Tagore Centre for the Study of Culture and Civilization in IIAS

On the 150th Birth Anniversary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) has been awarded the Tagore Centre for the Study of Culture and Civilization by the HRD Ministry of Government of India. Since the IIAS is mandated to seek out ‘the first principles and not particular details’ it will be the most natural location for an intense conversation between the ‘inner and the outer’, between the ‘home and the world’, about the continuities between yesterday and today, and about the possibilities of both for tomorrow which occupied Tagore throughout his life.
The Centre was inaugurated by Shri Pranab Mukherjee the President of India on 24 May 2013, at Shimla. On this occasion, he also delivered the First Rabindranath Tagore Memorial Lecture. It was an auspicious beginning that established the Tagore Centre on firm foundations. The Institute organised Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Rabindranath Tagore Memorial Lectures and were delivered by Shri Gulzar Sahib, Shri Ratan Thiyam, Professor B.N. Goswamy, Professor Ramesh Chandra Shah, Hon’ble Vice President of India Shri Venkaiah Naidu and Shri Ram Madhav respectively.
Therefore, while focusing on Tagore’s works and thoughts the Centre will create space where the vision of the seer, the sensibility of the poet, the creativity of the artist, the anxieties of the educationist, the questions of the philosopher, the aspirations of the subjugated, and the hopes of the internationalist would find a place. The Centre, as its name indicates, will not be a Tagore Study Centre which would aim at studying just Tagore’s works and thoughts though such a study will be one of its important activities. Since the Centre is dedicated to celebrating the ecumenism of Tagore, it would allow for reflective and creative engagement with the human condition by exploring new idioms of art, poetry, and music. Thus, the Centre will provide space to scholars as well as the practicing artists to signal Tagore’s deep engagement with culture and civilization founded on his belief in the oneness of our world. That is what enthused him to explore creatively the different sources that have gone into the making of many layers and facets of Indian culture and civilization. Tagore’s intellectual evolution and sensibility enabled him to assert the humanistic, moral, universal, liberal, and progressive tendencies and discard the narrow, obsolete, obscurantist and retrograde from within his own and from other traditions of thought.
Contemporary intellectual life confronts just such a struggle between the open and the narrow, the progressive and the retrograde, and therefore the Tagore Centre would serve as a site for a dialogue between India and the world. It will also initiate a South-South intellectual and cultural exchange. The Centre is therefore deliberately constituted as an open space to avoid the parochialism that marks many of the initiatives that are today concerned with the study of culture and civilization. The spirit of Tagore’s creative engagement with the classical to the folk, with the traditional and the modern, with science and humanism, is the guiding force for planning the activities of the Centre. The Centre will provide short/long term opportunities to the practitioners of culture and civilization who are engaged with concerns similar to those which preoccupied
Tagore such as education, environment, artistic and literary imagination, participatory development, nationalism, cultural influences, reconciliation, philosophy and humanism, science and society. Such engagements may involve the textual study of his work, or a creative engagement with his literary imagination or with his experiments in music, dance, and painting, or practicing innovative ideas in education and environment in the urban and rural context, or simply with larger implications and possibilities of his vision.
The Tagore Centre for the Study of Culture and Civilization, which is part of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla has areas of research and academic engagement that blend seamlessly with the broad mandate of the Institute to reflect upon the complexity of the human condition in a manner that is free from prejudice and open to plural readings. Its Tagore Centre seeks to advance the study of the elements of Tagore’s Humanist philosophy and his cosmopolitanism.

Activities of the Centre:
· There will be four fellows in residence at the Centre every year. None of the fellows will be permanent and their term will be for a minimum of six months to a maximum of two years. They will enjoy facilities similar to those enjoyed by the fellows of IIAS. One of the fellows will be either a poet, or a writer, or an artist-in-residence as a tribute to Tagore’s multifaceted personality. Another will be a scholar from outside India. The fellows will be known as Tagore Fellows.
· There will be an annual International Seminar on some aspect of Tagore’s concerns. This will preferably not be of an exegetical nature but more an engagement with his substantial concerns as stated in the vision document.
· A study week on Tagore’s works would be organized every alternate year.
· An artist camp could perhaps be organized every alternate year.
· An annual Tagore Lecture would be organized.

