Abstract

Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) has been praised by a number of Bengali Muslim authors for his sympathetic portrayal of Islamic concepts and ideals, and it is well known that some of his works of prose and verse were influenced by Persian poetry and Sufism. Tagore’s father knew Persian and could recite the poetry of Ḥāfiẓ (d. 1389) by heart. Tagore himself was also deeply influenced by the Persian classical poet. In the last decade of his life, Tagore described his admiration for the great Persian Sufi poets, visiting the tombs of Ḥāfiẓ and Sa‘dī in Shiraz. In this article, I will discuss the spiritual milieu of the Persianate culture of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Bengal to shed light on the extent of the influence of Persian Sufi ideas on this milieu in general and Tagore in particular. Attention will also be given to other aspects of Tagore’s religious syncretism: Bāul mysticism and its lyric poetry, Sahaja Buddhism, Vedanta philosophy, the Upanishads, and a few other currents of Eastern thought. Lastly, I will explore Tagore’s relationship with Persian Sufi concepts and poetry and discuss the effect of his visit to Iran and his encounter with the poet Ḥāfiẓ.

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