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Celebrating a literary giant in music, song, drama and dance

Lorraine Graves   Aug-29-2018

Colourful and meaningful entertainment similar to that of last year’s, awaits those who attend the Sept. 8 Tagore Festival at Richmond's Gateway Theatre

Photo by Prajit Biswas


The Vancouver Tagore Society welcomes all to join them at their eighth annual Tagore Festival at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre, Saturday Sept. 8 from 6 to 8:15 p.m.

Partially sponsored by the City of Richmond and the BC Arts council, the festival encompasses both musical performances and a musical dance drama in both Bengali and English, as well as poetry and music from many languages.

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India and Bangladesh each have national anthems composed by Tagore says Sazid Hasan, the Media and Outreach Coordinator for the Vancouver Tagore Society, who says the music and poetry have both calmed and brightened his soul through both dark and good times.

“For me (the festival) is a kind of giving back so people can be exposed to these great literary works and get benefit from them as well,” says Hasan who refers to Tagore as the Shakespeare from Asia.

Rabindranath Tagore was a literary giant in both South Asia and the Western World. The author of thousands of poems, two different countries’ national anthems and a host of essays and songs, in 1913 he was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for literature. A bust of Tagore, to commemorate both his great impact and his visit to to the Lower Mainland, sits at UBC

Having given the keynote address to the 1929 National Council of Education conference in Victoria, Tagore took the ferry to Vancouver. While in Vancouver to speak before 2,000 people at the Vancouver Theatre, according to the Vancouver Sun 2,000 more waited outside in the hopes of attending. “The line stretched up to Granville St, along Georgia past the courthouse, all the way to the Hotel Vancouver.”

Yet as revered as he was, Sir Rabindranath, as he was then known, was denied a room in the very same Hotel Vancouver because of his race. Consequently, he slept in the basement of the first Sikh temple in North America, the Second Avenue Gurdwara. (Now the Ross Street Temple.)

Sept. 8, to promote greater harmony, and to bring together all the peoples of the world, the Tagore Society offers an evening of celebration of all things Tagore, encompassing a dance play in English and Bengali as well as music and poetry in a variety of languages.

“One aspect is that it is a multicultural program. In addition to the dance drama in Bengali and English, we also Indian classical music in Hindi, and world poetry read out loud-- poems in different languages from different ethnicities,” says Hasan.

Hasan says, “In western culture, people are increasingly exposed to Tagore’s ideas. His lyrics are what touch them first.”

Hasan speaks of what attendees have to look forward to, “For the dance drama we have created a story. The musical pieces we are using in between are composed by Tagore himself. They have extraordinary reach in their ascetic and literary appeal.”

If you do you go, you will not be the only westerner there, Hasan reassures: “Our crowds are multicultural. Of course people from South Asian countries come but also Asian and Caucasian people so it is a multi-cultural event,” he says.

“For me it is a kind of giving back so people can be exposed to this great literary work and get benefit from them as well,” Hasan says.

The dance drama for the evening has a double plot. One plot line follows unrequited love; affection blighted by a woman’s fear of revealing her desire for a man. In the parallel plot, more metaphysical, the parched earth longs to show the cloud her great need for rain but, again, fear of showing what lies beneath prevents the soil from beckoning the cloud’s rain to quench her thirst.

In both cases, the need to appear untroubled thwarts their needs, in one case for love and in the other, rain.

“I’m very excited because honestly, I am personally attracted to Tagore’s songs at the deepest level possible. In my down time that is the songs I listen to. In my happy times those are the songs I listen to. He touched all aspects of human life.”

Admission is free to the eighth annual Tagore Festival at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre but any and all donations are welcome.

Example of Tagore’s poetry

When Two Sisters Go to Fetch Water

-by Rabindranath Tagore

WHEN the two sisters go to fetch water, they come to this spot and they smile.

They must be aware of somebody who stands behind the trees whenever they go to fetch water.

The two sisters whisper to each other when they pass this spot.

They must have guessed the secret of that somebody who stands behind the trees whenever they go to fetch water.

Their pitchers lurch suddenly, and water spills when they reach this spot.

They must have found out that somebody's heart is beating who stands behind the trees whenever they go to fetch water.

The two sisters glance at each other when they come to this spot, and they smile.

There is a laughter in their swift-stepping feet, which makes confusion in somebody's mind who stands behind the trees whenever they go to fetch water.


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