Epiphany at Dawn:  Rabindranath Tagore’s Ode to Dawn



Rabindranath Tagore

From PrabhatSangeet (1883)

Preface:          (Monish R. Chatterjee)

Poet and visionary Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)’s impending emergence into a lifetime of creativity and timeless thought was already evident very early in life through such works as BhanusimhaThakurerPadavali (1884), written when he was in his early 20s.  These stylized bhakti poems were written in the Brajabuli dialect (entirely different from Tagore’s own Bengali which he completely revolutionized in the years that followed) with such inimitable and consummate skill that it is believed that many classical scholars of that time firmly believed that these were newly excavated classical works by an unknown writer from the medieval age.  Little did they know that these were the handiwork of a young upstart from the affluent and culturally vibrant Tagore household.

The early 1880s held multiple moments of inner awakening within the young Rabindranath.  Not the least of these was the momentous epiphany experienced on almost consecutive dawns in two separate places- an epiphany which was clearly transformative for an epoch-making genius who would bring the Bengal Renaissance to its very pinnacle.  The first of these occurred one early dawn on the verandah of the sprawling Tagore homestead in Jorasanko in Calcutta.  The second, which had even more lasting impact, occurred not a long time after the first (around 1882).  This happened during a brief period around 1882 when Rabindranath went to live with his immediate older brother, Jyotirindranath and his wife, Tagore’s beloved bouthan, Kadambari.  At the time, Jyotirindranath lived at 10 Sudder Street, a house in central Calcutta which has since become a relic of national importance in Calcutta’s cultural life.  This translator himself had long wished to visit this historic house many years later, and in fact fulfilled his long-nurtured wish only after he had completed his graduate studies in the U.S..  Visiting 10, Sudder Street and attempting to re-live generated within his mind a special sensation of being in the very place and moment at the site where Tagore, the greatest inspiration by far in his life had once written the transformational poem, NirjharerSwapnabhanga (The Awakening of the Waterfall (also its variance, Cataract)).  Visiting the place, however, this translator found the historic building under serious disrepair, and its ground floor occupied by a computer training center.  On the wall of the entrance porch he did discover an old marble tablet which proclaimed the source of the momentous importance of the building- being the place where The Awakening was first written.  As is characteristic of much of Calcutta, Bengal and indeed India- places of great historic importance and moment are frequently greatly neglected and sometimes even forgotten in the years that follow.  This was but one instance of such oblivion.

For context, let me quote here directly the following passage in Tagore’s own words taken from his memoir, Jivansmriti (My Reminiscences) in which he lays out in some detail the circumstances relating to, and the great life-changing awakening at dawn which eventually led to his Universalist philosophy.



Ch. 34:Morning Songs

At the river-side I also did a bit of prose writing, not on any definite subject or plan, but in the spirit that boys catch butterflies. When spring comes within, many-coloured short-lived fancies are born and flit about in the mind, ordinarily unnoticed. In these days of my leisure, it was perhaps the mere whim to collect them which had come upon me. Or it may have been only another phase of my emancipated self which had thrown out its chest and decided to write just as it pleased; what I wrote not being the object, it being sufficient unto itself that it was I who wrote. These prose pieces were published later under the name of VividhaPrabandha, Various Topics, but they expired with the first edition and did not get a fresh lease of life in a second.

At this time, I think, I also began my first novel, Bauthakuranir Hat.

After we had stayed for a time by the river, my brother Jyotirindra took a house in Calcutta, on Sudder Street near the Museum. I remained with him. While I went on here with the novel and the Evening Songs, a momentous revolution of some kind came about within me.

One day, late in the afternoon, I was pacing the terrace of our Jorasanko house. The glow of the sunset combined with the wan twilight in a way which seemed to give the approaching evening a specially wonderful attractiveness for me. Even the walls of the adjoining house seemed to grow beautiful. Is this uplifting of the cover of triviality from the everyday world, I wondered, due to some magic in the evening light? Never!

I could see at once that it was the effect of the evening which had come within me; its shades had obliterated my self. While the self was rampant during the glare of day, everything I perceived was mingled with and hidden by it. Now, that the self was put into the background, I could see the world in its own true aspect. And that aspect has nothing of triviality in it, it is full of beauty and joy.

