Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore | The living hand

A unique project has created the world's largest database of Rabindranath Tagore's original texts

Rabindranath Tagore’s fondness for doodles is well-documented, but few are aware that some of the Nobel laureate’s best-loved texts started in the pages of humble school exercise books. Now, thanks to a unique project undertaken by the School of Cultural Texts and Records (SCTR), Jadavpur University, Kolkata, such lesser-known details of the Nobel laureate’s writing life are coming to light.

Between 2011 and 2013, the SCTR digitized 47,520 pages of Tagore’s manuscripts, alongside 91,637 pages of material from his printed texts, to create what is known as the variorum edition of his writings. Funded by the Union ministry of culture as part of the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Tagore, this is arguably the largest database in the world of original texts by a single author. The endeavour was supported by the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, Calcutta University, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences (Kolkata), Houghton Library at Harvard University (US), Indian National Library (Kolkata), and Senate House Library, University of London, among others.

Apart from some of Tagore’s letters, speeches, textbooks and translations, almost everything else he wrote, including different versions of the same text, can now be viewed on one website: Bichitra.jdvu.ac.in

The database, which was launched by President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday, is the fruit of two years of dedicated labour by a young and energetic team of students and researchers. Members of Jadavpur University’s computer science department helped design the portal and create an advanced search engine, says Sukanta Chaudhuri, professor emeritus at the university and supervisor of the project. A comprehensive collation software, which allows users to compare versions of the same work, including minor changes in chapters, paragraphs, even words, produces what is known as a hypertext.

A hypertext is an electronically-generated interface through which different aspects of a text can be explored simultaneously by the click of a mouse. It is an invaluable tool in textual scholarship, which studies the changing forms of a text.

The appositely named project “Bichitra", a word that means “variousness" in Bengali, can reproduce on one page of the website all the existing versions of a text. Users can compare not only chapters and paragraphs of different versions of the same text but also find out how specific words and sentences were changed in subsequent editions. For someone studying a novel like Gora, the longest prose Tagore wrote and one that exists in four versions, a resource like Bichitra will be indispensible.

To know more about Bichitra, visit Bichitra.jdvu.ac.in