Translation of Tagore’s “Shikkha o Sanskriti” (1935)

Rabindranath Tagore

Translator: Saptaparna Roy


I had decided to discuss educational norms; in the meantime, I was happy to read an article on this subject in one of the American newspapers. My opinion has been appositely expressed in that writing. The primary reason is that America was in an intoxicated state on account of its material accomplishment for long. The breadth of that actualisation was unrestrained; its greed was of a massive measure. Its expanse was continuously growing. Consequently, the fulfilment of the social being was squashed under the weight of the material being’s success that had exceeded everything else. Suddenly, at present that huge material being has fallen on the dust at the breakdown of his machinery of an expensive, complex transport in the midst of the path of achievement. Now the thought centred on him is– barring the broken parts what else remains of this being? What he had constructed through so many ages, whatever he had valued as the highest, most of it is external. When the fragmentation begins outside, then on discovering that everything inside is vacuous, how will consolation be sought? The furniture has gone but where is the being? He is repenting today that he is a beggar; he cannot claim that ‘I have resources within’. Today, he has no value because he had made himself a man of the market and that market has dispersed.

Saptaparna Roy
At one time when in Bharat she had her own culture, then she did not fear the reduction of wealth, she was not ashamed because her major goal was to look inwards. Education’s foremost component is to determine that goal, practice that goal and accept its greatness. Yet within its boundaries, material education should be given a place because human identity is a blend of the pragmatic and the spiritual. A lame man had ridden the bicycle, suffering the deprivation of culture and the satiation of competencies. He had not apprehended any anxiety when his bicycle collapsed. Then he realised that compared with his costly machinery his priceless legs are more valuable. The human being who takes pride in appurtenances is ignorant about how impoverished he is. I don’t want to reduce the importance of the bicycle but the significance of the two animated legs is greater. I salute the education which augments the life force of the lively legs and the one that makes humans dependent on material objects is a purveyor of idiocy.  

When I established the school for the first time, this goal was powerfully embedded in my mind. If material objects are available, then for their usage meditation is not necessary. But how to be neutral towards materiality and develop working abilities externally and how to preserve one’s sense of respect internally is the motto of education.  Then, the lifestyle in the ashrama was like that of a beggar; one remembered that to be ashamed of that beggarliness was reprehensible in itself. I had reminded the teachers of that time that to envy or especially respect the life of the materialistic man was the mark of faulty education. 

Needless to state, the privation which emanates from powerlessness is hideous. There is a Sanskrit saying which implies that the ornament of the powerful is forgiveness. Likewise it can be said that the adornment of the haves is indigence. Hence, the rejection of the habit of sensual satiation will lead to the development of educative capabilities. This dispossessed deprivation has lowered the head of Bharat, not in destitution. The incapable is not forgiven by god. 

‘I can do everything, I can’- this self-confident maxim must be exuded with promptitude from the body and mind. If the senses and the mind are eager to say, ‘I know everything’ let it be so, but then the final motto is ‘I can do everything’. Today, this axiom is of the whole of Europe’s. It says, ‘I can do everything, I can’. It respects its own power endlessly. It has become courageous through this respect and has become the master of the water, land and the skies. We have looked up to divine intervention and for that reason we have been divinely deprived for several centuries. 

          I read the renowned Swedish geographer, Sven Hedin’s travelogue once again after a long time. He had engaged in an arduous exercise to examine the weather of the impassable Asian deserts. The axiom of this exercise is ‘I will know everything, I will do everything’. The implication of the capability of action can be appreciated by reading his book. We casually comment on Europeans for being materialistic.  The one who has the power of the soul that he can trivialise his own life for the attainment of knowledge, the one who does not fear anything, the one who does not acknowledge a dangerous obstruction, the one who is not deterred by unbearable parsimony- for him a life-risking, austere endeavour is for something that is not financial, not essential for livelihood, in fact it is the reverse; will I call him materialistic! And, that will be enunciated by weak souls such as ours! 

    ‘We can do everything’- this statement to be pronounced truthfully is the resultant of an education that can rescue our nation from self-inflicted insult, we must not forget this fact. The significant responsibility of the pursuit of education is that in all the actions of our institutions all the senses and the mind must be exercised promptly right from the beginning.  I know that the major obstacle is the guardian; while memorising studies all the life force and the power of the mind and action are weakened and if that is restricted, then the guardian becomes concerned. But how will the nation bear the burden of the inaction of all these terminally paralysed humans under the impact of rote learning? There is a Sanskrit saying which means that the enterprising, lion-like man ushers in Lakshmi. I will understand that the invitation of Lakshmi to our nation will be successful if we see the flow of tireless initiative in the youthful lives in our school. This invitation is not to earn a degree in economics, but to make character stronger and active, to prepare oneself perfectly for all situations, and to pursue the responsibilities of a ritual reliant on an indefatigable self-confidence. Hence, not only in the exercise of knowledge but also in the practice of valour this should be evident. In the ordinary schools there is no opportunity for this; it is there in our ashrama.  Here, in different departments various works are conducted within which the arrangement for the application of fortitude must be in-built. It must be accepted that the compulsory education for accomplishment is not adequate. An American writer had discussed this very fact. He says that culture has come to be dislocated from modern education. By ignoring the wealth of the mind, we have exclusively prioritised the fulfilment of lifestyle. But can this fulfilment be ideally complete by dissociating culture from it? 

