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Friday, May 20, 2011

Tagore And Santiniketan

DHAKA: Recently found photographs of Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian to win the Nobel prize for literature, show the poet in a new, more intimate light in an exhibition marking the 150’th anniversary of his birth.

The pictures offer a glimpse of Tagore — a poet, novelist, musician, painter and playwright who is revered in both Bangladesh and India — at the university he founded in Santiniketan, a small town in West Bengal, India.

“They are not formal or official pictures. This is why they are very rare. They are a glimpse of life in the golden age of the university,” said Samuel Berthet, director of the Alliance Francaise in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Berthet discovered the trove of hundreds of photographs, taken by French historian Alain Danielou at Santiniketan between 1932 to 1940, while “digging through the late photographer’s archives at his house in Italy”.

The Viswa Bharati University, founded with the prize money Tagore received from the Nobel Foundation, was “a gate to rural India, and it is still the case now — artists from across the globe are living there,” Berthet said.

Tagore was born into a prominent intellectual and artistic family in Kolkata in 1861. He spent time in both India and what is now Bangladesh, and for many — especially among the world’s 250 million Bengali speakers — his work mirrors the spiritual heritage of both countries.

The author of over 50 volumes of poetry and of both India’s and Bangladesh’s national anthems, Tagore is best known internationally for Gitanjali (Song Offerings), his book of poems in English.

He instituted open-air classrooms at the university in Santiniketan to give the living world of nature priority over the rigidity of book learning.

One of the photographs, which went on show on Saturday, shows Tagore in the last years of his life — his trademark long beard turned white — smiling playfully at Danielou’s camera.

Other shots show campus life at Shantiniketan with teachers and students working together.

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