Rabindra Sangeet have been an essential part of Indian culture for more than a century

A native of Calcutta, Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913—the first Asian person to receive the honor. 

Tagore’s works in Bengali fill eighteen thousand pages of poetry, fiction, drama, and essays which only begins to suggest the breadth of his activities and his central place in modern Indian culture.

Aside from writing and translating his works into English, Tagore also composed more than two thousand songs—two of which are now the national anthems of India and Bangladesh—created hundreds of paintings, founded an experimental school and university, edited journals, participated in political debates, often as a sympathetic critic of Gandhi whose title Mahatma was popularized by Tagore himself.

Tagore's songs, affectionately called Rabindra Sangeet, cover topics of humanism, psychology, romance, yearning, and reflection. The music is mostly based on Hindustani classical music, Carnatic classical music, Western influences and the inherent folk music of Bengal.

Tagore was the greatest narrator and a master of metaphor. It is often difficult to identify the true meaning that underlies his lyrics, but his songs are realizable with any mood. 

Listen to Amar Bhanga Pother performed by Rezwana Choudhury Bannya from Bangladesh.

To understand what Rabindranath Tagore meant to the European imagination in the early twentieth century, one must look at a story from the trenches of the First World War, which was recounted many years later by the German playwright Carl Zuckmayer. 

A friend of Zuckmayer’s, a medic in the German Army, told how his unit captured a seriously wounded Indian soldier serving in the British Army. To save the man’s life, the German doctors needed to amputate one of his legs, but, since they didn’t speak English, they couldn’t communicate this to the increasingly terrified prisoner. Finally, the medic hit on the idea of saying the only remotely Indian words he knew: “Rabindranath Tagore! Rabindranath Tagore! Rabindranath Tagore!” The name acted like a charm, and the Indian soldier relaxed, nodded, and began to smile.

Share this story
you may also like
  • The History of Popular Music

    Discover stories from each decade. Listen to gems from the 1960s, 1970s, and more.
  • Early Music

    Read all about the formative music of the past centuries. Enjoy the regal yet easy sounds of the Baroque and Renaissance.
  • Indian Classical Music

    Dive into the South Asian philosophy through Indian classical music. Learn about musical traditions of the Hindustani and Carnatic culture.
  • The Epoch of Romanticism

    Get a taste of the most beloved and fruitful music period. See the personalities behind the major shift of the eras — from Classical to Romantic.