Ram Mandir: Why a 120-year-old Tagore poem is going viral

In the poem, a saint reminds the king that he turned away from helping the suffering poor even as he built the temple at a cost of 2 million gold coins.
Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore
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The English translation of a 120-year-old poem by Nobel laureate and freedom fighter Rabindranath Tagore is going viral on social media, a day after the groundbreaking ceremony for the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. While the event, which was led by PM Narendra Modi, has been celebrated by many, several others have expressed their grief at what this means for the secular fabric of the country. Still others have questioned the need to perform such a ceremony at a time when the country is fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

In an eerie coincidence, the Bengali poem Deeno Daan, which is from a collection of poetry titled Kahini, was signed by Tagore exactly 120 years ago on the same day, as per the Bengali calendar.

The poem is about a king who wonders if the saint he's speaking to is an atheist because the latter tells him that god does not reside in the newly built temple which cost the kingdom 2 million gold coins.

In the course of the conversation, the saint reminds the king that the poor masses were left devastated without food or shelter in a recent drought. At the time, the king had turned them away when they sought help but he is now glad to spend his gold on the grand temple.

"The King was enraged;

“No God? Oh Saint, aren’t you speaking like an atheist?

On that throne studded with priceless gems, beams the golden idol,

And yet, you proclaim that it is empty?”

“It is not empty; rather, it is full of royal pride.

You have bestowed yourself, oh King, not the God of this world”,

Remarked the saint.”

Many on social media have remarked on the relevance that the poem has in today's times.

While the poem was first shared by literary enthusiasts, particularly those who follow Tagore’s works, an English translation by a Delhi resident, Banojyostna Lahiri, on Facebook went viral. Soon, the poem found its way to other social media platforms and personal messaging groups.  

Speaking to The Telegraph, Banojyostna said that Tagore was a vocal advocate of spirituality. He was not an atheist but was against organised religion as it speaks of “arrogance and monetary wealth”. She added that she had translated the poem to English for the benefit of the non-Bengalis on her friends list on Facebook.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Ram Temple was held on Wednesday after the Supreme Court in November 2019 paved the way for the construction on the disputed land through a unanimous judgement in the decades-old case.

The land until December 1992 had the 16th-century Mughal era Babri Masjid which was demolished illegally by Hindutva activists pledging allegiance to the Ram Janmabhoomi cause.

The full translation of the poem has been reproduced below from the Facebook post.


“There is no god in that temple”, said the Saint.

The King was enraged;

“No God? Oh Saint, aren’t you speaking like an atheist?

On the throne studded with priceless gems, beams the golden idol,

And yet, you proclaim that’s empty?”

“It’s not empty; It’s rather full of the Royal pride.

You have bestowed yourself, oh King, not the God of this world”,

Remarked the saint.

The King frowned, “2 million golden coins

Were showered on that grand structure that kisses the sky,

I offered it to the Gods after performing all the necessary rituals,

And you dare claim that in such a grand temple,

There is no presence of God”?

The Saint calmly replied, “in the very year in which, twenty million of your subjects were struck by a terrible drought;

The pauperized masses without any food or shelter,

came begging at your door crying for help, only to be turned away,

they were forced to take refuge in forests, caves, camping under roadside foliages, derelict old temples;

and in that very year

when you spent 2 million gold to build that grand temple of your's,

that was the day when God pronounced:

“My eternal home is lit by everlasting lamps,

In the midst of an azure sky,

In my home the foundations are built with the values:

Of Truth, Peace, Compassion and Love.

The poverty stricken puny miser,

Who could not provide shelter to his own homeless subjects,

Does he really fancy of giving me a home?”

That is the day God left that Temple of yours.

And joined the poor beside the roads, under the trees.

Like emptiness of the froth in the vast seas,

Your mundane temple is as hollow.

It’s just a bubble of wealth and pride.’

The enraged King howled,

“oh you sham cretin of a person,

Leave my kingdom this instant’.

The Saint replied calmly,

“The very place where you have exiled the Divine,

Kindly banish the devout too".

----Rabindranath Tagore,

20th of Shravan (that is today), 1307 (as per Bengali Calendar)


At the time of writing, the post had got 808 shares




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