Where the mind is without fear..

February 26, 2006

Today I came across one of my favourite poems in the Bengali Language. It is by Rabindranath Tagore – one of the greatest poets that this subcontinent has ever produced. He is a Nobel Laureate and is the author of the National anthems of both India and Bangladesh.

And this is the poem from Gitanjali


There is an English Version by the poet himself

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

from Rabindranath Tagore’s Geetanjali


28 Responses to “Where the mind is without fear..”

  1. jhapk Says:

    Hey Tom,
    I am asking an extremely idiotic question 🙂
    Why did Tagore just pray for his country ( which I am assuming simply to be India) and for the entire mankind ??

  2. nayagam Says:

    You don’t need to “assume” that he is referring to India. In the Bengali version, the last line clearly refers to “Bharatha”.

    I am not very much aware of the background of this particular poem. But, anyone who knows Tagore also knows how careful he was with his nationalism.

    I can refer you in particular to Amartya Sen’s Tagore and His India, and relevant to this discussion are these paras

    Rabindranath rebelled against the strongly nationalist form that the independence movement often took, and this made him refrain from taking a particularly active part in contemporary politics. He wanted to assert India’s right to be independent without denying the importance of what India could learn—freely and profitably—from abroad. He was afraid that a rejection of the West in favor of an indigenous Indian tradition was not only limiting in itself; it could easily turn into hostility to other influences from abroad, including Christianity, which came to parts of India by the fourth century; Judaism, which came through Jewish immigration shortly after the fall of Jerusalem, as did Zoroastrianism through Parsi immigration later on (mainly in the eighth century), and, of course—and most importantly—Islam, which has had a very strong presence in India since the tenth century.

    Tagore’s criticism of patriotism is a persistent theme in his writings. As early as 1908, he put his position succinctly in a letter replying to the criticism of Abala Bose, the wife of a great Indian scientist, Jagadish Chandra Bose: “Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.” His novel Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) has much to say about this theme. In the novel, Nikhil, who is keen on social reform, including women’s liberation, but cool toward nationalism, gradually loses the esteem of his spirited wife, Bimala, because of his failure to be enthusiastic about anti-British agitations, which she sees as a lack of patriotic commitment. Bimala becomes fascinated with Nikhil’s nationalist friend Sandip, who speaks brilliantly and acts with patriotic militancy, and she falls in love with him. Nikhil refuses to change his views: “I am willing to serve my country; but my worship I reserve for Right which is far greater than my country. To worship my country as a god is to bring a curse upon it.”22

    As the story unfolds, Sandip becomes angry with some of his countrymen for their failure to join the struggle as readily as he thinks they should (“Some Mohamedan traders are still obdurate”). He arranges to deal with the recalcitrants by burning their meager trading stocks and physically attacking them. Bimala has to acknowledge the connection between Sandip’s rousing nationalistic sentiments and his sectarian – and ultimately violent-actions. The dramatic events that follow (Nikhil attempts to help the victims, risking his life) include the end of Bimala’s political romance.

    This is a difficult subject, and Satyajit Ray’s beautiful film of The Home and the World brilliantly brings out the novel’s tensions, along with the human affections and disaffections of the story. Not surprisingly, the story has had many detractors, not just among dedicated nationalists in India. Georg Lukács found Tagore’s novel to be “a petit bourgeois yarn of the shoddiest kind,” “at the intellectual service of the British police,” and “a contemptible caricature of Gandhi.” It would, of course, be absurd to think of Sandip as Gandhi, but the novel gives a “strong and gentle” warning, as Bertolt Brecht noted in his diary, of the corruptibility of nationalism, since it is not even-handed. Hatred of one group can lead to hatred of others, no matter how far such feeling may be from the minds of large-hearted nationalist leaders like Mahatma Gandhi.

    And whatever little I’ve read of Tagore does concur with whatever Sen says here.

  3. anu Says:

    Hi Nagyam,

    This is one of my favorite poems of tagore…I was wondering whether u could transliterate it in english. I love bengali and understand it reasonably but cannot read the script at all.


  4. Meg Says:

    Hi I’m new on this website.I am actually a little confused.I’m in college and I have to write an essay on THe home and the World.I have watched the movie and read the novel but I can’t understand what to write because I’m really confused.I don’t know what to write.
    -Contrast the Characters of nikhil and Sandip and their versions of Patrotism and nationalism.?A page long essay.
    -Unwilling to accept sandips view that love of country, expressed by the slogan Bande Mataram, required devotion above all else.Nikhil says “I am willin,”to serve my country but my worship I reserve for right which is far greater than my country.” Write a paragraph on the meaning of Nikhil’s response.
    -Comment of Sandips political philosophy of swadeshi
    -Write an essay commenting on the students arguments of about demanding to ban foreign goods in Nikhils Marketplace.
    -Sandip dismisses Nikhils view of living in accordance w/ moral principles.He argues that success is the goal of life.Give your view of Sandips position in one page.
    -“I cannot but feel again and again that there are two person in me “to”…of dissolution,” it is obviously the author Tagore condemning Sandips version of patriotism.Analyze whether you agree w/ Tagore or not
    -When Bimala reaches self awareness of the consequences of her actions, can you excuse her actions?one page.
    -The novel ends w the riots bw the Hindus and muslims.Sandip who instigated the riots has fled to safer ground; the student Amulya is fighting ;NIkhil has gone out to stip the riots.The ;last scene presents a horse-drawn litter with Nikhil with a bullet in the head and Amulya with a bullet through the heart.What does that mean.One paragraph.Please help me.please??

    email address deleted by the blog administrator

  5. nayagam Says:

    Here is a transliteration(thanks to this page).

    Chitta jetha bhoyshunyo, Uchcha jetha shir
    Gyan jetha mukto, jetha griher prachir
    Apan prangantoley dibash sharbari
    Basudharey rakhey nai khondo khudro kori
    Jetha bakya hridayer utshomukh hotey
    Uchchhashia uthey, jetha nirbarito srotey
    deshey deshey dishey dishey kormodhara dhaay
    ojosro shohosrobidho choritarthotaay
    Jetha tuchchho acharer morubalurashi
    Bicharer srotophol pheleynai grashi
    Pourusherey oreni shotodha, Nityo jetha
    tumi shorbo kormo chinta anander neta
    Nijo hostey nirdoy aghaat kori, Pito,
    Bharaterey shei shorgey koro jagroto .

    I’m sorry. But I don’t understand what you want.

    (1) I’ven’t read much of Tagore(I’ve read most of his English works- but it is widely acknowledged that his English works misrepresent his feelings.)

    (2) In particular, I’ven’t read this novel nor have I seen the movie. I was just quoting Amartya on Tagore’s nationalism.

    (3) Even assuming otherwise, I am not into literary criticism and there is no way that I can do justice to any college essay which seeks to analyse Tagore.

    (4) And even if I was able to do that, I would have still asked you to consolidate your own thoughts into your writing rather than asking for my opinion. That I suspect was the intention of those who’ve asked you to write this essay.

    P.S. : I’m deleting your email address – I’ll rather not help those who harvest email addresses and spam our inboxes.

  6. ishita Says:

    the poem was written whn india was under british domination.
    So, Rabindranath Tagore prayed for an independent country.A place, where evryone believes in truth..and hv reasoning power. where people are not binded within the boundaries of superstition. A place, where evrybody tries to to b perfect…and all are held equally irrespective of caste, creed and religion.

  7. rdg Says:

    thanks for the post bro. was searching for this poem for a long time.

  8. Dev Says:

    I wanted the meaning of the poem. But the information is very good.

  9. Amol Says:

    when was this poem written?and what is the central idea of this poem

  10. preethi Says:

    I need the meaning of this poem.kindly do thie favour for me

  11. pooja Says:

    thank u
    i thought u could give it a more realistic picture

  12. pooja Says:

    Into the heaven of freedom my father let my country awake- the poem is tagore’s prefound pray to god on behalf of his country and all humanitarian.
    he believed that every one should be equal and not being divided into narrow domestic walls.

    we should all try to speak truth & nothin but truth.

    knowledge is available to all and not just to some.

  13. gayatry Says:

    i am a 7 nth grader and i want the summary.please do help

  14. “where the Mind is Without Fear” is a short lyric taken from “Gitanjali”.Here, the poet prays God to awaken his country from darkness and slavery into a state of ideal freedom.
    In this inspiring poem, the poet prays God for the spiritual emancipation of his country and countrymen.True freedom lies in a full and virtuous living.Therefore the poet prays to God that his countrymen should be fearless, truthful,rational, God-fearing,noble and generous. Knowledge should be free and there should be no divisions of caste,creed and nationality.The poet prays to God to give perfection to those who are working hard to achieve perfection without taking rest.Rabindranath Tagore prays God to help his countrymen to follow the path of logical thinking and not to indulge their mind in antique and outdated customs and traditions.According to Rabindranath Tagore,the outdated customs and traditions close the ways of progress. Hence his countrymen should leave behind all the outdated customs and traditions and should fill their minds with logical thinking to lead themselves on the path of progress.
    Rabindranath Tagore prays God that his countrymen should follow the divine way of progress and must involve themselves in right action and thinking.His countrymen should possess the universal mind and should leave behind the narrow thinking.Their mind should be liberated from all the narrow thinking and should accept the broad outlook.It is to be noted that the “heaven of freedom” for which the poet prays is not a heaven of political and economic freedom but of spiritual freedom from fear, narrow-mindedness and evil desires.

