Rabindranath Tagore’s Educational Ideas and Experiments

Rabindranath Tagore founded several schools and a university at Santiniketan, West-Bengal, and was one of the most progressive educators of his time. He envisioned a holistic education that was deeply rooted in one’s culture and surroundings but also connected to the wider world. Tagore was a pioneer in education for intercultural understanding and peace, for respect and intimacy with nature, for rural reconstruction and social engagement and for artistic abilities and creativity.

Top: Study Class in Santiniketan. Below: Foundation of Visva-Bharati University. Image credits: Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
Top: Study Class in Santiniketan. Below: Foundation of Visva-Bharati University.
Image credits: Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Tagore has not written a single educational treatise. His ideas are scattered in countless writings. They can also be discovered in the educational institutions he founded, which do not follow a scholastic approach but are living and growing experiments.


Tagore’s Educational Mission

It might be surprising to learn that a Literature-Nobel-laureate dedicated forty years of his life to establishing and running educational institutions. Rabindranath Tagore’s educational endeavours were motivated by postcolonial ideas of liberation, as he saw education as key to give respect and self-reliance, and therefore to move beyond political, social and economical suppression, which he tried to address since his time in Shelaidah.[1]

His ideas were also influenced by his childhood experiences that led him to describe schools as prisons. After dropping out of school by 15, the intellectual, artistic, and extremely progressive and liberal atmosphere at home revealed to him how much joy and freedom learning could and should encompass.

Tagore also referred to the tapovans (old Indian forest colonies), where students lived a simple life close to nature and with an inspiring guru. Yet the most important motivation for Tagore’s educational engagement is artistic: In his educational endeavours, he created a poem not with words but through action and ideas[2] that aspire to express his “inner truth” or philosophy.[3]


The Learning Child: Freedom to learn unconsciously

Tagore recognizes that children are not unfinished adults but have to be seen in their own rights, so that their strengths become visible and can develop – for example their curiosity and wonder, their imagination and creative joy and their ability to see unity that derives from their freedom from habits of thought and behaviour (in short, an excess of what Tagore terms “surplus”).[4]

Tagore argues that the difference between children and adults requires different methods of learning. While adults may read books and while their learning is motivated by a clear purpose, children require indefiniteness and learn mostly unconsciously:

“Our purpose wants to occupy all the mind’s attention for itself, obstructing the full view of most of the things around us (…) The child, because it has no conscious object of life beyond living, can see all things around it, can hear every sound with a perfect freedom of attention, not having to exercise choice in the collection of information.”[5]

For Tagore, this kind of learning and approach to the world is the best way for children to grow. He terms it the “method of nature.”[6] Through this “method,” children learn even something as complicated as their first language quicker, better, and more joyfully than adults would be able to do, using their focused methods.[7]

According to the “method of nature,” guessing and trying out are preferable to explaining; unconscious learning and sudden surprises are preferable to focused effort; and experiencing and discovering the world first hand is preferable to books. Tagore argues that learning by the “method of nature” will allow children to develop their creativity and to apply what they have learnt. Tagore uses an analogy to warn educators of the detrimental effects of applying the adult method of learning to children:

“It is like forcing upon the flower the mission of the fruit. The flower has to wait for its chances. It has to keep its heart open to the sunlight and to the breeze, to wait its opportunity for some insect to come seeking honey. The flower lives in a world of surprises, but the fruit must close its heart in order to ripen its seed. It must take a different course altogether. For the flower the chance coming of an insect is a great event, but for the fruit its intrusion means an injury.”[8]

To allow the “method of nature” to work, children need freedom. This includes a certain degree of “naughtiness,” which is an expression of children’s curiosity and their growth, and which Tagore not only accepts but even desires.[9] Not having enough freedom and being harshly disciplined and punished, argues Tagore, can have devastating and demoralizing effects on children.[10]

Punishment, for Tagore, is only acceptable, if it is imposed by nature (i.e., falling from a tree) or by oneself. He is convinced that this method is most successful and that he has managed to improve the behaviour of unruly children through the “method of nature”[11] and his “freedom cure.”[12]

Tagore thinks that children’s freedom (which does not mean licence) should allow them to determine what they want to do for a large part of their time. He criticizes most adults for structuring children’s time and activities so much that they have no space to develop their lives and selves individually, to find their own voices, and to express themselves creatively.[13]


Criticism of Educational Institutions

Tagore’s 1892 article “Siksar Herpher” (“Our Education and its Incongruities”) was, according to Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, the first truly comprehensive and competent criticism of the contemporary national educational system.[14] Throughout his life, Tagore often describes the schools of his time as prisons. In “Parrot’s Training,” Tagore caricatures colonial education, which imprisons and brutally kills the natural impulses of the parrot through mindless discipline.

