Early Life 1861 1878
The youngest of thirteen surviving children, Tagore was born in the Jorasanko mansion in Calcutta, India to parents Debendranath Tagore (1817 1905) and Sarada Devi (1830 1875). Tagore family patriarchs were the Brahmo founders of the Adi Dharm faith. The loyalist Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, who employed European estate managers and visited with Victoria and other royalty, was his paternal grandfather. Debendranath had formulated the Brahmoist philosophies espoused by his friend Ram Mohan Roy, and became focal in Brahmo society after Roys death.Rabi was raised mostly by servants, his mother had died in his early childhood and his father travelled widely. His home hosted the publication of literary magazines, theatre and recitals of both Bengali and Western classical music featured there regularly, as the Jorasanko Tagores were the center of a large and art loving social group. Tagores oldest brother Dwijendranath was a respected philosopher and poet. Another brother, Satyendranath, was the first Indian appointed to the elite and formerly all European Indian Civil Service. Yet another brother, Jyotirindranath, was a musician, composer, and playwright. His sister Swarnakumari became a novelist. Jyotirindranaths wife Kadambari, slightly older than Tagore, was a dear friend and powerful influence. Her abrupt suicide in 1884 left him for years profoundly distraught.
Tagore largely avoided classroom schooling and preferred to roam the manor or nearby Bolpur and Panihati, idylls which the family visited. His brother Hemendranath tutored and physically conditioned himby having him swim the Ganges or trek through hills, by gymnastics, and by practicing judo and wrestling. He learned drawing, anatomy, geography and history, literature, mathematics, Sanskrit, and Englishhis least favorite subject. Tagore loathed formal educationhis scholarly travails at the local Presidency College spanned a single day. Years later he held that proper teaching does not explain things, proper teaching stokes curiosity It knocks at the doors of the mind. If any boy is asked to give an account of what is awakened in him by such knocking, he will probably say something silly. For what happens within is much bigger than what comes out in words. Those who pin their faith on university examinations as the test of education take no account of this.
After he underwent an upanayan initiation at age eleven, he and his father left Calcutta in February 1873 for a months long tour of the Raj. They visited his fathers Santiniketan estate and rested in Amritsar en route to the Himalayan Dhauladhars, their destination being the remote hill station at Dalhousie. Along the way, Tagore read biographies, his father tutored him in history, astronomy, and Sanskrit declensions. He read biographies of Benjamin Franklin among other figures, they discussed Edward Gibbons The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and they examined the poetry of Kalidasa. In mid April they reached the station, and at 2,300 metres (7,546 ft) they settled into a house that sat atop Bakrota Hill. Tagore was taken aback by the regions deep green gorges, alpine forests, and mossy streams and waterfalls. They stayed there for several months and adopted a regime of study and privation that included daily twilight baths taken in icy water.He returned to Jorosanko and completed a set of major works by 1877, one of them a long poem in the Maithili style of Vidyapati, they were published pseudonymously. Regional experts accepted them as the lost works of Bhanusimha, a newly discovered 17th century Vaishnava poet. He debuted the short story genre in Bengali with Bhikharini (The Beggar Woman), and his Sandhya Sangit (1882) includes the famous poem Nirjharer Swapnabhanga (The Rousing of the Waterfall).
Servants subjected him to an almost ludicrous regimentation in a phase he dryly reviled as the servocracy. His head was water dunkedto quiet him. He irked his servants by refusing food, he was confined to chalk circles in parody of Sitas forest trial in the Ramayana, and he was regaled with the heroic criminal exploits of Bengals outlaw dacoits. Because the Jorasanko manor was in an area of north Calcutta rife with poverty and prostitution,35 he was forbidden to leave it for any purpose other than traveling to school. He thus became preoccupied with the world outside and with nature. Of his 1873 visit to Santiniketan, he wrote What I could not see did not take me long to get overwhat I did see was quite enough. There was no servant rule, and the only ring which encircled me was the blue of the horizon, drawn around these solitudes by their presiding goddess. Within this I was free to move about as I chose.