In the middle of the 19th century, Maharshi Devendranath Tagore found solace and serenity in the barren land in Birbhum district of Bengal. He purchased the land and built a small retreat for meditation, named, Santiniketan, the name later came to denote the entire area. As a child, Rabindranath accompanied his father to Santiniketan. In 1901, Rabindranath started his Brahmacharyasrama, to fullfil wishes of his father who was a considerable figure of his time in the field of educational reforms. By then the barren land was converted in garden full of flora and fauna. Rabindranath’s choice of Santiniketan for his school was definitely because of its environment. The school began with five students on roll.
It was always the objective in Santiniketan that learning would be a part of life’s natural growth. The first step towards this objective was to establish in the child a sense of oneness with nature. Rabindranath said we concentrate on learning from books and neglect the knowledge that is freely available on all sides. From the beginning, he wanted his students to be aware of their environment, be in communication with it, probe it, make experiments and collect specimens. And to guide them he wanted teachers who could go beyond book-learning, who were seekers themselves and who would find joy in the process of learning.
The school was a conscious repudiation of the system introduced in India by the British rulers and Rabindranath initially sought to realize the intrinsic values of the ancient education in India. The school and its curriculum, therefore, signified a departure from the way the rest of the country viewed education and teaching. The curriculum had music, painting, dramatic performances and other performative practices. Beyond the accepted limits of intellectual and academic pursuits, opportunities were created for invigorating and sustaining the manifold faculties of the human personality.
The same joyous atmosphere is evident and the children look as happy and free as ever. Classes even to this day are held under the trees. The first day of rains is still celebrated with an outing, barefoot and sans umbrellas. The spirit of Rabindranath lives on in Santiniketan.