Rabindranath Tagore had defined Santiniketan as a “vessel, carrying the cargo of [his] ‘life’s best treasure’” during his last years.
Today, let’s unpack this cargo and explore within to see why Santiniketan is integral to India’s history, thanks to the legacy and contributions of Tagore.
In the 1860s, when Tagore’s father Debendranath arrived in the Birbhum region of West Bengal, he was captivated by the beauty of the land, where two large Chhatim trees offered gentle shade on the red, dry land.
He took 20 acres of the land on permanent lease from its owner and built a guest house and christened it Santiniketan, or the “abode of peace”.
Debendranath would say that the land would allow “no insult to any religion or religious deity”. Apart from worshipping the formless, no community may worship any idol depicting god, man, or animals in Santiniketan.
At the age of 17, Tagore arrived there for the first time. In 1921, he sought to build a new form of university that would be beyond the limits of nation and geography.
What the college envisioned was evident in its name — Visva Bharati, or the confluence of the world with India.
It began as a school with just five students in 1901 and was formally established as a university in 1921.
This school was by no means denouncing Western education but instead, upholding the ideals of India’s culture and tradition, retaining the best of both worlds.
“Education is a permanent adventure of life,” he would say. For him, experiential learning could deliver far more to students than the rote learning method that the European model of education had ushered in.
So, the school pioneered a coeducation model in India, which was nearly unheard of at the time. Rather than relying on lectures alone, the teachers at the school taught students by posing questions to them.
Known for its focus on humanities and arts, thousands of students still study under trees and commute within the campus on cycles in the school.
Over the years, it has seen notable alumni members, from Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen to Indira Gandhi and Gayatri Devi.
It also contributed to the making of India’s national emblem when Kala Bhavan (Visva Bharati’s art school) director, Nandalal Bose, assigned five students to design it.
Santiniketan was the place where Tagore wrote some of his best works and also where he discovered that he would be the first Indian to receive the Nobel Prize.