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Tagore – Poetry, Telugu and an Eternal Connection

Tagore – Poetry, Telugu and an Eternal Connection

By Ananda Shankar Jayant

The year 2016 marks the 155th birth anniversary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.

Think Tagore, and images of an erudite, artistic, modern and extraordinary individual come to one’s mind. A polymath, Tagore was a genius. His writings spanned poetry, prose, plays, songs, dance-dramas, novels, travel writing, humour and children’s writing. Such brilliance and luminescence has stayed unmatched in the modern history of mankind and continues to inspire artists even today.

My personal favourite among Tagore’s work is his ode to our motherland – India. It is titled ‘Oyi Bhubon-monomohini’. The motherland is described as Maa or mother.

The Translation:

Beloved of the whole world
O land of my forefathers,
My motherland
Bathed in the orient sun
There you stand – bright and chaste
The blue waters of the oceans
Wash your feet
In the soft – blown breeze
Gently flutters your green mantle
Your snow- crested Himalayan brow
Is kissed by the heavens
The first day dawned
In your sky
Out of the heart of your hermitage
Arose the first holy chants
In your forest retreat were written
The first epics of wisdom and faith
Hail, mother of abiding mercy,
Sustainer  of millions at home and abroad.
The holy waters of your Ganga and Jamuna
Flow with your mother’s milk of loving kindness

The far-reaching impact of Tagore’s poetry and nationalism is well established. However, what is lesser known, is Tagore’s extraordinary influence on modern Telugu literature. His impact transcended literary engagement and permeated deep into the social ethos of the Telugus. Even today, one would find many Telugu children named ‘Tagore’!

Tagore’s Gitanjali was translated in Telugu, as early as, in 1914. Literary pilgrimages were undertaken to Shantiniketan, a town established by Tagore in West Bengal. Some even pursued their education at the school that was set up there.


Tagore’s overriding influence is also seen in the evolution of Bhavakavitvam – the poetry of expression and emotion or bhava. It came to characterise itself as a kind of reformist, socialist prose on one hand, while being distinct from traditional, classical poetry on the other.

Intense subjectivity, love for nature, an assertion of individuality and an interest in the common man perfectly typifies Bhavakavitvam. The art form reached its zenith around the 1920-30s with luminaries such as Devulapalli Krishna Shastry, Vedula Satyanarayana Shastry, Rayaprolu Subba Rao, Abburi Ramakrishna Rao, Bezwada Gopala Reddy, Gurazada Appa Rao, Duvvuri Rami Reddy, Maalavarapu Visweswara Rao, Sri Sri Chalam, Venkata Parvateeswara Kavulu, among others, who drew immense inspiration from Tagore and were deeply influenced by his works.

Bhavakavitvam was ganayogyam – fit to be sung, atmanayakam – subjective, vyanga pradhanam – suggestive, ekabhavashrayam – dependent on one central emotion and laghu rachana – a short composition. It spawned many genres of Telugu literary engagement.

Telugu  and Tagore

In turn, the land of the Telugus also inspired Tagore. The National Anthem, written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1911, was set to the now familiar tune in 1919, at the Besant Theosophical College, in Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh.


Rabindranath Tagore’s stay at Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh

The National Anthem, written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1911, was set to the now familiar tune in 1919, at the Besant Theosophical College, in Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh.

On a tour of South India in February 1919, Tagore, on the advice of C.F. Andrews, decided to rest at the Theosophical College in Madanapalle. The city is situated, about 120 km, south-east of Bangalore. Rabindranath Tagore’s stay in Madanapalle College went down in history as a momentous occasion. The song ‘Janaganamana’ was given the melody with which it is now sung all over the country, at this very college.

It was also during this stay, that Tagore translated ‘Janaganamana’ into English. He wrote it down in his own beautiful handwriting and named it as the “Morning Song of India.” At the bottom of the translated version, he signed his name, dated it as February 28, 1919, and presented it to Dr James Cousins. Eventually, the original was sold to an American art collector and the proceedings were added to the college fund. However, a copy is preserved in the Madanapalle Theosophical College today.


English translation of our National Anthem

Another interesting episode is Tagore’s connection to the Banjara Hills in Hyderabad. In 1933, Tagore stayed for a short while with Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung, and wrote ‘Kohesar’ an ode to the beautiful rocks of Hyderabad.

‘From the distance thou didst appear
barricaded in rocky aloofness
Timidly I crossed the rugged path
to find here all of a sudden
An open invitation in the sky
and friends embrace in the air
In an unknown land the voice that
seemed ever known
Revealed to me a shelter’ 

An Eternal Connect

Rabindranath Tagore became an aspirational symbol of evolved aesthetic, culture and excellence for the Telugu Middle Class in the early 20th century. Consequently, knowledge of Tagore’s and other Bengali writers’ works was considered a hallmark of good taste and refinement in Telugu society. Even today, Tagore’s work connects with hearts and minds across mountains and rivers; resonating the unifying spirit of our motherland, India.

Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant inhabits the worlds of administration, academics and arts. She is a sought after motivational speaker and actively engages with young India on a plethora of topics. She is currently the Artistic Director of Shankarananda Kalakshetra and an officer of the Indian Railway Traffic Service. She is also posted at the Centre for Railway Information Systems, in Hyderabad, India.


  1. National Anthem’s Madanapalle connection K.S.S. SESHAN, The Hindu, Friday, May 15th, 2009.
  2. The Rock-scape of Hyderabad By Narendra Luther a well-known historian of Hyderabad.

Featured Image Credits: Visual Hunt


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