Rabindranath Tagore

-Satish Kumar

                                                     -Sajjad Ahmad


Since our objective is to draw attention to the writings of Rabindranadh Tagore on education by means of selected excerpts, an elaborate introduction is superfluous. It is best to let Tagore speak for himself. However, historically situating Tagore’s ideas on education in the context of his times might be useful for those not familiar with these writings for two reasons. First, the commentaries by a number of scholars on his writings are unfortunately insufficiently sensitive to the evolution of his ideas in interaction with their intellectual and social environment. Secondly, we must also bear in mind that most of his writings on education were written in the Bengali language and very few of these are available in English translation. Some of the early writings, particularly those written during the 1905-1907 Swadeshi agitation, which are of formative importance in the history of the National Education Movement, have not been translated.

In 1892 Tagore wrote his first major essay on education in India. He was only 31 then and had no claim to be considered an authority on education. In this essay written in Bengali and entitled ‘The Mismatch of Education’, Tagore made a searing critique of the colonial pattern of education. Based on his own experience of schooling during childhood and his observations in later life, he saw the system instituted by the British government as an incompetent imitation of the English model which educated only a few and inadequately at that. This critique constituted an agenda for developing a truly Indian educational institution. It took the shape of the ‘asram’ he founded in Santiniketan in 1901; the object was to locate the school in the lap of Nature, away from the colonial metropolis of Calcutta, to build an ambience that would be responsive to the culture of the country and its people, and to offer education in the mother knowledge. Tagore search was for an alternative to the colonial pattern of education, which at that time be thought lay in the ‘asram’ concept of classical India.

Tagore’s ideas underwent a change in 1905 with the beginning of the Swadeshi and the national education movements. In Bengal. In this second phase, roughly covering the years between 1905 and 1915. He took a leading role in articulating the nationalist ideas on education; but he retained his individuality and his ideas were not always congruent with those of the political leaders of the Swadeshi agitation.

In 1912, in an essay called ‘Sikshvidhi’ he wrote: ‘we cannot bring to life a particular system of system of education by calling it national. The system of education, which is born of variously, directed endeavors of various people of this nation that is what can be called national. Thus, as always, Tagore defended organic diversity against mechanical unity and opposed the sectarian and parochial outlook, which is intolerant towards diversity.

We can discern a third phase in the evolution of Tagore’s educational philosophy in the period 1914 to roughly 1933. The First World War turned his mind towards an aspect of European nationalism:  he felt that the global struggle between imperialistic powers was the outcome of aggressive and exploitative European nationalism, and that kind of nationalism was alien to Indian civilization which had always been SyncreticPluralistic and open to intercultural exchange and understanding. He thought that India needed an institution where knowledge will be exchanged and compared, where India’s knowledge can be located and analyses in the perspective of the knowledge acquired by the entire mankind. The concept of Visva Bharati took shape and was formally found in 1921.

Tagore started the Rural Reconstruction center and a new experiment in schools for Sriniketan. He devoted all his private resources to these efforts, including the money from the Noble Prize as well as the considerable income from the royalty on his writings. At the same time, Tagore’ s writings in this period were replete with reflections on the limitation of what he had created. Visva Bharathi was an idea and the institution named after it could not, like most other institutions, fulfill all the ideals it was intended to realize. Moreover, by the early 1930s there was another paradigm change in Tagore’s educational thinking. He from the early 1930s the focus of his attention was on lokasiksha or people’s education. The indigenous pre-modern educational system had been allowed to die by the colonial administration. The modern schools and colleges even though inspired by nationalist ideals, failed to spread education beyond their walls and among the people:

On the one hand in our country the spread of traditional education has been impeded and people suffer from lock of education as they do when it does not rain. On the other hand the modern education that came did not flow like a river towards the common people of this priests who levy a tax and have numberless rules.

