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Jyotirindranath Tagore

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Title: Jyotirindranath Tagore  
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Subject: Debendranath Tagore, James Tod, Lalon, Maidan (Kolkata), Bengali Brahmins, Early life of Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore, Hindu School, Kolkata, Satyendranath Tagore, Bengali theatre
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Jyotirindranath Tagore

Jyotirindranath Tagore
Born May 4, 1849
Calcutta, Bengal, British India
Died March 4, 1925
Ranchi, British India
Occupation Playwright, musician, editor and painter
Spouse(s) Kadambari Devi

Jyotirindranath Tagore (Bengali: জ্যোতিরিন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর) (May 4, 1849 – March 4, 1925) was a playwright, a musician, an editor and a painter.[1] Endowed with an outstanding talent, he had the rare capability of spotting talent in others. He played a major role in the flowering of the talents in his younger brother, the first Asian Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore.[2]


The grandson of Dwarkanath Tagore and the fifth son of Debendranath Tagore, Jyotirindranath was born in the Tagore family of Jorasanko, in Calcutta (now Kolkata). When viewed against the exceptionally brilliant achievements of his younger brother, Rabindranath Tagore, he loses much of his shine. However, having been born in the same family and being twelve years his senior, Jyotirindranath assisted in the development of his younger brother with examples, encouragement and companionship.[2][3] Two of their older brothers—poet and philosopher Dwijendranath Tagore and the first Indian ICS officer and a musician Satyendranath Tagore—were brilliant and renowned in their own right. His younger sister, Swarnakumari Devi, was a well-known writer and musician.[4]

Formative years

In early childhood he was taught at home by his elder brother Hemendranath. Thereafter, he studied at St. Paul’s and Montague’s school, and passed Entrance Examination (school leaving or university entrance) from Hindu School in 1864. The renowned historian and writer Romesh Chunder Dutt was his class friend. While studying for the First Arts examination in Presidency College, he developed interest in the theatre and left his studies.[2][5]

Involvement with the theatre

Jyotirindranath was attracted towards the theatre from his student days.[2] He formed a home theatre group and staged dramas.[1] One of his cousins Ganendranath established the Jorasanko Natyasala in 1865. The first play to be staged was Krishnakumari by Michael Madhusudan Dutta. Jyotirindranath acted in the role of Ahalyadevi, a brave queen. His early success developed in him a determination to be one of greatest playwrights in his age.[2][6]

Ganendranath was also one of the founders of Hindu Mela. He drew Jyotirindranath into it at a young age. At Nabagopal Mitra’s request, Jyotirindranath recited poems he composed. The entire process enhanced his sense of patriotism and he started writing plays with a patriotic fervour. The other trend he followed was composition of plays with satire. It was not enough to write plays, those had to be staged and so, he developed a cultural organisation and named it Bidvajjan-Samagam in 1874. The organisation also provided Rabindranath an opportunity to stage some of his early plays and dance dramas.[2] He was elected a secretary of Hindu Mela in the ninth year of existence.[1]

Jyotirindranath wrote popular plays such as Purubikram (1874), Sarojini (1875), Ashrumati (Woman in tears, 1879), Swapnamayi (Lady of Dream, 1882). His noteworthy satires include Kinchit Jalajog (Some Refreshments, 1873), Eman Karma Ar Korbo Na (I will never do such a thing again 1877), Hathath Nabab (Suddenly a Ruler, 1884), Alik Babu (Strange Man, 1900). His plays were extremely popular and were accepted by the commercial stage.[1][2] Hathath Nabab was based on Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme[7]

Purubikram is story of the brave Punjab King Porus (Porus is called “Puru” in Bengali) who stood up to Alexander the Great. It was first staged by the Bengal Theatre in 1874.[2]

Sarojini is a tragedy about the suicides (known as jauhar) committed by the Rajput women when defeated by invaders in order to avoid indignities. Sarojini was daughter of Rana Lahshman Singh of Mewar in Rajasthan. She and many others committed suicide when the Rana was defeated by Alauddin Khilji.[2]

