. His grandfather Dwarakanath Tagore (1794-1846), a friend of Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833) was closely involved in the conception and founding of this liberal religious society. Rabindranath's father, Devendranath Tagore (1817-1905) lent able leadership to the fledgling Brahmo movement of mid 19th century. Rabindranath became the secretary of Adi Brahmo Samaj at the age of twenty-three and actively participated in the society's functions. Many of his lyrics collected in Gitabitan (gItabitaana) were originally written and set to tune for rendition at Brahmo gatherings.

Though based on a spiritual context, the Santiniketan addresses do not echo the rubric of any particular faith. Rabindranath's abounding fascination with Nature and the nuances of this living world are expressed here with great sensitivity and élan. These pieces are expositions of a truly secular canon, where the individual is free to interpret spirituality in the light of her own experiences. Santiniketan represents a milestone in Rabindranath's odyssey of spiritual evolution which culminated in The Religion of Man (Hibbert Lectures, 1930), and then moved further beyond.

Rabindranath's lectures were transcribed verbatim in the original Bengali by an associate and later underwent editing and abridgement by the poet himself. Santiniketan was published in seventeen volumes between 1909 and 1916 and later recompiled into two volumes in 1934-1935.

The current selection out of a total of more than one hundred and fifty pieces seeks to reflect the variety of topics Rabindranath illumined in these addresses. Like his poetry, some sections of Rabindranath's prose are almost as intractable to translation. He often argues by analogy and frequently invokes metaphors deeply rooted in his native language and heritage. In these situations, clarity of the general meaning has been preferred over syntactic closeness to the original.

The original Bengali title and the volume they appear in, are mentioned for each piece.

Jyoti Prakash Datta (1939-1998), undertook these translations as part of a larger endeavour to translate Rabindranath Tagore's non-fiction oeuvre into English. At the time of Jyoti Prakash’s untimely demise, a selection from Santiniketan had been translated. Parabaas plans to publish these pieces in a series.

-- Introduced and edited by Nandan Datta

Selections : In the Morning, Night, Three Storeys

Published in Parabaas April 15, 2004.

Photograph by Samiran Nandy

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