Since this experience I tried the effect of deliberately suppressing my self and viewing the world as a mere spectator, and was invariably rewarded with a sense of special pleasure. I remember I tried also to explain to a relative how to see the world in its true light, and the incidental lightening of one’s own sense of burden which follows such vision; but, as I believe, with no success.

Then I gained a further insight which has lasted all my life.

The end of Sudder Street, and the trees on the Free School grounds opposite, were visible from our Sudder Street house. One morning I happened to be standing on the verandah looking that way. The sun was just rising through the leafy tops of those trees. As I continued to gaze, all of a sudden a covering seemed to fall away from my eyes, and I found the world bathed in a wonderful radiance, with waves of beauty and joy swelling on every side. This radiance pierced in a moment through the folds of sadness and despondency which had accumulated over my heart, and flooded it with this universal light.

That very day the poem, The Awakening of the Waterfall, gushed forth and coursed on like a veritable cascade. The poem came to an end, but the curtain did not fall upon the joy aspect of the Universe. And it came to be so that no person or thing in the world seemed to me trivial or unpleasing. A thing that happened the next day or the day following seemed specially astonishing.


I had never before marked the play of limbs and lineaments which always accompanies even the least of man’s actions; now I was spell-bound by their variety, which I came across on all sides, at every moment. Yet I saw them not as being apart by themselves, but as parts of that amazingly beautiful greater dance which goes on at this very moment throughout the world of men, in each of their homes, in their multifarious wants and activities.

Friend laughs with friend, the mother fondles her child, one cow sidles up to another and licks its body, and the immeasurability behind these comes direct to my mind with a shock which almost savours of pain.

When of this period I wrote:

    I know not how of a sudden my heart flung open its doors,

    And let the crowd of worlds rush in, greeting each other,–

it was no poetic exaggeration. Rather I had not the power to express all I felt.

For some time together I remained in this self-forgetful state of bliss. Then my brother thought of going to the Darjeeling hills. So much the better, thought I. On the vast Himalayan tops I shall be able to see more deeply into what has been revealed to me in Sudder Street; at any rate I shall see how the Himalayas display themselves to my new gift of vision.

But the victory was with that little house in Sudder Street. When, after ascending the mountains, I looked around, I was at once aware I had lost my new vision. My sin must have been in imagining that I could get still more of truth from the outside. However sky-piercing the king of mountains may be, he can have nothing in his gift for me; while He who is the Giver can vouchsafe a vision of the eternal universe in the dingiest of lanes, and in a moment of time.


Note that the two lines quoted above in Tagore’s own words (and interpreted differently by this translator) are actually from the lesser known PrabhatUtsav which is the poem of interest here.  It needs to be stressed that on the heels of these two epiphanic experiences there appeared Tagore’s second book of verse, PrabhatSangeet(Morning Songs), which followed shortly after the first verse collection, Sandhya Sangeet (Evening Songs).  These appeared in quick succession along with his first novel, BouthakuranirHaat.  All three appeared within the time period 1881-1882.An interesting anecdote associated with the publication of Sandhya Sangeetis today part of the legends of Bengali literature.  It turns out that not long after Sandhya Sangeet appeared, both Rabindranath and the reigning sovereign of the emergent modern age of Bengali literature, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, were both present one evening at the marriage ceremony of the daughter of author/socialite Ramesh Chandra Dutta.  At one point, when the sahityasamratwas garlanded as the guest of honor, Bankim took the garland off his neck and placed it around the much younger Rabindranath’s neck, addressing his host with the immortal words, “This garland is far more deserved by him.  Ramesh- have you read Sandhya Sangeet?”  Indeed, the senior and distinguished author had presciently recognized the newly-arrived genius at the doorstep of Bengal’s literature.

For the present translator, the first glimpse into this life-altering awakening (for which epiphany is probably a reasonably appropriate descriptor) on the part of Rabindranath occurred during his school years (probably the 8th or 9th grade) when HridoyAjiMor was included in his (MRC’s) school Bengali reading list.  The ethereal joy of realizing one’s living experience in relation with all creation in the highest sense of the Upanishadic MadhuvataWritayate was expressed ecstatically in the poem, and in perspective many years later, it appears clear when and how the poetic and visionary genius of Tagore began to flower thereafter.  The only other comparable epiphanic poem would of course be Tagore’s even more famous NirjharerSwapnabhanga which too had the 10 Sudder Street connection as discussed earlier.  That the living experience is akin to a joyous festival with multiple stimuli is made clear literally stanza by stanza in this poem, and requires little elaboration or exposition.


