Tagore and Gandhi: Reflections

“Tagore and Gandhi:  Reflections”
By Carrie Trybulec, Director, Gandhi Memorial Center, U.S.A.
Printed April 25, 2011 as “Kinship of the Soul – Tagore and Gandhi” in The Economic Times (India)

In October 2010 I traveled to India at the invitation of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations through its Distinguished Visitor Program. My trip was a journey to the ashrams of Gandhiji as well as Shantiniketan and Jorasanko. As Director of the Gandhi Memorial Center and in light of the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, I was keen to experience the connection between these two great souls. This pilgrimage was inspired by the dedication to the path of service espoused by Gandhiji, the creative life led by Tagore, and the quest for Universal Truth shared by both.

Throughout my visit I was moved by the sight of both the physical and spiritual realms that influenced and enlightened these two great men.  I say physical and spiritual realms because seeing the land and the natural beauty of the spaces so loved by Tagore and Gandhi, one can appreciate how deeply influenced they were by the village life. I agree with the statement made by Mirabehn (Madeleine Slade) after her visit to Shantiniketan:

“... I now realize how Shantiniketan and Sabarmati are two fair daughters of the same great motherland – both with exquisite beauties of their own – different to look upon outwardly, and yet with that fundamental likeness which only daughters of the same parent can bear.”

And Rabindranath Tagore said of these same two daughters of the motherland:


“Human life has its two aspects – one is the discipline of truth, and the other is the fullness of expression. Sabarmati represents that discipline of truth, for Mahatmaji is born with the pure fire of truth – his nature is one with it. Being a poet my mission is to inspire life’s fullness of expression – and I hope Shantiniketan carries that ideal in all its activities.”

 Tagore and Gandhi, two highly educated individuals, allowed the simplicity of nature to guide them with reverence and awe. They dedicated both a physical space and a spiritual awareness to deepen their realization and perfect their expression. One can only aspire to such great idealism and beauty as Gandhi and Tagore. Through them we have been given remarkable examples of courage and selflessness, creativity and serenity. Perhaps these two individuals may have shared their lives and pursuits in dramatically different ways but they shared the same fervor for the betterment of humankind. 

The relationship between Tagore and Gandhi has, of course, been documented through their historic correspondence. But their kinship of Soul may be ever more clearly identified with the passage of time. I say this because it is the kinship of creation with the Creator.  We are constantly reminded by the efforts of Tagore and Gandhi what this yoga meant to them personally and what it means for humanity at large. Both men shared the ideal that the highest art is the perfection of life:

“My poet’s vanity dies in shame before thy sight. O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet. Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.” 

It is by our very life itself that we breathe the music into the flute of reed that has been given to us. We count each moment of this tiny span of time in the cosmos as precious and invaluable with an unquenchable thirst for expressing the infinite and the eternal.


The man whose life comes nearest to perfection is the greatest artist; for what is art without the sure foundation and framework of a noble life?”

Mahatma Gandhi said, “My life is my message.”  He requested us not to turn merely to his writings and speeches but to the very actions of his life.  What he wanted to communicate or express to successive generations would be observable by his daily living. His “experiments” with truth were his life messages.  They were the poetry of his life. Through each aspect of his life, whether it was spiritual, physical, or mental, he continually aspired to perfect each as a means of realization.

Rabindranath Tagore emphasized a creative life. His music and writings dramatically reveal the very epitome of his creative venture: to live life fully aware of his surroundings and yet seek to reach the ultimately divine source of creation.

The joy of nature guided the aspirations of both Tagore and Gandhi. As human beings we search for the beauties of the Earth to delight our senses and bring us joy. And through the bounty of the Earth we seek to fulfill our productive and constructive capacities.


“All true art must help the soul to realize its inner self. In my own case, I find that I can do entirely without external forms in my soul’s realization. My room may have blank walls; and I may even dispense with the roof, so that I may gaze out upon the starry heavens overhead that stretch in an unending expanse of beauty. What conscious art of man can give me the panoramic scenes that open out before me, when I look up to the sky above with all its shining stars? This, however, does not mean that I refuse to accept the value of productions of art, generally accepted as such, but only that I personally feel how inadequate these are compared with the eternal symbols of beauty in Nature. These productions of man’s art have their value only so far as they help the soul onward towards self-realization.” 


“The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.”

‘“My poet, is it thy delight to see thy creation through my eyes and to stand at the portals of my ears silently to listen to thine own eternal harmony?”

Nature and the surrounding environment became the book of knowledge for these two great teachers. Gandhi and Tagore realized the need for people and especially young people to be actively engaged with the natural elements. Beyond the revelations of heart and spirit, there would need to be a “hands-on” approach to learning. This approach was evident in the forms of education supported by Gandhi and Tagore.

The experiments with education conducted by Gandhi and Tagore became important aspects of their work and service. They both found it necessary to establish educational institutions. In their own respective lives, they discovered these efforts to be the most worthwhile endeavors. 


“On this occasion I would say without any exaggeration that I have not done anything which can compare with what I am doing today…I have only given a Mantra. If a Bania can do it, I have performed the act of a Rishi.” (From speech at the Inauguration of the Gujarat Mahavidyalaya of the Gujarat Vidyapith on 15-11-1920.)


“The solitary enjoyment of the infinite in meditation no longer satisfied me, and the texts which I used for my silent worship lost their inspiration without my knowing it. I am sure I vaguely felt that my need was spiritual self-realization in the life of Man through some disinterested service. This was the time when I founded an education institution for our children in Bengal. It has a spiritual character of its own which is still struggling to find its fulfillment; for it is a living temple that I have attempted to build for my divinity. In such a place education necessarily becomes the preparation for a complete life of man which can only become possible by living that life, through knowledge and service, enjoyment and creative work.” 

At the end of his life, Rabindranath Tagore asked the favor of Gandhiji that he might accept the institution of Visva Bharati under his protection and assure its permanence. Gandhiji accepted wholeheartedly.


“Visva-Bharati is like a vessel which is carrying the cargo of my life's best treasure and I hope it may claim a special care from my countrymen for its preservation.”

 Tagore and Gandhi were both master poets of life. For the poetry of living is both an art and a service. It renders to the surface, the depths of our being. And it calls us to action in humble effort.

Today, we continue to dream the same dreams as Tagore and Gandhi. We yearn for that universal sublimity and peace that seems so far from our grasp. Similar to these two men, we struggle to find such peace in the beauties hidden before us. We strive to unearth the treasures of the human spirit through both the action of our outer life and the expression of our inner life.