Tagore said, must be naturalized in the Indian soil and the opportunity for education must not be limited  to the higher rungs of society. Leaving untouched the layers below. Tagore made a concrete suggestion that anticipated the idea of the Open University- a syllabus to be announced and examination to be conducted by the University of Calcutta without requiring school or college attendance and payment of fees. The plan, needless to say was rejected by the University authorities of the day. Tagore commented on the growth of science in Europe and compared it with the state of science in India.

Tagore felt that the Wardha pattern put an overwhelming emphasis on practical training in the crafts and excluded from its purview the element of  ‘play’ and artistic creativity. However, he recognized a convergence between his idea ofloke-siksha and the Gandhi scheme for basic education. In 1940, in his last public pronouncement a few months before his death, Tagore tried to focus public attention on the inequality in education, which stood in the way of social equality.

 My School


 I started a school in Bengal when I was nearing forty. Certainly this was never expected of me, who had spent the greater portion of my life in writing, chiefly verses.  Therefore people naturally thought that as a school it might not be one of the best of its kind, but it was sure to be something outrageously new. Being the product of daring inexperience.

This is one of the reasons why I am often asked what is the idea upon which my school is based. The question is a very embarrassing one for me, because to satisfy the expectation of my questioners.

In the first place, I must confess it is difficult for me to say what is the idea, which underlies my institutionFor the idea is not like a fixed foundation upon which a building is erected. It is more like a seed, which cannot be separated and pointed out directly, it begins to grow into a plant.

Those days were unhappy ones for me I cannot altogether ascribe to my peculiar temperament or to any special demerit of the schools to which I  was sent. It may be if I had been a little less sensitive. I could gradually have accommodated myself to the pressure and survived long enough to earn my university degrees. But all the same schools are schools. Though some are better and some are worse, according to their own standard.

The young mind should be saturated with the idea that it has been born in a human world, which is in harmony with the world around it. And this is what our regular type of school ignores with an air of superior wisdom, severe and disdainful. It forcibly snatches away children form a world full of mustery of God’s own handiwork, full of the suggestiveness of personality. It is a mere method of discipline, which refuses to take into account the individual. For according to the school life is perfect when it allows itself to be treated as dead, to be cut into symmetrical conveniences. And this was the cause of my suffering when I was sent to school. For all of a sudden I found my world vanishing from around me, giving place to wooden benches and straight walls staring at me with the blank stare of the blind. I was not a creation of the school master, the Government  Board of Education was not consulted when I took birth in the world. But was that any reason why they should wreak their vengeance upon me for this oversight of my creator?  My mind had to accept the tight-fitting encasement of the school which, being like the shoes of a mandarin woman, pinched and bruised my nature on all sides and at every movement. I was fortunate enough in extricating myself before insensibility set in.    

However, it is certain that children did not bargain for this muffled and screened world of decency when they were ready to be born upon this earth. If they had any idea that they were about to open their eyes to the sunlight, only to find themselves in the hands of the education department till they should lose their freshness of mind and keenness of sense, they would think twice before venturing upon their career of humanity.  It was a special arrangement for giving lessons.  It could only be suitable for grown up people who were conscious of the special need of such places and therefore ready to accept their teaching at the cost of dissociation from life. But children are in love with life, and it is their first love, all itscolour and movement attract their eager attention.  Children are not born ascetics, fit to enter at once into the monastic discipline of acquiring knowledge.

