Man, Nature and Universe through Rabindranath Tagore’s Eyes: A Study of Autumn Festival by Rajarshee Gupta

Rabindranath Tagore’s plays are no literary works dissociated from his philosophy. Rather his plays, pregnant with symbols and predominantly allegorical, significantly convey his philosophical beliefs. Therefore, scanning his play Autumn Festival in isolation in search of clues suggesting Tagore’s affinity with nature would be a fatuous attempt.

Autumn Festival
Autumn Festival

Exploration of Tagore’s perspectives on the fusion of the macrocosmic identities of universe and nature with the microcosmic identity of the human individual demands a brief but close examination of his philosophical belief. This article explores Tagore’s philosophical views on life and nature, and inspects their reflection on his literary work with focus on Autumn Festival. The play was originally published in Bengali as Sharadotsab (1908). Tagore himself reworked on Sharadotsab twice: Autumn Festival (1919), the English translation, and Rinshodh (1921), a physical and philosophical expansion.

While translating Sharadotsab into Autumn Festival, Tagore shortened the play considerably, dropping much of the original’s symbols, cultural connotations and a good number of its quintessential songs. This essay, in the attempt of exploring Tagore’s holistic approach towards nature through all three renderings of the play, addresses the three versions as one composite literary entity and often refers to Sharadotsab and Autumn Festival as interchangeable terms.

The philosophy of Tagore is essentially rooted in the ancient Vedic and Upanishadic traditions of India and accentuated by mysticism. All these philosophical schools put nature at a revered position. The Upanishadas impart the central seat to brahman, or the Supreme Being or the Absolute, who creates the universe, nurtures it, destroys it when time comes, and again gives birth to the universe.

Thus the cycle of creation, the cycle of life, goes on; and during the ceaseless movement of the cycle, a close bond between the Creator and His creation the universe is established. It is by means of being nurtured by and experiencing nature that a human being becomes truly capable of realising the bond between him and the Absolute. This understanding is the foundation of Tagore’s philosophy.

Although the Absolute as the Creator and the world His creation might appear to be binary opposite entities, they actually are not. They are not contradictory but complementary entities leading to the totality of the universe. Radhakrishnan, while discussing shortcoming of the understanding of God by the Western world in terms of understanding the Absolute, observes:

The God of theism is only an aspect of the Absolute, an appearance of a deeper reality. Modern theism, aware of this difficulty, lays stress on Divine immanence, thus watering down the personal God into the Absolute whole. The views here […] do not give us a philosophic synthesis of God, world and self, for in a true synthesis we cannot have absolute divisions between man and nature.

We need a principle, superior to them all, which would assign to each, self and not-self, its appropriate value, and give harmony to their mutual relations; a principle of synthesis which would comprehend both elements and transform their apparent antagonism into an organic relationship.[1]

Tagore’s philosophy of life offers this ‘principle of synthesis’. A man with complete faith in the soul of ancient India, he states that ‘the state of realising our relationship with all, of entering into everything through union with God, was considered in India to be the ultimate end and fulfilment of humanity’.[2]

Tagore believes that in seeking to be united with the infinite lies the fulfilment of the finite, human, individual being. Delving again into the Vedantic tradition, considers the concepts of maya (appearance) and satyam (truth), he observes that ‘our self is maya where it is merely individual and finite, where it considers its separateness as absolute; it is satyam where it recognises its essence in the universal and infinite, in the supreme self, in Paramatman’ (Sādhanā, p. 313).

He negates the contrariness of nature between man (the world in general) and the Absolute because man, the being with intellectual, aesthetic and emotional faculties, forms the most essential part of the Creation of the Absolute; thus the soul of man or jivatman becomes the microcosm of the paramatman, and therefore the complementary element to prove the organic totality of the universe.

And because man is the microcosmic identity of this all-pervading paramatman, who is also the fountainhead of pure bliss and epitomises unmixed joy or anandam, he reaches the state of ecstasy and tastes the same anandam once he unites with the Absolute. Thus the ultimate manifestation of humanity is attained.

It is a quest of man to attain the Absolute that enables him to taste the divine joy – not only upon reaching the goal, but also in the path of the journey, while he embraces all world into his heart. This quest is an inward journey as well, for this is a quest after man’s own soul as well.

Therefore knowing the Absolute Self and one-self, the macrocosm and the microcosmic, is a continuous and simultaneous process. The motif of journey is very common in Tagore, especially in numerous of his songs we find them, signifying this quest for union with the Absolute. In realisation of man’s eternal quest for the Absolute, he writes:

The day I surged out, singing your song, is not today| I have forgotten since when I have been longing for you – it is not from today.[3]

microcosm of the Absolute

Being the microcosm of the Absolute, man has the right to taste the divine ecstasy or ananda, but he has to earn it. He earns by embracing the omnipresence of the Absolute in every atom of the world – even in miseries and pains – securing himself in the organic wholeness of the world. Tagore holds that the miseries of human life are nothing but stepping stones of attaining the Absolute where He is interchangeable with ananda.

