This year, 2015, is the centenary of the meeting of two of the greatest personalities of India. In March 1915, Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi met in Santiniketan for the first time. Both held each other in high mutual regard. Tagore was one of the first important people to call Gandhi “Mahatma,” that is “Great Soul.” Gandhi, in turn, called Tagore “Gurudev,” meaning “divine teacher.”
At the same time, the differences between the two of them were obvious at first glance: While Rabindranath was tall, with long hair and beard and wearing a beautiful choga (gown), Gandhi was much smaller and wore only a simple dhoti andkurta. Rabindranath suggested they sit on the sofa, but Gandhi preferred to sit on a mat on the floor.
Gandhi criticized Tagore’s educational approach for not being simple and self-sufficient enough and even suggested changing the structure of Tagore’s school considerably, for example, by making students do all the cleaning themselves. Tagore, on the other hand, did not approve of all aspects of Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement and the importance he gave to the Charkha.
Tagore was also averse to encouraging superstition, so when Gandhi linked the Bihar earthquake with supreme punishment for ostracizing people as “untouchables,” Tagore spoke out against Gandhi’s response.
Yet in spite of all their apparent differences, Gandhi and Tagore respected each other deeply. Gandhi sought, and was granted, Tagore’s blessings when he fasted in jail, and Tagore asked Gandhi to take Santiniketan under his protection after Tagore’s death.
In the last year of Tagore’s life, they had many sympathetic talks and Gandhi allegedly said: “I started with a disposition to detect a conflict between Gurudev and myself, but ended with a glorious discovery that there was none” (qtd. in Dutta, K. & Robinson, A., Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore, Cambridge UP, 1993, p. 517).
In the online debate of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies, members of the international Tagore Network are going to explore and discuss various differences and similarities between Gurudev Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi and revisit their ideas and actions that have shaped modern India and have inspired people around the world.