Rabindranath’s Monsoonal Music

Professor Fakrul Alam brings to us a discussion on and translations of Tagore songs on the season that follows the scorching heat of summer months

Art by Sohana Manzoor

A rough count of the songs collected in Gitabitan in the section titled “Prakriti” or “Nature” reveals that Rabindranath Tagore composed about sixteen songs of summer, more than 100 monsoonal ones, 33 songs of Sharat or early autumn, five of Hemonto or late autumn, and a dozen or so songs of winter. In addition, he has left us around 93 songs of spring. For many decades, I kept wondering how Rabindranath managed to end up with such a lopsided list as far as his songs of the six Bengali seasons are concerned. After all, late autumn and winter are enjoyable seasons when Bengal is blissfully heat-free and the weather quite mild and bearable; why, then, did he show such fondness for the wet monsoonal months and the rapidly warming and (at its end quite unbearably hot) springtime? But I am puzzled no longer by his preference for our Borsha, for it now seems clear to me that he had good reasons to prefer the monsoonal months over all else. In recent decades, now that I fancy I have something of what Wordsworth calls the “philosophic mind” (and in this age of global warming as well!), I can appreciate fully why the monsoonal months stimulated Rabindranath so continuously into songs.

Think of the summer months. From mid-April till the second week of June, the weather torments us all over Bangladesh with stifling heat and unbearable humidity. Who in these weeks of scorching sun, steadily frying dampness and seemingly immobile and incredibly muggy air does not yearned for an ever-increasing cloud cover leading to sudden bursts of showers and rainy conditions? Isn’t the monsoon a huge relief after the summer months, despite the flaming krishnachuras [flame of the forest] and the seemingly endless stream of summer fruits that arrive in our market then?  Don’t we all look forward to the pitter patter of raindrops, even if accompanied by thunder and lightning, when hot and dry ourselves? And isn’t the fresh green look of nature after a burst of rain so very soothing?

As in his devotional and love poems, Rabindranath captures feelingly in his monsoonal song-lyrics a variety of moods.  One such mood is the longing for relief from an oppressive presence. Registering the cruel heat and humidity of our late spring and summer, his songs often exult in the respite that the monsoons afford us. Hear him thus dramatise the excitement all life forms feel just before, during and after the coming of the monsoons, in the opening two stanzas of the song-lyric ‘Oi Ashe Oi Oti Bhairob Horoshe’[i] [The Clouds Arrive Amidst Joy]

There, there they come — monsoonal clouds—
Exhilarating, awesome, moisture-laden,
Fragrant, earth-soaked, dense, rejuvenated
Dark-hued, somber, glorious— ready to burst!

Their deep rumblings quiver dark-blue forests
Tense peacocks out on strolls cry out,
The whole world is thrilled, overwhelmed. 
Intense, amazing—monsoon is on its way!

Indeed, song after song of Gitabitan record Rabindranath’s fascinated melodic outburst after a dramatic monsoonal outburst. Here is another example, ‘Prochondo Gorjone Ashile Eki Durdeen’, [Amidst Thunder comes a Dreaded Day].

Such a dreadful day, so full of rolling, thundering sounds
Disquieting cloud buildups, ominous endless outbursts!
Such a thick cloud cover; serpentine lightning, scarring night
Making the sky stream tears despite its totally blinded eyes!
But abandon all your fears; stir O scared and slothful ones.
Cheerfully, build up within yourself ample strength
To behold with resolute and wide open eyes His serene presence 
Behold Him seating superbly on his throne –defying death, fearless!

Completely committed to the notion of a Supreme Being in his works, Rabindranath conveys his wonder at the monsoonal drama of clouds, thunder, and lightning and rain in many a song, inspired by scenes that he sees in the last analysis as embodying the power and inspirational presence of the deity.

A sizeable number of Rabindranath’s song-lyrics are in this religious vein, but not all. In other monsoonal song-lyrics Rabindranath presents to us not only the awe-inspiring/ sacramental signs of the deity embodied in such seasonal storms, but also the frightening and intimidating aspects of our rainy season. He is well aware of the deep unease the monsoonal storm’s power and intemperate outbursts can cause, and the way it can scare all things in nature and make them aquiver. The foreboding created by the approach of an overwhelming and apocalyptic force is thus apparent in the concluding lines of the song ‘Hridaye Mondrilo Domoru Guru Guru’ (A Drum Rumbles in the Heart): 

The night is full of thunder and lightning;
The clouds are intense, startling.
Jasmine creepers tremble and rustle in melancholy notes
Woodlands fill with insects chirping in alarm!