Man gets to taste this absolute joy in pursuit of the Supreme Being, throughout his quest for the Absolute. It is through this divine bliss, which Tagore hails as amrita or the life-giving nectar, that a human individual can realise the loving and caring touch of the Absolute. Tagore explains passionately while discussing ‘realization [of the Absolute] in love’:

The immortal being manifests himself in joy-form. His manifestation in creation is out of his fulness of joy. It is the nature of this abounding joy to realise itself in form which is law […]

The amritam, the immortal bliss, has made himself into two. Our soul is the loved one, it is his other self. We are separate; but if this separation were absolute, then there would have been absolute misery and unmitigated evil in this world. […] But on the contrary, we find that the separateness of objects is in a fluid state. Their individualities are ever changing, they are meeting and merging into each other, till science itself is turning into metaphysics, matter losing its boundaries, and the definition of life becoming more and more indefinite.

Yes, our individual soul has been separated from the supreme soul, but this has not been from alienation but from the fulness of love. (Sādhanā, p. 320)

Man finds ananda, the insignia of the love of the Supreme Being, and through it the Absolute Himself, abounding in nature. To Tagore nature is the stage on which the drama of the universal life is enacted in full grandeur of its harmony. Walking the path of pantheism, Rabindranath suggests that it is in nature that the love of the Supreme Being is reflected and that love, being showered upon every particle of the universe including man, manifests itself as the embodiment of the Absolute Himself:

Yes, I know, this is nothing but thy love, O beloved of my heart – this golden light that dances upon the leaves, these idle clouds sailing across the sky, this passing breeze leaving its coolness upon my forehead.

The morning light has flooded my eyes – this is thy message to my heart. Thy face is bent from above, thy eyes look down on my eyes, and my heart has touched thy feet.[4]

And Tagore believed that man must observe his duty to the Absolute and the universe by returning this love to them.

It goes without saying that nature being placed on the high altar of deeper spiritual understanding on Tagore’s part was but another facet of his profound faith in the Upanishadic philosophy and his integration of the ancient Indian way of life into his individual soul. Originated in and nourished by the forests, civilisation in ancient India imbibed the very distinct qualities nature can teach man.

To him the forests were no stage of contesting powers and unbridled violence; to him the epitome of forests was tapovana (the forests where the ancient sages founded their hermitages) where ‘the soul is in complete union with all the natural elements and the flora and fauna. Man is neither estranged from, nor has any discord with his surroundings’[5].

The ancient civilisation blooming in North India benefitted from nature in terms of numerous materials necessary for everyday life as well as in terms of intellectual and spiritual development of the individual soul. This civilisation did not posit nature as the binary opposite element to man that must be conquered in order to establish man’s superiority in the world and satisfy his ego; not separating man from his surroundings, this civilisation taught him to look at himself as an integral part of the surrounding nature.

The close proximity of nature allowed the vivacious life force of the surrounding nature to seep in man, aiding him in recognising his position in the organic synthesis of the universe; in realising his relation with the Absolute; in tasting the all-pervasive divine bliss or amritam. Thus the spirit of nature, reflecting the bountiful benevolence of the Absolute, reflected in the soul of man. This is the way, Tagore believed, in which man can realise the oneness with the Creator and His creation the universe.

Decidedly the influence of the Romantic authors of Tagore cannot be denied while discussing his view of nature. His works ostensibly captures the spirit of Romanticism; but he moves ahead of the Romantic dreams and ideals, adding an edge to the Romantic perception with a marked Upanishadic sensitivity.

His poem ‘Barshasesh’ clearly has the imprint of Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’, but his appeal to the Absolute becomes more personal as well as universal throughout the poem as he calls for the destructive force of His to torment nature in order for man to realise the message of regeneration out of the ash of destruction – an eternal law of nature ordained by Him which teaches man to conquer death by accepting it. At the same time, Tagore is no less a “high priest of nature” than Wordsworth. Wordsworth expresses his intense communion with nature and with the divine presence through her:

 

[…] And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things. [6]

 

Throughout his literary career, Tagore sought after this communion of man, nature and God, and his philosophy gradually shaped into the manifestation of the idea of jivandevata – translating literally as ‘the God of life’. But Tagore was not only well-versed in Upanishadas, but also acquainted with mysticism, which predominantly worship God as beloved.