This satire shows that the main focus of education is directed on the school building, the textbooks, and the authorities, while the child and its needs (and the “method of nature”) are neglected. He also calls schools robot-producing factories[15] that destroy individuality and true learning, are merely focusing on exams, and do not let their students mature.[16] The production of mass educated robots or marionettes encumbers students’ development of their own goals and self-respect and only aspires for worldly success instead of perfection and self-liberation,[17] which makes it easy for the colonial rulers to employ them for their purposes.[18]

He particularly criticized colonial schools for teaching knowledge unrelated to students’ regional, historical and lingual context, which often led to mechanical rote-learning instead of true comprehension.


“And for that they must be trained, not to be soldiers, not to be clerks in a bank, not to be merchants, but to be the makers of their won world and their own destiny. And for that they must have all their faculties fully developed in the atmosphere of freedom.” [19]


The Ideal School:

A Boarding School in Nature

Tagore is convinced that an ideal school should be amidst nature. In Santiniketan, lessons take place mostly outside in the shade of trees. For schools in less warm climates, he recommends spending at least one school day completely outside, not counting sports, games, and excursions. He also believes that boarding schools are most advantageous, as they can be far away from cities and therefore permit children to move about more freely.

They also allow for more simplicity and for protection from the overburdening stimuli of the modern world (such as too much entertainment, ready-made products, and luxury) and from their parents’ narrow aspirations.[20] Tagore cherishes self-chosen simplicity – without idealizing poverty![21] – because he thinks that an excess of material goods can restrict the direct experience of the world, inflate the self, and hamper true maturation.[22]

By protecting children from their parents’ narrow aspirations, Tagore means that parents should be careful not to confer their own desires for the material and purposeful to their children and their much simpler needs; either through mollycoddling or through modelling and pushing them towards their own worldly aspirations of turning them into mere “moneymakers.”[23] He emphasizes how important it is for children to experience nature through their bodies – without having windows, chairs, or shoes in the way –, and to develop creativity and responsibility when they are lacking ready-made products and instruments.[24] He argues: “The real king is he who is able to create his own kingdom.”[25]


Self-discipline and Self-government

Tagore’s criticism of punishment and his allowance for freedom is countered by his emphasis on discipline. Particularly in the first years of his Santiniketan school (initially called Brahmacharyashram), he focused on simplicity and discipline. Yet Tagore believed that it is crucial to inspire children to be self-disciplined, because “cruel slavery, in which to drill the child mind (…) is demoralizing [and because] perfect obedience [comes] at the cost of individual responsibility and initiative of mind.”[26]

He was convinced that students’ respectfulness grows when they are free (not: have licence) and treated with patience, sympathy, and respect themselves.[27] Tagore encouraged his students (to an unusual degree for his time) to think critically and to voice their opinions.[28]

Tagore’s students were helping to shape the daily life of the ashram and thereby make the ashram rules their own.[29] He believed that only when students take part in creating their school, it can be their nest, instead of remain a mere cage.[30] The ability and enthusiasm to create one’s own world was one of Tagore’s main educational goals.

Tagore was the first to introduce the experiment of student’s self-government in India (cf. swaraj).[31] This included a system of self-punishment, according to which a student court will discuss whether a student is guilty and will then himself determine his punishment (expiation).[32]


Ideal Teachers: Gurus vs. Schoolmasters

Tagore found it difficult to find the right teachers for his schools.[33] He was looking for Gurus instead of Schoolmasters. The Sanskrit term guru means teacher, yet emphasizes spiritual knowledge and practices and is connected to the ancient tradition of brahmacaryashrams and tapovans. According to Tagore, gurus are “active in the efforts to achieve the fullness of humanity”[34] and will give their whole selves to their students instead of merely sharing the material as prescribed by the curriculum.

Being a guru is a true calling instead of a job to earn money, and the motivation for it consists in love for children and for the subject, not in love for power.[35] Good teachers, wrote Tagore, activate children’s minds instead of helping them to assimilate and collect information, and inspire children through their own self-development. They encourage them to work on the teacher’s own original projects and thereby travel together on their journey to more understanding.[36]


“[A] teacher can never truly teach unless he is still learning himself. A lamp can never light another lamp unless it continues to burn its own flame.”[37]


Tagore argues that teachers would be strengthened through a higher status that, in India, might come through the title “guru.” He also argues that teacher’s education needed to improve, and that it should include a thorough understanding of children’s psychology[38]. Their teaching would furthermore be of higher value if teachers were given more freedom regarding their teaching methods and, to a certain degree, regarding the content of what they teach.

In general, Tagore is convinced that education “is not a matter of  ‘teaching’, of methodology or of ‘educational equipment'”[39] but depends on the personality of the teacher and the relationship to the student. He said to one of the teachers at his school:

“Do not be preoccupied with method. Leave your instincts to guide you to life. Children differ from one another. One must learn to know them, to navigate among them as one navigates among reefs. To explore the geography of their minds, a mysteriousinstinct, sympathetic to life, is the best of all guides.” [40]

For his university, Tagore also tried to find lecturers that express the qualities of a guru and who “are wholeheartedly and with all their energy engaged in the processes of research, invention and creation.”[41] Tagore taught many lessons himself with great success and has been addressed by Gandhi and others as gurudev (godly teacher).