In fact, Rabindranath is acutely aware of how the monsoon can disrupt lives, particularly those of people out in the open or men and women who have to travel in inclement weather despite the thunder, lightning, rain and flash floods that the monsoons invariably bring. His concern for such vulnerable people and concern at such intemperate weather comes out clearly in Jhoro Jhoro Boreshe Baridhara [The Rain Streams Incessantly]:

Rain streams down incessantly
Alas wayfarer; alas disabled, homeless ones!
The wind moans on and on.
Who is it calling out to in this immense, deserted, dismal landscape?
The night is pitch dark,
Jamuna restless; its waves agitated, endless; its shores have disappeared!
Dense dark rain clouds hover in the horizon, rumbling continuously.
Lightning darts restlessly, dazzlingly—no moon or stars in sight! 

On the other hand, the monsoons are also seasonal visitations for Rabindranath that induce in him desire for romance or romantic cravings that need to be fulfilled.  Note how intensely the yearning of a lover anxious to impart his feelings to his beloved in a rain-stirred mood is articulated in Emono Dine Tara Bola Jai [On Such a Day, They Say]:

On such a day she could be told
On such a dense, dark, wet day!
On such a day to her I could my mind unfold,
On such a cloudy, thunderous, showery day
		On just such a sunless, dense, dismal day!

I’d tell her what no one else would know
	Silence would us probably surround,
We’d face each other, each sobered by a deep wound.
	Incessant rain would from the sky flow; 
	Surely, no one then would be around.

	Societal and family life would feel unreal
	The hullabaloo of life too would feel surreal
What would only matter are eyes feeding on each other
	And two hearts savouring one another;
	All else would merge with darkness.
If in a corner of the house on such a rainy day,
	I had then a thing or two to tell her 
Why would anyone have anything to say?

	The wind blows with great force today;
	Lightning keeps flashing away
What I’ve been storing in my mind till this day
	Is something that I’d like to tell her today—
	On just such a dense, dark, wet day!

Not a few of the song lyrics collected in the ‘Borsha’ [Monsoon] part of Gitabitan depict such brooding and passionate thoughts and the intense yearning for the beloved brought on by the turbulence of the monsoonal breeze. Here is another such song, Mor Bhabonere Ki Haowa [What wind is it lilting my thoughts so amazingly]:

What wind is it lilting my thoughts so amazingly?
Its caress swings, swings my mind unaccountably.
In my heart’s horizon moist dense new clouds swarm,
			Stirring a shower of emotions.	
I don’t see her—don’t see her at all
Only occasionally in my mind I recall
Almost indiscernible footsteps sounding
And ankle bells tinkling, oh so tunefully!

A secret dreamscape spreads
Across the wet wind-swept sky—
A new and ethereal azure shawl!
Shadowy unfurled tresses fly,
Filling me with such intense disquiet
On this far-off ketoki-perfumed wet night.

All in all, Rabindranath’s inspired lyrical responses to the monsoons remind one that he is in some ways a poet following in the footsteps of William Wordsworth. One remembers, in this context, the English romantic poet’s lines in Book I of The Prelude where he conveys his ardent and positive response to the coming of the English spring after the English winter’s life-shrinking barrenness. Wordsworth sees the English spring ushering in a “correspondent breeze” that gives rise to poetry. To make the point somewhat differently, just as the spring breeze is Wordsworth’s metaphor for the muse, Rabindranath finds in the monsoons endless inspiration for composing song-lyrics and poetry. Here is a translation of one of his most popular ones Mono Mor Meghero Shongi [ My Friend, the Cloud]:

My mind is the clouds’ companion,
Soaring to the limits of the horizon
And crossing wide open spaces to sravan’s music 
Of rain falling pitter patter, pitter patter!
	My mind soars on crane-like wings
	To startling, streaking, lightning flashes,
	And rumbling, terrifying,
	Tumultuous, deafening sounds
	Responding to apocalyptic summons!
The wind blows from some eastern sea
Surging, rippling waves crest endlessly
	My mind is fascinated by their frantic motion
	By palm-fringed, dark-tamal tree forests
	And to branches fluttering frenziedly!

Space will not permit any more long extracts, but on the subject of inspiration I can’t resist including the concluding stanza of the much loved song lyric, ‘Hriday Amar Nachere’ (My Heart Dances):

Like a peacock dancing, my heart dances this day.
Showers stream down on newly sprouted branches,
Cricket songs stir forests,
The rampaging river roars over banks and floods villages,
Like a peacock dancing, my heart dances this day!  

No wonder then this monsoon-stirred poet has articulated for all Bengalis so melodically the many-sides and wonders of the season as no other writer has; no other writer from our part of the world has been so mesmerised by our rainy season and so stirred into unforgettable songs and poems by it!