He surpasses Wordsworth in realising the nature of the Supreme Being in an essential Eastern and mystic way while conceiving Him as the beloved, uttering, ‘O thou lord of all heavens, where would be thy love if I were not?’ (Gitanjali, 56, p. 51). In Tagore’s mind the perceptions of the spiritual beauty of the pursuit of the Absolute and the physical beauty of nature were fused to form a unique notion of interchangeability of beauty, universal truth and all-pervasive goodness. Commenting on Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, Tagore observed:

In this there is a suggestion that truth reveals itself in beauty. For if beauty were mere accident, a rent in the eternal fabric of things, then it would hurt, would be defeated by the antagonism of facts. Beauty is no phantasy, it has the everlasting meaning of reality. The facts that cause despondence and gloom are mere mist, and when through the mist beauty breaks out in momentary gleams, we realise that Peace is true and not conflict, Love is true and not hatred; and Truth is the One, not the disjointed multitude. We realize that Creation is the perpetual harmony between the infinite ideal of perfection and the eternal continuity of its realisation […].[7]

The ideals of truth, good and beauty (satyam-sivam-sundaram) have been cherished by Tagore, who wished to view man very much as a part of the universal harmony, ordained by the Absolute Himself. Man, therefore, in Tagore’s view, is bound to realise the full potential of his individuality only by recognising his position in the harmony of the universe and working in tandem with the universal laws of nature. The cycle of life and death throughout the organism of the universe concurs with this preordained natural law.

Therefore, man can only cherish the ultimate ananda when he becomes aware of his position in the natural organism and his duty towards the Absolute by abiding by the natural harmony and returning his love through affectionate and sympathetic treatment of his surroundings. Thus, man also realises within him the spirit of the deathless eternity pervading through nature and him. Radhakrishnan observes:

The universe is the eternal sacrifice of the supreme. The Bhagavadgita says: “The whole world rests on sacrifice. It is the law of the universe.” He is sacrificing himself that nature and humanity may live. This self-sundering of the whole in which the world is contained is but the expression of his joy and the law of the universe […] The outburst of joy is needed for the realisation of the concrete richness of the world. The universe is new-born continually, as a result of this joy. (pp. 30-31)

The realisation of the legacy of the eternal, universal spirit within his soul and that the fulfilment of human life lies in submitting the wealth of his soul in abundance to the feet of the absolute – just as nature gladly does to fulfil her duty – permeate man’s heart with love for the Absolute. Tagore, in whom romanticism fused with mysticism to give a new direction (imparting a unique dimension) to the very concept of love, viewed God not only as a benevolent father (as teaches the Upanishadas or Christianity), but also as a lover and a beloved friend, who soothes a bereaved heart patiently.

At the same time can be loved and wondered at even when he manifests in His fiercest, destructive form, which is another facet of the universal harmony. Nature becomes a medium of conversation between man and the Absolute in all these forms; therefore man’s love, reaching out to the Absolute, reaches out in essence to nature herself, and thus his quest continues.

valmiki, the master poet of the Ramayana

Tagore again betrays his Romantic bent when time and again he goes back to the literature and culture of the post-Vedic classical age of India to bring into being the ideal state of man’s close communion with nature. Various episodes of the epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Jayadeva’s Gita-Govinda or Kalidasa’s Meghaduta, Abhijnana-Sakuntala and Ritusamhara (to pinpoint at some of the classical literary pieces indulging in depicting nature in all her splendour) celebrate that relation between man and nature which is full of love and joy. The anomaly of the natural order in the act of two hunters killing a couple of lovemaking egrets triggered the poetic outburst in Balmiki, the master poet of the Ramayana.

Tagore’s choice of this very legend as the subject for his opera Balmikipratibha[8] (which depicts the transformational journey of Balmiki from a ferocious robber to a poet with love and sympathy for all the organism of the universe, ultimately recognising through it the Absolute, who appears before him in the form of goddess Saraswati and inspires his creativity) as early as in 1881 reveals his firm belief from very early in his life in the positive role of nature in bringing out the good in man from the depth of his soul.

Later in many of his poems and plays he fused the elements of natural descriptions from Indian classics with the beauty of nature (predominantly of Bengal) he himself experienced in his long life. Some perfect examples of such kind are his poems ‘Meghdut’[9] and ‘Barshamangal’[10].

Santiniketan is the place where Tagore spent a significantly major part of his life, cherishing all the splendour nature has to offer man. His fondness for the surrounding natural backdrop of the ashrama was so great as to lead him to compose a series of poems on the flora and fauna of the ashrama, which was later published as the volume Banabani (1931).

The awareness of the essence of the close relation with nature induced Tagore gradually to celebrate this companionship in forms of season festivals with all the residents of Santiniketan ashrama, especially the students. Tagore’s complete faith in nature led him to believe as an educationist that the holistic development of young souls is possible only in custody of nature. He started programmes in which the participants would celebrate the essence of every season, remembering their connection with nature.

From 1926 these musical festivals came to be held at Santiniketan[11], but since long before that the idea of celebrating through drama the deep connection of human existence with nature and seasons, the manifestation of the cyclical pattern of life in man and nature alike, the very fact that nature is the endless resource of the divine joy to man occurred to Tagore. Autumn Festival is such a play in which Tagore addressed these aspects of the eternal quest, the simultaneous inward-and-outward journey of man.

