COLOMBO: Sri Lankans, Sinhalese as well as Tamils, helped Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore when his institution, Shantiniketan, was in financial difficulties in the early 1930s, according to A.Natarajan, the Indian Consul General in Jaffna.
Introducing Vishwabharati University Vice-Chancellor Prof.Swapan Kumar Dutta, who spoke on Tagore at a function in Jaffna last Saturday to mark the iconic poet’s 155 th. birth anniversary, Natarajan said that in 1934 ,Tagore visited Colombo and Jaffna and staged his dance drama “Shaap Mochan” with a 23 member troupe, not just to showcase the dance drama – a new art form developed by him - but to collect money for Shantiniketan which was in financial difficulties at that time.
“I am on a special mission and have brought something from India, some aspect of culture from Santiniketan. I hope I will be able to please you. I hope my mission will be fulfilled,” Tagore had said on that occasion.
“Shaap Mochan” proved to be immensely popular in Lanka. In Jaffna, it was staged not once, but on three consecutive days in response to public demand, Natarajan recalled.
During his October 1922 visit, Tagore was a guest of a Sinhalese, Dr. Arthur De Silva, a scholar, politician and philanthropist, who was also an alumnus of Calcutta University. During his second visit in June 1928, Tagore’s secretary was a Jaffna Tamil, Arian Williams. Later, Williams became a teacher at Shantiniketan, Natarajan said.
In between 1922 and 1934, Tagore had transited through Colombo in September 1924, on his way to Argentina; in 1929, on his was way to Canada; and in 1930, en route to Oxford, Natarajan said.
The Indian Consul General pointed out that Tagore was acutely aware of the cultural and religious links which bound India and Sri Lanka. In one of his speeches in 1922, Tagore had said that India and Lanka were culturally one despite the fact that they were two different political entities.
Gurudev Tagore had made a lasting impression on the culture of the Lankans, deeply influencing Sinhalese music, art, literature and education. In 1934 he inaugurated Sri Palee, an institution at Horana, established on the lines of Shantiniketan.
When the poet was in the island, he did not confine himself to Colombo, but went to Anuradhapura, Galle, Kandy, and Matara, Jaffna, Panadura, and Horana to savor the culture of the various regions of Lanka.
And Tagore’ interests were wide. As Prof.Swapan Kumar Dutta said in his Jaffna lecture on Saturday, he was deeply interested in nature, environment, agriculture, rural development and health, besides poetry, literature, cultures and freedom, both national and individual.
Speaking at a seminar on Tagore in 2012 in Colomb, Prof.Bharati Ray, recalled that the poet was “enthralled” by the Kandyan dance. He wrote a poem on Kandyan dancing and his dance-dramas incorporated Kandyan dance styles and costumes, as in “Chandalika” and “Mayar Khela” (Tagore’s first musical play).
Lankan scholar Sandagomi Coperahewa said that Tagore was acutely aware that the Sinhalese people and Sinhalese culture had descended from immigrants from his native Bengal. He had profound respect for Theravada Buddhism practiced in Lanka, and wrote a song on the Buddha and the need for the Buddha to be born again to save the troubled world.
Tagore knew Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) who was known for his pioneering Buddhist revival work in India. The Maha Bodhi journal started by Dharmapala in 1892 was patronized by Tagore who even contributed articles and poems to it. Needless to say, Dharmapala also had great respect for Tagore.
Lankan art critic and historian Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) also had close relations with the Tagore family, and was involved in both the literary renaissance and the Swadeshi movementa in the early phase of the struggle for Indian independence.
A vast majority of Sinhalese intellectuals welcomed Tagore’s ideas and his literary works began to appear in the Sinhalese language, said Prof. K. N. O. Dharmadasa.
“Tagore is the foreign author most translated into Sinhalese. For example, Gitanjali has been translated no less than seven times into Sinhala,” Dharmadasa pointed out.
Lankan leaders in the arts studied at Tagore’s Vishvabharati University in Shantiniketan, and were thus were greatly influenced by Tagore. These include Ananda Samarakoon, who wrote and composed the Lankan national anthem, the tune being heavily influenced by Rabindra Sangeet. Samarakoon was Tagore’s student at Shantiniketan.
Other Lankan artistic icons who were deeply influenced by Tagore were Ediriweera Sarachchandra, W.B. Makuloluwa, Sunil Shantha, Chitrasena, Premakumara Epitawala, Shesha Palihakara, and Soma Vidyapathy.
And like Tagore, Lankan artistes were eclectic, open minded and accommodative, allowing themselves to be influenced by a variety of cultures. For example, though influenced by Rabindra Sangeet, Ananda Samarakoon combined many musical traditions into Lankan music including Veddah (aboriginal) and Portuguese music, while retaining a Sinhala folk touch. Popular singer Sunil Shantha did the same with great success.