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History of the Tagore Festival

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Rabindranath Tagore Let all my songs gather together
their diverse strains into a single current
and flow to a sea of silence
in one salutation to thee.

These words are from Gitanjali written by Rabindranath Tagore, the greatest Indian poet and litterateur. In 1906, Tagore sent his son Rathindranath and another student of his, Santosh Majumdar, to Urbana, Illinois, to study agriculture. This decision by Tagore marked the beginning of a unique relationship between the University of Illinois, the Urbana Unitarian Church, and the people of India. Members of the Urbana Unitarian Church, specially the Minister Rev. Albert Vail, were very helpful to Rathi and Santosh during their undergraduate years from 1906-1910. In early November of 1912, Tagore himself visited Urbana. On the 10th of November, 1912, at the request of Rev. Vail, Tagore gave his first public address in the U.S. at the Unitarian Church of Urbana, now known as the Channing-Murray Foundation. Thus started a legacy of intermixing of Indian culture and religion in the Midwest. It was shortly after his first speech in Urbana, that Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature for Gitanjali. He revisited Urbana in 1916 along with W.W. Pearson and Mukul Chandra Dey.

In 1989, the Channing-Murray Foundation (or the Urbana Unitarian Church) was declared a National Historical Building and was renamed Tagore Center. From that year onwards, the Channing-Murray Foundation Tagore Center, which is a non-profit organization, honors the achievements of Tagore and others in working towards fulfillment of our shared hopes for worldwide intercultural and international understanding through the development of a Tagore Center, through cultural activities, and through the hosting of the Annual Tagore Festival. The festival seeks to relate Tagore's intellectual vision to present day ethnic and political crises and cultural assimilation in the United States. The events at the festival include presentation of scholarly articles on Tagore, a keynote speech, slide shows on the life and works of the poet, panel discussions on various facets of his vision; to name a few. The events in each festival are organized around a central theme."Unity and Diversity," "Art and Spirituality," "Internationalism and Cross-Cultural Exchange," and "Women of Tagore" were some of the themes. In 1997, the festival highlighted patriotism in Tagore's literature to mark the fiftieth year of India's independence. Along with these, the festival also presents a wonderful opportunity to enjoy delicious Indian cuisine at its highly acclaimed conference dinner. A cultural program featuring Tagore's songs, dances, poetry, and drama is also held every year as an integral part of the festival.

Over the years, the keynote speakers have incluced, among others, the Indian Ambassador to the U.S.; the Bangladeshi High Commissioner; the Mayor of Champaign, Illinois; and distinguished academicians from well-known universities in the U.S., Canada, and India. Professor Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and an eminent speaker, honored the ninth festival with his spellbinding keynote address.

From the very beginning, this festival has been sponsored by the Tagore Center, the Program in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, the Program in Comparative Literature, the Department of International Programs and Studies at the University of Illinois, the Indian Student Association, the Indian Cultural Society, the Bangladesh Association, and the Bengali Association of Urbana-Champaign, along with several corporate and private well-wishers.

Over the years, the Annual Tagore Festival has tried to celebrate the aspects of art, literature, music, and dance of the whole South Asian community with a special emphasis on cross-cultural exchange between nations, regions, and individuals.

The Annual Tagore Festival began with the efforts of a few and has now grown to become an integral part of the social and cultural life of the community. It is our sincerest wish to see this festival develop and continue in the years to come.

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