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Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore introduced Judo in India

Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore introduced Judo in India

The Bridge Desk

Published: 8 May 2020 5:38 AM GMT

Today we are celebrating the 159th birthday anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, the 'bard of Bengal'. As per the Bengali year, he was born in the year 1268, and as per the Gregorian calendar, he was born in 1861 AD. Tagore is widely known for authoring the Indian national anthem and Gitanjali, which made him the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The polymath Tagore left his mark in every sphere of life. From romanticism to culture, politics, nationalism -- there is barely any topic under the sky that he didn't touch. One aspect, which is rarely spoken about, is his association with sports. Digging deeper, it can be found that Tagore was the person who was responsible for bringing Judo in India.

Gurudev believed that physical exercises are an inseparable part of our education. In his autobiographical work 'Chelebela‘, Tagore reminiscences his childhood experiences of taking lessons of wrestling from a wrestler, whom he describes as 'Kana Palowan' in the text. Similarly, young Rabi was made to learn gymnastics under the guidance of a gymnastic instructor.

It is no wonder that, Tagore a great admirer of traditional Japanese culture had been an ardent admirer of Jiu-jitsu. What evokes wonder is Gurudev‘s endeavour to transplant it in alien soil. He had invited Judo instructors to his school, Shantiniketan. The history of the introduction of jiu-jitsu in Shantiniketan dates back to 1902, the year which marks a historic meeting of two minds, Tagore and Tenshin in Kolkata. Tenshin Okakura (1862-1913), the eminent writer and art critic of Japan had been the founder of the renowned art school “Nihon Bijutsuin”. He came to Calcutta in 1902. Further, he had sent two of his disciples, Shaokin Katsuta and AraiKampo, to join Shantiniketan as art teachers. Tagore had also requested Okakura to send a jiu- jitsu teacher for his school. Responding to his invitation, Jinnotsuke Sano, who had been a student of Keio University, was sent to Tagore‘s Ashram by Fukazawa of Keio University.

In 1934, Subimal Ray, Satyajit Ray’s youngest uncle, decided that he really had to learn judo, and took his nephew along with him to meet the great sensei Shinzo Takagaki, who came to Shantiniketan on the invitation of Rabindranath Tagore.

Tagore visited Japan numerous times — and the Kodokan, the global judo HQ, in Tokyo, in 1929 and his interest in judo was possibly an extension of his infatuation with Japanese culture.

Jinnutsuke Sano stayed in Shantiniketan from 1905-1908, during this period of time he had taught Jujutsu to the students.

It is interesting to note that, for Tagore and his generation jiu-jitsu became an icon of Japanese nationalism. Japan succeeded to thwart the onward march of western imperialism. Japan‘s victory over Russia in the war of 1904-1905 enkindled the nationalistic impulses of Bengal‘s intelligentsia of the early 20th century. This victory was celebrated in this part of the empire as an assertion of the power of Asians Also,

Thus this nationalistic impulse played an important part in fostering Japanese martial art in India.

Tagore’s had repeatedly reminded to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and its then mayors, including Subash Chandra Bose, to help him popularise the martial art among the youth, judo never attained the popularity bodybuilding did in the early decades of the 20th century in Bengal.

Also read: Neglected by govt, Indian judoka helped by rivals to make Olympic dream come true

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