Slide Show

Life at Santiniketan

The art school Kala Bhavan was founded by the poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1919 at Santiniketan, a utopian community about 100 miles north of Calcutta established in the previous century by the poet’s father, Maharshi Devendranath Tagore. Born out of the need to rehabilitate traditional Indian culture after the demoralizing impact of British rule, the school was established as an experiment in education that broke with academic tradition, and created a form of rural modernism decoupled from industrial modernization.

Photographs from the Rabindra Bhavan collection 
© Rabindra Bhavan collection.

In synthesizing its distinctive aesthetic, teachers at Kala Bhavan drew from an eclectic range of sources, including India’s craft traditions, the Buddhist cave paintings of Ajanta and Ellora, as well as pan-Asian influences such as Javanese batik and Far Eastern brush-and-ink painting, mostly in scroll format. Students at the school also studied western sources, such as the British Arts and Crafts movement as well as the continental European avant-garde, including the Bauhaus. As a result of correspondence between the two schools, work by Bauhaus masters was exhibited in Calcutta in 1922.

A range of arts and crafts were taught, including painting, sculpture, ceramics, bookbinding, lithography, leatherwork and batik. One of the school’s core principles was the notion that art and craft were integral to community vitality. In keeping with this ethos, murals and sculptures were created across the campus, while crafts fairs and festivals of theatre, dance, music, and puppetry were regularly held. Equally important was the small-scale manufacture of designs from Kala Bhavan in craft workshops set up in nearby Sriniketan in order to improve the rural economy.

While Kala Bhavan had no formal curriculum, a strong educational ethos took root in its first two decades. Instrumental to its development was artist Nandalal Bose, the school’s first principle. The basis for the school’s pedagogy can be seen in the instructional postcards he produced to illustrate his ideas, as well as the writings on education by Tagore, as well as those of the artists Benode Behari Mukherjee and K. G. Subramanyan.

This slide show allows an insight into everyday life at Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan in the 1930s.

+ Add this text to your collection!