Autumn Festival falls within the ambit of the symbolic plays of Tagore which have won him a unique seat of honour in international dramaturgy. At his best, his symbolic plays become perfect vehicles of his ideas, whereas music plays a pivotal part (though critics like Thompson and charge them with excess of symbolism at the cost of loose plot and action[12], others like Iyengar praise the lucid creativity with which Tagore uses symbols in them[13]).

Chronologically, Sharadotsab is the first of Tagore’s season plays. Although the play was initially written to be staged by the students of Santiniketan on the occasion of the autumnal holiday, and therefore the holiday mood permeates through it, it certainly proves to be an allegory representing Tagore’s philosophy of synthesis of man, nature and the Absolute.

The characters in allegories are not individualistic in nature, but representative and therefore stock. It would not be entirely wrong to state that this play sees the prototypes of the characters representative of Tagore’s various ideas from his later allegorical plays. Nature strikingly becomes a most important character in Sharadotsab, for Tagore presents the interrelations of human individuals as well as between man and the Absolute occurring in the lap of and evolving around nature.

The setting of Sharadotsab is pastoral Indian autumn, pervaded with the joyous air of festival and holiday. Although sharadotsab literally is a composite of sharat (autumn) and utsab (festival) – and the English title might ambiguously suggest literariness of translation – the word has an implied meaning which refers to the autumnal festival of Durgapuja, the greatest festival of Bengal.

 

Sharadotsab

 

Tagore, by emphasising the literal meaning of the word, significantly dissociates the religious connotation of the word and endorsed autumn nature as the agent of infusing man with the sense of celebration and joy. With this setting as the keystone, Tagore variously expands in all three versions of the play his philosophy of the joyful relationship between man, nature and the Absolute which reaches its zenith when man and nature work in harmony to return their love to Him.

The natural setting here resembles the tapovana from Abhijnana-Sakuntala, reflecting the matrix of the human-nature-divine-joy relationship at its zenith, a harmonious ideal to which the real human individual should aspire. The work abounds in atmospheric pastoral happiness and freshness and sincerity of feeling.

The autumn nature, rich and full with all her sublimity, seems to have intoxicated the characters, inducing them to leave all their work at hand to join with nature in the festival which celebrates the all-permeating joy itself. The imagery of the play is predominantly natural, synthesising the sincere urge of the natural and the human to taste ananda by fulfilling the promise of abiding by the harmonious, universal system and returning the Absolute’s affection through love and work. For instance:

Thakurdada; Alas! that such a boy as you must pay your debts, and on such a day! The first breath of the autumn has sent a shiver through the white crest of flowering grass and the shiuli blossoms have offered their fragrance to the air, as if in the joy of reckless sacrifice, and it pains me to see that boy sitting in the midst of all this, foiling to pay his debts.

Sanyasi: Why, this is as beautiful as all these flowers, – his paying his debts. He has made this morning glorious, sitting in its centre. […].[14]

To Tagore the very duty of returning to the Absolute his love in order to sustain the universe’s harmonious, joyful, smooth running is essential as to consider it as sombre and moral as repayment of one’s debt. That this idea of repayment of man’s spiritual debt to the universe was so intriguing to him becomes clear from his titling the reworking of Sharadotsab as Rinshodh, literally meaning ‘repayment of debt’. The success of the play as an allegorical-symbolic play lies in Tagore’s fusion of two contradictory concepts.

On one hand, a mood of purposeless leave from work and holiday sets the cheerful atmosphere of the play (leading Thompson to observe that it was ‘almost a mask’[15]); on the other, Tagore propounds that the universe toils ceaselessly to pay the eternal debt of ananda to the Absolute, the fountainhead of joy itself, and does so with selfless love. Therefore the act of making ceaseless sacrifices and toiling hard actually leads all the organism of the universe (man as well as nature) to enjoy a perennial holiday in attaining the divine joy.

Thus, attaining ananda becomes another name of attaining salvation and the apparently purposeless holiday appears as the symbol of the working harmony of the universe. It is only the dutifulness of the universe that can achieve the great joy for it, and man must learn it from nature, as the following dialogues reveal:

Sanyasi: I know why this world is so beautiful, – simply because it is ever paying back its debt. The ricefield has done its utmost to earn its fulfilment and the Betasini River is what it is because it keeps nothing back.

Thakurdada: I understand, father. There is One Who has given Himself in creation in his abundance of joy. And Creation is every moment working to repay the gift, and this perpetual sacrifice is blossoming everywhere in beauty and life.

Sanyasi: Wherever there is sluggishness, there accumulates debt, and there it is ugly.

