Where Rabindranath's vision was born; Where nature and culture meet.

The Magnificence of Santiniketan: A Worldwide Icon


Why is Santiniketan so Famous?

Tagore’s philosophy, life, and greatest works, manifested through a living institution and architectural ensemble that embodies his unique model of education and internationalism.

Although many of Tagore’s artistic and literary works are associated with Santiniketan, it is his model of Indian education through the revival of the tapoban tradition and humanist ideology that finds its greatest reflection in Santiniketan. Therefore, it can be regarded as Tagore’s greatest work. In his final letter to Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore referred to Visva Bharati as a vessel carrying the cargo of his life’s best treasure, and he hoped that it would receive special care from his countrymen for its preservation.

The school at Santiniketan evolved into the widely branching tree that is Visva Bharati today. Both Santiniketan and Visva Bharati serve as living educational and cultural centers, as well as through the outstanding alumni who have excelled in the fields of painting, literature, music, sculpture, cinema, economics, and politics. The architectural and landscape setting of Santiniketan reflects Tagore’s vision of an eclectic architectural expression that blends diverse cultural traditions in a peaceful abode.

Reason 1

At the turn of the 20th century, amidst the British reign and the divisions within the Bengal region, Rabindranath Tagore visualized an institute of knowledge that was free from the restrictions of religion and region. Tagore’s vision materialized as Santiniketan, a place of learning that embodied principles of humanism, internationalism, and sustainable environment, and fostered the free exchange of human values and cultures.

Author Nirad C. Chaudhuri lauds Tagore’s achievement as the greatest product of the interaction between European and Hindu life and civilization in India in the 19th century. While Tagore was caught in the conflict brought about by the interchange, his writings stand for its achievement.

Tagore’s approach to education was holistic, seeking to break down existing barriers and promote interconnectivity between different groups such as urban and rural economic groups, English-medium educated elites and the common people, and between provincial and regional groups. In this vein, Santiniketan welcomed women as students and teachers, encouraged the study of various cultures and traditions, and held classes in open-air classrooms free from spatial or ideological limitations.

Santiniketan’s architecture embodies Tagore’s vision of an eclectic architectural expression that blends diverse cultural traditions in a landscape setting, forming the backdrop for a place of peace. Structures like China Bhavan, Hindi Bhavan, Sinha Sadan, Udayan, and Patho Bhavan merge various cultural vocabularies to create a unique architectural synthesis.

Santiniketan’s curriculum was designed to promote the understanding of different cultures, including Vedic, Puranic, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian, and Sikh traditions, Islamic culture’s contribution to Indian art and architecture, and special studies of China, Japan, and Tibet, as well as Western culture. In only the second year of its existence, Santiniketan welcomed its first foreign student, Hori San from Japan. Tagore also actively sought the presence of visitors from all over the world to cultivate an exchange of ideas and cultures among students.

Nobel laureate and Santiniketan resident, Amartya Sen notes that discussions in the school could easily move from Indian traditional literature to contemporary and classical Western thought and to China, Japan, and elsewhere. Tagore’s vision of internationalism is encapsulated in his poem that speaks of awakening the heart on the sacred shores of the ocean of humanity of India.

Santiniketan is a testament to Tagore’s vision of a place of learning that fosters the free interchange of human values and cultures, reduces barriers between different groups, and promotes an eclectic architectural expression in a landscape setting.


In 1901, Rabindranath Tagore founded his school at Santiniketan with five students, including his eldest son, and an equal number of teachers. Initially named Brahmacharya Ashram, the school aimed to combine education with a sense of obligation towards the larger civic community. It was located in the heart of nature amidst Hindu, Muslim, and Santali villages that were in decline, despite their rich cultural heritage. Tagore revived the ancient Indian model of Tapoban, interpreting it as an educational model aimed at cultivating feeling and a sense of kinship with all existence.

Santiniketan embodied Tagore’s vision of an ideal form of traditional Indian hermitages, which flourished in the forests of ancient India, exploring a universal and humanistic life of the mind. Tagore was highly critical of Macaulay’s system, which cut off education from the living social corpus of India.

Sriniketan was Tagore’s distinct step towards rural reconstruction, inspired by the gurukul tradition of students learning from their teacher in a residential ashram in nature. Tagore sought to expand the school’s relationship with neighbouring Santhal tribal villages, combining education with a sense of obligation towards the larger community.

The students of Santiniketan celebrated nature through its seasons, rather than religious festivals, reflecting the school’s founding principles. Tagore revived the folk festival of Raksha Bandhan in 1909 as a tie between Hindus and Muslims amidst unprecedented communal violence following Bengal’s partition.

