Tagore Festival 2012
review by Hetti Dysch
It was the Easter weekend, and as I wondered around the grounds of the The Dartington Estate in Devon, with its explosions of purples, pinks and verdant greens, I contemplated the age-old themes of Easter: fertility and resurrection.
I was there for a festival celebrating the poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore (1861−1941) and as the event got underway and I learnt more about Tagore (including that he was the first Asian to receive a Nobel prize for Literature), I felt that his orientation towards creativity, love, landscape and education, was a poet’s true expression of the Easter motifs.
Of Bengali birth, Tagore was a writer and social reformer and is often thought of as Dartington’s spiritual father. The Dartington Hall Trust, based on a 1,200 acre site in South Devon, was founded in the 1920s by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst. They had been inspired by their meeting and work with Tagore, who had set up his own pioneering school in Bengal fostering his love of art, education and hands on ecology. And so the core foundations of Dartington were born; a place of experiment for enterprise, and education – a potent place for social justice and sustainability to come together.
Satish Kumar, the visionary behind the festival said of Tagore in his opening speech that he was “universal in his heart… bringing music, art and poetry together.” Tagore, he said, united east and west, science and philosophy.
I loved the festival – from the opening concert of Andy Sheppard, Britain’s much loved and phenomenally talented Jazz saxophonist on stage with Kuljit Bhamra, an indisputable master of the Indian tabla, to the finale, a stunning performance of classical Indian dance.
The friendliness of all the staff, mostly volunteers, the fantastic food on offer such as the chicken curry and local muscles and chips, alongside the convivial atmosphere created by those attending, ensured a relaxed and memorable weekend.
Children were able to enjoy a brilliant puppet show, and there were two exhibitions, one about Tagore and one called, Palimpest by local artist Kate Marshall, which featured her work from an artistic residency she had in North East India in 2011.
Tagore once wrote: “Man’s cry is to reach his fullest expression.” I felt that the festival was an invitation to those of us who had attended to consider and embrace this in our lives. I certainly experienced echoes of this in the conversations I had with others, and I’ll leave you with an extract of Tagore’s poetry that for me made his presence during the festival palpable:
“When I am no longer on this earth, my tree
Let the ever-renewed leaves of thy spring,
Murmur to the wayfarer:
The poet did love
While he lived.”