Thakurdada: Because where there is a lacking in the gift, the harmony is broken in the eternal rhythm of the payment and repayment. (AF, p. 143)

In tune with this keenness of nature to repay her debt, we find Upananda, the symbolic representative of the ideal human soul, restless when he quarrels with Luckeswar on paying his master’s debt:

Upananda: In my anger, at the insult offered to me, I thought I was right in disowning my debt to him. Therefore I went back home. But just as I was dusting my master’s vina its strings struck up a chord and it sent a thrill through my heart. I felt that I must do something super-human for my master. If I can lay down my life to pay his debts for him, this beautiful day of October will then have its full due from me. (AF, p. 141)

Upananda’s restlessness in repaying his debt is representative of the universal urge of relieving the burden of debt which obstructs the universe’s way of uniting with the Absolute. Tagore, repeatedly harping on the importance of amalgamation of man’s soul with that of nature for the sake of attaining the blissful spiritual harmony, finds in this urge the eagerness of the organic universe to express itself. Maintaining that the human soul and that of nature work in the same spirit and with the same goal, Tagore goes on establishing this ‘repayment of debt’ as a universal, phenomenal doctrine.

Repayment of debt no longer remains merely a mechanical task to be performed only out of the dry sense of duty, but a task necessary to add to the beauty of the organic as well as spiritual world of man, which is another face of the world of nature. The act of repayment must reflect the sincere love of universe for the fountainhead of joy, so that the apparently unemotional ‘repayment’ becomes a selfless and profound expression of the soul with which the universe – nature and man alike – pleases the Absolute. Discussing the theme of Sharadotsab, Tagore writes:

[…] The beauty of this repayment of debt is central to the autumn festival. There is an intense sentiment running through this autumn nature – in the river getting to the point of overflowing and the fields filling up with ripe harvest – suggesting that nature has received within herself the power of the divine joy (amrita), which she is repaying to the outer universe in various colours, forms, scents and sounds. This repayment itself is expression. The debt of the interior is best repaid externally when expression reaches its totality; beauty lies in that repayment.

Has God not given Himself away in man? He receives what he gives away – that is, Himself – in newer forms when man, with tireless sacrifice and abundant renunciation, repays his charity; is it not then that humanity finds its ultimate expression? […] In realisation of the amrita he was given he can spurn death, wave aside loss, make a necklace of his miseries – then he does not merely repay that amrita by expressing his very life. This expression of amrita in the nature of the universe and man alike is called beauty; anandarupamamritam.[16]

The joy of returning the love is not the universe’s alone; the Absolute also tastes the amrita as he seeks and finds manifestations of His own self amidst the organism of the universe (that is to say, man and nature alike). If the universe undertakes the quest of uniting with the Absolute for drinking from the ocean of bliss, the Absolute also takes up the journey to meet his microcosm – the universe and specifically man. Tagore believes that He does that in realisation of the validation of His presence through His complementary element the human individual. Elsewhere he writes.

I know not from what distant time thou art ever coming nearer to meet me. Thy sun and stars can never keep thee hidden from me for aye. (Gitanjali, ‘Verse 46’, pp-37-38)

If Upananda symbolises the human soul, the Emperor Vijayaditya in Sanyasi’s guise stands for the Absolute. He displays restlessness much alike Upananda’s for leaving his kingdom in order to celebrate the festival of harmony in the universe, chooses the pastoral autumn setting for the celebration, and seeks comrades for his festival. That Tagore put considerable importance on the Absolute’s keenness in uniting with his Creation becomes evident from his appendage of a functional introductory scene to Rinshodh which was absent in both its preceding Bengali and English versions.

This scene depicts the Emperor embarking on his quest of meeting the love of universe (symbolised by the musical feat of the vina player Surasen) with his own passionate devotion. Aware that love of universe reaches its zenith when it is expressed amidst its own ground of the nature herself, Vijayaditya does not summon Surasen to his court for his pleasure, but chooses to visit Surasen himself at the latter’s rustic threshold.

The rustic threshold and the wild flower (the song of which he wants to listen from the Poet, Shekhar) simultaneously signify the sincere simplicity of nature in which the universe expresses itself through renunciation (tyag; giving away) in ananda. In this quest, the Emperor himself also takes the guise of a renunciate Sanyasi, who leaves his wealth in order to find it again amidst human and universal nature, and is guided by his best friend the Poet.

Vijayaditya and Shekhar are in fact representatives of the benign, commanding side and the loving, creative facet of the Absolute respectively; and in Rinshodh we find it is Shekhar who inspires and guides Vijayaditya[17]. The creative, passionate side counsels the Absolute to answer the beauty of the sparkling morning dew with the joy of love, to pour out His love amidst nature to repay the debt of amrita.

The Emperor-Sage becomes the priest of nature. Nature, thus, manifests as the ideal platform on which the divine and the human must join to celebrate the festival of joy. Moreover, nature also turns into a significant character in the play and a significant participant in the festival as in her manifests optimal selflessness.[18]

Selflessness strikes the universe with pain, even the pang of death. Tagore sees in the ultimate repayment-expression of nature the joy of conquering pains which only selfless sacrifice can impart. Upananda’s selfless sacrifice of his worldly pleasures earns him the ananda and ultimately unites him with the Emperor-Sanyasi. Human individuality prevents itself from optimum self-expression to attain ananda and denies his debt to the Absolute when, vitalised by its ego, it ‘clings to wealth and makes self-interest [its] means’ (SH, p. 94).