There is an interesting episode related to Sarojini. Rabindranath, then a young student, used to study in a room next to where Jyotirindranath worked. Quite often the younger brother listened to what went on in the other room. Once when Sarojini was under preparation Rabindranath proposed that the scene showing Rajput women entering the burning flames of cremation to commit suicide could not be portrayed properly in prose form, it had to be presented in the form of a song. He himself composed a song for that part of the play and Jyotirindranath readily incorporated it.[2]

Ashrumati is a legendary-imaginary play about the love affair of a Hindu girl with a Muslim boy, and the girl is torn between her love and her loyalty to her father. However, the Rana family of Rajasthan took offence to the girl being mentioned as being from their family and Jyotirindranath had to tender an apology for that.[2]

Alik Babu covers such social issues as the remarriage of widows. The universal power of love irrespective of caste and creed has been presented in the play. His plays continue to be staged in both Bangladesh[8] and West Bengal.[9]

Translation and editing

In 1867, while staying with his elder brother Satyendranath Tagore in Ahmedabad, he learnt many things – how to play the sitar and painting. He picked up the French and Marathi languages.[5] He translated books from different languages into his native Bengali, the focus being on plays. From English he translated Marcus AureliusMeditations, Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser. Apart from Pierre Loti and Théophile Gautier, he translated many books on history, philosophy and travels, novels and short stories from French.[2][5]

Between 1899 and 1904, he translated seventeen major Sanskrit dramas into Bengali. It included Kalidas’s Abhijñānaśākuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala) and Malati Madhava (Malati and Madhava), and Sudrak’s Mrichhakatika (Little Clay Cart).[2]

From Marathi, he translated Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Geetarahasya.[5]

His elder brother Dwijendranath was editor of Tattwabodhini Patrika. Jyotirindranath proposed a new magazine, Bharati in 1877. Although Dwijendranath was its editor, it was effectively run by the younger brother.[10] He was the vice-president of the Vangiya Sahitya Parishad in 1902 – 03. He worked with Saraswata Samaj, a literary organisation established in 1882, dedicated to enriching the Bengali language and literature. Jyotirindranath has 46 volumes of published works to his credit, including translations.[1]

Jyotirindranath always attended a literary majlis (gathering) in the house of his elder brother Satyendranath Tagore. Others who attended it were Dwijendranath Tagore, Balendranath Tagore, Sarala Devi, Jagadindranath Ray, Lokendranath Palit, Sharatkumari Choudhurani, and Pramatha Chowdhury.[11]


Jyotirndranath had lessons in music early in life from Bishnupada Chakravarty. He was an expert in playing the piano, violin, harmonium and sitar.[5]

The resonance of music in the Jorasanko Thakur Bari environment was a gift of Jyotirindranath. His companion in the cultivation of literature and music was Akshay Chandra Chaudhuri. Later, when Rabindranath crossed the threshold of childhood and grew a little, he joined them. The system they followed was that Jyotirindranath composed a tune on the piano. Akshay and Rabindranath tried their best to incorporate the tunes into word-patterns.[2] Twenty songs of Rabindranath’s dance drama Mayar Khela were based on tunes composed by Jyotirndranath.[5]

Their elder brother, Dwijendranath, was the pioneer in developing notations for Bengali music. He modified and developed the system of notations. He compiled a book with songs and swaralipi (Bengali musical notations) of several composers, Dwarkin published it as Swaralipigitimala. In 1879, the organisation also published a magazine on musical matters, Binabadini, edited by Jyotirindranath Tagore. It is claimed to be one of the first such magazines in Bengali.[2] He published another magazine on music, Sangeet Prakashika. He composed many songs for use with prayers of the Brahmo Samaj. Some of them based on Hindustani classical tunes.[5] He founded the Bharatiya Sangit Samaj (Indian music society) in 1897 to work on Indian music.[1] His songs are available in a CD.

One of the foremost musicologists of Kolkata, as well as a classical singer[12] Rajyeswar Mitra opines, “At this stage too, we find the rise of a celebrated line of musical and dramatic culture in the house of the Thakurs (Tagores), which was much more polished and enlightened in character than most other such houses. The chief architect of this development was Jyotirindranath Thakur (1849 – 1925), Rabindranath’s elder brother. Although the entire process emanated from an aristocratic circle, the songs obtained wide circulation in society generally. Indeed their greatest service was to create a common taste for refined lyrics relying on a polished and melodic line. The perfection of this course lay, of course, in the work of Rabindranath Thakur (1861 – 1941).”[13]


He was attracted towards drawing and sketching. He sketched the portraits of many persons in the family. Of Rabindranath there are numerous sketches in different styles. He drew the sketches of plain folk around him, including the employees of his shipping firm. Around 2,000 sketches of his are preserved in the Rabindra Bharati University museum. Some of his sketches were published in Bharati in 1912. William Rothenstein happened to see them and evinced interest in them. He wanted to see more of his sketches. When Rabindranath proceeded for his third visit to England the same year, he carried a bunch of sketches prepared by Jyotirindranath. Rothenstein was highly impressed and with his assistance the book Twenty-five collotypes from the original Drawings of Jyotirindranath Tagore was published in England.[2][5][14]

Business ventures

His grandfather Dwarkanath Tagore was a pioneering and legendary figure in business activities. He had earned so much and lived so lavishly that people called him ‘Prince’. Jyotirindranath earned some profits from indigo cultivation. He could not continue with indigo cultivation as result of the drop in demand subsequent to discovery of chemical indigo in Germany. He was eager to invest his profits in some business venture. At that time, there was a need for a steamer link between Khulna and Barisal (both the places are now in Bangladesh).[2]

He bought the shell of a steamer and on fitting it with engines was pressed into service as Sarojini. That was in 1884. An English company Flotila also entered the fray and soon competition emerged. Jyotirindranath bought four more steamers. After naming them Swadeshi, Bharat, Bangalakshmi and Lord Ripon, those were launched in his steamer company. Both the companies started reducing the fares. Jyotirindranath started incurring heavy losses but still persisted with the business. In 1889, while cruising in the Hooghly River, Swadeshi hit a jetty and sank. At that point of time, Flotila offered a fair price for his other steamers. Jyotirindranath sold them and opted out of the competition.[2][14]

Other activities

He served as secretary of the Adi Brahmo Samaj from 1869 to 1888.[5] He founded the Adi Brahmo Samaj Sangitvidyalay (School for Brahmo songs) in order to popularise Brahma Sangeet.[1]

At his initiative a secret society Sanjivani Sabha was formed possibly in 1876, with Rajnarayan Basu as president. This society attempted the manufacture of match sticks and hand-woven cloth.[5]


Jyotirindranath was married to Kadambari Devi on 5 July 1868, and arranged for her education.[1][15] She committed suicide on 19 April 1884.[15]

Later life

Ever since his wife died he was very close to Satyendranath’s family. As he had no children of his own he enjoyed the company of Stayendranath’s children. In later life, he built a house named Santidham on Morabadi Hill in Ranchi and lived there. Satyendranath used to give him company quite often. He died in that house.[16]


Historical plays -Purubikram (1874), Sarojini (1875), Ashrumati (Woman in tears, 1879), Swapnamayi (Lady of Dream, 1882).

Satirical plays - Kinchit Jalajog (Some Refreshments, 1873), Eman Karma Ar Korbo Na (I will never do such a thing again 1877), Hathath Nabab (Suddenly a Ruler, 1884), Alik Babu (Strange Man, 1900).

Translations - Kalidas’s Abhijñānaśākuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala) and Malati Madhava (Malati and Madhava); Sudrak’s Mrichhatika (Little Clay Cart); Marcus AureliusMeditations, Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser; Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Geetarahasya.


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