[i] All translations from the Bengali song-lyrics are that of Professor Fakrul Alam.

(First published in Daily Star, 2019)

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibonananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).


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Tagore Translations

Birthday Song by Rabindranath

Written in summer of 1899, the poem, ‘Jonmodiner Gaan or Birthday Song’ by Tagore, was later converted to a song, ‘Bhoy Hote Tobo Abhayomaajhe’ (translates as ‘Amidst Fears, May Fearlessness’), by the maestro himself. It can be found in Gitabitan but was published originally as a part of his collection of poems called Kalpana, published in 1900.

Rabindranath Tagore (7th May 1861- 7th August 1941) Courtesy: Creative Commons

Amidst fears, may fearlessness
             Find new life, O Lord. 
May poverty be erased by inexhaustible wealth, 
May doubt give way to the haven of truth, 
Inertness to new-born vitality — 
           Confer upon me new life, O Lord. 

Amidst my self-centred desires,
          O Lord, may your benevolence 
Kindle the yearning for 
         Your divine work —
Unite us all; 
Amidst joys and sorrows, 
Help us find peace —
      Confer new life upon me, O Lord

Below is a rendition of Tagore’s song, Bhoy Hotey Tobo Abhayo Majjhe, by a well-known modern vocalist, Sahana Bajpaie.

(This poem has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty with editorial support from Sohana Manzoor)


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We Did It!

That good things happen despite darkness, despite prognostications of doom, that light glimmers hope if you strive to focus on your strength in hard times is borne true both in fiction and in life. Perhaps, we cannot get back the old ways (but is that what we want?) but new paths emerge. Old gives way to new. And while trying to gather pearls of human excellence — borne not of awards or degrees but of bringing out the best, the kindest, the most loving in human hearts — we managed to create with a team an outstanding anthology. Woven with the writings of old and new — we created a tapestry together that the editor in chief of our publishing house said was “classy, literary, engaging and international”. That one of the oldest and most reputed publishing houses in India with bookshops countrywide took it on was also an unusual event! We are truly grateful to Om Books International, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri and Jyotsna Mehta along with all our writers and readers who made our anthology a reality, and to Radha Chakravarty and Fakrul Alam for the kind words they bestowed on our effort.

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Please greet our first anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles, with love and friendship. It could be the perfect Christmas gift in the spirit of the season! And as the blurb says, “it will definitely bring a smile to your face because it is a celebration of the human spirit.”

The anthology is different from our journal in as much as it has a sample of an eclectic collection that has been honed with further editing and has some new features. Most of the writing is from our first year and showcases our ethos, except for Lesya’s poetry and interview. Lesya Bakun from Ukraine is still on the run, looking for a refuge — she cannot return home like you or I can. Her family is scattered across number of countries. Her cousin, who was guarding the factory at Azovstal, was taken prisoner. We included her story in the anthology hoping to create global empathy for refugees as the numbers will increase not only due to war but also due to climate change.

The reason we felt a hardcopy anthology was a good idea was because nothing beats the joy of having a bunch of interesting reads in the warmth of your hands (especially where internet cannot reach or is unavailable). In any case, books with the feel of paper, the rustling whispers which carry voices of leaves can never be replaced as Goutam Ghose had also said in his interview which is now part of our anthology.

And that is why we celebrate more books… this time we feature Singaporean prima donna of literature, Suchen Christine Lim, with her new book Dearest Intimate, a novel that spans more than hundred years including the harrowing Japanese invasion during World War II. She shared sound advice with writers: “Suffering is good for the writer. It will deepen lived experience and expand the heart’s empathy.” And perhaps that is what is echoed through the experiences of the other writer interviewed on our pages by Keith Lyons. This is a writer who not only brought out his own books but was a regular contributor of travel pieces for Frommer’s and National Geographic traveling to unexplored destinations — Christopher Winnan. Another writer Lyon had interviewed recently, Steve Carr, has passed on. We would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

We have a number of books that have been reviewed. Reba Som reviewed Aruna Chakravarti’s Through the Looking Glass: Stories that span eras spread across time. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Birth Lottery and Other Surprises and Bhaskar Parichha, Rahul Ramagundam’s The Life and Times of George Fernandes. Basudhara Roy has written of Afsar Mohammad’s Evening with a Sufi: Selected Poems, translated from Telugu by the poet and Shamala Gallagher, verses that again transcend borders and divides. We have an excerpt from the same book and another from Manoranjan Byapari’s How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit, translated from Bengali by Anurima Chanda.

More translations from Bengali, Balochi and Korean enrich our November edition. Fazal Baloch has translated a story by Haneef Shareef and Rituparna Mukherjee by Shankhadeep Bhattacharya. We have the translation of an inspirational Tagore poem helping us find courage (Shonkho Dhulaye Pore or ‘the conch lies in the dust’). Another such poem by Nazrul has been rendered in English from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. He has also shared an autobiographical musing on how he started translating Tagore’s Gitabitan, which also happens to be his favourite book. More discussion on the literary persona of TS Eliot and the relevance of his hundred year old poem — ‘The Waste Land’ by Dan Meloche adds variety to our essay section.

Evoking the genius of another outstanding artiste, Kishore Kumar, who happened to pen thought provoking dialogues in some films, is Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri’s essay, review of a recent book on the legendary actor-singer and an interview with the authors. Infringing the boundaries of literary with popular culture and art and integrating all forms into a wholistic bundle has been part of our ethos. In that spirit we have a musing by Prithvijeet Sinha on Edvard Munch’s famous painting called Scream. We have non-fiction from Australia spanning Meredith Stephens’s recent brush with Covid, Mike Smith visits a Scottish beach in the footsteps of a novelist, Ravi Shankar has given us a poignant piece for a late friend and Candice Lousia Daquin talks of the existence of bi-racial biases. In contrast, Suzanne Kamata sent a narrative that bridges divides showcasing a German wife of a Japanese scientist that draws us to conclude that biases erode over time to create an acceptance of bi-racial people. Devraj Singh Kalsi brings in humour with his funny narrative about a guitarist. Rhys Hughes writes in a lighter vein on Indian cuisine in his column and spouts more funny poetry bordering on the absurd.

Jared Carter has shared beautiful poetry on murmuration in birds and we have touching verses from Asad Latif for a little girl he met on a train — reminiscent of Tagore’s poem Hide and Seek (Lukochuri). Michael R Burch has given us poems setting sombre but beautiful notes for the season. We host more poetry by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Quratulain Qureshi, Jim Bellamy, Gayatri Majumdar, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Alpana, Jonathan Chan, Saranyan BV, George Freek and many more. We have stories from around the world: India, France and Bangladesh.

Gathering all of your thoughts in strings of words from all corners of the world, we present to you the bumper November issue of Borderless Journal . Thank you all for sharing your thoughts with us. Thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her fantastic painting and more thanks to the whole Borderless team for seeing this issue through. We would not have been able to do the anthology or these issues without each one of you — writers and readers.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

There is always hope for a new tomorrow!

Mitali Chakravarty

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


My Favourite Book by Fakrul Alam

Professor Fakrul Alam

My favourite book? Over the years, I have had many favourite books, and have been totally captivated by at least one of them at any one period of time. Indeed, once I began to take literature in English seriously, I was completely swept away by one book or the other that I came across at the University of Dhaka B. A. (Hons.) and M. A. English department syllabuses year after year. In my first year as an undergraduate, for instance, I read D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1913)compulsively, finding in its protagonist Paul Morel’s growing up into a young man’s storyline parallels with mine—although he was a miner’s son in Nottingham in the early twentieth century and I a boy growing up in Dhaka in the 1950s and 60s and the son of middle-class parents. A couple of years later, it was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice(1813), for the story of the Bingley girls and their marriage encounters sounded familiar to me, for I too had four sisters whose marriages had become central to my parents’ thinking in all kinds of ways. And in my M. A. I read a book which harpooned me fully for many a decade—this was Melville’s Moby Dick (1851)—a whale of a book, I’m sure many of you in the virtual audience will agree. In all three cases, I read not only the novels I mentioned but almost everything by Lawrence, Austen and Melville I came across. Indeed, Melville’s fiction became the subject of my M. A. dissertation at Simon Fraser University.

But in the 1990s, I began to pay attention to Bangla writing seriously —something I had neglected for long, thanks first to an English medium education exclusively geared to the “O” levels that scanted our own literature and then my specialisation in literature in English afterwards. I began to read Bangla poetry intensively for the first time in this decade, although I had read some fiction in the language over the years. And it was sometime in the middle of the 1990s that I came across Jibanananda Das’s verse in an edition of his selected poems by the Bangladeshi poet-critic Abdul Mannan Syed. I would like to stress that this poet was born in 1899 in Borishal, a very green district crisscrossed by innumerable rivers all heading ultimately for the nearby Bay of Bengal; he died in what seemed to be an accidental death in Kolkata in the mid-1950s. Das’s verse possessed me completely, leaving me, who had till then read only some Bangla poetry but had concentrated mostly in fiction and non-fictional prose in English, with the urge to translate his verse into English. For the next three years, I kept going back to Das’s poems for their beauty, for the way they immortalised in verse the beauty of Bengal, and for the way they made me the poet’s intimate, for it is only when one translates intensely, all caught up in the source text, that one comes closest to the mind speech as well as the deep emotional life of the poet.

