Song for a New Global Civilization: Conversations on Tagore and World Citizens is an expansive series of conversations between Bengali educator and political scientist Dr. Bharati Mukherjee (1942–2013) and SGI President Daisaku Ikeda (1928–) on the life, spirit and legacy of Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), one of India’s—and the world’s—greatest poets and thinkers.
As a spiritual and literary giant of the East and a true “poet of the people,” not only was Tagore instrumental in reshaping Bengali art and music, but his numerous novels, stories, songs, plays and essays were the cultural force inspiring the Indian Independence Movement and aiding in the liberation of the Indian spirit in the twentieth century. And yet, the ethos of universal humanism that imbued his work transgressed the boundaries of a narrow nationalism as he advocated to make equality and the sanctity of all life the ethos of the age. A global citizen ahead of his time, in 1913 he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Mukherjee describes the poet as follows:
Tagore, as we know, was an inveterate lifelong world traveller, journeying from East to West and from North to South with the message of a cosmic, universal view of life based on love and brotherhood, and offering his poems and songs to people everywhere. His mission was to bring to an end the reign of force and neutralize the mad race caused by greed among peoples. He was eager to forge connections by making people aware of the beauty of different cultures, so that they could understand and share this, engendering a rhyming, rhythmical music of oneness.
Carrying on Tagore’s commitment to cross-cultural dialogue, Ikeda and Mukherjee cover a wide array of subjects in this book. They explore Tagore’s personal and family history, his friendships, his poetry, the protagonists of his stories, and his political and educational work, but also the development of his and their own ideas on topics such as education, ecology, women’s empowerment, the role of the poet and artist in social movements, nonviolence and pacifism, Buddhist humanism, religion and religiosity, life and death, dialogue and the spirit of global citizenship.
In highlighting Tagore’s awareness of the political and economic realities of his environment and his work for social justice, Ikeda writes:
Truly important changes are achieved when people embrace the highest moral principles and fight courageously to rectify injustice. Tagore believed that lacking that, no movement for social betterment could endure. He saw the world with a poet’s vision and threw himself into the people’s midst, striving for their welfare.
On the subject of globalization, Mukherjee writes:
For Tagore, the only acceptable form of globalization was that of the human spirit, transcending diversity and differences and establishing a common human bond. Such a venture would surely make the world spiritually richer and a better place to live in. . . . Mere vocal appreciation of the spirit would be meaningless. Belief in the ultimate truth of Universal Humanity through positive action has the potential for transforming the world.
This dialogue attests to the continued relevance of Tagore’s ideas in enriching the human spirit and inspiring current and future generations to not give up the challenge to usher in an age of genuine peace.
Dr. Mukherjee, who served as vice-chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University, the successor-institution founded to commemorate the centennial of Tagore’s birth and to impart his spirit, first met Daisaku Ikeda in 2004, in Tokyo, Japan. They exchanged ideas on Tagore, ancient Indian political philosophy and women’s empowerment, in what was to be the beginning of a sustained dialogue that continued for many years through written correspondence, culminating in this book.
The work was originally published in Japanese as a dialogue serialized in the Japanese monthly educational journal Todai (Beacon) from 2011 to 2013 and in English in the Indian monthly journal Value Creation from 2012 to 2014.