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Tagore in Australia

20 November, 2020 11:49:10
Tagore in Australia

It was 1913, the year when an Indian won the Nobel Prize for Literature, a news that had turned heads across the world. How could an Indian from a British colony win the Nobel! But well, as the world read Rabindranath Tagore and his Gitanjali, people realized why and how that was possible. Interestingly, several Australian newspapers published many small and big news articles and features on Tagore. There were news articles in Brisbane Courier and then they published a long feature with the title ‘Indian Poet Honoured / Nobel Prize for Bengal ‘Prophet.’ The feature was based on the article published in Daily Chronicle, London, on 14 November 1913, in which the poet was described as ‘Prophet of Indian Nationalism.’ Isn’t that surprising? How Tagore is defined as a prophet in Western media.

In the same year, Kalgoorlie Western Argus, published ‘A Remarkable Indian in London’ on 30 December. On New Year’s Day, the Brisbane Courier published a photograph of the Nobel Laureate poet. This seems to have been the first photograph seen in any newspaper of Australia. On the same day, the West Australian published a very important piece of news related to the decision of the Swedish Academy. Under the title ‘The Nobel Prize for Literature’ it said: 

There were news articles in Brisbane Courier and then they published a long feature with the title ‘Indian Poet Honoured / Nobel Prize for Bengal ‘Prophet.’ The feature was based on the article published in Daily Chronicle, London, on 14 November 1913, in which the poet was described as ‘Prophet of Indian Nationalism.’

The Swedish newspapers express some surprise at the decision of the Swedish Academy to confer the Nobel Prize of Literature on the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore. The choice, however (remarks the Madras Mail), is hailed as a very happy one, and extracts are given from the English translation of the poet’s work Gitanjali.

In 1934, The Sydney Morning wrote, ‘The Tagore Society in London has received a cable message from Bengal that Sir Rabindranath Tagore, the philosopher and poet, will visit Melbourne for the centenary celebrations.’ This was the very year when the connection between Tagore and Melbourne was strengthened, as Melbourne celebrated its centenary, in which one event was a flight race competition from London to Melbourne. Among the six women participants, the only Indian was Susama Mukerji, whose endeavour was financially supported by Rabindranath Tagore. 

In 1937, another opportunity arose. On August 28, the Mail wrote a news item entitled ‘Indian Poet to/ Visit Australia’ that read:

‘Sir Rabindranath Tagore, the noted Indian poet, is leaving Calcutta shortly on a world tour that will include a visit to Australia. He will also visit Java, Siam, China, Japan, Fiji, New Zealand, America, and Europe. ‘In the course of his journey he will make a thorough inquiry into the conditions of Indians forking in Fiji and will report to the National Congress at Allahabad.’

Australia’s Macquarie University campus proudly boasts of a wonderful bronze statue of Rabindranath Tagore, that was gifted to the University on his 150th birth anniversary. This Australian University celebrates the rich cultural and literary tradition of Bengalis and Indians. Indian Consul-General, Mr Amit Dasgupta presented the bust on behalf of the government of India to Macquarie Chancellor, Hon. Michael Egan and Vice-Chancellor Professor Steven Schwartz. Macquarie University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor John Simons, was joined by the Macquarie University Bangladesh Student Association and Indian Student Committee Macquarie. It was part of Ektaal- The Great India Project. According to Macquarie University update, Ektaal in Sanskrit means ‘one beat’ or ‘one rhythm’ and is a term deriving in the first instance from music and dance. It plans to engage with the Indian community as equal partners in a coordinated and harmonious fashion and conjures up the importance of a mutual understanding and respect for our different cultures. This project helped in building meaningful Australia-India bilateral engagements and creation of Tagore Chair in Arts and Culture. 

Among the six women participants, the only Indian was Susama Mukerji, whose endeavour was financially supported by Rabindranath Tagore.

The Tagore Chair in Arts and Culture is an important first step in strengthening research capacity on India at Macquarie University.Macquarie University has worked with the Confederation of Indian Industry and Joint Industry Research, to focus on joint development, invest in the education and cross cultural development of Indian students. In March 2011, AusHeritage, Australia’s international cultural heritage network and Visva-Bharati University initiated a joint forum in Santiniketan to develop a functional brief for identifying critical aspects of a proposed museum for Rabindranath Tagore. The new museum is for storage and display of current collections from Rabindra Bhavan (located within the Visva Bharati University), including manuscripts, paintings, furniture, textiles and musical instruments. 

Tagore’s unique and unparalleled writings and compositions are part of global celebrations. In 2013, TAGORE IN AUSTRALIA was performed in Conservatorium Theatre, Griffith University, South Bank, Brisbane. The  Nobel citation noted “his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.” These are some of the qualities that have touched an array of Australian composers, principally Raymond Hanson (1913-76), who first made contact with the Gitanjali as a 19-year-old when his sister, a missionary in India, sent him a volume of poems of Tagore. This extraordinary recital by soprano Greta Bradman (granddaughter of Sir Donald Bradman) and her accompanist Leigh Harrold traverses Tagore’s world of philosophy and imagination in Australian music. Past the Indian-inspired thoughts of Judith Wright, in a glorious new cycle by resident composer Ross Edwards, to recent Tagore settings by young Indian and Australian composers. Interleaved with Greta’s items will be performances of another Hanson cycle by tenor Gregory Massingham and some of Tagore’s own songs (he wrote over 2,000 of them) by Heather Lee.

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