Santiniketan, also known as the ‘abode of peace’, is more than just an academic university. Vishwabharti, as an educational institution, teaches classes in open-air classrooms, celebrates nature, and values humanism and internationalism rooted in Tagore’s philosophy that “the whole world can find a nest.” The graduation ceremony is marked by the gifting of a chhatim leaf, symbolizing a commitment to uphold the ideals of Santiniketan.


Santiniketan is a pioneering institution in modern history that exemplified internationalism before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Tagore was an internationalist who critiqued the narrowly defined concepts of nationalism and patriotism. He sought equal treatment for all human beings, regardless of their country or nation, and wanted to remove barriers of caste, race, and religion.

In the midst of India’s struggle for independence from British rule, Santiniketan emerged as a pioneering experiment in internationalism. Tagore’s vision surpassed national and cultural boundaries to establish a larger international vision of universal humanism. Through bringing together diverse individuals in a hospitable setting, he sought to promote understanding between different linguistic groups, races, cultures, and religions.

Tagore’s motto for Visva Bharati, ‘where the whole world can find a nest’, reflected his aspiration for the institution. He invited the world to join hands with Santiniketan and make it representative of the undivided humanity of the world.

Santiniketan’s global character attracted international scholars and artists, including Sylvain Levi, Moritz Winternitz, and Stella Kramisch. Tagore’s efforts to promote internationalism helped establish Santiniketan as a place of cultural exchange and understanding.


Tagore’s vision of Santiniketan was one of inclusiveness that influenced the visions of Gandhi and Nehru, and later, Indira Gandhi, who was a student at Santiniketan. His inclusive nationalism and non-parochial interpretation of India’s history became a powerful agent of ideas for the freedom movement that Gandhi and Nehru led between the two world wars. Nehru’s foreign policy of ‘non-alignment’ sought to avoid taking sides in the Cold War, which aligned with Tagore’s philosophy and understanding of history.


Tagore had always championed the cause of women emancipation, most of his literary works etched unforgettable female characters. At the beginning of the 20th century, Santiniketan pioneered a coeducational model in India which was a major break from accepted social norms.


Highly gifted men and women from various parts of India came to Santiniketan for an innovative education or to teach there. Notable among them were Mrinalini Sarabhai, Gopala Reddy, Nandalal Bose, Leonard Elmherst, Arthur Geddes, Bal Gangadhar Menon, and KV Muthuswamy.

Alumni of Santiniketan include Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, Oscar Award-winning director Satyajit Ray, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, and iconic artists such as Ram Kinker Baij and Jogen Chaudhuri, Kanika Bandhopadhyay, and Udai Sankar. Visva Bharati became an important facilitator of interrelationship between cultures within the subcontinent as well. It was enriched by being the site of the artistic creations of some of the best-known artists of modern India, and its art school was arguably the best in the country.

Mahatma Gandhi considered Santiniketan his second home and established his ashrams at Wardha and Sewagram based on the principles of its rural reconstruction model.


Rabindranath Tagore’s vast and diverse body of work is remarkable, including poetry, dramas, operas, short stories, novels, essays, diaries, songs, and paintings. His contributions are still celebrated and studied in Bengal today, with nearly two and a half thousand songs published separately and over two thousand paintings and drawings. Tagore was the first Indian to be recognized at the scale of the West, with the Nobel Prize awarded to him in 1913 for his work Gitanjali, published in Bengali in 1910.

Tagore’s composition ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was chosen as the national anthem of independent India in 1947. Mahatma Gandhi revered Tagore as a teacher, recognizing his work as a sentinel warning against the forces of bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance.

Although Gandhi’s contribution to Indian history is unmatched, Tagore’s impact was subtler yet deeper, unleashing and nourishing the hidden fountains of creativity in fields beyond politics. Even unlettered folk in the streets of Calcutta and remote villages of Bengal sing Tagore’s songs with rapture, while sophisticated Bengali intellectuals appreciate his verse and prose.

Santiniketan is most distinguished by Tagore’s lifelong association with it, crystallizing his vision and serving as the place where he wrote many of his literary works and created his paintings and sketches. The different houses in which he lived were mainly designed by him, constructed from local materials and exemplifying rural architecture.

In his final letter to Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore referred to Visva Bharati as carrying the cargo of his life’s best treasure, hoping that it would receive special care from his countrymen for preservation. Institutions like Santiniketan must be preserved as a reminder of their existence and the impact they have had on human history. For these and many other reasons, Santiniketan should be recognized as a World Heritage Site.

Where Rabindranath's vision was born; Where nature and culture meet.