Holistic Education: Knowledge, action, love

Language, context and books

In contrast to colonial educational institutions, teachers in Santiniketan used the mother tongue and related the content to the historical, cultural and natural context to ensure that students properly understand the content and can apply it. Tagore wrote textbooks in Bengali,[42], yet also argued that books are only useful to the student when they are connected to the student’s context and do not discourage imagination and thinking. Too easily, books lead to passivity, encourage slavish consumerism and rote-learning, and therefore divide thinking and talking.[43]

Tagore believed that neither books nor teachers should simplify information but should rather stretch their young readers’ abilities. Through this, they would encourage critical thinking, imagination and continuous work of the unconscious with what has been read or learnt.[44]

“The watery stuff into which literary nectar is now diluted for being served up to the young takes full account of their childishness, but none of them as growing human beings. Children’s books should be such as can partly be understood by them and partly not. In our childhood we read every available book from one end to the other; and both what we understood, and what we did not, went on working within us. That is how the world itself reacts on the child consciousness. The child makes its own what it understands, while that which is beyond leads it on a step forward.”[45]

In history lessons, Tagore encouraged the focus to be on ideals instead of knowledge, as he believed that this would help the learners’ personality to grow. Furthermore, students should learn from the known to the unknown and develop applied “knowing” rather than learn abstract “knowledge.”[46] Following the “method of nature,” they should explore and examine and educate themselves through independent work.


An untitled sketch of a dancing girl by Rabindranath Tagore
An untitled sketch of a dancing girl by Rabindranath Tagore

Body and movement

Tagore did not believe that schools should merely look after the healthy development of their students’ minds, but also took their physical wellbeing extremely seriously. He made sure that they received a good diet and had enough physical movement. He offered many different sports activities (ballgames, gymnastics, dance, martial arts such as Lathi and Ju-Jutsu). Tagore did not treat the physical as a separate area though but engages the body at the same time as the mind through peripatetic education, sense training, excursions, and even travelling.

He believed that children need to move a lot and that movement gives them strength to assimilate new facts and to encounter and collect knowledge, while static education in classrooms separates body and mind.[47] Tagore’s ideal was to create a travel school that allows students to travel through all of India. Unfortunately, he did not have the financial means to actualize this on a larger scale.[48]

Rabindranath Tagore founded several schools and a university at Santiniketan, West-Bengal, and was one of the most progressive educators of his time. He envisioned a holistic education that was deeply rooted in one’s culture and surroundings but also connected to the wider world. Tagore was a pioneer in education for intercultural understanding and peace, for respect and intimacy with nature, for rural reconstruction and social engagement and for artistic abilities and creativity.

Tagore has not written a single educational treatise. His ideas are scattered in countless writings. They can also be discovered in the educational institutions he founded, which do not follow a scholastic approach but are living and growing experiments.


Activities: From Scientific Experiments to Social Engagement

Over the years, Tagore’s curriculum was more and more determined by activities.[49] This included scientific experiments, excursions for social research, trying to find solutions to the villagers’ real-life-problems and implementing them, picnics, tending to animals, and helping around the school buildings. The Brati-Balakas and Brati-Balikas (“boys and girls who have taken an oath”) tended to the surrounding villages.[50]

Tagore most thoroughly actualized this activity curriculum in his Shiksha-Satra school, where all subjects are organized around practical problems and the improvement of living conditions.[51] But even his university aimed to be not only the centre of India’s intellectual life but also its economical life.

Students worked on farms and in crafts, cooperated with villagers and helped them to improve their faming methods.[52] Through their activities, they not only improved rural life but also learnt better, developed their personality and grew spiritually, for example by developing an emotional relationship with nature.[53]


Arts: The pride and joy of Santiniketan

The arts – fine arts, dance, music, theatre – have a place of honour at Tagore’s educational institutions, and his university is famous for its various arts departments.[54] According to Mukherjee, “Tagore, therefore, stands unrivalled as the cause of aesthetic culture as an indispensable element in an ideal education.”[55]

Tagore focused on arts in education as they help to develop and express aesthetic awareness, creative expression and joy and build the necessary foundation for a mature and well-rounded personality. He even argued that the arts are as crucial for human vitality as health and food.[56] In children, Tagore saw a particular affinity and joy for the arts. He created an atmosphere of cultural activities that inspired his pupils and woke their interests in music and other arts forms unconsciously.

He introduced formal lessons only to those who felt inclined to take them.[57] Tagore also wrote plays that he performed together with the children and their teachers. Most of the songs and plays were not specifically written for children, yet, according to Tagore, the children did a wonderful job in the performances.[58] Often, Santiniketan students would also write or improvise plays themselves and invite Tagore and other teachers to the performances.[59]

In Santiniketan art classes, children and students were never asked to only copy models and practise techniques but were encouraged to create original works of art right from the start. To inspire their students and thereby improve the quality of their artistic works, Tagore invited artists to Santiniketan that the children could watch while they were working. At Visva-Bharati, the most famous artist was Nandalal Bose, who endeavoured to promote a national form of art.

