Poet, playwright and philosopher Ravindranath Tagore wrote his acclaimed Bengali literature in Calcutta, India, more than a century ago.
Its universality is being hailed by the Valley’s arts communities of India, Mexico, China, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which are uniting for a one-of-a-kind stage performance next week.
Mesa-based nonprofit arts group Akshaybhasha is presenting “Celebrating Universal Tagore” from 4-6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4, at the Phoenix Center for the Arts.
The program proclaims the universal qualities of beauty, joy and peace through a dance-drama, a play, a speech on Tagore’s literature, music and poetry through dance.
“Rabindranath Tagore has said that Earth is a single country where races as individuals must find both – their freedom of self-expression and their bond of federation,” said Bhagyashree Barlingay, president of Akshaybhasha. “The first step towards realization of this is to create opportunities for revealing the different peoples to one another.”
Barlingay left her native India to settle in the United States 25 years ago and became a medical doctor. She said that immigrants, despite coming to an accepting and progressive American culture, tend to form groups and “to live on our own cultural islands where it could get stagnant.
“Being an American should be a much deeper and fulfilling experience than this,” she said.
Barlingay said that Tagore’s literature is suitable and inspiring for this thought process to be brought into action.
“It is universal. People from other cultures, countries could relate to it. His writing, though published in early 1900s, is still relevant,” she said.
A case in point is the poem “Where the mind is without fear,” where Tagore examines his own concept of freedom starting with the words: “Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high; where knowledge is free; where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls…”
Tagore, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913, played a crucial role in the cultural renaissance of India and Bengal in the 19th and early 20th century.
His influence was widespread and he had an enormous impact on Sri Lankan art and music. While he compiled the national anthems for India and Bangladesh, his philosophy inspired Sri Lanka’s national anthem as well.
Ananda De Silva of Tempe said that the Sri Lankan community is honored to be a part of the program.
“Tagore had a tremendous impact on Sri Lankan art and music in the early part of the 20th century,” he said. “During a period where foreign dominance dictated lives of people, his influence inspired many contemporary local artists who became legends to reestablish a Sri Lankan identity in music and art.”
Among them is classical musician T.M. Jayarathna, whose song “Anduru Kutiya Thula,” is a translation of Tagore’s poem “Leave this chanting.”
At the concert, led by De Silva and Ranjula Kulapala of Gilbert, community representatives will perform a dance to this song.
In his spiritual style, Tagore wrote that God is not hiding and unreachable to man.
“Tagore expresses that God is within us, lives among us and that God is part of our day-to day-lives,” Kulapala said. “The song’s essence is aligned with Tagore’s thinking of who God really is. Praying, trapped in the dark, does not make God hear you. Step out of darkness, and embrace the God who lives among working people like us.”
“The mysticism of Tagore will express the uniform nature of human realization expanding the boundaries of multicultural spiritual similarities,” said Rupanjana Sengupta, organizer. “On the other hand, the play reading from Tagore’s novel ‘Gora” shows the trivialities of parochial arrogance; its narrative upholds humanism to be the strongest elixir that enables our human progress.
“I feel it’s a great time to have these conversations between different communities through the platform of art bringing us all together and connecting us through our similarities,” Sengupa added.
Barlingay, an avid Tagore follower, said that the broadmindedness and clarity of thought are two features that strike her most about his literature.
“He does not hesitate to criticize or condemn his own people; with the same token he doesn’t ignore the importance of the core values which were bestowed upon him by his upbringing in India,” she said.
She said that the stage platform will bind the artists from different ethnicities, and that they will “understand it in their own way, in their own cultural context and express it in performing arts creating beauty, joy and friendship in the process.”
For audiences, she hoped the takeaway message would be that art is an equalizer.
“It will make you see that we are more alike than different and our differences bring charm and enjoyment to each other… which translate into peace,” she said.