Ode to Dawn


Rabindranath Tagore

From PrabhatSangeet (1883)

(Translated by ©Monish R. Chatterjee)

The doorway to my heart, O how it opened this morn!
The great wide world, lo, is assembled there in an embrace.
The people of this earth, numberless hundreds for sure
Joyfully enter my being, sparkling with laughter.
Lovers have arrived there, in pairs gazing upon each other
Children, too, frolic and dance as they exchange smiles.
Siblings have arrived, their minds with thrills filled-
Looking eye-to-eye, “My brother, my sister”- they say in delight.
Starry-eyed arrived a flighty, friendly flock of lads
Words bubble in their hearts, yet they forget to say them.
Holding hands wanders a garrulous group of lasses
Merrily they swing as they sing and rollick in the woods.
Cradling her darling babe arrived the young mother
Holding close to her heart, “sleep, my child, sleep,” she croons.
Her loving gaze lowered, beholding the radiant moon face
She smothers the little angel with a hundred kisses.
In thrill quivers my heart, in excitement pulsates my being
Beckoned by the call of Love, the wide world is here arrived.
Arrived are the sun and the moon, arrived are a million stars
Sentinels, ever awake, ever watchful at night by my bedside.
Filling my heart to the fullest, bathed in gladness arrived Dawn
What joy, lo!  Inhabitants the world over today crowd my being.


When daylight broke, what, indeed, happened this day!
I look to the sky, and whom do I behold?
The morning breeze wafts in, what message does it carry-
Deep within my Self, what feelings, these, astir!
Come hither, O friend, come hither-
Come hither, my brother, sit by me, my beloved.
Out east, radiant sunbeams glitter upon the edges of the clouds
The crest of the sun’s gleaming chariot is halfway revealed.
The streaming sunbeams fill the sky with birdsongs
How sweet, aha, how sweet like honey is everything!
Sweeter than honey, this light, sweeter than honey, this breeze
Sweeter than honey the song of the rippling brook.
Mine eyes gaze forever at whatsoever they behold
Whomsoever they meet, they invite over near.
Such beauty, such joy, dewy-eyed my tears flow
My poor heart drowns in an ocean of gladness.
Come hither, gentle morning breeze, carry this spirit of mine
Disperse it, dearest, to the corners of this earth.
Carry it to the woodlands, carry it across the horizons
Carry it across the seas to the land farthest east.
As you drift over hills and dales, carry the melodies of birds
Junthi’ssoft aspiration, malati’s mild fragrance
And with all your treasures, do carry, beloved, my spirit.
Encircling this earth, make numberless heady rounds
Carrying the intoxication of your spirit everywhere.


Such life have I, even as I give away my treasures
It is as though my treasure chest is brimming over still.
O drifting downy cloud, come hither down to earth
Come gather me and carry me to the unbounded skies
Unfurling sails of gold, to ride free upon waves of air
My desire has run towards crossing the ocean of the sky.
O sky, come, come to me, call me brother, again-
It is to your bosom I have traveled, look, I am no longer here.
Morning’s mellow light like a rainbow disperses my life
It is with my life I shall enliven the lives of all.


Arise- O morning sun, awaken me as you commence your trek
Launch your luminous boat from the eastern shore
Is it the great ocean of the sky you wish to traverse, dear?
Then, pray take me along, pray take me along.


The world enters my being as my being enters the world
What song, this, the twain sing as they mix and mingle!
Who might you be- learned sageor mighty monarch
Hold for this day your laughter of vaunted derision.
Behold for a moment or two this soaring face of mine
Witness how it has risen to the midst of the clouds.
At daybreak, Dawn arrives and softly sits by my bedside
With golden arms she places a crown upon my head.
Removing the garland of dazzling rays from his neck
Ravi-Deva lovingly places it around mine.
Nothing more than a speck of dirt upon this earth-
Yet this day have I discovered the Universe as my kin.

  © Monish R. Chatterjee          

Monish R. Chatterjee, Ph.D. Professor, ECE, Dept. of ECE, University of Dayton  

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