Tagore included arts as part of all subjects by inciting them to creatively express what they have learnt, which supported the learning process and furthered creative expression and imagination.[60] At the university, students of non-artistic subjects were encouraged to take up arts lessons as minor subjects.

Furthermore, Tagore supported the students in founding a literary club and illustrated journals and showing their work in festivals and exhibitions.[61] Students were also asked to take up handiworks or crafts, such as gardening, woodwork, or weaving. Tagore believed in the pedagogical value of these classes as well as in their value for economical independence and as being an end in itself through the aesthetic expression they provide.


Education of the Soul: Love and Joy

Not only the mind and the body were part of Tagore’s comprehensive education, but also the soul. According to Tagore’s philosophy, love is the most important path to reaching full humanity, because it connects us with the world and therefore expands our consciousness from the ego to the soul. This produces joy (ananda), which Tagore often used synonymously with love.[62]  Tagore often used the Sanskrit term bhakti when he talked about love, but also the Buddhist term maitri, which means “universal sympathy, which is intellectual as well as emotional. [63]

Tagore proclaimed that the main reason why he can teach children, without having any qualifications, was that he knew how to make them happy.[64] His aspiration was to fill his students’ hearts with joy and love. He recognized that emotions, and particularly joy, are a precondition for successful learning – not only because they make learning less strenuous, but also because they enable the learner not only to know but to properly assimilate information.[65] Tagore’s education for love and sympathy included love to God and humanity (ethical and spiritual education), love to others (peace education) and love to nature (environmental education). We will now look into all these areas in more detail.


Spirituality and Ethics

Education for social empathy and values are usually considered to be the task of ethical education; yet for Tagore they are spiritual education. According to him, one needs to be connected to a higher reality and be free from one’s limited ego to acquire and develop ideals and values. Tagore is convinced that we cannot support children’s ethical development through mere teaching or preaching, e.g. religious education, as he does not believe in a fixed moral code or ideals that could be passed on.

He argues that values cannot be directly taught and that this is only possible to do with sectarian dogma or tradition. Direct passing on of “value” might therefore only lead to piety but never to spiritual and proper ethical development.[66] Instead, spiritual development requires widening one’s consciousness, filling it with love and truly comprehending the world.[67] This very often happens only through intense moments of enlightenment and inspiration,[68] and it demands patience.

Tagore does not believe that religious education should be a separate subject. He argues that spirituality will only be separate from life and education in general, if children acquire “our incessant habit of ignoring”[69] the spiritual world. He is convinced that children’s spirituality will develop on its own if they are not discouraged from this and if they are surrounded by the right atmosphere of art, music, nature and the inspiration through teachers who are themselves trying to develop their spirituality.[70]

“Our conscious relationship with the Infinite (…) can on[l]y be made possible by making provision for students to live in infinite touch with nature, daily to grow in an atmosphere of service offered to all creatures, tending trees, feedings birds and animals, learning to feel the immense mystery of the soil and water and air.

Along with this, there should be some common sharing of life with the tillers of the soil and the humble workers in the neighbouring villages; studying their crafts, inviting them to the feasts, joining them in works of co-operation for communal welfare; and in our intercourse we should be guided, not by moral maxims or the condescension of social superiority, but by natural sympathy of life for life, and by the sheer necessity of love’s sacrifice for its own sake. In such an atmosphere students would learn to understand that humanity is a divine harp of many strings, waiting for its one grand music.” [71]

In his school, Tagore also uses mantras,[72] meditation (i.e., sitting still for 20 minutes in the morning, without being forced to think of anything in particular, even if children just “watch squirrels”),[73] and a weekly interdenominational service in the ashram’s mandir (temple) which includes singing, sermons according to Tagore’s syncretistic Religion of Man, and the celebration of seasons and of the birthdays of great minds in the history and religion of humanity. In the evenings, myths and religious texts are part of the entertainment. Tagore allows his students to live according to the various religious traditions, as long as they do not discriminate others.[74] At Tagore’s school and his university, various religions can be studied.


Internationalism: Education for Peace

Tagore deeply cared about the international political situation of his days and spoke out for the unity of humanity in an age of nationalism. He argued that, while most schools of his time educated children towards a narrow nationalism full of prejudices (e.g., in through one-sided views of history), this would make them unable to understand other cultures and make them unfree because they would “lose their freedom of sympathy”[75] and their ability to connect with the world.

To implement true internationalism, Tagore believed that children should be deeply rooted in their own culture but at the same time realize their unity with all of humanity. Like spirituality, Tagore did not think that international understanding and tolerance could be taught but that they have to be learnt through positive experiences with others.

