Tagore and LK Elmhirst, photo from Parabaas (July 15 2001)
Tagore was deeply dissatisfied with the system of education. Education and pedagogy therefore became Tagore’s preoccupation. He decided to found his own school in 1901, with 5 students and 5 teachers. This evolved into an entire university, which Tagore named Visva-Bharati. The Sanskrit name, as Tagore explained at the university’s inaugural ceremony in 1921, means ‘where the whole world forms its one single nest’.
The philosophy behind the university was unique. First, it would bring together knowledges from the East and West. Second, the university would connect to, and become an integral part of the community within which it was located. Tagore’s objective was to break with the traditional model of the university where the elite pursued knowledge for its own sake. Rather, a university must touch the lives of ordinary people and build a true human community where no one was marginalized. It was no accident that Tagore’s Visva Bharati was located in a village and not in a city, not amidst the urban, British-schooled affluent classes. Very close to Visva Bharati Tagore established the Institute of Rural Reconstruction and yet another university designed specifically to serve the rural economy.
LK Elmhirst was an agricultural economist trained in Cornell University, USA who was invited by Tagore to assume the directorship of the that Tagore established. Tagore wrote to him:
I remember how you came fresh from your university and you were absurdly young, but you were not the lean academic or aridly intellectual. With your instinctive humanity you came into the closest touch with the living being which is the village, and which is not a mere intellectual problem that could be solved through the help of arithmetical figures. Continue reading »
One day, in a small village in Bengal, a .. woman from the neighbourhood came to see me. She had the name “Sarva-khepi” given to her by the village people, the meaning of which is “the woman who is mad about all things.” She fixed her star-like eyes upon my face and startled me with the question, “When are you coming to meet me underneath the trees?” Evidently she pitied me who lived (according to her) prisoned behind walls, banished away from the great meeting-place of the All, where she had her dwelling. Just at that moment my gardener came with his basket, and when the woman understood that the flowers in the vase on my table were going to be thrown away, to make place for the fresh ones, she looked pained and said to me, “You are always engaged reading and writing; you do not see.” Then she took the discarded flowers in her palms, kissed them and touched them with her forehead, and reverently murmured to herself, “Beloved of my heart.” I felt that this woman, in her direct vision of the infinite personality in the heart of all things, truly represented the spirit of India.
This is an excerpt from Tagore’s essay An Indian Folk Religion, first published by Macmillan in 1922, in Creative Unity. Its full text is available as an e-book at this link. It contains some of Tagore’s well-known and oft-cited essays.
Courtesy: The Gutenberg Project
HISTORY occasionally witnesses the birth of some sparkling personalities that burn ablaze all ugliness, all pettiness, all inhuman vulgarities and thereby lead civilization to reach a dizzy height. Such personalities cannot be confined within the narrow geographical boundaries where they first touched the terrestrial earth. By dint of their vision, mission and action they expose themselves as Universal Man holding high up the banner of human values—truth, love, beauty, forbearance, harmony and eternal search for the ultimate destination from here to eternity. In such a galaxy of the prophets of humanism, Rabindranath Tagore, the minstrel of Mother India, occupies a frontal position.
Excerpt from an essay by Bharati Mukherjee, Former Vice-Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati, from the Journal of Oriental Studies, published by the Institute of Oriental Philosophy in Japan.