Having translated Jibanananda Das—surely the greatest modern Bengali poet—I felt I had to try to translate Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry—the greatest poet and literary personality Bengal has produced. Even though in the 1960s and 1970s, I had only paid sustained attention to poetry, fictional and nonfictional prose and plays in English, how could I have escaped Tagore then? He was everywhere in the Dhaka I experienced and very much part of the mindscape of us Bangladeshis as we moved towards becoming citizens of Bangladesh. His work was championed in the media; his songs were sung in events such as the Bangla new year festivities in mid-April; cultural events everywhere spurred by nationalism highlighted him in one way or the other. Besides, my father was addicted to Rabindranath’s songs and listened to him on the radio whenever he could, making us share his delight in the melodies then. My mother, for her part, quoted him all the time to give her children a sense of what we should be emulating and where we were going wrong.

In other words, Rabindranath was very much part of my consciousness, although I had occluded him till now. As I began to read him in the turn of the decade after translating Jibanananda, I felt I had to read as much of his works as I could. Inevitably, I began to translate many of his poems. By the time his sesquicentenary came up in 2011, I was invited to co-edit an anthology of his works and that led to the extensive reading of the myriad-minded writer’ work and increasing familiarity with this wonderful personality as well as writer.

And this is how I came to my favourite book of the last decade or so—Tagore’s Gitabitan. It is a book that is always on my study cum desktop computer table’s shelf over ten years now. It is something I resort to every time I listen to a Rabindranath song on YouTube in my desktop’s audio system. Sung melodiously and passionately by a favourite singer, a song by Tagore so allures me into rendering its spirit in another language that I feel I have to come as close to it as possible by translating it to the best of my ability. This means not only listening to the song again and again but also reading it on the printed page repeatedly, word by word, line by line, and stanza by stanza, time after time, till I feel I have been able to capture every aspect of it nuanced by Tagore by blending the tune and the song lyric as well as I could in the English language. In the end, of course, I fail to do so after a point, but the fascination of what is so appealing when heard, even if in the last analysis the task is an impossible one, induces me to render it into an alien language system after repeated readings and attempts to come up with a version that is close to the original in every way. I hope thereby to come to the heart of the song and am content to spend an hour or so on a few lines so that I can make its meaning clear to myself and then to others.                

Truly, there is a magical quality in the songs collected in my favorite book of this time—Tagore’s Gitabitan. It is a book that has also kindled the imagination of quite a few people—singers, musicians and translators— over eighty years now, making them represent the song-lyrics either as songs to be sung or as translations meant for foreign and even Bengal language speakers who might otherwise listen to a song swept away by the tune and opening lines without bothering with the later lines or making no attempt to understand its content.  The net result at the end of a few hours spent first reading many of the song closely, then reading my own translation again and again, is the satisfaction that I have been able to capture its essence in English through my translations. After all, and as Tagore himself has said, “the essence of a song is universal, even if its dress is local and national” (77). Why should I as a translator then not attempt to translate his songs for the world at large as well as myself even if their loveliness is uncatchable in the last analysis? He himself had led the way, and had learnt lessons along the process that were worth considering for later translators. I am hoping to bring out my own collection of translations of 350 plus songs by Tagore by the beginning of next year.

Let me point out that the title Tagore gave to the volume indicates that Gitabitan is meant to invite readers and musical devotees of the poet-composers to his “garden of songs.”  In all, the volume contains over 2,300 songs, nearly 1800 of whose tunes can be found in the musician-poet’s Swarabitan with their musical notations. In fact, there are sites now that you can google and access where you can find the Bengali words, some English translations, and notations, and even brief histories of the origins of the most commonly heard songs.

Let me point out too that Gitabitan itself is divided into six sections—songs of devotion, love, the six seasons of Bengal, patriotic songs, songs for festive and miscellaneous occasions, songs written for his plays and other publications. In their final form, the Gitabitan was published in 1941—the year the poet died. By now it has been reprinted, with new inclusions from scattered sources, innumerable times.

To conclude, why is Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitabitan my favourite book? He had himself said to Bengalis in 1939, “You can forget me, but how can you forget my songs?” Tagore’s collection of songs connects me to him endlessly, becoming a way of linking me as well with the universe and the Supreme Being and even my departed parents. They stir my patriotic side and make me one with the seasons of my country and its landscape and whatever is still romantic in me. And as I head towards the Great Unknown, they console me that there are possibilities of communion after we depart from this world as well!   