Tagore invited students and teachers from many countries to his school and university and thus created a multicultural and multireligious community that enabled its members to get to know each other on a daily basis and to develop love and respect.[76] He was convinced that hospitality is the best pedagogical method to educate for peace. Foreigners are not a problem as in other places, but are invited as guests that everybody tries to care for.[77]

His ideal was to create an “atmosphere of love” that remains in his students’ hearts and frees them from racist prejudices.[79] His university also has the explicit goal to find its roots in India as well as its unity with the whole world – Visva-Bharati literally means World-India.[80]


Ecological Education

Tagore considered being close to nature as crucial, as he is convinced that the communion with nature gives energy, generates love, and puts life into perspective.[81] He saw nature as indispensable for the healthy growth of children’s body and soul and argued that without it, “children suffer, and in the young men is produced world-weariness.”[82] A child, he argued, has an inborn desire for nature:

“But directly it is born with all its instincts ready for the next stage, which is the natural life, it is at once pounced upon by the society of cultivated habits to be snatched away from the open arms of the earth, water and the sky, from the sunlight and air. At first it struggles and bitterly cries, and then it gradually forgets that it had for its inheritance God’s creation; then it shuts its windows, pulls down its curtains, loses itself among meaningless miscellanies and feels proud of its accumulations at the cost of its world and possibly of its soul.”[83]

Tagore therefore did not only let children spent their time outside during school lessons and their free time, but also celebrated the seasons with them and incorporated literature, plays and music that praised nature, into the daily life of the campus life.[84] Through this, he hoped to facilitate spiritual identification with nature, which in turn, according to Tagore, is the basis of environmental education and the protection of nature.[85]

Educational Institutions and Projects by Tagore


In the 1890s, Tagore was put in charge of the family’s rural properties in East Bengal. His first experiments in adult education were carried out there, as he gradually became aware of the acute material and cultural poverty that permeated the villages, as well as the great divide between the uneducated rural areas and the city elites. His experiences made him determined to do something about rural uplift, and later at Santiniketan, students and teachers were involved with literacy training and social work and the promotion of cooperative schemes.



After teaching his children at home for a while with the help of tutors, Tagore decided to found a school at Santiniketan in 1901. The land belonged to his father, and his nephew Balendranath Tagore had briefly opened a school in this place, which was closed again in 1899. Tagore’s school was first called Brahmacayashram (brahmacarya translates as “movement towards brahman”).[86]

It pronounced India’s tapovans (forest colonies) as ideal educational setting and is in opposition to the colonial schools of its times. The first students were only Rathindranath Tagore and four further students. Tagore financed the project completely himself. The students lived a simple and disciplined life and had to carry out daily chores themselves. Classes took place under the trees. After a few months, creative activities and applied learning in villages became more important.

From 1908, the institution accepted girls as students and became a co-educational place of learning. Tagore travels and contacts with educationists of other countries were influential particularly around 1912/13[89] and made his school more democratic. From 1925 this school came to be known as Patha-Bhavana.

Sriniketan & Adult Education

In 1912, Tagore bought a house with a lot of land (Surul) that later becomes famous with the new name “Sriniketan” (“Place of Wellbeing”). He sent his son Rathindranath there, who was trained in agriculture in America, to improve village life. Yet an outbreak of malaria stopped the program which only regained new life when the American Leonard Knight Elmhirst (1893-1974) and his later wife and millionaire Dorothy Staight Whitney began to support it in 1921.[90]

In 1923, Sriniketan became the Institute for Rural Reconstruction. The institute’s focus was on laboratory research directed to improve productiviy, yet included health, social life, and education as crucial aspects of Sriniketan. Furthermore, co-operatives in banking, groceries and handicrafts were established to improve village life.

Tagore sent university students to teach villagers in handicrafts. In 1929, there are altogether 315 apprentices.[91] Sriniketan also launched many educational programs such as evening schools for adults and children: in 1940 there are 16 of these schools with 500 enrolled students.[91] Its institute “Siksha Charcha Bhavana” provided teacher’s education that was oriented towards a more holistic curriculum that includes music, agriculture, sanitation, scouting and handicrafts.

Adult Education took place through melas and performances, talks, training camps, and the first public circulating library of Bengal. Women Education also took an important place at Sriniketan: Besides a special school for village girls, there are educational projects that cover child rearing, nutrition, etc. With help of a society called “Loka-Siksha Samsad,” a distance university that teaches in Bengali up to BA level is introduced. All of these project strongly increase alphabetisation and agricultural productivity.[92]



Tagore’s 1918 article “The Centre of Indian Culture” presents his plan for a university as a centre in direct connection with Indian life, that establishes first a connection with all of Asian and then opens to the whole world. Tagore founded such a university in the same year, and inaugurated it officially in 1922. Its name “Visva-Bharati” expresses the connection between India and the world, and its motto yatra visvam bhavati ekanidam means “Where the whole world meets in one nest.”

Visva Bharati became particularly famous for its artistic institutes, particularly Kala-Bhavana (fine arts) and Sangeet-Bhavana (singing). In 1951, Visva-Bharati (including Sriniketan) became a state university under control of the central government, which leads to financial security but a lot less autonomy.



