আমাদের শান্তিনিকেতন আমাদের সব হতে আপন। তার আকাশ-ভরা কোলে মোদের দোলে হৃদয় দোলে, মোরা বারে বারে দেখি তারে নিত্যই নূতন॥ মোদের তরুমূলের মেলা, মোদের খোলা মাঠের খেলা, মোদের নীল গগনের সোহাগ-মাখা সকাল-সন্ধ্যাবেলা। মোদের শালের ছায়াবীথি বাজায় বনের কলগীতি, সদাই পাতার নাচে মেতে আছে আম্লকী-কানন॥ আমরা যেথায় মরি ঘুরে সে যে যায় না কভু দূরে, মোদের মনের মাঝে প্রেমের সেতার বাঁধা যে তার সুরে। মোদের প্রাণের সঙ্গে প্রাণে সে যে মিলিয়েছে এক তানে, মোদের ভাইয়ের সঙ্গে ভাইকে সে যে করেছে এক-মন॥
Introducing Santiniketan (also spelled as Shantiniketan, Bengali: শান্তিনিকেতন), Birbhum, West Bengal is not only extraordinarily important but also challenging task because its creator Rabindranath Tagore had a complex personality and his creativity manifested itself in ever-changing and endless forms till the end of his life. Moving beyond literature, painting and education he was a pioneer in rural reconstruction; he built up a school and Visva-Bharati University of a new kind at Santiniketan on the basis of his own vision and ideals.
In 1862, Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, while on a boat journey to Raipur, came across a landscape with red laterite soil and meadows of lush green paddy fields, a couple of chhatim trees and date palms. He found solace and serenity in this barren land. He stopped to look and purchased the land rightaway and also decided to plant more saplings and construct a small house. A beautiful garden was laid out on all sides of the house. The top-layer of gritty dry soil was removed and filled with alluvial soil brought from outside. Saplings were planted like mango, amloki, bohera, myrobalan, sal and mohua for fruits and shade. He called his home Santiniketan (the abode of peace). Santiniketan became a spiritual center where people from all religions were invited to join for meditation and prayers. He founded an ‘Ashram’ here in 1863 and became the initiator of the Brahmo Samaj. Thus a tapovana on ancient Indian ideals was established on the soil of modern India. On 8th March 1888 he dedicated it to his country.
On 22nd December 1901 (7th Poush 1308) Rabindranath Tagore inspired by his extraordinary vision, started a school at Santiniketan with five students only. Poush mela is held every year at Santiniketan commemorating the historic day of 7th Poush. The school was first name Brahmacharyasrama and education in asrama is education for life at its fullest.
The celebration of seasons was always a feature in the asrama. These festivals came to be associated with the special culture of this institution and the introduction of traditional Indian forms and rituals in organising these festivals, including the decoration of the site, use of flowers, alpana, chanting of Vedic hymns and blowing of conch-shells gave them a new dimension, aesthetically attractive, intrinsically Indian yet totally secular. Rabindranath felt, it was necessary that an affinity be built between the students” minds and the flora and fauna of the asrama.
While Indian culture was fundamental to that education so was its wide acceptance of the outer world. Emphasis on Indian culture was strong in early Santiniketan modeled on the forest schools of old, a hermitage. The school was started at the inception of the Swadeshi Movement.; it was turned into Santiniketan, Visva-Bharati at the end of the first World War with a determination to build friendships with nations despite the prevalent Non-Cooperation. Tagore declared the aim of Visva-Bharati as ‘We are of the faith that Truth is one and undivided, though diverse may be the ways which lead us to it. Though the separate paths of pilgrims from different lands arrive at the same stride of Truth. This we certainly know. Knowledge flows in two streams – from the East and from the West. In their unity is perceived the oneness of Truth that pervades and sustains the entire universe. This we avow. In the realization of this oneness of Truth lies mighty gain, perfect peace and profound good of Man. This we truly believe. So unto this, Visva-Bharati we render our homage by weaving garlands with flowers of learning gathered from all quarters of the earth. To all devotees of Truth, both from the West and from the East, we extend our hand with love.’
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. A child has to be aware of his surroundings – the trees, birds and animals around him. The mind is deprived if one is indifferent to the world outside. Rabindranath said we concentrate on learning from books and neglect the knowledge that is freely available on all sides.