UN honours poet Tagore for messages of tolerance and harmony

General Assembly Vice-President Abulkalam Abdul Momen. UN Photo/Marco Castro

30 May 2013 – The United Nations today honoured the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, whose collection of poetry, Gitanjali, and its universal message of harmony are the focus of an event at the Headquarters in New York aimed at promoting mutual respect and cross-cultural understanding.

“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life,” sang in Bangali Rizwana Chowdhury Bonnya, singer and associate professor at Dhaka University, in an interpretive presentation of Mr. Tagore’s poem, “Endless, you have made me.”

Hers was one of a dozen lingual expressions of Mr. Tagore’s poems that included representatives from Argentina, China, France, Japan and South Korean, among others.

“His poems and music are like prayers for one’s self enrichment, purification and salvation,” said Vice-President of the General Assembly, Abulkalam Abdul Momen.

Also from South Asia, Mr. Momen praised Mr. Tagore as a role model, “His firm stance against communalism and all forms of fanaticism serves us as a constant reminder of the need to remain vigilant and united in our total rejection of all forms of violence, bigotry and injustice.”

Mr. Tagore’s poems were honoured with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, the first time an Asian poet was awarded the prize. The Nobel is presented “for lasting literary merit and for evidence of consistent idealism.”

At the time of his selection, the Nobel committee praised Mr. Tagore’s “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.”

The event was part of an ongoing series organized by the UN Department of Public Information’s Academic Impact initiative, which brings together experts from leading think tanks and academic institutions in the New York area to exchange ideas with senior UN officials.

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy,” Mr. Momen said quoting Mr. Tagore.

In addition to artistic endeavours, Mr. Tagore started the Visva-Bharati University in the town of Shantiniketan which is described as “his life’s work.”

“Instead of any clash of civilization, it was to be a place where students and teachers from the East and the West would sit together and learn from each other in a common pursuit of truth,” said Mr. Momen.

Also today, the second World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue opened in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Speaking in the opening ceremony, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, urged participants to take an active role in creating a peaceful, diverse environment.

“There are many people around the world who stand for diversity and inclusion, and who know that it is indispensable to live in peace and prosperity,” he said. “As leaders from Governments, corporate sector, civil society, our role and responsibility is to hear their voice and expectations and to empower them to counter the forces of polarization and hatred.”

He noted that while the whole world will not automatically change after the conclusion of this forum, “I am convinced that through our joint efforts we can do our part to promote the noble goals of the Baku Forum, foster international peace and security and strengthen relations between nations and cultures.”

In his speech, given alongside Irina Bokova, Director General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Mr. Al-Nasser quoted from Mahatma Gandhi, who is considered a close friend of Mr. Tagore’s, “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.”


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