Rabindranath Tagore is undoubtedly the most important polymath of Bengal. He wrote prolifically, painted, preached pacifism, questioned well-established values, and brought Bengali literature to modernity.
He had an unusual amount of foresight of how the history will unfold. He preached anti-nationalism even before the WWII started.
Tagore and Modernity
Some might argue that modern Bengali literature starts right after Tagore. I think that's plainly wrong. The shift of motifs and expression that marks the beginning of modern Bengali literature starts from some of Tagore's work from the later part of his life, for example, all the pieces from Lipika are prose-verses. Poems from Punashcho, especially Baanshi are modern in their imagery, motifs, and psychology.
Tagore was anti-nationalist, but very much nation-aware. This is consistent with his world-view of undogmatic lifestyle, which he considered is the base of human freedom. That doesn't mean that he was against Freedom of India. Quite the contrary. Freedom of India is a prerequisite of the freedom of the people of India. He rejected masculinized, warring nationalism and chose dignity, openness, reason, and cooperation for his base of a great nation.
He wrote numerous essays of virtually every problem India faced while he is alive. Caste system, fanaticism, oppression, dogmatism, everything.
It's a shame that west knows him mostly by some of his mediocre works. ↩︎