7th RTML 2020

Topic: Ethical Foundations Of Nationalism

Return of Nationalism: Nationalism is the new flavour of the season in the world today. Many scholars predict that the post-Covid world order will witness further rise of nationalism in many countries. The healthcare challenges posed by the pandemic has led to countries turning inwards. Much touted globalisation and unipolarity seem passe now. Nationalism that the western scholars are talking about was a much-loathed idea until recently. It was associated with dictators like Hitler and Mussolini and dismissed as chauvinist and dangerous. Liberal globalism and constitutional moralism were touted as the new order. Yet, in less than eight decades after the dreadful Second World War in which over eight million deaths and extensive destruction and displacement occurred, the nationalist forces are back in many countries. Unfortunately, the return of nationalism on the world stage need not be good news. Today’s nationalism in the West is a response to certain contemporary challenges like illegal immigration, racial rivalries, and the collapse of globalisation and multiculturalism. The pandemic has added urgency to it.

A brief bio of the Speaker: Shri Ram Madhav Ji

An Indian politician, author and thinker who has served as the National General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Formerly, he was a member of the National Executive of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).  Ram Madhav is also a Member of the Governing Board of India Foundation, a New Delhi-based premier think tank which seeks to articulate Indian nationalistic perspectives on issues of national and international importance. Shri Madhav has written several books in English and Telugu, with the most recent one being Because India Comes First: Reflections on Nationalism, Identity and Culture. He writes regularly for several periodicals including, The Indian Express and Open Magazine. He has also been the editor of Bharatiya Pragna, a monthly magazine in English published by Pragna Bharati, and associate editor of Jagriti, a Telugu weekly. Shri Madhav has addressed prestigious forums like the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, World Peace Conference at the Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University of Thailand, Halifax Security Forum in Canada, 2nd Sochi Eurasian Integration Forum in Russia, and the BRICS Political Forum in China, amongst many others.

6th RTML 2019

Topic: Vision for New India           

Every one of us has a vision of what our country should be like. The men and women who fought for our country’s independence had a vision. They wanted our country to be free of colonial rule. The Constitution makers had a vision of how we should govern after we become independent. Seventy years after we adopted our Constitution as the framework of our democratic system, we are now reviewing our past experience and are dreaming of the future India we all want to see.It is natural for us to dream. But for translating this dream into reality, there has to be a steely determination, committed competent implementation, honest introspection and agile course correction.
Our dreams are grand because they are drawn from the dreams of our predecessors, or ancestors, the dreams that inspired the world over the last twenty centuries. These are the dreams that found eloquent expression in the Vedic hymns, in the epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, in the universal vision of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, in the poetry, music, dance, art and architectural treasures and in the wisdom of social reformers and saint composers. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, like Gandhi ji, belongs to this illustrious lineage of visionary leaders. Mahatma Gandhi had called him “the great sentinel”, a great moral force in India’s struggle for independence. As Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru says in the ‘Discovery of India’, “Tagore represented essentially the cultural tradition of India, the tradition of accepting life in the fullness thereof and going through it with song and dance.” Rabindranath Tagore wrote prolifically. His views on various themes like education, nature, nationalism, internationalism, feminism, religion, language, caste system, reflect the astonishing range of his multi-faceted genius. He was truly a Vishwa Kavi, cast in the mold of ancient Vedic rishis who gave us the universal vision of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. If I were to extract three key elements out of numerous important themes that emerge from his writings, I would like to look at the three institutions he established and what they symbolized for him. I am referring to Santiniketan, Sriniketan and Viswabharati. His ideas on education, rural reconstructions and international cooperation are as relevant for us today when we are dreaming of a new India as they were nearly a hundred years ago.

Brief  Bio of the Speaker: Shri Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu Ji

An Indian politician and the current Vice President of India and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, in office since 11 August 2017. He was a Swayamsevak in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and joined ABVP during his college days. He was elected as the president of the students’ union of colleges affiliated to the Andhra University. He came into the spotlight for his prominent role in the Jai Andhra Movement of 1972. He was elected as an MLA to the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly twice from the Udaygiri constituency in Nellore district in 1978 and 1983. He rose to become one of the most popular leaders of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in Andhra Pradesh and later was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka in 1998. He was re-elected twice, in 2004 and 2010, from Karnataka. He served as the party spokesperson from 1996 to 2000. From 2002 to 2004 he served as President of the BJP. On 5 July 2016, he concurrently served as Minister of Information and Broadcasting and in the 2014 general elections, he was sworn in as the Minister for Urban Development and Parliamentary Affairs on 26 May 2014. A year later, he resigned from both offices to contest the 2017 Vice-President election. He won the election to become India’s 15th Vice President.

