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 Post subject: Rabindranath Tagore’s “Sapmochan” in Colombo - 1934
 Post Posted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 2:03 am 
Date : 2005-08-11

Rabindranath Tagore’s “Sapmochan” in Colombo - 1934.

By Eric Fernando
@ - Asian Tribune -

In 1934 Rabindranath Tagore and his ensemble were here in Colombo for a performance of his “Sapmochan”. In the audience was a young Sri Lankan Oxonian who went on to achieve great heights in later years. This young person wrote an honest review of this concert which was published in the Ceylon Daily News in May 1934; he was S W R D Bandaranaike.

It is 64 years this week since Rabindranath Tagore the multi faceted Indian Scholar and Nobel Lauriat died at the ripe old age of 80.Tagore had early success as a writer in his native Bengal.

In fact his fame attained a luminous height, taking him across continents on lecture tours and tours of friendship. For the world he became the voice of India's spiritual heritage; and for India, especially for Bengal, he became a great living institution.

Besides these, he wrote musicals dramas and essays of all types. Tagore also left behind numerous drawings and paintings and songs for which he wrote the music himself.

In 1934 Rabindranath Tagore and his ensemble were here in Colombo for a performance of his “Sapmochan”. In the audience was a young Sri Lankan Oxonian who went on to achieve great heights in later years. This young person wrote an honest review of this concert which was published in the Ceylon Daily News in May 1934; he was S W R D Bandaranaike.

I had not been particularly impressed, I must confess by Tagore, the philosopher, or Tagore the painter. It was, therefore, scarcely with the expectation of seeing anything out of the ordinary that I went to the performance of his play on Wesak day, for which, with some difficulty, I had been able to secure a seat.

The curtain went up, and my first impression was one of aesthetic satisfaction at the setting and the grouping, which had the simplicity and the beauty which Greek drama alone has yet been able to achieve. There was Tagore seated at one end, appropriately garbed in a yellow robe, a typical bard and seer with his flowing grey hair and beard. The first thing that struck me was the beauty of his shapely hands and the long tapering fingers: only a great artist could have hands like that.

The music started, low and soft and the slow movement of the dance……

A great critic, writing of the poet Blake, said that there is a point of heat at which prose melts and fuses into poetry, and a point at which poetry fuses into poetry. But as I sat there, I began to realize that there is a further point at which music fuses into the mute beauty of rhythmical movement.

Love and wrath and sorrow and joy and chivalry – all human emotions find their place in this play, and the delicate and sure touch with which they are conveyed by the music and the dancing is a revelation of art at its highest. An attempt to describe it within the cold limits of prose is impossible, and I can only quote the words of Tagore’s great countrywoman, Sarojini Naidu:

“The music sighs and slumbers,
It stirs and sleeps again….
Hush, it wakes and weeps and murmurs,
Like a woman’s heart in pain;
Now it laughs and calls and coaxes,
Like a lover in the night,
Now it pants with sudden longing,
Now it sobs with spent delight.”

“Like bright and wind-blown lilies,
The dancers sway and shine,
Swift in a rhythmic circle,
Soft in a rhythmic line;

Their lithe limbs gleam like amber,
Thro’ their veils of golden gauze,
As they glide and bend and beckon,
As they wheel and wind and pause.”

To some of us whose spirits had been saddened and ears deafened by the creaking ‘seraphina’ and discordant tones of Tower Hall actors, this was like the breath of another and better world. Our local musicians should learn a lesson from the manner in which even the homely drum becomes, in Tagore’s hands, an instrument of delicate expression.

Tagore hinted in some of his addresses that he is not appreciated in India. If this is so, it is more a reflection on his countrymen than on himself. A great poet does not belong to his own country or age alone, or to any particular passing political movement; he belongs to the whole world and to all ages. India has as good reason to be proud of Tagore as of Gandhi; for he has made an original contribution to art which can stand the test of comparison with anything of the kind the West has evolved.

It is interesting to note that W.B. Yeats, to whom perhaps Tagore owes more than to any other individual for the recognition of his art, has himself published a volume of plays, “Four Plays for Dancers”, of a similar type. They posses a strange beauty of their own:

“A woman’s beauty is like a white
Frail bird, like a white sea-bird alone
At day-break after stormy night,
Between two furrows upon the ploughed land….”

The words alone are his. For the music and the dancing, Yeats had to depend on others. Unfortunately, beyond writing the plays, Yeats made no serious effort to have them performed. But anyone reading them will be struck by the great superiority of Tagore.

I must here enter a word of protest against the un-mannerliness of some of the audience. While the performance was going on, a person, sitting at one end the hall, suddenly made up his mind to go to the other and, with much creaking of boots, stumbled through the row in which I was seated (incidentally treading heavily on my foot) – and not a word of apology. Others carried on a continuous, hoarse whispering. They seemed to forget that they were not witnessing a cinema show, but a performance, that required complete silence and concentration for its appreciation. To add insult to injury a waiter suddenly dropped a tray with a great clatter in the midst of the singing. I admire Tagore at that moment. Beyond a slight twitch, he remained immobile, although it must have been torture to him.

Sir Thomas Beecham recently stopped a performance at Covent Garden for a much smaller offence. I remember I was one at the Opera House at Paris to see Pavlova in the “The Ajanta Frescoes”. One could hear a pin drop in that vast audience of over ten thousand. Unfortunately, I had a friend with me who was suffering form a slight cold. Within ten minutes I had to hustle him away on the plea of a bad headache, to prevent him from being murdered! I do not think he still realizes the narrow escape he had.

Tagore’s play was indeed memorable, but we ought to try and secure some more permanent benefit that a few moments’ delight. If any movement is started to send some pupils to study music and dancing at Shantiniketan, I for one will be ready to contribute my mite.

- Asian Tribune -

Author of the article: Eric Fernando is the Director General (Media) at the Sri Lanka President's Secretariat

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