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 Table of Contents    
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 60  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 507-509
Rabindranath Tagore-his childhood and creativity from the perspective of a Psychiatrist

Consultant Psychiatrist, 166 Subhash Pally Road, Burdwan, West Bengal, India

Click here for correspondence address and email

Date of Web Publication28-Nov-2018


A man of prodigious literary and artistic accomplishments, Tagore played a leading role in Indian cultural renaissance and came to be recognized, along with Mohandas Gandhi, as one of the architects of modern India.Tagore's career, extending over a period of more than sixty years, not only chronicled his personal growth and versatility but also reflected the artistic, cultural, and political vicissitudes of India in the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. His work depicts all the human emotions in depth and as a psychiatrist it was an interesting to view his childhood and his literary work from this point of view.

Keywords: Childhood, Tagore, reminiscences

How to cite this article:
Bandyopadhyaya D. Rabindranath Tagore-his childhood and creativity from the perspective of a Psychiatrist. Indian J Psychiatry 2018;60:507-9

How to cite this URL:
Bandyopadhyaya D. Rabindranath Tagore-his childhood and creativity from the perspective of a Psychiatrist. Indian J Psychiatry [serial online] 2018 [cited 2021 Oct 21];60:507-9. Available from:

The 25th of Baisakh in 2011 was the 150 birth anniversary of the revolutionary poet Sri Rabindranath Tagore. Words were to him what a lump of marble is to a sculptor. He would caress them, adore their fullness and in his mind's eye visualize how he could shape them into a beautiful piece that delivers an emotion, touches a chord and evokes passion in his readers. He was a creator, a creator of a new pattern of thoughts for people to dwell on. Many a times while ready his poetry, I feel as if he must have felt all the emotions possible in such depth that only then he could write about each and every human emotion possible. In any mood I am, he seems to have a poetry depicting that mood. That's why I wanted to read about his childhood, how this great man as a child was and what did influence him to grow up into what he became.

   The Work of a Titan Top

Tagore's literary life extended over 60 years, with over 1000 poems; nearly two dozen plays and playlets; eight novels; volumes of short stories; >2000 songs, of which he wrote both the words and the music; and a mass of prose on literary, social, religious, political, and other topics. Add to these his English translations; his paintings; his travels and lecture-tours in Asia, America, and Europe; and his activities as educationist, as social and religious reformer, and as politician- and there we have, judged by quantity alone, the life-work of a Titan.

He was born and brought up in an atmosphere of the confluence of three movements, all of which were revolutionary: The religious reform movement started by Raja Rammohan Roy, the founder of the Brhamo Samaj; the literary revolution pioneered by the Bengali novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, who, as Tagore noted, “lifted the dead weight of ponderous forms from our language and with a touch of his magic aroused our literature from her age-long sleep;” and the Indian national movement, protesting the political and cultural dominance of the West. Members of the Tagore family had actively participated in all the three movements, and Tagore's own work, in a broad sense, represented the culmination of this three-pronged revolution. India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote in the Discovery of India: Not Bengali only, the language in which Tagore wrote, but all the modern languages of India have been molded partly by his writings. More than any other Indian, he has helped to bring into harmony the ideals of the East and the West, and broadened the bases of Indian nationalism."

   The Poet as a Truant Child Top

In My Reminiscences (Jivan-Smriti), Tagore has recorded the inner history of his early poetry. It is the history of his emergence from the unreal and self-centered world of adolescence into the adult and super-personal world of man and nature. The emergence found expression in many early works: In the poem “Awakening of the Fountain” where the poet's soul was likened to a fountain imprisoned in a dark cave until 1-day the morning sun pierced the cave with its rays and set the fountain free.

Right from his childhood, Rabindranath used to be struck by the beauty of nature in all her glory. Even within the four walls of the compound of his home, he used to enjoy the sight of the mirror-like water of the pond, the reflection of the banyan tree in the water along with the blue of endless summer sky. As he has said himself – “I used to run away and hide on the terrace, would steal a golden holiday from the sky and would soak my tensed eyes in the clam blue of the sky."

For such an independent spirit, being confined to the school building used to be too much of a torture. He felt that school is a box where the children are boarded, and all their feelings about likes and dislikes are suctioned out of their spirits. Therefore, he did not have any other option than to run away from school, which he used to do very regularly.

Rabindranath felt that forgiving an erring child is the duty of a teacher. Teachers and adults always judge children on the basis of their own perception and judgment. They forget that children are like cascading waterfalls. If the water touches evil, there is nothing much to fear because, by its speed the fountain has the innate capacity to put to right all the wrongs that has been done. Only when the rapid has calmed down to clear slow stream, we need to worry.

The way he was educated informally was highly irregular even in those days. And if we consider current times when the children are highly distracted by the advent of multiple versions of the electronic media, it wouldn't be fair to consider his method as a model. In today's world of immediate gratification, teachers and adults need to be nonjudgmental but supportive, so that children know that we are there to be the wind beneath their wings.

