Meaning of Bengali Poem Debotar Grash by Rabindranath Tagore

In the colonial days when India and especially Bengal was undergoing abuse in its adolescence into their new incarnation into modernity under the yoke of British colonial subjugation, came up a vast group of very noteworthy intellectuals [interestingly through British education], who wanted to see the modernity and western influence through getting rid of shackles of medieval superstitions of clergy led society and along-with try to define what should be the real countenance of Freedom in Indian perspective- this trend was known as Bengal Renaissance. Rabindranath Tagore – by the far the most erudite and prolific writer, performer, painter and artiste par excellence in the world, although very scantily acclaimed for long – had been the best exponent of that group.

From the yokes of old fashioned tortuous religious oppression on the people by the clergy, that had really devoured the entire population through the methods of governmentality, the people really believed in the clergy and whatever they said was the law. The society lost all their self-confidence and let everything on the fate for their living. The clergy pulled their "decisions" and dictums out of their hats in instances and situations unforeseen, anything that maintained their hold on to the people. The people considered these brats and brutes as the veritable representatives of God.

Rabindranath Tagore – the master story teller, created extreme and absurd situations to exemplify the cultural torture that determined the fate of the common people. The most haunting and terrible situation is this poem, where Rabindranath with his mastery and wizardry depicted the situation and brought out the empathy of every reader and catapulted them to protest, rejection and resistance against obscurantism, superstition and the clergy.

The story:
Every year Hindus cherish to take a bath at the confluence of the river Ganges. The journey is tortuous and arduous, people consider themselves very lucky if they can return in one piece and if they can it is like almost making it to the heaven with mortal bodies. To every Hindu, it is once in a life time achievement. A whole village under the leadership of the landlord and God-man set out for a journey, where a widow with the sole nephew in their family [ who almost considered his aunt as her mother] wanted to hop in to gain some piety-quanta. The landlord- the leader opposed but then thought to give a chance to the poor lady. The kid was very truant and hyper-energetic. Like all mothers the aunt often used to get angry and spelled doom just to put the kid calm. During the very first instance she had one such snippet of a situation where she spelled " Come on, let me dump you to the seas!" – that was a mere expression which mothers say but do not mean! But the landlord and all other co-travellers heard, they did not give much importance as they are well aware of all such admonitions in their lives and that they often give to their kids as well.

The journey started and almost near at the fag end the usual turmoil of gusty winds and unruly waves started as a very well known atmospheric turbulence covered the whole sky in the vast ocean. The boatmen tried their best and yet could not see any improvement. The entire crew were at their wits end and looked at the landlord and priest to make out what could be spell of God, and how that can be allayed. That was the time when some one remembered that this poor lady "promised" to God that the child would be sacrificed and that promise is not being honoured. Through a long haggle and a terrible inhuman process the lady was forced to give away the kid. The kid was snatched off and dumped into the ocean.

Rabindranath’s extreme hit in poetics depicted the extremely horrendous picture where the poor kid, who had no idea of why and what is being done was drowning in the vast and turbulent and cold sea, was screaming for help. The landlord who ordered the situation also jumped in and could not find the boy. Rabindranath’s last words sent shivers down the vertebrae of the readers when he said, amidst the howls of everyone the kid’s last appearance lost and very interestingly, the deluge subsided, the waves calmed down and the Sun set! The last line was "the Sun set and never came up again" – the necessary pun actually meant the son – the kid was drowned and never came up again. The senses and humanity of the crew went down and never came up again. They all were pained to numbness and simply did not save because they believed that the God wanted the sacrifice, and that God was satisfied.

The last line was the striking point of the poet. The superstition is a killer, and the slow killing process of sacrifice is the butchering experience that took every one of the crew in creating a dual characteristic where they all were pained and all thought it to be a duty. Superstitions create an inhuman society out of mortal and conscientious humans.

Rabindranath’s fight against Hindu superstitions really raised the flag among the Bengali society, these poems and many stories from the contemporaries actually did the job of politicians – Bengal saw a new face and became by far the least superstitious society among all the provincial communities of the world.

Also find the recitation of the poem here: