November 13th, 2014 marked the 101st anniversary of the announcement of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize in Literature.
He was Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner. His book ‘Gitanjali’ literally meaning “An offering of Songs” was considered by judges to be “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful”.
He originally penned the Jana Gana Mana, a Poem , which was later accepted as India’s National Anthem.
This legendary man shall always be remembered in history for his multi-dimensional contribution as a writer of stimulating stories, plays and novels, an outstanding educator, a renowned philosopher and a significant music composer, painter and choreographer.
What would be of immense interest (to the Parsi community) is the manner in which Tagore immortalized Prophet Zarathustra after making a study of the “Gathas”. Both Zarathustra and Tagore were mystics of the highest order -their mysticism came spontaneously from the depths of their soul. Both enjoyed an intimate personal relationship with their cosmic beloved, which is the quintessence of mysticism.
A few extracts from the chapter on Prophet Zarathustra from his book “The Religion of Man” clearly illustrates how Rabindranath Tagore profoundly expounded the contribution of Zarathustra to world thought.
Tagore throws light on various dimensions of Zarathustra’s teachings, which are illuminating and inspiring.
He asserts : “The first profound record of the change of direction in man’s religion we find in the message of great Prophet in Persia, Zarathustra, and as usual it was accompanied by a revolution. The most important of all outstanding facts of Iranian history is the religious reform brought about by Zarathustra. There can be hardly any question that he was the first man we know who gave a definitely moral character and direction to religion and at the same time preached the doctrine of monotheism, which offered an eternal foundation of reality to goodness as an ideal of perfection. All religions of the primitive type try to keep men bound with regulation of external observances. Zarathustra was the greatest of all the pioneer prophets who showed the path of freedom to man, the freedom of moral choice, the freedom from the blind obedience to unmeaning injunctions , the freedom from the multiplicity of shrines which draw our worship away from the single-minded chastity of devotion.”
“Zarathustra was the first prophet who emancipated religion from the exclusive narrowness of the tribal God,the God of a chosen people and offered it the Universal Man. This is a great fact in the history of religion”. To illustrate this ,Tagore quotes from Yasna 45.1 (Translation D.J.Irani) : “Hearken unto me , Ye who come from near and from far ! Listen for I shall speak forth now ; ponder well over all things, weigh my words with care and clear thought. Never shall the false teacher destroy this world for a second time, for his tongue stands mute, his creed exposed”.
Tagore adds “I think it can be said without doubt that such a high conception of religion,
uttered in such a clear note of affirmation with a sure note of conviction that it a truth of the ultimate ideal of perfection which must be revealed to all humanity, even at the cost of martyrdom , is unique in the history of any religion belonging to such a remote dawn of civilization.”
“The ideal of Zorashtrian Persia is distinctly ethical. It sends its call to men to work together with the Eternal Spirit of Good in spreading and maintaining “Kshathra”, the kingdom of righteousness , against all attacks of evil. This ideal gives us our place as collaborators with God in distributing his blessings over the world”.
In this light, Tagore quotes from the “Ahunavaiti Gatha (Yasna 31.22) which states :
“Clear is this to the man of wisdom as the man who carefully thinks; He who upholds Truth with all the might of his power, He who upholds truth the utmost in his words and deeds, He, indeed, is Thy most valued helper, O Mazda Ahura !
Those surrounded by believers in magical rites, he proclaimed in those dark days of unreason that religion has its truth in its moral significance, not in external practices of imaginary value; that its value is in upholding man in his life of good thoughts, good words and good deeds.”
Tagore writes “….In the primitive stages of spiritual growth, when is dimly aware of the mystery of the infinite in his life and the world, when he does not fully know the inward character of his relationship with his truth, his first feeling is either of dread or of greed of gain. This drives him into wild exaggeration in worship, frenzied convulsions of ceremonialism. But in Zarathustra’s teachings, which are best reflected in the Gathas, we have hardly any mention of the ritualism of worship. Conduct and its moral motives have received almost the sole attention. The orthodox Persian form of worship in ancient Iran included animal sacrifice and offering of haoma to the daevas. That all this should be discountenanced by Zarathustra not only shows his courage , but the strength of his realization of the Supreme Being as spirit.”
Tagore notes “….There was a time when, along with other Aryan peoples, the Persians also worshipped the elemental Gods of Nature, whose favour was not to be won by any moral duty performed or service of love (but to be won by sacrifices and ceremonies)….Then comes the great Prophet (whose call) is a call to the fighter, the fighter against untruth, against all that lures away man’s spirit from its high mission of freedom into the meshes of materialism.”
“Such a message (as his) always arouses the antagonism of those whose habits have become nocturnal, whose vested interest is in the darkness. And there was a bitter fight in the lifetime of the prophet between his followers and the others who were addicted to the ceremonies that had tradition on their side, and not truth.”
“The active heroic aspect of this religion reflects the character of the people themselves, who later on spread conquests far and wide and built up great empires. They accepted this world in all seriousness. They had their zest in life and confidence in their own strength. Their ideal was the ideal of the fighter. By force of will and deeds of sacrifice they were to conquer “haurvatat”(welfare in this world) and “ameretat” (immortality in the other). For paradise has to be gained through conquest. That sacred task is for the heroes, who are to take the right side (of good) in the battle and the right weapons (of good thoughts, good words and good deeds).”
“….Zarathustra’s voice is still a living voice, not alone a matter of academic interest for historical scholars who deal with the facts of the past ; not merely the guide of a small community of men in the daily details of their life. Rather, of all teachers, Zarathustra was the first who addressed his words to all humanity, regardless of distance of space or time ….But he was the watcher in the night, who stood on the lonely peak facing the East and broke out singing the paeans of light to the sleeping world when the sun came out on the brim of the horizon”.
By Dr. Homi Dhalla