Luckeswar and Rajah, the king Sompal, are symbolic representations of such limitedness of humanity. Sompal, a tributary of Vijayaditya possessive of his authority over his own small kingdom, perennially thinks of the Emperor as his enemy and suffers from the anxiety of his kingdom being snatched way.  Luckeswar himself hears the call of joining the festival of joy, he also wants to come out despite chastising the boys and his own son Dhanapati for coming out to enjoy the day, but his possessiveness of material wealth confines him within the boundaries of his home[19].

The greedy merchant is enticed by the thought of possessing the golden lotus because it is more valuable than pearl, which he possesses. He fails to grasp the metaphorical meaning of the golden lotus, which is the spiritual wealth of attaining ananda spread worldwide, and not merely some material wealth to be possessed by the egocentric man. Again we see Tagore drawing on natural imagery as symbols to convey his philosophy. Lotus itself is a revered flower in India and Sanyasi himself connects its goldenness with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, prosperity and beauty.

gajamoti

Luckeswar, symbolising the possessiveness in man, does not understand the value of giving away in order to gain more in spiritual terms. He values everything in material terms and eventually forgets the real value of his possessions. Although in Autumn Festival Tagore mentions Luckeswar’s valued possession simply as ‘pearl’, in both Bengali versions he specifically mentions it as gajamoti (‘elephant-pearl’), a mythical pearl found in the head of only a virtuous elephant.

Arguably Tagore describes both types of wealth humanity possesses and aspires to possess on symbolic terms as invaluably rare and therefore its possession can only be temporal; it is by sharing the wealth (material and spiritual) that humanity achieves joy, bliss and beauty. But man, blinded with ego and possessiveness, fails to recognise the key to spiritual happiness and richness even if he temporarily ‘possesses’ it. Luckeswar’s name itself appears singularly symbolic here: he remains ‘Luckeswar’, literally meaning the lord of ‘laksha’ or ‘million’ in Sanskrit and Bengali.

A striking homophone of the name would be ‘Lakshmiswar’ or ‘Lakkhiswar’ (in Bengali pronunciation), which means the lord of Lakshmi. But Luckeswar fails to realise the ultimate key of beauty and prosperity in human and organic nature, which the symbol of goddess Lakshmi signifies. He only anxiously guards the possession he falsely values on the banks of the river Betasini, which signifies the flow of life and the fullness of self-expression and ananda, but cannot sacrifice himself to ananda fully, and even at the end is worried as Sanyasi made his possession of the jewel a public issue by returning the pearl to him publicly.

Thakurdada is the prototype of the stock character found in Tagore’s consecutive allegorical-symbolic plays, like Dhananjay of The Waterfall, Grandfather of The King of the Dark Chamber and Bishu of Red Oleanders. Like these later characters, Thakurdada of Sharadotsab has not achieved the Absolute by means of getting himself immersed in ananda, only has got its hint and prepared his heart to open up to the bliss overflowing nature.

It is he who first sets the tune of exchange between human consciousness and natural organism by leading the boys into the lushness of autumn nature. Thakurdada is a man of wisdom as well as sensitivity who finds his companions among the innocent, young hearts, and believes that a holistic growth of youth needs close companionship of nature.

Again in the first scene of Sharadotsab and Rinshodh, but significantly not in Autumn Festival, we find Thakurdada proposing to lead the boys on a trip to a field (‘Panchanantalar math’; ‘the ground of Panchanantala’) and the boys demanding from him to engage them with recreations like storytelling in various other natural settings (namely under the banyan tree and Paruldanga).

In a sense Thakurdada is a self-representation of Tagore, reflecting his principles of educating children in close bond of nature, permeating their education with the essence of music so that their education becomes ‘a part of his [their] and not of [their] profession’[20], nourishing them with joy and wisdom alike.

Like Tagore, Thakurdada knows that children must grow in the vein of Wordsworth’s Lucy if they must realise the universal harmony through the abundance of nature within their heart (SH, Appendix, p. 91). He is that advanced spiritual human soul with whom Vijayaditya, the symbolic Absolute, shares his thoughts on the matrix of man, universe, ananda and repayment of debts.

Tagore wrote numerous songs on nature and seasons, some of which he thematically incorporated in Sharadotsab and Rinshodh. In Autumn Festival many of them have been dropped and the remaining ones arguably have lost their mellifluous lyricism in translation. The songs capture the external sensuousness of autumn nature as well as its deeper transcendental significance to the spiritually advanced human soul. The essentially sensuous introductory song in Sharadotsab sung by the boys, ‘Megher kole rod hesechhe’ (SH, p. 7; RI, p. 621; ‘The sun smiles among clouds’) sets in the holiday mood of the play.