5th RTML 2018

Topic: The Rehabilitation of The Sacred

In the Indian tradition of Advaita Vedanta, knowledge in the highest sense is immediate, an experienced reality, in which the duality of knowing subject and known object lapses. But there is something in the Western concept of knowing which transforms the other into an object and thus takes possession of it. Knowledge becomes conceptual control of the universe – permitting no in appropriable mystery in things, in persons, in other cultural-religious traditions. Similarly, there is something in their concept of belief too which can be sustained only by the existence of an infidel. An unbelieving other, who can never find himself and is eternally damned. Is there, one wonders in the westernized world of to-day any possibility of a mode of experience, which is non-objectifying? One also wonders if there is any word in Sanskrit, which corresponds exactly to the concept of the sacred or the holy as the polar opposite of the profane. Sanskrit with its rich ambiguities seems to have developed right from the beginning, in-built correctives against that representational and objectifying tendency which it might have shared with 21 European languages. Perhaps the uniqueness of Indian philosophy and religion lies in the simultaneous de-objectification of the objectified, in the iconoclastic moment which is never for long absent from its iconism. While western logic clings to distinction, Indian logic tries to avoid or surpass it. As Betty Heimann had observed long ago in her ‘Facets of Indian Thought’, “this Indian attitude to logic, so different from the ancient and modern west, has also resulted in a strange combination of logic and mysticism.”1 It is in early Indian thought that we find the first theories of the union of opposites as the ultimate foundation of the world. Recognizing Man’s imperfection and need for being made whole, Christianity promises remedy and betterment in the future. The original perfect state in Paradise before the ‘Fall’ is hardly considered for future development except by poets like Blake and Yeats, who had to evolve their own radical reinterpretations or compensatory mythologies. Vedantic Hinduism, on the other hand, with its central experience of Atman Brahman identity realized through meditative thinking recognizes an ideal state of radical innocence and unity, which is ever-present, though veiled or dimmed owing to our mayic involvement in the world, but never entirely lost. As the formulation of Coomaraswamv cited above indicates, Indian sensibility can be seen to operate on both planes – the empirical and the transcendental, the sacred and the prophane dimensions of existence simultaneously. Of course, the fullness and the constancy of the transcendental are superior to the limited and transitory aspects of the empirical world; but the empirical world is always connected with and nourished by the Transcendental, and always capable of redemption and fulfilment – that is, Self-realisation – through any of the unitive disciplines of Jnana, Karma and Bhakti yoga. Meditative rather than calculative thinking has shaped the philosophies and religions of India; and if there is one experience which appears to ensure the availability of Indian insights into the nature of ultimate reality, it is, in the words of W.B. Yeats, “that experience accessible to all who adopt a traditional technique and habit of life.” This, according to Yeats, “has become the central experience of Indian civilisation, perhaps of all Far-Eastern .civilization; that, wherein all thoughts and all emotions expect their satisfaction and rest.

Brief bio of the Speaker: Shri Ramesh Chandra Shah Ji

Ramesh Chandra Shah was born in 1937 in Almora in the Indian state of Uttarakhand in a family with moderate financial means and educational background. He obtained his master’s in English literature from Allahabad University and his doctoral degree from Agra University. He retired as the Head of Department from English Literature from Hamidia College in 1997, after which he chaired Nirala Srijnanpith, a literary chair instituted by Bharat Bhavan till 2000. Shah is credited with several books composed of poems, short stories, travelogue, essays and novels. Vinayak, a 2011 work which is considered by many as an extension of his first novel, fetched him the Sahitya Academy Award in 2014. Years earlier, the Government of India honoured him with the civilian award of Padma Shri. He currently lives in Bhopal.

4th RTML 2016

Topic: States of Mind: A Closer Look at Indian Painting

That the worlds of art and thought are intimately linked is a fact that we gloss over while looking at Indian paintings, for we tend to see them, unthinkingly, as works produced by anonymous craftsmen who kept on plying imitative brushes over the centuries. But a close, intent look can reveal much: the intent of the artist, for instance, or the levels of thought that lie embedded in them. There is soaring imagination somewhere there in these works and layered allusions. The lecture is aimed at ‘reading’ a selection of paintings differently from the way we generally do, and seeing them at once as having sprung from thinking minds and, to use Rabindranath Tagore’s words, from “some creative impulse or expression”.

