Published:  01:04 AM, 21 May 2017

Bengal's bridgework with Persia through Tagore

Bengal's bridgework with Persia through Tagore

Mahfuz Ul Hasib Chowdhury unfolds the most spectacular angles of Tagore's trip to Persia.

Rabindranath Tagore visited Iran during the summer of 1932 following invitation from the Iranian government of that time. He was greeted warmly by Iranian higher officials, scholars, authors, translators and poets. Visiting Iran and practically exploring the beauty and depth of Persian art and literature immensely amazed Rabindranath Tagore. The receptions he was accorded by Iranian dignitaries impressed him too. Bengali readers have been familiar with Persian literature, particularly Persian poetry for a long time. Specially, poems by Hafiz, Omar Khayyam, Jalal Uddin Rumi and Sheikh Saadi have enthralled Bengali-speaking people for more than a century through the translation of Persian verses into Bengali and English by local as well as foreign authors. Evaluating from this point of view, Rabindranath Tagore's visit to Persia was highly significant through which the greatest Bengali poet got in touch with the aesthetic dimensions of Persian realms of creativity.

Anisur Rahman Swapan's book Paroshey Rabindranath or Rabindranath in Persia is much more than just a travelogue. This book shows how warmly Rabindranath Tagore was greeted by the litterateurs, professors and poets of Iran during that trip. He attended a number of programs which were hosted in his honor. Rabindranath Tagore also gave interviews to some Iranian magazines and periodicals during that time which were published afterwards. Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel laureate from the Bengali-speaking nation was treated like rays of sunlight from Indian subcontinent to add glamor to the literary resources of Persia. While speaking at the interviews, Rabindranath Tagore invited Iranian authors to visit India for exchange of intellectual thoughts and creative faculties. Literature cannot be confined within geographical boundaries. Literature from one nation always has enough affluence to illuminate the literary wealth of another region. That is what Rabindranath Tagore as well as the Iranian poets and authors figured out and emphasized on while interacting with each other.

During interviews with Iranian magazines, Rabindranath Tagore talked about the history of Bengali literature and how the poetry of Iran and verses of Bengali match each other in terms of thoughts and thematic points. Rabindranath Tagore talked about his traveling experience in Europe while speaking to Iranian authors. Professors from different Iranian universities had meetings with Rabindranath Tagore. Rabindranath Tagore visited the Iranian parliament. His photographs with Iranian officials were published by different Iranian newspapers highlighting the importance of Tagore's trip to Persia. A cluster of great minds came to a unique confluence when Rabindranath Tagore and Iranian poets, publishers and writers held conversations on art, philosophy and cultural aspects.

Besides poets and litterateurs, Rabindranath Tagore had meetings with Iranian ministers, politicians and administrative hierarchy as well. They all were delighted to have opportunities to share views with an outstanding bard like Rabindranath Tagore. It should be exclusively added that Rabindranath Tagore was greeted by Iranian theologians and Islamic clerics too and very lively, healthy and resonant discussions took place between them and Tagore. One of the leading Islamic scholars of that time in Iran was Shariat Sangalji Gafurullah. It is a substantial evidence that religious alignment is no how a barrier for boosting intellectual goodwill.

One of the interviews with Rabindranath Tagore was taken by Iranian astronomer and mathematician Jalal Uddin Tehrani. Jalal Uddin Tehrani's profile reminds us of Omar Khayyam who was also an astronomer and had a great leaning towards mathematics during the 11th century.  It may be recalled that esteemed Persian poet of the medieval era Hafiz visited Bengal during 14th century being invited by the Sultan of Bengal Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah. In the same way the most prominent poet of modern Bengali literature Rabindranath Tagore traveled all the way to Iran during 20th century being invited by the Iranian ruling authority of that time. This is how the legacy of literary alliance between Iran and Bengal became timeless.

One of the scholars that fascinated Rabindranath Tagore most during his trip to Iran was Mohsin Khan Asadi. According to Rabindranath Tagore, Mohsin Khan Asadi was a graduate from Columbia University, New York, United States of America. He told the audiences about Rabindranath Tagore's prose and poetry at a reception organized by Cultural Affairs Ministry of Iran. Moreover, Cabinet Secretary of Iran of that time Abdul Hossain Timurtas was another earnest admirer of Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore was escorted to the shrines of immortal Persian poets Hafiz and Sheikh Saadi. Tagore paid homage to the memories of these perpetual poets whose verses have had far-reaching influence on the mystic thoughts and spiritual visions of Bengal for hundreds of years. The reception held for Tagore at the shrine of Sheikh Saadi became so overcrowded that the Iranian authorities had to deploy army besides police to control the people who had thronged at the venue to see the finest ever poet from Bengal. Diplomatic missions of Afghanistan, Egypt and Britain located in Tehran also accorded receptions to Rabindranath Tagore during that tour. Many more memorable events linked with Tagore's trip to Iran have been vibrantly narrated by Anisur Rahman Swapan in his book on Tagore's experience in Iran.

Anisur Rahman Swapan was born in Dhaka in 1957. He spent a decade in Iran from 1986 to 1996 while he worked for Iranian newspaper Daily Tehran Times. He is still engaged with journalism. Currently he is involved in Daily New Age and Dhaka Tribune. He has so far written a remarkable number of books on language, literature and translations.


The reviewer is a literary analyst for  The Asian Age

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