Thakurdada’s songs, like ‘Aj dhaner khete’ (AF, p. 134; SH, p. 15; RI, p. 624; ‘Over the green and yellow rice fields’) and ‘Ananderi sagar hote’ (SH, pp. 24-25; ‘Tide has come today from the ocean of joy’), celebrating autumn in the same sensuous vein and marking the intrinsic bond of ananda with human heart in autumn nature, strike us as theme songs of the play. In comparison, the songs of Sanyasi and Shekhar depict much more spiritual orientation of autumn.

We can take for instance ‘Naba kunda-dhabala-dala-sushitala’ (SH, p. 64; a song eulogising autumn as the goddess of pure white hue decorated with a golden sun a beaming full moon almost in line of worshipping Saraswati, the goddess of creativity and intellect; or ‘Tomar sonar thalay’ (RI, p. 638; ‘On your golden plate I shall serve tears of misery’), which once again banks on the notion of expressing one’s soul through pains in order to attain the Absolute.  Tagore added more songs in Rinshodh, maximum of which are sung by the poet Shekhar, the more creative and romantic foil of Vijayaditya.

 

Autumn Festival Tagore

 

His songs, emphasising on the same motif, often reaches beyond concerning autumn nature, touching the sentiment of an all-pervasive Absolute distributing ananda throughout nature in general. Moreover, his songs harp upon the theme of the two-way quest of the human soul and the Absolute in order to meet one another on the open stage of nature; for instance, ‘Keno je mon bhole’ (RI, p. 625; ‘My mind does not know why it forgets’) and ‘Ami tarei khuje berai’ (RI, p. 628; ‘I seek Him who resides in my mind’).

The songs ‘Bedhechhi kasher guchchho’ (SH, p. 66-67; RI, p. 641; ‘We have tied knots of kash flower’) and ‘Amala dhabala pale’ (AF, p. 145; SH, p. 68-69; RI, p. 640; ‘The breeze has touched’) deftly showcase the characteristic play of sun and rain, light and darkness in autumn, transforming them into symbols of human happiness and sadness, while the latter of them ends with the note all human miseries turn into gold and all darkness into light with the Midas touch of the happy, golden, abundant atmosphere of autumn.

The fundamental Indian mystic understanding led Tagore to the realisation that man can attain spiritual liberation only when he takes nature as the medium of reaching out to the Absolute, the source of ananda. Not by passively indulging in sensual natural beauty, but by acknowledging his own harmonious association with universal organism and learning from nature the lesson of excelling oneself in performing one’s duties towards the universe man attains salvation.

Tagore’s realisation of nature pre-eminently sprouts out of his philosophy so as to discover various aspects of human consciousness and emotion in various facets of nature, as is discernible from his writings. The autumnal allegory is no exception. Greatly impressed by classical Indian dramaturgy for its liberty of stage settings,

Tagore himself kept stage direction minimal in his own play. In this regard also the three versions of our play under discussion are no exception, where we find the principal stage direction being nothing more than (but no less suggestive than) ‘the forest near the river Vetasini’ (AF, p.133; SH, p.15; RI, p.621), allowing the play to take place in the openness of nature itself.

It will not be illogical to conclude that the play emerges before us as the prototype of Tagore’s perfect amalgamation of spiritual philosophy with awareness of nature – a peculiarity of his life and literature developing over the years and gradually leading him in a more conscious way of spiritual-environmentalism in his later life.

 

Bibliographies

Primary Sources:

  • Tagore, Rabindranath, Autumn Festival, in Das, ed. The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, pp. 131-148
  • —, Rinshodh, in Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Prabodh Chandra Sen et al. eds., Rabindra Rachanabali, 32 Vols. (Calcutta: Govt. of West Bengal, 1980-2012), VI (1985), pp. 611-646
  • —, Sharadotsab (Calcutta: Visva Bharati Press, 1908; repr. 1958)

 

Secondary Sources:

  • Das, Sisir Kumar, ed., The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, 4 vols (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1996; repr. 2012)
  • Dasgupta, Santi Kumar, Symbolic Plays of Rabindranath Tagore (Calcutta: Bookland Pvt. Ltd., n.d.)
  • Iyengar, K.R. Srinivasa, Indian Writing in English (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1962; repr. 2009)
  • S. Radhakrishnan, The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited., 1919)
  • Tagore, Rabindranath,  ‘Meghdut’, in Manasi, in Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Prabodh Chandra Sen et al. eds., Rabindra Rachanabali, 32 Vols. (Calcutta: Govt. of West Bengal, 1980-2012), I (1980),  pp. 411-414
  • —, ‘Barshamangal’, in Kalpana, in Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Prabodh Chandra Sen et al. eds., Rabindra Rachanabali, 32 Vols. (Calcutta: Govt. of West Bengal, 1980-2012), I (1980), pp. 796-797
  • —, ‘My School’, in Das, ed. The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, pp. 389-403
  • —, ‘Tapovana’, in Santiniketan, in Rabindra Rachanabali <http:// rabindra-rachanabali.nltr.org> [Accessed 1 May 2018]
  • —, Balmikipratibha, in Gitabitan (Undivided edn.) (Kolkata: Visva Bharati Press, 1964; repr. 2015), pp. 635-654
  • —, Banabani, 2nd edn (Calcutta: Visva Bharati Press, 1968)
  • —, Creative Unity, in Das, ed. The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, pp. 493-569
  • —, Gitabitan (Undivided edn.) (Kolkata: Visva Bharati Press, 1964; repr. 2015)
  • —, Gitanjali (Song Offerings) (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1913; repr. 1953)
  • —, Sādhanā, in Das, ed. The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, pp. 277-345
  • Thompson, Edward J, Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work (Calcutta: Y.M.C.A. Publishing House, 1921)
  • —., Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist, 3rd edn. (Calcutta: Rddhi-India, 1979)
  • Wordsworth, William, ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’, in David Nichol Smith ed., Wordsworth: Poetry and Prose, with Essays by Coleridge, Hazlitt, De Quincey (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1921), pp. 49-54