Fakrul Alam is Supernumerary Professor of English at the University of Dhaka

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Tagore Translations

Rabindranath’s Paean to Light

Aalo Amar Aalo (Light, My Light) was part of Tagore’s collection titled by him as Bichitro (Amazing) which appeared in 1911, and later as part of Geetabitan(1932)

Art by Sohana Manzoor

Light of mine, O light, the universe is filled with your effulgence, 
My heart is yours; my eyes drown in your refulgence. 
The light danced — danced amid my being. 
It sings — sings amid my heartstrings. 
The sky awakens, the breeze flits, the Earth laughs. 
As luminous currents surge, thousands of butterflies take flight. 
Mallika-Malati* dance in waves of light. 
The clouds are coloured with gold, infinite gems glitter. 
The leaves laugh intoxicated with elation. 
Your nectar floods the shores by the river of tunes. 

*Names of fragrant flowers

We present the song in Bengali by Chinmoy Chatterjee (1930-1987), also known as Chinmoy Chattopadhyay, an eminent singer from the past.

This song has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty with editorial input from Sohana Manzoor and Anasuya Bhar.

Tagore Translations

Ecstasy & Tagore

Written in 1894, the year his son Samindranath was born, Tagore’s Anondodhhara bohichche bhubone (The Universe reverberates with celestial ecstasy), can be found in the largest collection of his songs, Gitabitan.

Painting by Sohana Manzoor
The Universe reverberates with celestial ecstasy 

The Universe reverberates with celestial ecstasy. 
Days and nights overflow with ambrosia in the limitless sky. 
The moon revels sipping nectar from her cupped palms—
The eternal light that never fades shimmers forever—
Illuminating our daily lives with its aura.

Why do you sit in isolation,
Dwelling on self-centred issues? 
Look around you and expand your heart. 
Petty sorrows are insignificant.
Fill your vacant life with love for humanity. 
The Universe reverberates with celestial ecstasy. 

These lyrics seem to capture not just the distance between Tagore’s own ecstatic experience of the natural universe and the self-centred pettiness that afflict those who continue to remain disconnected from the poet’s euphoria but also his attempts to help humanity discover the same joyful reverberations. Such emotions seem to find an echo in his letters later as found in Uma Dasgupta’s A History of Sriniketan. In 1915, Tagore wrote to an estate worker who was part of his work at Sriniketan (a project to upgrade villages): “I have something else to urge upon you. A note of joy has to be sounded in all your work. Village life has become very dull. The dryness of the heart has to be banished. All welfare work ought to be turned as far as possible into an occasion of festive joy.” Is he doing just that in this song?

Here we present the song beautifully rendered by the legendary singer who was groomed in Tagore’s school at Santiniketan, Kanika Bandopadhyay during his times. Kanika Bandopadhyay was a contemporary of Mahasweta Devi who wrote of her as Mohor in her memoir on Santiniketan (translated by Radha Chakravarty) where she explained the ambience that existed, “But during my time in Santiniketan, how forceful was the torrent of energy that flowed from the source the river of creativity descending from the snowcapped mountain peak!”

(The song has been translated for Borderless Journal  by Mitali Chakravarty, edited by Anasuya Bhar. Tagore’s words used here have been translated by Uma Dasgupta in A History of Sriniketan (2022) and Mahasweta Devi’s by Radha Chakravarty in Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan (2022) )



Tagore Translations

Colour the World by Tagore

Rangiye Diye Jao (Colour the World) written in 1927 by Tagore is a part of Gitabitan, the maestro’s largest compendium of songs. It has been trans-created by Ratnottama Sengupta.

Gitabitan, houses 2232 songs by Tagore.
Colour the World

Colour the world before you bid adieu --
Before you go
Dye the world in your hues,
In your notes,
In the youthful verve
Of your smiles...
Colour the world before
Bidding adieu...

May those hues steep my soul,
May the hues stay in my heart --
To colour every action henceforth,
To light up the path when darkness falls,
To stay awake when slumber engulfs...

Dye the Earth with this melody of yours,
Bathe it in tears but
Make it recall --
The joyous ring that wrapped us all.
Dye the Earth before you go...
Colour it, before bidding adieu --

Wake me up before you leave,
Let my bloodstream
Ripple to your name --
Like the stars that
Shine through night,
Like the stream that
Breaks free of rocks,
Like the bolt that
Rips the clouds,
Like the rhythm that throbs
The axis of the world...
Rock me gently with your hands
Before bidding adieu --

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941) was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. 