But society has made its own arrangements for manipulating men’s minds to fit its special patterns.  These arrangements are so closely organized that is difficult to find gaps through which to bring in nature. There is a serial adjustment of penalties, which follows to the end one, who ventures to take liberty with some part of the arrangements, even to save his soul. This is why when I had to face the problem of my own son’s education I was at a loss to give it a practical solution. The first thing that I did was to take him away from the town surroundings into a village and allow him the freedom of primeval nature as far as it is available in modern days. He had a river, noted for its danger, where he swam and rowed without check from the anxiety of his elders. He spent his time in the fields and on the trackless sand-banks, coming late for his meals without being questioned. For which privations I am sure, he was pitied and his parents blamed by the people for whom society has blotted out whole world. I for my part believe in the principle of life, in the soul of man more than in methods. I believe that the object of education is the freedom of mind, which can only be achieved through the path of freedom-though freedom has its risk, and responsibility as life itself has. I know it for certain, though most people seem to have forgotten it, that children are living beings-more living than grown-up people who have built their shells of habit around them. Therefore it is absolutely necessary for their mental health and development that they should not have mere schools for their lessons, but a world whose guiding spirit is personal love. It must be an ashram where men have gathered for the highest end of life, in the peace of nature; where life is not merely meditative, but fully awake in its activities. Where boys minds are not being perpetually drilled into believing that the ideal of the self-idolatry of the nation is the truest ideal for them to accept: where they are bidden to realize man’s world as God’s kingdom to whose citizenship they have to aspire; where the sunrise and sunset and the silent glory of stars are not daily ignored; where nature’s festivities of flowers and fruit have their joyous recognition from man; and where the young and the old, the teacher and the students, sit at the same table to take of their  daily food and the food  of their eternal life.

Rabindranath Tagore’s Philosophy of education and its influence on Indian education

Rabindranath Tagore believed that the aim of education is self-realization. He himself was a poet and a saint, who had, through his imagination and insight, realized the universal soul in himself and in nature. He believed that this realization was the goal of education. Because the universal soul is the root of our own soul, man’s aim in life is to reach that universal soul of which all human beings are parts. The evolution of nature is consciously or unconsciously driving us towards this universal soul, a process that can be assisted by education. Even if it is not assisted, the progress towards the universal soul will continue, but then individuals will be deprived of self-realization. It is thus evident that Rabindranadheducational philosophy is an adjunct of his general philosophy of life. He believed that every human being is one who has potentialities of progressing towards the Super human being, the universal soul. His conception of the universal soul bore clear imprint of the Gita and Upanishadic philosophies.

Principles of Self-Education

Self-education is based on self-realization and the process of self-realization is as permanent as that of education. What is most important in this is that the students must have faith in himself and in the universal self-underlying his own individual soul. All those actions, which provide a natural sense of satisfaction and contentment, will promote the educative process. This contentment is the reaction of the soul, and hence not the same as mere satisfaction and pleasure. In following Rabindranadh concept of self-education, the students had to follow the following three principles

1.   Independence- Rabindranath believed in complete freedom of every kind for the students, the freedom of intellect, decision, heart knowledge, action and worship. But in order to attain this freedom, the edcuand had to practice equanimity, harmony and balance. Rabindranath interprets independence as normalcy or the fact of being natural. In other works, when intelligence, feeling and determination are naturally distributed, it can be said to be a state of freedom. This independence is not to be confused with the absence of control, because it is self-control, it implies acting according to one’s own rational impulse. Once this level of freedom has been achieved, there is no danger of the individual straying from his path, because his senses, intelligence, emotional feelings and all other powers are directed by his ego.

2.    Perfection- The second active principle underlying self-education is that of perfection. Perfection here implies that the students must try to develop every aspect of his personality and all the abilities and power with which he has been endowed by nature. Hence, the aim of education is not merely passing examinations, acquiring degrees and certificates of merit and ultimately achieving economic self-sufficiency through pursuing some profession. The sole aim of education is development of the child’s personality, which is possible only when every aspect of the personality is given equal importance, when no part of the personality is neglected and no part is stressed undesirably.

3.   UniversalityDevelopment of the individual remains imperfect and incomplete until he acquires as abiding faith in the universal soul, a part of which exists inside himself. And for this, it is necessary to identify one’s own soul with the universal soul. Thus, education exists not in simple development but it inheres in literally a rebirth in which the individual rises above the limitations of his individual personality and loses this individuality in the inherits of the universal soul. One can search for this universal soul not only within oneself, but also in every element of nature and of one’s environment. It is evident from the foregoing account that the aim of Rabindranath’s pattern of education is independence, perfection and universality. In the process of education, the educator creates an environment in which the child’s personality undergoes a free, perfect and unrestricted development.