 

[1] S. Radhakrishnan, The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited., 1919), p. 16. (Further references to this volume are given after quotations in the text.)

[2] Rabindranath Tagore, Sādhanā, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, ed. by Sisir Kumar Das, 4 vols (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1996; repr. 2012), pp. 277-345 (p. 286). (Further references to this volume are given after quotations in the text.)

[3] Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Song no. 33’, Gitabitan (Undivided edn.) (Kolkata: Visva Bharati Press, 1964; repr. 2015), p. 18. (Translation mine)

[4] Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Verse no. 59’. Gitanjali (Song Offerings) (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1913; repr. 1953), pp. 53-54. (Further references to this volume are given after quotations in the text.)

[5] Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Tapovana’, in Santiniketan, in Rabindra Rachanabali <http:// rabindra-rachanabali.nltr.org> [Accessed 1 May 2018] (Translation mine)

[6] William Wordsworth, ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’, in Wordsworth: Poetry and Prose, with Essays by Coleridge, Hazlitt, De Quincey, ed. by David Nichol Smith (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1921), pp. 49-54 (p. 52).

[7] Rabindranath Tagore, Creative unity, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, ed. by Sisir Kumar Das, 4 vols (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1996; repr. 2012), pp. 493-569 (p. 500).

[8] Rabindranath Tagore, Balmikipratibha, in Gitabitan (Undivided edn.) (Kolkata: Visva Bharati Press, 1964; repr. 2015), pp. 635-654.

[9] Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Meghdut’, in Manasi, in Rabindra Rachanabali, eds. Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Prabodh Chandra Sen et al., 32 Vols. (Calcutta: Govt. of West Bengal, 1980-2012), I (1980),  pp. 411-414.

[10] Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Barshamangal’, in Kalpana, in Rabindra Rachanabali, eds. Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Prabodh Chandra Sen et al., 32 Vols. (Calcutta: Govt. of West Bengal, 1980-2012), I (1980), pp. 796-797.

[11]Rabindranath Tagore, Banabani, 2nd edn. (Calcutta: Visva Bharati Press, 1968), pp. 178, 183, 184.

[12]Edward J Thompson, Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work (Calcutta: Y.M.C.A. Publishing House, 1921), p. 81.

[13]K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, Indian Writing in English (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1962; repr. 2009). p. 122.

[14]  Rabindranath Tagore, Autumn Festival, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, ed. Sisir Kumar Das, 4 vols (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1996; repr. 2012), pp. 131-148 (pp. 135-136). (Further references to this volume are given after quotations in the text with the abbreviation of ‘AF’.)

[15] Edward J. Thompson. Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist, 3rd edn. (Calcutta: Rddhi-India, 1979), p. 207. In the same page Thompson considers Sharadotsab to be a mask ‘in the sense of the word as Milton left it’ and ‘as sunny as As You Like It’.

[16] Rabindranath Tagore, Appendix to Sharadotsab (Calcutta: Visva Bharati Press, 1908; repr. 1958). pp. 93-94. (All translations from Sharadotsab are mine. Further references to this volume are given after quotations in the text with the abbreviation of ‘SH’.)

[17] Santi Kumar Dasgupta, Symbolic Plays of Rabindranath Tagore (Calcutta: Bookland Pvt. Ltd., n.d.), p. 65.

[18] Rabindranath Tagore, Rinshodh, Rabindra Rachanabali, eds, Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Prabodh Chandra Sen et al., 32 Vols. (Calcutta: Govt. of West Bengal, 1980-2012), VI (1985), pp. 611-646 (pp. 618-620). (All translations from Rinshodh are mine. Further references to this volume are given after quotations in the text with the abbreviation of ‘RI’.)

[19]SH. p.14; RI. p. 623. Here again we notice Tagore deviating significantly from Sharadotsab in Autumn Festival, when he omits this particular sentiment in Luckeswar’s character in the English translation but retains it verbatim in the succeeding Rinshodh.

[20] Rabindranath Tagore, ‘My School’, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, ed. by Sisir Kumar Das, 4 vols (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1996; repr. 2012), pp. 389-403 (pp. 395).

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