Tagore Translations

Songs of Seasons by Fakrul Alam

Rabindranth Tagore’s Art. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Tagore wrote on almost all aspects of life. Here are Fakrul Alam’s translations of Tagore’s songs for Ashar, the third month in the Bengali Calendar around the months of June-July. It is the time the monsoons start to set in. The sky, the flora and the fauna are resplendent and fecund with the much-awaited showers. Alam, a renowned scholar and translator from Bangladesh, was kind enough to share these six songs of the season which will soon be a part of his forthcoming publication on translation from the Gitabitan, Tagore’s treasury of more than 2000 songs.

Garland of Lightening Gems
(Bajromanik Diye Gantha, written in 1925)
Ashar, how delicate is your garland of jewelled thunderbolts!
Your dark beauty is set off by lightning flashes
Your spells have the power to melt stones and sprout crops--
On your winged feet you bring from sandy wastes flower garlands
On withered leaves you come in torrential and triumphant showers
Your clouds resound like tom-toms in festive abandon
In your deluge of delicious green, parched earth revives
But keep your awful, life-threatening floods away!
In the Thunderous Clouds
(Oi Je Jhorer Meghe, written in 1922) 
There--in the lap of storm clouds--the rain comes
Its hair loosened, its sari’s borders flying!
Its song beats flutter mango, blackberry, sal and rain-trees
Making their leaves dance and murmur in excitement 
My eyes, moving in beat to its music
Wander in falling rain, losing themselves amidst sylvan shades
Whose familiar voice calls out to me in the wet wind endlessly
Stirring a storm of anguish in my soul on this lonely day?
The Tune of New Clouds
(Aaj Nobeen Megher Shoor Legeche, written in 1922)
Newly arrived clouds stir a tune in my mind today
And my thoughts become all aflutter causelessly
How these clouds lure me outdoors again and again,
Casting their shade on my eyes every now and then 
In the rain pouring from the sky tumultuously
What message of the path to pursue do they bear?
That path will take my mind’s tune into the unknown
And disperse it in the bower of one forever forlorn!
The Sky’s Musings
(Aaj Akashe Moner Kotha, written in 1922)
This day I hear the sky’s musings in thundershowers 
They’ve reverberated in my heart all day long.
On the dark lake water, clouds thicken
            The wind, bearing the pain of centuries,
                        Has murmured in my heart all day long
                                  By my window and in darkness
I commune with the sky, all alone 
Like rustling branches, hidden memories stir
                 Evoking a tear-soaked tune in my soul
  As crickets chirp on—all day long! 
Under the Kadmaba Trees
(Esho Nipo Bone,written in 1925)
Come and walk in the shade of the Kadamba tree rows
Come bathe in rain water streaming down incessantly
Let down your disheveled thick jet-black tresses
Drape around your bodies your sky-blue saris
With kohl-lined eyes and jasmine garlands
Come and walk in the shade of Kadamba tree rows!
Every now and then, my dear, dear soul mates,
Let smiles light up your lips and eyes wondrously
To the beat of pouring rain, let Raga Mallar tuned songs,
Sung in your sweet voices, sound in forests sonorously
Come and walk in the shade of Kadamba tree rows!
Tear-filled Sorrow
(Ashrubhara Bedona, written in 1925)
Tear-filled emotions stir everywhere!
Whose desire sounds in dark in the clouds this day?
They speed across tempestuously,
Whose lament echoes in the rumbling?
Who could be focused on such fruitless worship?

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibonananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).



Tagore Translations

Tagore Songs in Translation

We salute Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) for his inspirational writing and ideology. Here, we have attempted to translate/transcreate his songs while retaining the essence of the spirit and flavour of his lyrics.

Gitabitan, houses 2232 songs by Tagore. Some of the songs on this page are a part of this collection.

Kothao Amar Hariye Jawa Nei Mana or Losing Myself invokes for us the joy of losing oneself in an imaginary world that the poet revels in… the result of the creative stillness he experiences in his mind…

Losing myself...
(A translation/transcreation of Kothao Amar Hariye Jawa Nei Mana, 1939)

There is no bar to losing myself in an imaginary world.
I can soar high on the wings of a song in my mind. 
Weaving fantasies into vast tracts of lands and unexplored oceans, 
I lose my path in the distant shore of quietude —
I get acquainted with the champak blooms in the parul woods.
When the sun sets, I gather flowers in the sky amidst the clouds.
Mingling with the foam of the seven seas,
I reach the shores of faraway lands —
I knock at the closed doors of fairyland in my mind. 
This song has been rendered in Bengali by Indranil Sen, a modern contemporary artiste

The poet as a visionary perceives the world in a different way, breaking class and caste barriers — he embraces humanity of all strata with affection. Here is a song about a young girl called Krishnokoli, who worked in fields and lived among cows, unable to follow the traditions of oborodh or purdah like genteel women because she had to work.