          Culture helps in attaining the expanse of the mind from a profound level. Influenced by it humans from within gain a holistic achievement. Impacted by culture, the love for a dispassionate pursuit of knowledge and the encouragement for a selfless activity become natural in them.  True culture assigns greater value to natural courtesies than the conventional conservation of customs. For the completion of work, humans in their behaviour use the appropriate art of civility which is not their discipline; a cultured person can harm oneself but cannot demean one’s honour. He feels ashamed to spread propaganda grandiosely about himself or selfishly push everyone aside to progress himself. The ennui of whatever is vile or corrupt is painful for him. He experiences bliss in appreciating greatness in all its forms having a soulful association with the ‘great’ in art, literature and human history. He can judge things, he can forgive, he can see the good transgressing the obstacles of differences in opinions, and he is aware that to envy the success of another is his own loss. 

In every large society the whole of humanity has its intrinsic ideal.  That ideal is not constricted within the library but is prevalent in the family. In our nation during the present days of adversity that ideal has become enfeebled; the dismal instances are evident every day. Hence, detestable criticism has emerged as a lucrative commercial product. The crime of spreading sonorous slander venomously polluting the air is ignored by us; the whole country is affected by the epidemic of violent animosity on the pretext of a minor episode; to generate and stimulate this heinousness people throng in groups. With sharp intelligence we memorise studies, we complete B.A., M.A. degrees; but the self-inflicting slander-mongering character who by envying the good fortune of another consciously sows the seeds of thorns in the diurnal activities instead of uniting with each other in the process. All good initiatives have been withered and split with great enthusiasm- this has been possible on account of the loss of culture when human ideals have been belittled. Today, Bengalis have become worthy of disrespect in front of the whole world, being zealously ungrateful in all performances of work. To uproot this poisonous seed of hostility from the core of education implanted since our childhood must be the primary significant goal- I truly wish for it. The only means is not to solely eschew studies for succeeding in the examination, but to always create opportunities to happily associate with whatever is good in human history to feel a sense of respect towards it. Once in the ashrama an associate poet, Satish Ray used to do this and another associate, Ajit Chakraborty was there too. Undoubtedly, such teachers are there among us but they have to remain so grossly engaged in sacrificing the children’s mind at the altar of the blood-sucking monster of examination that they do not have the time to ascend to the next level of education. 

          An American writer has expatiated on this consequence of culture; he says that under the cultural affect the expanding of the mind brings peace to the conscience, develops self-respect, inculcates self-restraint, and a sense of unity spreads to make every aspect of life auspicious. 

          One day, I had observed that the wheel of the bullock-cart had stuck in the mud; our students gathered to push and rescue the cart. On another day, a visitor had come to the ashrama and no porter was available to carry the luggage, one of our young students had unhesitatingly carried the weight on his back and had stored it in the right destination. They considered it to be their duty to serve and support unknown guests. The other day they constructed the path to the ashrama and filled the potholes. All these were a part of their alert and strong courtesies; culture had transcended the pages of the book to enter their education. I knew each of these boys then; later, I had not seen many of them. I hope that they do not luxuriate in vilification, not be envious; they must be agile in helping the powerless and they know how to judge the good properly.

July 15, 1935

Source text: Tagore, Rabindranath. “Shikkha o Sanskriti”. Shiksha. Calcutta: Visva Bharati Granthalay, 1960. 285-90.


Translator’s Bio-note: Dr. Saptaparna Roy is presently working as an Assistant Professor of English and Departmental Co-ordinator with the Dept. of Humanities at Heritage Institute of Technology- Kolkata. She has more than sixteen years of teaching experience across esteemed business schools such as ISB-K as Head of the Department, and engineering institutions in Kolkata. Apart from being an academician and administrator, she is a widely travelled Pedagogy Trainer empaneled with UGC Bangladesh as a Subject Matter Expert, Visiting Faculty, translator, poet and poetry performer. She is an Executive Council Member of Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library at ICCR Kolkata. Her areas of interest include women’s studies, translation, culture studies, pedagogy and English Language Teaching, having several national and international publications and projects to her credit.

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