   The Influence of Maharshi – His Father Top

The earliest influences on Tagore's poetic sensibility were the artistic environment of his home, the beauty of nature, and the saintly character of his father. “Most members of my family,” he recalled in “My Reminiscences,” “had some gift – some were artists, some poets, some musicians – and the whole atmosphere of our home was permeated with the spirit of creation.” His early education was administered at home under private tutors, but, he did not like “the mills of learning” that “went on grinding from morn till night.” Nature was his favorite school, as he recorded in “My Reminiscences:” “I had a deep sense, almost from infancy, of the beauty of nature, an intimate feeling of companionship with the trees and the clouds, and felt in tune with the musical touch of the seasons in the air. All these craved expression, and naturally I wanted to give them my own expression."

Rabindranath was brought up as a free independent child at home. His father, Debendranath, popularly called Maharshi (great sage), was a writer, scholar, who for many years had been a distinguished leader of the Brahmo Samaj (theistic church) movement founded by Raja Rammohan Roy. His father never interfered with his activities. Many a times in spite of going against his father, he was never punished. Maharshi believed that a child needs to learn the truth about right and wrong from his own heart. He knew that if a child doesn't love the truth, he will never really accept it in his mind. Even if one goes far away from the truth, he can come back to it. But by punishments if the truth becomes unpalatable to the child, he will never be able to return to it.

When Tagore was 12-year-old, his father took him on a 4-month journey to the Punjab and the Himalayas. “The chains of the rigorous regime which had bound me snapped for good when I set out from home,” he wrote in his Reminiscences. Their first stop was at Bolpur, then an obscure rural village, now internationally known as Santiniketan, the seat of Visva-Bharati University founded by Tagore on December 22, 1918. This visit was Tagore's first contact with rural Bengal, which he later celebrated in his songs. The Tagores' final destination was Dalhousie, a beautiful resort in the Himalayas. Overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of the mountains, young Tagore wandered freely from one peak to another. During the sojourn, Debendranath took charge of his son's education and read with him selections from Sanskrit, Bengali, and English literatures. Debendranath also sang his favorite hymns and recited to Tagore verses from the metaphysical Hindu treatises, the Upanishads. The special attention Debendranath had paid to his youngest son during this trip and the sense of liberation experienced by Tagore miraculously transformed him “from ugly duckling into much-admired swan."

Like his father, even with his elder brother Jyotidada, Tagore was very free and could discuss philosophical thoughts without hesitation. Here he was not treated as a child but as an equal friend with full freedom of thought. Like the respite of rain in summer, this freedom in his childhood, gave him the power to think and feel on his own.

   Erikson's Theories Top

Erikson's psychosocial theory basically asserts that people experience eight “psychosocial crisis stages” that significantly affect each person's development and personality. Eriksons' work is as relevant today as when he first outlined his original theory, in fact, given the modern pressures on society, family and relationships and the quest for personal development and fulfilment-his ideas are probably more relevant now than ever.

About his 4th stage for school age Erikson calls it industry versus inferiority. Industry here refers to purposeful or meaningful activity. It's the development of competence and skills, and confidence to use a “method,” and is a crucial aspect of school years, experience. Erikson described this stage as a sort of “entrance to life.” This correlates with Freud's psychosexual latency stage when sexual motives and concerns are largely repressed while the young person concentrates on work and skills development. A child who experiences the satisfaction of achievement of anything positive will move toward successful negotiation of this crisis stage. A child who experiences failure at school tasks and work, or worse still who is denied the opportunity to discover and develop their own capabilities and strengths and unique potential, quite naturally is prone to feeling inferior and useless. Engaging with others and using tools or technology are also important aspects of this stage. It is like a rehearsal for being productive and being valued at work in later life. Inferiority is feeling useless; unable to contribute, unable to cooperate or work with a team to create something, with the low self-esteem that accompanies such feelings.

If there is no option to misuse the freedom, then maybe in reality freedom doesn't exist. Because only through misuse, children learn the true lessons of how to properly utilize their freedom, at least it was in the case of Tagore.

Erikson says, a sense of inadequacy and inferiority may develop from many negative influences. For Tagore, these negative influences were adult admonitions to improve his behavior. His father and brother's influence had helped him to peek into his inner mind, stand for both right and wrong and freely think for himself and convert his thoughts into creativity. Maybe without this freedom a paresis of thought would remain for the rest of his life.

Right from his childhood, he has been influenced by nature and men alike. His self-realization in his writing about “Rabi” as a young boy is reflections of his thoughts. All through his life he has written about God and Love, but he has meant the god of life itself and a love of that life. The varied tunes that he has played in the flute of his words have surpassed the boundaries of language, community, and country. He himself asked,

“Move out of you self; stand out in the open,

You will hear the music of the universe in your heart"

Rabindranath Tagore's creativity can't and shouldn't be explained by any one theory. His informal education, quality time with parents, growing up in a family where creativity and lateral thinking was highly appreciated, his father's own interests and finding interests in nature, poetry and books might have helped him to reach the heights.

This search for love cannot be described by a search for knowledge or a realization of the senses. It's origin lies deep within the mind of one of the greatest men our country has ever seen.

   Suggested Reading Top

Rabindranath Tagore. My Reminiscences. [New edition] [vii], 232 pp. London and Basingstoke: Papermac, 1991.

Rabindranath Tagore: Glimpses of Bengal: Selected letters. Translated by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. [New edition.] [viii] 152 pp. London and Basingstoke: Papermac, 1991.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Debjani Bandyopadhyaya
166 Subhash Pally Road, Burdwan - 713 101, West Bengal
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5545.246187

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