The History of Santiniketan
Santiniketan was originally called Bhubandanga, after the name of the village where it was located.
The town of Santiniketan was founded by Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath Tagore, who was a Bengali philosopher, polymath, and the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Maharshi Devendranath Tagore was a follower of the Brahmo Samaj, a Hindu reform movement that emphasized the worship of one supreme God and the importance of education and social reform.
In 1863, Maharshi Devendranath Tagore purchased a large piece of land in Bhubandanga, which he renamed Santiniketan, meaning “abode of peace.” He established an ashram, or spiritual retreat, on the land and started to teach his students about the principles of the Brahmo Samaj, as well as the importance of nature and simplicity.
Bolpur was a small place in the mid-19th century, but it grew as Shantiniketan did. A portion of Bolpur was a part of the zamindari of the Sinha family of Raipur. Bhuban Mohan Sinha had developed a village in the Bolpur area called Bhubandanga, which was opposite Shantiniketan.
Bhubandanga was known for a group of dacoits who were notorious for killing people. However, the leader of the group eventually surrendered to Debendranath and helped him develop the area. Debendranath built a 60-foot by 30-foot glass structure for Brahmo prayers, inspired by The Crystal Palace in London, under a chhatim tree where he used to meditate.
The structure was a popular attraction. Rabindranath Tagore first visited Shantiniketan in 1878 when he was 17 years old. In 1888, Debendranath dedicated the property to establish a Brahmavidyalaya through a trust deed.
In 1901, Rabindranath started a Brahmacharyaashrama, which became known as Patha Bhavana in 1925. In 1913, Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1921, Rabindranath Tagore founded Visva Bharati, which was declared a central university and institute of national importance in 1951.
Rabindranath Tagore, who was born in Calcutta in 1861, was deeply influenced by his father’s teachings and spent much of his childhood at the ashram in Santiniketan. He later went on to study at the University of London and became a renowned poet, writer, and philosopher. In 1901, Rabindranath Tagore returned to Santiniketan and established Visva-Bharati University, which was initially a small school for the study of Indian culture and traditions.
Visva-Bharati University was later expanded to include a wide range of disciplines, including arts, sciences, and humanities. It became a Central University and an Institution of National Importance in 1951, and is now one of the most prestigious universities in India. Rabindranath Tagore also established several other cultural institutions in Santiniketan, including the Kala Bhavan, a school of fine arts, and the Sangit Bhavan, a music school.
Santiniketan became a hub of cultural and intellectual activity, attracting scholars and artists from around the world. It became known for its natural beauty, with its lush green forests and fields, and its peaceful, serene atmosphere. It was also a center of resistance during India’s struggle for independence, with many of its students and faculty participating in the freedom movement.
Today, Santiniketan is a popular tourist destination, with its many cultural institutions, beautiful natural surroundings, and rich history. It continues to be a center of learning and cultural exchange, and is an important part of India’s cultural and intellectual heritage.
Discover the True Meaning of Authenticity and Integrity in Today’s World – Layers of Santiniketan’s Rich History
Santiniketan stands as an exceptional example of an innovative, international educational and cultural institution, envisaged in the early 20th century. Its physical location has remained unaltered, preserving an authentic spirit and aura. To grasp its exceptional and authentic universality, one must first acknowledge the varied historical strata that contributed to Santiniketan’s establishment and growth, which constitutes its periods of significance.
Late 19th century: 1895 onwards
The earliest phase of development at Santiniketan saw the construction of significant structures such as the Ashram, Santiniketan Griha, Upasana Mandir, and the Prayer Hall, which hold great historical value. The site of Chhatimtala, where Maharishi Debendranath Tagore meditated under the chhatim trees, remains critical to the integrity and authenticity of this phase. This area remains almost completely intact and forms the core of the Santiniketan precinct. The structures themselves have retained their originality and authenticity and have been restored recently by the Archaeological Survey of India.
(Rabindranath Tagore) 1901-1941
In 1901, Rabindranath Tagore established Santiniketan with a vision of promoting unity among people of different cultures worldwide. Visva Bharti, as it came to be known, aimed to create a place where people from all corners of the world could come together as one family. Its multifaceted approach included providing education to children, nurturing a love for nature, using music and arts to foster emotional development, engaging in social work to help neighboring villages, promoting rural development through Sriniketan, and conducting research on philosophy and cultures. The center was established with the objective of eradicating not only poverty of the mind but also material poverty in India.
Tagore believed that learning could not be achieved by simply locking oneself up in a classroom. As an artist, he believed that freeing one’s mind was crucial to the learning process. Consequently, the concept of open-air classrooms emerged, which continues to this day with the same spirit as when it was first initiated at the conception of the school.
Santiniketan was envisioned to be a tranquil rural environment, surrounded by nature and far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. Tagore’s vision was not limited to creating an intimate community of teachers and students, as embodied in the traditional Indian Gurukul system. Instead, he aimed to create an environment that would open students’ minds to the world within and around them. This tradition is still faithfully adhered to at the university today.
Tagore believed in the convergence of two distinct chains of thought, the traditional beliefs of the East and the progressive ideologies of the West. As a result, the university has welcomed many international faculty members who have contributed to fulfilling his vision.
(Rabindranath Tagore) 1941-1952
After the death of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, his son Rathindranath took over the mantle of his father at Santiniketan. Most of the complex was preserved in tact, with the addition of Rabindra Bhavan to house the museum.
This period ends with the formulation of Visva Bharati as a national level university under an Act of Parliament.
In the Rathindranath layer, we see Santiniketan well on its path to continue the four fold vision of Gurudev.
Rabindranath Tagore had envisaged a fourfold plan for the development of Santiniketan.
1. Santiniketan School (1901)
2. Integration of fine art and music to academics( Kala Bhavan and Sangeet Bhavan 1919-1920)
3. Rural reconstruction experiment (1922 Sriniketan)
4. Establish cultural relation between Hindvi cultures with other eastern cultures and relations between eastern and western cultures.
This fourfold plan has been adopted and implemented to date even after Santiniketan acquired the status of a University in 1951.
Pockets of core areas exist within the Visva Bharti campus which strive to retain the authenticity in terms of form and design. These core areas include structures from the 3 significant stages mentioned earlier. The infill in between are a direct result of the growing needs of the university. Even though the integrity is weakened due to the pressures of development and later interventions, these interventions are mostly reversible and can be controlled in the near future with proper development guidelines.
Living traditions begun by Gurudev such as the Utsavs, festivals, open air class rooms and the curriculum that encourages the infusion of performing and fine arts in academics are an intrinsic character of Santiniketan.
Living traditions such as the Utsavs, festivals, open air class rooms and the curriculum that encourages the infusion of performing and fine arts in academics still continues with a high level of integrity.
Santiniketan and Sriniketan both form a part of the Visva Bharti campus under the jurisdiction of the University which alone forms it governing body which still keeps intact its originally intended use and function. This authoritative body is responsible for maintenance and management of the site as well as heritage conservation and its related issues.
It is concerned with site management of different areas which include maintenance, repair, presentation, promotion, visitor infrastructure etc. Being aware of the threats to the heritage elements and its protection needs the university has recognized the need of a conservation and management plan which will address all the key issues and need for heritage conservation and the framework of these guidelines will be incorporated within the management authority.