Rabindranath Tagore’s Lost Legacy

The Bard of Bengal won a Nobel Prize and global fame. So why do we tend to ignore his relevance today?

GettyImages-3317430 Rabindranath Tagore
Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore in London (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Isha Banerjee


May 8, 2024

On March 25, 2004, security guards at the Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, West Bengal, India were glued to their televisions during an India-Pakistan cricket match. Enterprising thieves saw the perfect opportunity and walked away with their target. Over 20 years later, investigators have yet to retrieve university founder Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize medal for literature. 

On Tagore’s 161st birthday in 2022, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee described the theft as an “insult to the Bengali people.” “The Nobel Prize that got lost is inscribed in our hearts,” Banerjee said. “Do remember that Rabindranath Tagore can never be forgotten.”

But what if we have? During his life, Tagore won acclaim in both unpartitioned India and the West. By his death in 1941, at age 80, his oeuvre consisted of two national anthems (for India and Bangladesh), over 2,000 songs and 1,000 poems, plays, short stories, essays, and novels. Yet, these just scratch the surface of Tagore’s corpus, which extends to musings on nationalism, empire, and how we teach our kids. We think we know Tagore, but do we really?

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