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the-south-asian.com                         7  August   2000

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Shantiniketan and the Origin of Modern Art in India.

By Vijay Kowshik


From L to R: Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Nandlal Bose, Binodebihari Mukherjee


In the eight decades of its existence, the Art School at Shantiniketan's Visva Bharati University has been synonymous with giants of Indian modern art. Founded by Rabindranath Tagore, and nurtured by the artistic greats -Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and Binodebihari Mukherji - the Art School became the University's most notable department.

K.G. Subramanyan, Somenath Hore and Dinkar Kowshik - all live there - their canvasses still flowing with creative energies.



The Visva Bharati University at Shantiniketan [Abode of Peace] was founded by Rabindranath Tagore in 1921 - as a spiritual and intellectual haven - a catalyst for the synthesis of Asian and western thought, "… a conduit between Asia's past and present, so that the ancient learning might be rejuvenated through contact with modern thinking."


The origins and association with Shantiniketan go back over a hundred years. It was in 1863 that Rabindranath's father Debendranath Tagore, on one of his journeys, stopped at Shantiniketan [near Bolpur], about a hundred miles north-west of Calcutta, to meditate under one of the few trees that existed there at the time. The area was desolate, barren, and denuded. Debendranath was charmed by the solitude and the aloofness of the place and bought it - as a retreat for his family. Over the years, soil and plants were transported and thus began the greening of Shantiniketan. In 1901, Rabindranath, at the age of forty, decided to make Shantiniketan his home and at first founded a school there, and twenty years later - a University - The Visva Bharati University.

The idea of Visva Bharati University at Shantiniketan was far ahead of its time. "I have it in mind to make Shantiniketan the connecting thread between India and the world…The days of petty nationalism are numbered - let the first step towards universal union occur in the fields of Bolpur. I want to make that place somewhere beyond the limits of nature and geography" - Rabindranath had articulated. At the time it began functioning in 1921, it was dismissed by some as an idealist's dream. Rabindranath, nevertheless, pursued and set up three departments - Art, Music and Indology - which attracted indigenous talent and Orientalists from Europe and the Far East. From the time he won the Nobel Prize in 1913 until his death in 1941, many distinguished scholars, artists, and writers from the world over visited Rabindranath at Shantiniketan. Ramsay MacDonald, Kakuzo Okakura, Wilmot Perera, Moritz Winternitz, Sylvain Levi were some of the visitors to Shantiniketan.


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