Rabindranath Tagore

Ranbindranath Tagore (1861–1941), a poet, philosopher, composer, playwright, and painter, was one of the strong personalities who shaped the cultural life of India at the turn of the 20th century, when the country was struggling for its independence and searching for its identity in the international community.

He was born into an influential Bengali Brahman family of several generations of intellectuals. He briefly studied in England in 1878–80, exploring the works of Shakespeare. In 1901 he moved to Santiniketan in eastern India, and established there an institution that was to become his own Santiniketan University. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

Tagore travelled widely around the world. His visit to Southeast Asia in 1927, in particular, opened his eyes to realise the role of Indian culture in a wider Asian framework. He was particularly interested in, what he called, the “operatic” Southeast Asian theatre forms. He exclaimed that India had lost this kind of forms and he dedicated much energy to creating his own theatrical style, also combining dance and music

Tagore had seen Manipuri dances even as early as in 1919 and became a great admirer of them. He invited an important teacher-guru to teach them at his own university, Santiniketan. He used the Manipuri style as the basis for his own dance plays, called rabindra nritiya natyas.

He also wrote a drama-opera, Valmiki, and plays dealing with social issues, such as The Post Office and Untouchable Girl. In many ways he was an influential personage, who gave the cultural life of new India an internationally recognisable face.