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Celebration of the centenary of the Nobel Prize in Literature for Gitanjali

Mr. Under-Secretary-General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, 
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I 
acted and behold, service is joy.” 
These are the words of Rabindranath Tagore, the great Bengali poet who 
was the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature hundred years ago 
from today in 1913, for his collection of poems, Gitanjali. These words, 
though simple and spoken with no adornment, capture the very essence of 
Tagore’s message to the world and of his life-long mission in the service of 
our common humanity. 
He was a man born into wealth and comfort, and yet he chose a life of 
simplicity and hard work, dedicated not only to expanding the world-vision 
of his fellow countrymen through poetry and songs, but also to improving 
their daily lives through hands-on action. 
One of his life-long passions was education. Tagore himself never received 
any formal degree, and yet he built one of the finest universities in the 
world. This school, which he described as his life’s work, was called 
Shantiniketan, the abode of peace. He spent every penny that he earned – 
from lectures, royalties and, of course, his prize money for Gitanjali, and all 
of his remaining strength– to build it as a place where the East and the West 
could meet. Instead of any clash of civilizations, it was to be a place where 
students and teachers from the East and the West would sit together and 
learn from each other in a common pursuit of truth. 
Bangladesh that pursues its policy of ‘Friendship to all and malice to none’ 
has been promoting ‘Culture of Peace’ that is designed to inculcate a sense 
of tolerance, understanding, respect and friendship as it believes, all violence, terror and war, and misunderstanding emanate from a mindset of 

hatred and ignorance. Long before, our resolution of ‘Culture of Peace’ or 
our resolution of "International Mother Language Day' to protect, preserve 
and promote native languages and cultural diversity were adopted to enrich 
humanity in 1999 at Shantintiniketan, Tagore set up the first South Asian 
Institute to study Chinese and learn diversity. Amartya Sen, another Bengali 
to have won the Nobel Prize, recalled that his mother, who studied at 
Shantiniketan, even learned Judo from Japanese Judo trainers. And there 
were separate institutes dedicated to learning art, music, philosophy, culture 
and, yes, farming --- and in the process you a develop a sense of belonging 
and respect to one another of this planet earth and to humanity. 
Bangladeshis, like myself, look at Tagore and discover in him a renaissance 
man. His firm stance against communalism and all forms of fanaticism 
serves us as a constant reminder of the need to remain vigilant and united in 
our total rejection of all forms of violence, bigotry and injustice. 
Tagore’s profoundly sensitive, ever fresh, beautiful, simple, and soothing 
verses that express deep philosophical and spiritual inner self are still vibrant 
and alive. His prophetic words, I quote, “Azi Hothe Shotho Borsho Pore Ke 
Thumi Porecho Boshi Amar Kobitha Khani kuwtuhal Borey” --- 'who are 
you reading my poem even after 100 years' is still strong and alive. No 
wonder, Tagore was perhaps the most important literary genius of Bangla 
literature. Tagore started writing his poems at age 8 and drama at age 16. 
Tagore modernized Bengali art by spurning rigid classical forms. His stories, 
songs, dance-dramas, essays and novels were acclaimed for their lyricism, 
colloquialism, naturalism, and contemplation. His poems and music are like 
prayers for one’s self enrichment, purification and salvation. For example,  
“Onthoro Momo Bikoshitho Koro Onthoro Thoro Hey 
Jukthokoro Hey Shaber Sange Muktho Korohey Bandho, 
Uzzalo koro, Nonditho koro, Sundhoro Korohey” --- 
 
[Make my inner self enriched in the best possible way. Join me with others 
and liberate myself from bondage. Enlighten me; make me great and 
beautiful in the truest sense of the term]. 
Incidentally, Tagore is the only poet in the world to have written the national 
anthem for two countries – India and Bangladesh. A third country, Sri 
Lanka, in crafting its own national anthem, drew inspiration from Tagore as 
well. 
I thank the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, Mr. Peter 
Launnsky-Tieffenthal and the Department of Public Information for its 
thoughtful initiative to organize a special event to celebrate the centenary of 
Rabindranath Tagore and his Gitanjali by bringing together some of today’s 
brightest minds. We are particularly lucky to have Rizwana Chowdhury 
Bonnya, one of the best known exponents of Tagore songs, whose beautiful 
opening song has given us both the solemnity of the occasion and the deeper 
insight it calls for. 
My gratitude also goes to the United Nations Academic Impact for 
partnering with the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the UN to make 
this wonderful event a reality. 
Thank you. 

 

H.E. Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen 
Permanent Representative 
of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to the UN