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Tagore, Satyendranath (1842–1923), Indian civil servant and author, was born in Calcutta, India, on 1 June 1842, the second son of [see under ] and his wife, Sarada Devi (1826?–1875). He was born into an illustrious family referred to by one modern historian as ‘the Medici of Calcutta’ (Kling, 10). His family could boast of the first independent Indian merchant under East India Company rule, , who was Satyendranath's grandfather. In this family sons and daughters alike were gifted writers, dramatists, painters, and musicians. Satyendranath's elder brother, , was a philosopher admired by Mahatma Gandhi. The fifth brother, Jyotirindranath Tagore (1849–1925), was described as the ‘finest living Indian artist’ by the British painter William Rothenstein (Rothenstein). The eighth and youngest brother, , was a Nobel prize-winning poet.

Satyendranath Tagore learnt English and Sanskrit at home before proceeding to the Hindu School and the Presidency College, Calcutta. In 1859 he married Jnanadanandini Devi. In 1862 he travelled to England to prepare for the Indian Civil Service examinations, which had been opened to Indians the previous year. He took the examination in June 1863 and was successful, and after completing his probationary training returned to India in November 1864. It was to be seven more years before another Indian joined the ranks of the covenanted Indian Civil Service. The epic poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt composed a poem to celebrate his achievement, and the social and intellectual leaders of all communities in Calcutta, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian, Bengali and non-Bengali, met and rejoiced over him on his return from England. He served the government from 1864 to 1897, beginning as assistant collector and magistrate in Ahmedabad and finishing as a sessions judge in Satara; all of his postings were in the Bombay Presidency.

Satyendranath Tagore was a renaissance man in the way he combined social action, piety, a sense of national identity, and a passion for writing, with his professional work as a civil servant of an alien government. His family home was also the home of Hindu protestantism. His father followed modern India's first reformer, Rammohun Roy, in leading a reformist Hindu movement known as the Brahmo Samaj. Debendranath Tagore was devoted to the philosophy of the Upanishads and lived like an ascetic despite being the scion of a wealthy family. Satyendranath Tagore grew up in the shadow of the reform movement and lent his youthful energy to it. ‘I also was swept by the tide of the new enthusiasm’, he wrote (Amar Balya Katha, 57). He composed many devotional songs, with a patriotic flavour to some of them. One of his songs, composed for the national fair in 1867, expressed the idea of a common Indian nationality and came to be sung like a national anthem. About it Rabindranath Tagore later wrote, ‘Our family was at the centre of plans for establishing the patriotic Hindu Mela, a National Fair … My second brother [Satyendranath] wrote the hymn Jai Bharater Jai (‘Victory to India, Victory’)’ (Das Gupta, 4). The fair became an annual event for the display of national talent and the indigenous arts. The Brahmos were in this and many other ways pioneers of Indian nationalism.

In his memoirs, Amar Balya Katha o Amar Bombai Prabas (1915), written in Bengali, Satyendranath Tagore called himself a ‘Radical’, using the latter word in English (Amar Balya Katha, 3). He also wrote that his father was regarded as a ‘Conservative’ , again using the word in English, but that his father did not interfere in his son's independence. This was tested when Satyendranath made radical moves for women's freedom from a young age. Writing in 1863 from London to his wife in Calcutta, he told her that the most fortunate and beautiful thing in Western life was in the way their women lived (Chaudhurani, 46). On his first visit to Calcutta from Bombay he broke all social rules by taking his wife to a majlis in the Government House. She was the only Bengali woman among so many British women. Satyendranath's influential uncle Prasanna Kumar Tagore left the assembly at this sight. But Satyendranath successfully saw to it that the women of his family came out of their andar mahal, or women's quarters, and enjoyed independent movement.

Satyendranath Tagore wrote profusely, mainly philosophical commentary and autobiography, almost always in Bengali. Of his writings those on the Bhagavad Gita and on Buddhism, Bouddhyadharma, were the most prominent. These continued to be revised and reprinted in his lifetime, underlining his strong and unflinching interest in those subjects. From his introductions to the revised editions it is evident he was keen on receiving readers' views and incorporating them. Some of his commentaries were later collected in the Tagore Archives as manuscripts or typescripts. These included his essays on Indian Wisdom and Kalidas by Monier Monier-Williams, on Kalidas by Friedrich Max Müller and Bhavabhuti by H. H. Wilson, on vedic literature and religion, on Robert Watson Frazer's Literary History of India, Friedrich Max Müller's History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature and Natural Religion, Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia, and on T. W. Rhys Davids's Buddhism. He was an early activist for the modernization of the Bengali language and was elected head of the Bengali Literary Academy for the year 1900–01.

Satyendranath Tagore died in Calcutta on 9 January 1923. His children continued in the family tradition: his son Surendranath Tagore (1872–1940) was a literary scholar, translator of his uncle Rabindranath's writings into English and of the Mahabharata into Bengali, while his daughter Indira Devi Choudhurani (1873–1960) was a scholar of Western literature and Indian music, and became vice-chancellor of Viswa-Bharati University.

Uma Das Gupta

Sources  

W. Rothenstein, Twenty-five collotypes from the original drawings by Jyotirindranath Tagore (privately printed, 1914) · S. Tagore, Amar Balya Katha o Amar Bombai Prabas (1915) · I. D. Chaudhurani, Puratani (1956) · A. Bhattacharya, Satyendranath Thakur: Jiban o Srishti (1968) · B. B. Kling, Partner in empire: Dwarkanath Tagore and the age of enterprise in eastern India (1976) · D. Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj and the shaping of the modern Indian mind (1979) · Rabindranath Tagore: my life in my words, ed. U. Das Gupta (New Delhi, 2006)

Archives  

Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, Rabindra-Bhavana library and archives


Likenesses  

portrait, acrylic, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal, India, Rabindra-Bhavana library and archives · portrait, oils, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal, India, Rabindra-Bhavana sibrary and archives