The Rainbow Bridge: A Comparative Study of Tagore and Sri Aurobindo—A Review

The Rainbow Bridge

Title: The Rainbow Bridge: A Comparative Study of Tagore and Sri Aurobindo. Author: Goutam Ghosal. Publisher: D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd. Price: Rs. 420 (Hard-cover). Number of pages: 235. ISBN: 81-246-0418-5.

The nineteenth century witnessed the birth of two of the greatest sons of Bengal between 1861 and 1872. They hailed from different backgrounds, received different education and shone brightly in their respective fields of work. One attained international fame as a poet, author and thinker while the other was a successful politician who went on to become one of the greatest seer-philosopher-yogis of all time. Destiny made both of them come in close contact with each other and thus took birth a deep bond of mutual adoration and reverence the splendour of which never faded away. When their motherland was going through a turbulent phase, the poet bowed down before the politician for the invaluable sacrifice he had made for the sake of his country and offered his salutations through his verses. The politician who relinquished his political career and became one of the greatest yogis of the bygone century proclaimed very distinctly that the poet had been a wayfarer towards the same goal as his. The poet was Rabindranath Tagore while the politician-turned-yogi was Sri Aurobindo.

Rabindranath and Sri Aurobindo were formally introduced to each other in 1906 at Calcutta. Soon they became colleagues at the newly formed National College (under the National Council of Education) at Calcutta; while Sri Aurobindo was associated with it as its first Principal and professor of history, Rabindranath served the college as the professor of Bengali. When Sri Aurobindo was arrested for the first time in 1907 for publishing seditious articles against the British Government in the Bande Mataram journal, Rabindranath wrote his famous poem Namaskar (Salutations) acknowledging the former’s profound sacrifice and expressing his own reverence for Sri Aurobindo. After Sri Aurobindo was released from imprisonment due to lack of evidence, Rabindranath paid him a visit at the residence of Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick in Wellington Square. As per reports available, he had embraced Sri Aurobindo and told him with a tender smile: “You have deceived me, Aurobindo Babu.” Sri Aurobindo answered: “Not for long, I assure you.” (Charu Chandra Dutta, My Friend and My Master, Sri Aurobindo Circle, Eight Number, p. 137, 1952)

Sri Aurobindo retired from active politics in 1910 and made Pondicherry the cave of his tapasya where he devoted his time to intense sadhana. There was no direct contact between Rabindranath and him till 1928 when Rabindranath—on his way to Colombo—sent a telegram to Sri Aurobindo and expressed his eagerness to meet the secluded yogi at Pondicherry. It is noteworthy that Sri Aurobindo had withdrawn into complete seclusion after November 1926 and neither did he grant private interviews to individuals nor did he appear before the public except on Darshan days. But he made an exception when he received Rabindranath’s telegram and agreed to meet him. Rabindranath arrived at Pondicherry on 29 May 1928 and was ushered to Sri Aurobindo’s apartments by Nolini Kanta Gupta, the Secretary of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Though Rabindranath spent half an hour in the company of Sri Aurobindo, nothing is known about the talks they had. However, Rabindranath penned his experiences of meeting Sri Aurobindo in two articles in English and Bengali which were published in The Modern Review and Probasi respectively both edited by Ramanananda Chatterjee. Rabindranath wrote:

‘At the very first sight I could realise that he had been seeking for the soul and had gained it, and, through this long process of realisation, had accumulated within him a silent power of inspiration. His face was radiant with an inner light and his serene presence made it evident to me that his soul was not crippled or cramped to the measure of some tyrannical doctrine which takes delight in inflicting wounds upon life.

‘I felt the utterance of the ancient Hindu Rishi spoke from him of that equanimity which gives the human soul its freedom of entrance into the All. I said to him: “You have the Word and we are waiting to accept it from you. India will speak through your voice to the world: Hearken to me…”

‘Years ago I saw Aurobindo in the atmosphere of his earlier heroic youth and I sang to him: “Aurobindo, accept the salutation of Rabindranath.” Today I saw him in a deeper atmosphere of reticent richness of wisdom and again sang to him in silence: “Aurobindo, accept the salutation of Rabindranath.”’

Rabindranath and Sri Aurobindo never met after 1928 but an indirect contact continued between them thanks to the efforts of Dilip Kumar Roy who wrote to Rabindranath about Sri Aurobindo and to Sri Aurobindo about Rabindranath, thus, acted as a liaison between both of them.

Innumerable articles have been written in English and Bengali in the past several decades drawing comparative evaluations between Sri Aurobindo, the Seer-Sage, and Rabindranath Tagore, the World-Poet and many more would see the light of day in the near and distant future. But here comes The Rainbow Bridge, an offering from the pen of Dr. Goutam Ghosal, which has not only surpassed all the prior comparative studies on these two great contemporaries but posterity would also refer to it as one of the greatest resource books of all time on the said theme.

There are thought-provoking and well-researched chapters which are devoted to the poetry, songs and paintings of Rabindranath, Sri Aurobindo’s dramas and other themes but what shines radiantly like bright jewels are brilliantly written chapters like “Nationalism and Postnationalism”, “Education: An Integral Approach”, “Towards a New Aesthetics”, “Man and the New Species” and “Tagore and Sri Aurobindo on Modern Poetry”. The author has shown how the thoughts and works of Sri Aurobindo and Rabindranath are complementary and how both have lighted up the status of one another.

Some noteworthy similarities between Sri Aurobindo and Rabindranath have also been appropriately discussed by the author. For instance, he has illustrated how they saw life as a whole and how Beauty acted as a guiding force in their lives and works; both were in love with the world and as they were interested to experience life, they strived to express life’s integral vision as well as its totality. They were ‘Nature-mystics’ even from their days of apprenticeship (p. 24), promoted India’s glorious past and were defenders of Indian culture and heritage; they recognized the value of Eastern spirituality and Western materialism and believed that education should be integral and complete, hence, stressed on national education. They emphasized on the ‘role of the individual in building a sound collective life’ since life was a perpetual creation to both of them. They knew that love and joy were the two ways which led to the Supreme. And finally, both aimed to create an ideal society. Through The Rainbow Bridge, the author has shown how Rabindranath echoed Sri Aurobindo’s perceptions and formed a bridge to move across to the higher worlds of Sri Aurobindo’s vision.

At the same time the author has also discussed some of the dissimilarities which existed between the views of Sri Aurobindo and Rabindranath. For instance, according to him, Sri Aurobindo explored the mysteries of Nature whereas Rabindranath tried to feel them. He has also pointed out how Sri Aurobindo’s poetry lacked the sweetness which crowned Rabindranath’s poetic and lyrical creations for, according to him, Sri Aurobindo had ‘sacrificed sweetness in favour of great realizations and discoveries’ (p. 227).

The Rainbow Bridge is not just a gift from an accomplished writer to his readers but it is also a treasure to cherish for this book stands as a class apart in the world of non-fiction classics.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Overman Foundation.


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