In 1924, Tagore, Elmhirst and teacher Santosh Majumdar initiated a particularly successful educational experiment: a school called Siksha-Satra (meaning: “where education is given free of cost”). This school was first located in Santiniketan and later in Sriniketan, and was aimed at poor village children. According to Tagore,

“Siksha-Satra is the natural outcome of some years of educational experiment at Santiniketan and at the Institute of Rural Reconstruction at Sriniketan. Here an attempt is being made to give an all-round education to village children and provide them with training which will not only enable them to earn a decent livelihood but also to equip them with the necessary training and creative imagination with which they help to improve the rural life of Bengal in all its aspects.”[92]

Tagore realized many of his ideas stronger in Siksha-Satra than in his first school, where parents’ expectations (such as preparing children for university entrance exams) hindered their realization.[93] Classes were more strongly based on individual interests, direct relevance for life, and learning by doing.



Hardly any literature discusses Tagore’s later educational experiment at Jorasanko. After Gandhi had visited (and criticized) Santiniketan, Tagore became more conscious of what he himself saw as its shortcomings. He founded a new “model school” in Jorasanko, his family home, to overcome established routines. He himself taught, and arts and music were the most important subjects of the school.[94]


Rabindranath Tagore's House (Jorasanko Thakurbari)
Rabindranath Tagore’s House (Jorasanko Thakurbari)



Rabindranath Tagore has been a most progressive educationist who we can still learn from today. While creativity, connection with nature and tolerance for other cultures are nowadays more recognized as important aspects of education, they still take a back seat in comparison to employability and external achievements.

A reading of Tagore’s writings on education encourages us to rethink this prioritization. His pedagogical approach of the “method of nature” could inspire us to accept a deceleration of learning and the simplification of living as the most forward-leading approach.[95] This is not only an elitist approach: In his engagement for educationally deprived people, Tagore never cut their education down to the mere basics but made sure that culture and joy were included in their learning, which strengthened them in their self-worth and empowered them.

Tagore’s school and university exist until today. Many  aspects of his institutions have changed. But pupils still have their classes under trees, Tagore’s festivals are celebrated, and music and the arts form a crucial part of the life of the students.