(A translation/transcreation of Krishnokoli, 1900)

I call her Krishnokoli* though villagers call her dark.
On an overcast day, I saw in a field, a dark girl with dark deer eyes. 
Her head was bare, her braid swung down her back.
Dark? However dark she is, I have seen her dark deer eyes. 

The clouds closed in as two ebony cows lowed, 
The dusky girl came out of the hut with hurried, uneasy steps.
She looked up with arched brows at the sky, heard the clouds rumble.

Suddenly, a gust from the East gambolled a wave through the rice crops. 
Alone, I stood between the fields, there was no one else in the expanse.
Did our glances meet? That remains a secret between her and me.
Dark? However dark she is, I have seen her dark deer eyes. 

They remind me of the kohl-clouds that collect in the North-east each summer,
Of the soft dark shadows that descend on the tamal grove when the rains start, 
Of the happiness that unexpectedly fills my being on a monsoon night.

I call her Krishnokoli even if others call her by a different name. 
I had seen her in Moynapara meadows, a dark girl with dark deer eyes. 
She left her head uncovered as she had no leisure to be shy. 
Dark? However dark she is, I have seen her dark deer eyes. 

*Krishnokoli: An indigenous name of a flower in Bengal, also can be seen as associated with Krishna, the dark God. Koli in Bengali means bud.
This song has been rendered in Bengali by the legendary Suchitra Mitra (1924-2011)

Tagore, the multi-faceted, experimented with languages. Here is the transcreation of a song written originally in Brajabuli, a dialect based on Maithali that was popularised for poetry by the medieval poet Vidyapati. Composed in 1877. it became a part of Bhanusingher Padabali in 1884. This song draws from the lore of Radha and Krishna.

Against the Monsoon Skies… 
(from Shaongaganeghorghanaghata, 1884)

Against the monsoon skies, heavy clouds wrack the deep of night.
How will a helpless girl go through the thick groves, O friend?
Crazed winds sweep by the Yamuna as clouds thunder loud.
Lightning strikes: the trees have fallen, the body trembles
In the heavy rain, the clouds shower a downpour.
Under the shaal, piyale, taal, tamal trees, the grove is lonely and quiet at night.
Where, friend, is he hiding in this treacherous grove
And enticing us with his wonderful flute calling out to Radha?
Put on a garland of pearls, a shithi* in my parting,
My odni* is flying as is my hair; tie a champak garland.
Don’t go in the deep of the night to the youth, O young girl.
You are scared of the loud clapping thunder, says Bhanu your humble server.
*shithi: Ornament worn in the parting of the hair.
*odni: A long stole or scarf
Song by Sourendro-Soumyojit, Dance by Priyanka

The creative stillness, or quietude, experienced by the maestro, takes him further into a perception of the world where he empathises with nature and feels the tides rush through his veins.

The Star-Studded Sky 
(A translation/transcreation of Akash Bhora, Shurjo Tara, 1924)

The sky replete with sun and stars, the Earth brimming with life,
In the midst of this universe, I have found my abode.
Spellbound by the plenitude, songs awaken in my being. 

The infinite, eternal waves that create planetary tides 
Resonate through the blood coursing in my veins.

As I walk to the woods, I step on the grass. 
Heady perfumes of flowers startle me into a rhapsody.
Benefactions of joy anoint the universe.

I have listened, I have watched, I have poured my life into the Earth.
Through knowing, I have sought the unknown. 
Spellbound by the plenitude, songs awaken in my being. 
This song has been rendered by Srikanto Acharya, a modern day legend.

Tagore wrote intense and non-intense songs, though his rhapsodic connection with nature even tinge the lighter songs with a unique lyrical beauty. Here is a song that is often used to depict joie de vivre and plays beautifully on a piano as the tune borrows from the Scottish tune of ‘Ye Banks And Braes’. It is a part of a what is popularly known as a dance-drama, called Kal Mrigaya by the maestro himself. The story was based on an event from the Indian epic, Ramayana.

The Swaying Flowers
( from Phoole Phoole Dhole Dhole,1882)

The flowers sway in the soft breeze.
The river waves and gurgles as it flows.
The birds in bowers trill a tune 
I cannot fathom the yearning that fills my being.
This song has been rendered by Shana Bajpaie, a well-known singer and Tagore scholar

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941) was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

(Most of the songs have been translated/transcreated solely on behalf of Borderless Journal by Mitali Chakravarty with feedback from Sohana Manzoor, Meenakshi Malhotra and Vatsala Radhakeesoon. Krishnokoli was improved further with advise from Aruna Chakravarti. Only ‘Against the Monsoon Skies…’ was first translated by Mitali Chakravarty and published in SETU).