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India launches Tagore 150th anniversary events

India began celebrations on Saturday to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of iconic poet and playwright Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched the festivities for the poet who won the Nobel in 1913 and who is revered by the world's 250 million Bengali speakers in India and neighbouring Bangladesh.

The events, planned over one year, aim to stir new interest among a wider audience in the Bengali writer's novels, music, plays, poems and paintings, the government said.

"A number of commemoration events have (also) been planned abroad, particularly in countries with which Tagore had some association," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at a function in New Delhi.

Tagore, who established an open-air university in India's West Bengal state, also penned the national anthems of both Bangladesh and India. He produced some 50 volumes of poetry including his acclaimed Gitanjali (Song Offerings).

Singh, addressing diplomats and fans from India and Bangladesh, announced an award in the name of the poet, who was part of a national campaign for India's independence from British colonial rule, which was granted in 1947.

"A jury headed by the prime minister will select each year a citizen of the world of outstanding public eminence who in his or her life and work epitomises the high universal ideals that Tagore stood for," Singh said.

The award will "recognise his very distinguished contributions towards the promotion of international brotherhood and fraternity", Singh said.

Tagore, who was born in Kolkata and spent time in what is now Bangladesh, renounced his British knighthood in protest over a massacre of hundreds of civilians by British-led troops in India's Jallianwala town in 1919.

The prime minister thanked his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, for jointly hosting the year-long celebrations.

He also released a digital collection of some of the poet's paintings which were put up in an exhibition in New Delhi.

The exhibition forms part of a broader joint series of events to mark the anniversary, which was launched on Friday in Dhaka by Indian Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari and Sheikh Hasina.