At the time of the Quatercentenary celebrations for the birth of William Shakespeare, in 1964, the Calcutta Art Society held a ceremony at the newly opened Shakespeare Centre to present an ivory tablet of a poem written in 1916, for the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death, by the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861 - 1941). This tablet, carved following the hand of Tagore himself, joined the collection of translations of Shakespeare’s works in the Indian languages which are preserved in the Shakespeare Centre Library.
Thirty years later the tablet was seen by the Indian High Commissioner to London, Dr L.M. Singhvi, on the occasion of the visit to the Shakespeare Centre Library of the Vice-President of India. Dr Singhvi, whose own love of Shakespeare had been inspired by Tagore’s poem when he was an undergraduate at Allahabad in the 1950s, conceived the idea of a permament monument to Tagore that could be seen and enjoyed by the many people from the Indian sub-continent who come to Stratford-upon-Avon each year. With the agreement of the Director and Trustees of Shakespeare’s Birthplace he approached the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mr Jyoti Basu. Mr Basu was enthusiastic in his support of the idea, and arranged for a head and shoulders bronze bust, cast by the Calcutta sculptor Debabrata Chakraborty, to be given to the Trust. On 5th July 1995 the bust was formally presented to the Chairman of the Trustees, Professor Stanley Wells, and the Director, Roger Pringle, at a ceremony in the Birthplace garden.
A suitable site was found in a peaceful part of the garden where visitors can enjoy the bust and a view of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, away from the main activity around the house. A plinth was designed by architect William Hawkes and made of York stone by The Linford Group of Lichfield. The French sculptress, Catherine Retailleau engraved the plinth with Tagore’s poem to Shakespeare, following the Bengali script, and also Tagore’s own English translation. On the occasion, on 20th September 1996, of the dedication of the statue on its permanent site in the garden, flowers were laid by Mr Jyoti Basu and Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Information and Cultural Affairs Minister of West Bengal, by Dr L.M. Singhvi and by Professor Stanley Wells. The event was marked by songs in Bengali and in Hindi based on translations of the Tagore poem.
Rabindranath Tagore was a man of many parts. He was born in Calcutta, the grandson of a Prince, and after studying at the University of London, Tagore became a gifted playwright, novelist, poet, actor, composer, teacher, painter, theatre director and philosopher. His life was guided by his faith in the basic goodness of man and he is best remembered for his poetic plays, written, like much of William Shakespeare’s work, in blank verse. He wrote in Bengali and translated many of his writings into English (including his poem to Shakespeare). Several of his themes come from the great classic writings of India, the Upanishads and the Mahabharata. Over a dozen of his plays were produced in London between the wars, perhaps the finest beingChitra, which he directed and designed for the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1920. This production became famous for the way it used coloured light instead of painted scenery. Later, in Bolpur, Tagore flouted religious prejudice by himself casting and training his female students in his playWorship of the Dancing Girl.
Tagore was knighted in 1915, but resigned his knighthood four years later in protest against British policies in the Punjab. He died in 1941.