A brief bio of the Speaker: Professor B.N. Goswamy Ji

B.N. Goswamy, distinguished art historian, is Professor Emeritus of Art History at the Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. His work covers a wide range and is regarded, especially in the area of Indian painting, as having influenced much thinking. He has been the recipient of many national and international honours, including the Padma Shri (1998) and the Padma Bhushan (2008) from the President of India. He has also held the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship, the Mellon Senior Fellowship, the JD Rockefeller Fellowship, the Sarabhai Fellowship, and the Tagore National Fellowship for Cultural Research. Professor Goswamy has taught, as Visiting Professor, at several universities across the world, among them the Universities of Kiel, Pennsylvania, Heidelberg, California (at Berkeley and Los Angeles), Texas (at Austin), Zurich, and the ETH (Federal University) at Zurich. There is a long and distinguished list of the books he has written, the most recent among them being The Spirit of Indian Painting: Close Encounters with a Hundred and One paintings (Penguin/Allen Lane, New Delhi, 2014; Thames and Hudson, London, 2016).

3rd RTML 2015

Topic: Traditional Manipuri Performing Art Forms

Maibis or priestesses are the star performers of the Lai-Haraoba Festival performed for the propitiation of the sylvan Deities known as Umang Lai.  Maibis conduct the Lai-Haraoba festival with dances in which various processes of creation and preservation of the world are described.  In this dance the Maibis, after invoking the Deities from water dance ‘Leitai-Nongdai Jagoi’ known as Laiching Jagoi performs.  This is an Artistic expression of the  leveling of earth and heaven by the gods and goddesses at the time of creation.

Lai-haraoba is the most basic, original and traditional form of Manipur culture.  It is a rigidly observed ritual dance which begins towards the end of the year and continues into the New Year.  It is celebrated at the shrines of the old sylvan gods and goddesses known as Laibungs (places of worship) scattered all over the land.  Three functionaries are important in this dance – Maiba (Priest), Maibi (Priestess) and Pena Khongba (player of the traditional musical instrument (Pena).  Beginning with process of creation, it shows various     stages of people’s lives.  It is, in a sense, a part of the ancestor-worship the people had done for years.  In this dance men and women offer prayers to the sylvan Deities for peace and prosperity of the land.  Hundreds of villagers of all ages participate in this dance.

Thang-taa is the martial art of Manipur practiced with sword and spear.  In Manipuri, ‘thang’ is sword and ‘taa’ means spear.  It includes sword-fight, fight with spears and wrestling (mukna). Originally, these were not clubbed under a performing art but were means of self-defence, or aggression directed against an enemy in times of war.  Thang-taa provided basic training in warfare, and the kings of Manipur maintained Thang-taa experts in their courts.  At a later stage, this martial art changed into a graceful performing art. To-day, Thang-taa is practised both by men and women.  The Dholok and Kartal are used for rhythm.

A unique composite form of art which combines the elements of dance, mime, chanting and playing of drums and cymbals. Often performed with a large number of performers at wedding, earring and other traditional ritual ceremonies.  This congregational devotional singing is an indispensable part in the social life of the Manipuri Vaishnavas.  The Basak performers’ first stand with mandila or small cymbals in their hands in the basic poses and then commences the movements of playing the cymbals.  While executing various graceful movements and steps, which interpret the sentiments while the dancers play the cymbals with intricate body rhythm and singing. 

The drum, by itself, enjoys a privilege in the dances of Manipur.  There are several kinds of drums, each intended for a particular occasion.  The Pung or Manipuri Mridanga (drum) is the soul of Manipuri Sankirtana music and classical Manipuri dance.  A cylindrical drum made out of wood and leather, the Pung assumes an important ritual character, and is an indispensable part of all social and religious ceremonies in Manipur – the instrument itself becoming an object of veneration.  Traditionally performed by men, Pung Cholom is a highly refined classical dance number characterized by the modulation of sound from a soft whisper to a thunderous climax.
The dancers play energetically upon the Pung, the drum, and dance while playing the intricate time cycles, characterized by complex rhythms and cross rhythms, jumps and ariel leaps.  The people enjoy it as per occasion of the performance.