  15. sujata Says:

    Tagore’s poem from gitanjali is a powerful expression of the liberal culture and richness of our freedom movement. Even after 60 years of independence this poem continues to be meaningful. Is there a tamil translation easily available?

  16. ‘Where the mind is without fear’ is a beautiful lyric
    taken from the collection of poems ‘Gitanjali’ originally written in Bengali but translated into English by Rabindranath himself. In 1913 he received a nobel prize for literature for ‘Gitanjali’,the only Indian who is honoured with a prestigious prize for literature.
    The lyric ‘Where the Mind is Without Fear’is a devotional poem,in which Rabindranath Tagore prays God to liberate his countrymen from the age-old customs which mar the progress of his nation.He also prays god to inculcate the habit of logical thinking and should relieve them from the mentality of slavery of customs.He seeks complete freedom,a political and spiritual freedom.

  17. M.Nivedita Says:

    hey guys ,i love this poem its totally awesome and in this poem tagore is not only askinga all these things for his country …..because he does not want any boundaries ,borders,fragment ……thus,he is praying god to give this to the whole of humanity

  18. ~AJAI~ Says:

    I am really impressed by your blog.
    This is superb blogging, your words are from the heart.
    I would to email you directly.


    im very thankful to those who are makes notes here and is very helpful for me. thank you my dear friends.

  20. A.B.M. Shamsud Doulah Says:


    I am a Bengalee by birth and origin. I deeply love my mother language Bengali as also our greatest Bengalee writer Rabindranath Tagore, who was befittingly awarded Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and this prize made him ten times more popular than what he could be without it. This is very realistic evaluation.

    Once in 1964, when I used to attend the classes on English Literary Criticism by Professor T. N. Sen at Presidency College, Calcutta, I was having some discussion on Rabindranath Tagore with our fellow students at the nearby famous Coffee House. I very much remember that a non-Bengali Brahmin student (from North India) said: If we translate the first lines of the first poem of Gitanjali, “Aamaar maatha noto korey dao…”, in Hindi it will be simply: “Patak de mere sar terey taang par … etc.” According to him it was not as good poetry as claimed by the Bengalees. But we all understand that the sarcastic presentation was not correct.

    But I point out the above just to say that as a student of literature, I strongly feel that if any learned person wants then he can lecture for hours on the words, usage, rhythm, music, and philosophy of a even a second grade poem of any poet.

    Rabindranath Tagore is the only classic icon of the Hindu Bengalees. They were not educated and mature enough in the 19th Century to hold Bankim Chandra or Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar or Raja Ram Mohan Ray or Michael Madhusudan Dutta or Swami Vivekananda as a national icon. In the 20th Century the Hindu Bengalees were ready to adopt a national icon. Never in the history of mankind a poet / lyricist was so much propagated and publicized in spite of various limitations as was in the case of Rabindranath Tagore. The matter may please noted in accordance with the laws of the situation.

    Rabindranath Tagore’s getting Nobel Prize was apparently a political move to quell the Bengalee-led ‘Terrorist Movement’ in the undivided Bengal, especially from 1890 to 1910. As such, it was a diplomatic pampering by London. Had there been no ‘Terrorist Movement’, perhaps even hundreds of ‘Gitanjalis” could never bring Nobel Prize for the “Anglo-Indian” (as stated by the then Nobel Prize authorities) poet Rabindranath Tagore.

    In this context the people may please remember the examples of Nobel Prize for Aung San Suu Kyi ; Dalai Lama; and Liu Xiaobo.

    Time has come that the too much propaganda for Rabindranath Tagore will naturally stop. In 2010 no new edition of the complete works of Rabindranath Tagore has been published. On the other hand though double older writer’s works are getting new edition in the Calcutta market. Of course very popular, but can general Bengalee reader name more than 200 hundred songs and poems by Rabindranath Tagore? No common Indian knows more that 5 (five) poems and songs by Rabindranath Tagore.

    A.B.M. Shamsud Doulah

  21. Shamesh Says:


    This poem is very nice. Tagore’s “WHERE THE MIND IS WITHOUT FEAR” gives a beautiful message to us.

    The should be followed by everyone to make our world united. Each one of us are responsible for our united world.

    I am glad to read this poem, a part from Geetanjali. This shows Tagore’s patriotism.

  22. arlyn lumanlan Says:

    gusto ko siya dahil maganda ang gusto nya ipabatid sa mga tao.

  23. Sita Shankar Says:

    Thanks for this Post on Tagore’s “Where the Mind is without fear”. Can you also post a Transliteration of the Bengali version ,please.

  24. Mrinmay Rabha Says:

    I really wonder to read all poem of Tagore . these really spiritual feeling poem . thanks

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