Rabindranath Tagore wanted to make a global university in the village of Santiniketan, where the art department—Kala Bhavana—had already started. However, in the course of travelling around the world in search of alternative funding to support the nascent idea of the international university, he had certain misgivings, which come through in some of his letters. (Tagore’s letters form a very important chapter of Bengali literature—they are called ‘Patra Sahitya’ (Letter- Literature)) He describes the tribulations he faced and the dilemma he encountered while trying to raise funds for the University.
Tagore writes to Rothenstein (April 24, 1921, Boulogne-sur-Seine, France):
“When I sent my appeal to Western people for an International Institution in India, I made use of the word “University” for the sake of convenience. But that word not merely has an inner meaning, but an outer association in the minds of those who use it, and that idea tortures my idea into its own rigid shape. It is unfortunate. I should not allow my idea to be pinned to word like a dead butterfly for a foreign museum. It must not be known by a definition, but by its own life growth. I saved my Santiniketan from being trampled into a smoothness by the steam roller of your education department. It is poor in resources and equipment but it has a wealth of truth that no money can ever buy. I am proud of the fact that it is not a machine made article perfectly modelled in your workshop—it is our very own. If we must have a university it should spring from our life and be sustained by it.”
He says he is probably overambitious to have come begging at the door of the rich West:
”This is the first time that I came to the foreign door asking for help and cooperation. But such help has to be bought with a price that is ruinous, and the bird has to accept its cage if it has to be fed with comfort and regularity. However, my bird must retain its freedom of wings and not be turned into sumptuous nonentity by a controlling agency outside its own living organism.”
“I know that the idea of an international university is complex, but I must take it simple in my own way. I shall be content if it attracts round it men who have neither name nor worldly means, but have the mind and faith, who are to create a great future with their dreams. Very likely I shall never be able to work in harmony with a board of trustees, influential and highly respectable, for I am a vagabond at heart. But the powerful people… may make it difficult to carry out my work.”
Some of these observations seem to stand out as ideas, guiding the directions that the nascent University would subsequently take. The relationships expressed in his metaphoric references, for instance, to “freedom of wings” in contrast to “dead butterfly for a foreign museum” and the bird in a cage, or to “living organism” as opposed to “machine made article” or being “trampled into a smoothness”, get translated into the accents of his own educational model, as it were.
Tagore’s model of Institution can be said to be premised on two salient aspects- ‘construction’ and ‘creation’. These provide the context for thinking the art pedagogy of Santiniketan.