A kind of solo dance of Krishna among the five Manipuri Rasas – Maharas, Kunja Ras, Basanta Ras, Nritya Ras and Diba Ras, is known as Krishna Nartan.  This dance item is considered to be played by Sri Krishna to soothe the Gopies as well as the dweller of heavenly kingdom; it is often performed after the completion of the important dance chapter – Bhangi Achouba Pareng of Ras Lila. Late Guru Thiyam Tarunkumar made the dance item particularly for the contemporary audience by compiling the splendours of Krishna’s dance from every Ras and Gostha Lila.  The dance item is analogous with Tandava style of dancing and modern trend of solo dance.

A brief bio of the Speaker: Shri Ratan Thiyam Ji

Ratan Thiyam is an Indian playwright and theatre director, and the winner of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987, one of the leading figures of the “theatre of roots” movement in Indian theatre, which started in the 1970s. Also known as Thiyam Nemai, Ratan Thiyam is known for writing and staging plays that use ancient Indian theatre traditions and forms in a contemporary context. A former painter, and proficient in direction, design, script and music, Thiyam is often considered one of the leading contemporary theatre gurus. Presently he is working as Chairperson of the prestigious National School of Drama. He had also worked as Vice-Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi before joining NSD. He has also worked as Director of the National School of Drama from 1987 to 1989. He is also the founder-director of ‘Chorus Repertory Theatre’, formed on the outskirts of Imphal, Manipur in 1976. He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in Direction in 1987, given by Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama, and the Padma Shri given by the Government of India in 1989.  He was awarded the 2012 Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, the highest honour in the performing arts conferred by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama. In the year 2013, Ratan Thiyam receives honorary D.lit from Assam University, Silchar.

2nd RTML 2014
A brief bio of the Speaker: Shri Gulzar Sahib Ji

Sampooran Singh Kalra (born 18 August 1934), known professionally as Gulzar or Gulzar Saab , is an Indian lyricist, poet, author, screenwriter, and film director. He started his career with music director S.D. Burman as a lyricist in the 1963 film Bandini and worked with many music directors including R. D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Vishal Bhardwaj and A. R. Rahman. He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 2004, the third-highest civilian award in India, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award — the highest award in Indian cinema. He has won several Indian National Film Awards, 21 Filmfare Awards, one Academy Award and one Grammy Award. Gulzar also writes poetry, dialogues and scripts. He directed films such as Aandhi and Mausam during the 1970s and the TV series Mirza Ghalib in the 1980s. He also directed Kirdaar in 1993.

1st RTML 2013


Tagore was a renaissance man and such men are found rarely in history. In their personality, they capture not just the times they live in but also the complex questions of the human mind, the questions that transcend locations and are pertinent for all communities across the world. To therefore have a Centre where one of India’s greatest sons, would be in conversation with the world, is indeed a fitting tribute to him. Permit me to recall Dr Radhakrishnan’sobservation on Tagore: I quote “He has not so much a message to deliver as a vision to set forth. This is the rarer and greater task, to lift man out of the stale air of common life to regions where great verities are seen undimmed by self and sophistry and man’s ordinary existence becomes a life, a passion and a power”. Unquote. Let me, in my lecture today, reflect on two passages, drawn randomly from Tagore’s voluminous works, which I believe are relevant to the India of today. The status of morals in our public domain, or rather the nature of our public morals, and the forces that undermine and weaken them has been a matter of concern for me for some time now. While Tagore’s views on nationalism and its pathologies are well known and have been debated extensively, his comments on modernity, which I found in a passage from Tagore’s little book on Nationalism have not received the same attention. “History has come to a stage when the moral man, the complete man, is more and more giving way, almost without knowing it, to make room for the political and the commercial man, the man of the limited purpose. This process, aided by the wonderful progress in science, is assuming gigantic proportions and power, obscuring the human side under the shadow of the soulless organization. We have felt its iron grip at the root of our life, and for the sake of humanity we must stand up and give a warning to all …..”Unquote The ‘complete man’ being replaced by the ‘man of limited purpose’ is more true today than it was in Tagore’s own time, and constitutes a severe indictment of the consumerist society that we have become. There is, not enough discussion among scholars in the humanities and the social sciences in India on the drivers and implications of this consumerist society. In addition to its consequences for climate change, and the pressures on natural resources that it entails, I am concerned with its 3 impacts on our social and cultural institutions. Perhaps the violence that grips our society today can be attributed to the emergence of this man of ‘limited purpose’ replacing the ‘moral man’ particularly since the commercial man is an individualist, and a pleasure maximiser, unconstrained by the norms governing the public interest and the common good.