Bibliographical Notes

  1. Das Gupta, U. (ed.), Rabindranath Tagore. My Life in My Words. New Delhi: Penguin Viking, 2006, p. 101. [Hereafter: Das Gupta]. In his poem „Ebar Phirao Morey“ (Call Me Back to Work) from 1894 he expressed his troubled conscience and his realization that he needed to leave his comfortable life and start to serve his people.
  2. Tagore, R. Personality. New York: The Macmillan Co, 1917, p. 12 [Hereafter: Personality]; cf. Gandhi, quoted in Mukherjee, H.B. Education for Fulness: A Study of the Educational Thought and Experiment of Rabindranath Tagore. Bombay: Asia Pub. House, 1962, p. 73. [Hereafter: Mukherjee]
  3. Kupfer, C. Bildung zum Weltmenschen. Bielefeld: Transcript.
  4. Tagore, R. Creative Unity. New Delhi: Rupa, 2002 (1922), p. 9 [Hereafter: Creative Unity]; Tagore, R., ‘To School Children at the Victoria Theatre.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 4, A Miscellany. Ed. Nityapriya Ghosh. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 (1927). 564-70, p. 570. [Herafter: ‘School Children’]
  5. Tagore, R. ‘The Schoolmaster.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 3, A Miscellany. Ed. Sisir Kumar Das. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 (1924), 504-9, 505. [Hereafter: ‘Schoolmaster’]
  6. ‘Schoolmaster’, p. 506; ‘School Children’, p. 565.
  7. ‘School Children’, p. 565; Tagore, R. ‘My School.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 4, A Miscellany. Ed. Nityapriya Ghosh. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 (1925), 518-23, p. 520. [Hereafter: ‘My School’]
  8. ‘Schoolmaster’, p. 505.
  9. ‘School Master’, p. 506.
  10. ‘School Master’, p. 504.
  11. Mukherjee, p. 371.
  12. Tagore, Rathindranath. On the Edges of Time. Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1981 [1958],p. 154.
  13. Tagore, R. ‘The Philosophy of Leisure.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 3, A Miscellany. Ed. Sisir Kumar Das. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 (1929), p. 615-619; Tagore, R. ‘To the Child’. The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 4, A Miscellany. Ed. Nityapriya Ghosh. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 [1925], 524-526. [Hereafter: ‘To the Child’]
  14. Mukhopadhyaya, P. K. Rabindra Jivani. Santiniketan: Visva-Bharati, 1353-1363 B.S., p. 271.
  15. ‘Problem of Education’
  16. ‘Schoolmaster’, p. 508.
  17. Tagore, R. ‘The Educational Mission of Visva-Bharati.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 3, A Miscellany. Ed. Sisir Kumar Das. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 (1931), 626-30, p. 628. [Hereafter: ‘Mission of Visva-Bharati‘]
  18. Dhar, Suranjita Nina. Rabindranath Tagore’s Thoughts on Education from a Socio-Political Perspective. Thesis (M.A.)–McGill University. 1996.
  19. ‘Schoolmaster’, p. 509.
  20. Tagore, R. ‘The Problem of Education.’ Towards Universal Man. London: Asia Publishing House, 1961 (1906). [Hereafter: ‘Problem of Education’]
  21. ‘Centre of Indian Culture’; Tagore, R. ‘Co-operation and Destiny’, The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 4, A Miscellany. Ed. Nityapriya Ghosh. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 [1928]. 381-388, p. 388; Personality, p. 157.
  22. ‘Real Education,’ 46.
  23. Tagore, R. ‚What is Real Education?’ Rabindranath Tagore: Philosophy of Education and Painting. Edited by Devi Prasad. New Delhi: National Book Trust, 2001 [1951], pp. 43-50, p. 47. [Hereafter: ‘Real Education’]; Personality, p. 147; ‘Problem of Education’
  24. ‘Real Education,’ 45-8.
  25. ‘Real Education,’ 48.
  26. ‘School Master,’ 506; cf. Mukherjee 1962: 375.
  27. ‘My School,’ p. 521.
  28. Kar, quoted in Mukherjee, p. 373; Ramachandran, G. ‘A Student’s Memories of Gurudev.’ Visva-Bharati Quarterly, Tagore Birthday Number 7 (1&2): 23, 1941, p. 23; O’Connell, Kathleen M. Rabindranath Tagore: The Poet as Educator. Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 2002, p. 146. [Hereafter: O’Connell]
  29. Tagore, Rabindranath. A Tagore Testament. Transl. by Indu Dutt. Mumbai: Jaico, 2000, pp. 37-8; Mukherjee, 375; ‘School Master,’ 507-8; Tagore, R. ‘Letters to a Friend,’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 3, A Miscellany. Ed. Sisir Kumar Das. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 [1928], pp. 219-322, p. 328. [Hereafter: ‘Letters to a Friend’]
  30. ‘School Master’, p. 507.
  31. Tagore, quoted in Mukherjee, 375; Mukhopadhyay, quoted in Mukherjee, 376.
  32. Roy, Basanta Koomar. Rabindranath Tagore: The Man and His Poetry. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1916, pp. 171-2.
  33. Das Gupta, p. 138.
  34. ‘Real Education,’ p. 44.
  35. ‘Real Education,’ p. 44-50; Tagore, R. ‘Indian Students and Western Teachers,’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 4, A Miscellany. Ed. Nityapriya Ghosh. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 [1916]. 261-274; p. 508; [Hereafter: ‘Indian Students and Western Teachers’]; ‘School Master,’ p. 508.
  36. ‘Real Education,’ p. 44; cf. Jalan, Radha Vinod. Tagore: His Educational Theory And Practice And Its Impact On Indian Education. Diss. U. of Florida, 1976, p. 20.
  37. Creative Unity, p. 187.
  38. ‘School Master,’ p. 507
  39. Tagore, R. ‘The True University.’ Rabindranath Tagore: Philosophy of Education and Painting. Edited by Devi Prasad. New Delhi: National Book Trust, 2001, p. 44. [Hereafter: ‘True University’]
  40. Tagore, Rabindranath 1946. ‘A Poet’s School.’ Santiniketan Bulletin 9.
