History Optional Paper- 2 Solution – 2003: Q.1 (d)

Q.1 (d) “Rabindranath Tagores’s nationalism was based on a Catholic internationalism.” Comment.


Rejection of narrow nationalism

Rabindranath Tagore’s nationalism did not contain narrowly defined concepts of nationalism and patriotism. In his words- “Separatist nationalism devoid of love for mankind is a great menace.” He rejected the idea of ‘Nation-State and believed in ‘the great federation of man’. He said, “pride patriotism is not for me. I earnestly hope that I shall find my home anywhere in the world.”

Tagore had even criticized Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement, because it was confined to a local, parochial and limited outlook. He opposed the bonfire of foreign clothes during the Non-Cooperation movement (1920-22) because it was deliberate promotion of hatred and animosity among the Indians towards the British regime.

He told that nationalism narrows the outlook and vision of the people.To him, the entire world is a state, the kingdom of God. With pride, breaking the narrow barrier of nationalism, one should be the citizen of this kingdom.
He wanted all human beings to be treated equally regardless of the nation to which they belonged. He did not want barriers between people even within the same nation—the barriers of caste, race, and religion.

Cultural catholicity

The ‘national movement’ revived the Indian pride in its past achievement in philosophy and religion, art and architecture, music and poetry. Pride in his own cultural traditions did not however blind Tagore to the moral and social degradation of his country which he directly experienced. Even in his eulogies of India he was remarkably free from the rhetoric of patriotism. He responded to European literature with a keen mind and great enthusiasm. He was fond of the Romantic and the Victorian poets, and Shakespeare, matched equally by his passionate love for Sanskrit literature. This catholicity of taste slowly evolved into his deep and pervasive sense of the ‘universal’ in thought and culture.

Union of East and West

Tagore remained a pioneer of the intellectual union of East and West. He believed that despite the West’s ruthless politics, there was no absence of martyrs in the West who sacrificed their lives for the wrongs done by their governments.  That is how he sought to turn people’s minds towards the ideal of the spiritual unity of man. He wrote, ‘In India what is needed is the broad mind which is not afraid of accepting truth from all sources’.

Unity of nations

In his words, any nation which takes an isolated view of its own country will run counter to the spirit of the new Age. This will create antagonism among them selves as had happened in the past (in case of two world wars). The anxiety that each country has for its own safety must embrace the welfare of the world.

National Anthems

His catholic internationalism is best expressed by the fact that he had composed the national anthems for three nations: India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (only inspired).

Tagore’s national anthem for India, ‘jana gana mana adhinayaka’ (1911) invokes the goal of a larger humanity and indicates Tagore’s nationalism based on catholic internationalism and universal humanity.

Views on education

His view on education indicates his catholic approach when he says: “To accept the truth of our own age it will be necessary to establish a new education on the basis, not of nationalism, but of a wider relationship of humanity.”

He opened up his Santiniketan school to those who believed in East and West alike, in peace and goodwill, without distinction of caste and creed and away from nationalist politics. He argued that the lessons of the First World War proved that ‘tomorrow’s history’ must begin with a chapter on ‘internationalism’ and that education must be in harmony with the times. He transformed Santiniketan into a world university to which scholars from the East and West were invited to meet and study each other’s cultures. He named this university ‘Visva-Bharati’.

Indian historiography

He distanced himself as much from the colonialist historiography as he did from a Hindu nationalist view of the past. He pointed out how ‘India’ or ‘national’ tended to be identified with ‘Hindu’ which he argued was limited to only one historical aspect of India. He wrote that his country’s social civilization was founded on an adjustment of races, to acknowledge real differences between them, and yet to seek some basis of unity.


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