Rabindranath Tagore was born Rabindranath Thakur on May 7, 1861 in Kolkata, India. He was a poet, but he was also a playwright, novelist, music composer, artist, and philosopher. Tagore, who was also fondly referred to as Gurudev, greatly influenced the Bengali culture during his time with his poems and other works. His poetry had such an impact that he eventually became known throughout Europe and the Western world.
Tagore's father, Debendranath Tagore, was apart of the leadership of the Brahmo Samaj. This lead to Tagore being educated at home during his childhood. Rabindranath Tagore wrote his first poem at the age of 8, and published his first collection of poetry at the age of 16 under the pen name "Bhanusimha". Tagore was sent to England to obtain a formal education at 17. He studied law for a short period of time at University College London, but left school in favor of independently studying the works of Shakespeare and other classic literary figures.
Much of Rabindranath Tagore's poetry is profoundly spiritual in content, but also remarkably sensitive and thoughtful. Some of Tagore's most well-known works include Song Offerings (Gitanjali), The Home and the World (Ghare-Baire), his Manasi poems, and Fair-Faced (Gora).
Song Offerings was Rabindranath Tagore's first volume of poetry to be translated into English, and it instantly resonated with European and American audiences upon its publication. This was the work for which Tagore won the Nobel Prize. After reading the book, famous writer William Butler Yeats noted Song Offerings as being "a world I have dreamed of all my life long". Tagore wrote more than fifty volumes of poetry, as well as plays and dramas such as The King of the Dark Chamber (Raja), The Waterfall (Muktadhara), and Red Oleanders (Raktakaravi). His writings spread beyond Asia in the early 20th century, and Rabindranath Tagore eventually spent his later years traveling the world, giving lectures, meeting religious and political leaders, literary icons and scientific innovators, and bringing his body of poetry and art to the common people.
In addition to his many volumes of poetry and stories, Rabindranath Tagore wrote well over 2,000 songs, many of which were influenced by Bengali social reformer and songwriter Baul Lalon Shah. Tagore's affinity for music blended into his style of writing poetry, which is noted by many as being elegant, rhythmic, and lyrical.
Tagore passed away in Kolkata at the age of 80 on August 7, 1941. Before his death, Rabindranath Tagore became the first Asian person to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he won in 1913. Because he traveled so extensively, Tagore's work has endured around the world. In his lifetime, he traveled to more than five continents and visited over thirty countries.
Rabindranath Tagore's lasting influence on Bengali culture is still visible today. Lyrics and music that were written by Rabindranath Tagore were used for Sri Lanka's original national anthem. India and Bangladesh's national anthems are also based on songs composed by Rabindranath Tagore. Another part of Tagore's legacy is Visva-Bharati University, which he founded in 1921. The school is still seen as a prestigious learning institution and has produced a number of world renowned artists and thinkers, such as filmmaker Satyajit Ray and economist Amartya Sen.