  41. ‘True University,’ p. 52.
  42. Tagore wrote and edited children’s books and school textbooks, such as the series “loka-Siksa Granthamala” and “Visvavidya-Samgraha.” These are still in use in Bengali schools today.
  43. Tagore, R. ‘Cātrader Prati Sambhāsan,’ Śikşā, 1342 B.S., Santiniketan: Visva Bharati, p. 22. [Herafter: ‘Cātrader Prati Sambhāsan’]
  44. cf. Mukerjee, pp. 352, 396.
  45. Tagore, Rabindranath 1917. My Reminiscences. New York: The Macmillan Company, p. 102.
  46. ‘Cātrader Prati Sambhāsan’
  47. ‘School Children,’ p. 565; cf. Mukherjee, p. 290; ME/EW4: 632; Tagore, R., ‘Ālochanā,’ Śikşā, 1342 B.S., p. 251-61, p. 260. [Herafter: ‘Ālochanā’]
  48. Tagore, R., Russia-r Cithi: Letters. Edited by Bishob Sahitya, 2000, p. 69; ‘School Children,’ p. 567.
  49. Mukherjee 1962: 350.
  50. O’Connell, p. 197; Elmhirst, L.K., Rabindranath Tagore: Pioneer in Education, London: John Murray, 1961, p. 12. [Herafter: Elmhirst]
  51. cf. Mukherjee 1962: 353.
  52. Tagore, R. ‘The Centre of Indian Culture,’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore. Volume 2. Plays, stories, essays. Edited by Sisir Kumar Das. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 467-492, p.490. [Hereafter: ‘Centre of Indian Culture’]; Creative Unity, pp. 202-3.
  53. ‘Ālochanā,’ p. 261.
  54. ‘Centre of Indian Culture,’ p. 488; Creative Unity, p. 201; cf. Huxley 1961: 129-32; Subramanya 1977: 15-6
  55. Mukherjee, p. 407.
  56. Tagore‚ R. ‘Kalāvidyā,’ Santiniketan, Agrahāyan 1326 B.S.; Mukherjee 1962: 364, 401
  57. Personality, p. 177; ‘My School,’ p. 521; ‘School Children,’ p. 568
  58. ‘Mission of Visva-Bharati,’ p. 627.
  59. Personality, p. 176-7;
  60. cf. Tagore, R. ‘The Place of Music in Education and Culture.’ Transl. by Indira Devi Chaudhuri. In Kshitis Roy (Ed.) Visva Bharati Quarterly, Education Number, Reprint. Santiniketan: Visva-Bharati, 2004 (1936). 39-45; pp. 43-45; Tagore‚ R. ‘Śikşā-Samskar’, Śikşā, Santiniketan: Visva-Bharati, 1342, B.S., p. 39.
  61. Personality, p. 176-7.
  62. Tagore, R. Sadhana. Fairfield: First World Library. 2005 (1913), 401-483, p. 86.
  63. ibid.
  64. ‘To the Child,’ pp. 524-526.
  65. Personality, p. 15.
  66. Tagore, R. ‘Religious Education.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 4, A Miscellany. Ed. Nityapriya Ghosh. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 (1911/1935). 249-260, p. 253-7. [Hereafter: ‘Religious Education’]; Tagore, R. ‘The Philosophy of Our People.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 3, A Miscellany. Ed. Sisir Kumar Das. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 [1926]. 559-569; p. 565. [Herafter: ‘Philosophy of Our People’]
  67. ‘Philosophy of Our People,’ p. 565.
  68. ‘Letters to a Friend,’ p. 276.
  69. Personality, p. 154.
  70. ‘Religious Education,’ p. 256.
  71. Tagore, R. ‘The First Anniversary of Sriniketan.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 4, A Miscellany. Ed. Nityapriya Ghosh. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 [1924], 493-498, pp. 497-8.
  72. ‘Philosophy of Our People,’ p. 565.
  73. Personality, p. 178
  74. ‘School Children,’ p. 569; Winternitz, M. ‘Die Tagoreschule.’ Der neue Waldkauz 1 (8): 107, 1927.
  75. ‘My School,’ p. 522.
  76. Tagore, R. ‘Public Lecture at St. Francis Institution.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 4, A Miscellany. Ed. Nityapriya Ghosh. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 [1927]. 570-572, p. 571; ‘Mission of Visva-Bharati,’ p. 628
  77. Tagore, R. ‘Ideals of Education.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 3, A Miscellany. Ed. Sisir Kumar Das. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 [1929]. 611-614, p. 612; ‘Indian Students and Western Teachers,’ p. 271.
  78. ‘Ideals of Education,’ p. 612.
  79. ‘School Children,’ p. 569.
  80. ‘My School,’ p. 522; ‘Mission of Visva-Bharati,’ p. 628.
  81. ‘Real Education,’ p. 44.
  82. Personality, p. 149; cf. ‘Problem of Education’; ‘My School,’ p. 520; ‘Mission of Visva-Bharati,’ p. 627.
  83. ‘My School,’ pp. 149-50.
  84. ‘Letters to a Friend,’ p. 233; for a thorough description of the festivals see Das Gupta, U. 1998 [1983]. Santiniketan and Sriniketan. Kalkutta: Visva-Bharati, pp. 26-7.
  85. Tagore, R. ‘Address at the Parliament of Religions.’ The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 3, A Miscellany. Ed. Sisir Kumar Das. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 [1937]. 704-710, p. 705; Tagore, R. Human Values. The Tagorean Panorama. Translations from Santiniketan. Transl. S. K. Chakraborty & P. Bhattacharya. New Delhi: New Age Intern., 1999, p. 272; cf. Gupta, Kalyan Sen 2005. The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore. Aldershot: Ashgate, p. 69.
  86. After the foundation of the university, Tagore’s school is called Patha-Bhavana (cf. R. Tagore. 1967. Asramer rup-o-bikash. Calcutta: Visva-Bharati).
  87. O’Connell, p. 93; cf. Das, A. [ed.] 1971. Santiniketan Bidyalayer Siksadarsa. Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, pp. 41-80.
  88. Lal 1932: 93.
  89. Mukherjee, 209.
  90. Mukherjee, 211.
  91. Dasgupta, Sugata 1962. A Poet and a Plan. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co; p. 113; O’Connell 2002: 214.
  92. Tagore, quoted in Elmhirst, p. 10.
  93. O’Connell, pp. 97-99.
  94. Tagore, R. Visva-Bharati Bulletin 21, 1936.
  95. Kupfer, C. ‘Inside out, outside in: thinking a Tagorean future of education.’ Special Issue of Literature Compass, in press.