Aims of Education

According to Rabindra Nath, the aim of education is self-realization. According to him, this realization by every one is the goal of education. Self-realization, according to Rabindranath, means the realization of the universal soul in one’s self. Man’s aim of life is to achieve this status. It is a process, which cannot be realized without education.

1.      Integral Development: Defining the aim of education, Rabindranath says,  “The fundamental purpose of education is not merely to enrich ourselves through the fullness of knowledge, but also to establish the bond of love and friendship between man and man.” This is the humanistic aim of education in Tagore’s philosophy. His approach to ultimate reality as integral. He believes in an inner harmony between man and Nature and God.

2.       Physical Development: Like Vivekananda, Rabindranath condemned the prevalent system of education, which partially exercised the intellect only to the entire neglect of the body. According to Rabindra Nath,  “Education of the body in the real sense, does not exist in ply and exercise but in applying the body systematically to some useful work.”. It is hence that he so much emphasizes games in school education. Pointing out the value of physical activities in the child’s education, he says,  “Even if they learn nothing, they would have had ponds, plucking and tearing flowers, perpetrating thousand and one mischief’s on Mother Nature, they would have obtained the nourishment of the body, happiness of mind and the satisfaction of the natural impulses of childhood.”  Almost all contemporary Indian philosophers of education, including Gandhi, Vivekananda, Dayananda and Sri Aurobindo, besides Tagore lay emphasis upon the importance of setting educational institutions in natural environment so that the students may learn by their touch with Nature.

3.      Mental Development: Besides the physical aim of education, Tagore equally lays emphasis upon the mental aim of education.  Like Vivekananda, he is critical of the prevalent system of education, which laid sole emphasis upon bookish learning.  To quote Rabindranath, “We know the people of books, not those of the world, the former are interesting to us, but the latter tiresome.” In fact, the intellectual aim of education, according to Rabindranath, is the development of the intellectual faculties which should be developed through education these are – the power of thinking and the power of imagination.  Education, which puts too much stress on memory and too little on imagination and thinking.

4.      Harmony with Environment: In the end, the aim of education according to Rabindra Nath, is the harmony of the students with the environment.  The student should know his environment and create harmony with it. To quoteRabindra Nath, “True education consists in knowing the use of any useful material   that has been collected to know its real nature and to build along with life a real shelter for life.” This is particularly true about the rural educationEducation should imbibe his cultural heritage and should be able to use it in his interaction with the environment.

5.      Earning Livelihood: Thus, about the aim of education, Tagore’s approach is realistic. He however, does not favourthe utilitarian aim of education. This is his utilitarian aim of education. This is his objection against the imposition of British system of education upon India. He says, “Knowledge has two departments: one pure knowledge, the other utilitarian knowledge. Whatever is worth knowing is knowledge. But Rabindranath does not ignore the earning of livelihood aim of education. He appreciates the practical bias in Western system of education. Therefore, he says, “From the very beginning, such education should be imparted to them (village folks) that they may become practically   efficient in all respects for earning their livelihood.” While he is critical of the British system of education which wanted to create clerks out the Indian educated people, he emphasizes that the real aim of education is to develop men and women who may be able to fulfill the needs of the country.

6.      Multisided Aim- The above discussion concerning the means of education according to Rabindranath makes it clear that his is a multisided attack on this problem. He is against any one-sided aim of education. He is a humanist. A humanistic aim of education requires a multisided approach.




·   Self realization is the main aim of education.

·   Principles of self-education; independence, perfection; universality.

· Aims of education : Integral development, physical development, mental development; harmony with environment; earning livelihood; multisided aim.