Swati GangulyOct 16, 2023
A History of Visva- Bharati, 1921-1961
New India Foundation 2022
Swati Ganguly's book Tagore's University: A History of Visva-Bharati, 1921-1961 (New India Foundation, 2022) is for anyone who is searching for tangible ways to revamp higher education, re-organize our socio-economic life, and reimagine participatory democracy.
Tagore’s University is a history of Visva-Bharati, the world centre of learning and culture founded by Rabindranath Tagore a hundred years ago. The poet’s conception entailed several autonomous centres – for Asian studies, the visual arts, music, and rural reconstruction – in defiance of the standard notions of a university. Visva-Bharati was set up to break barriers between nations and races by rebuilding in miniature the visva – the world torn apart by World War I.
The book traces the first four decades of this large experiment in building a cultural community of learning, teaching, and scholarship. It tells the story of exceptional individuals from across Europe, Asia, America, and India who became Tagore’s collaborators in a mini-universe of creativity and humane intellection. It reveals why in its heyday Visva-Bharati was so internationally renowned as an extraordinarily attractive institution.
Swati Ganguly explores the many achievements of what Tagore called his “life’s best treasure”. She also narrates changes in the material life and spirit of the place after Tagore, when it was shaped by the larger forces of a newly independent India. Archives, memoirs, official documents, and oral narratives come alive in this compellingly written and little-known history of an institution that once redefined tradition and modernity.
Interested listeners can order a very affordable copy on AbeBooks. In general, AbeBooks is a good vender for getting printed books from Indian publishers.
The interview is a bit on the long side. Feel free to skip parts of it. Generally speaking, the first hour is about the administrative history (chronology) of Visvabharati and the second hour is about each program: oriental studies, arts, rural reform, and life (like adda) in Santiniketan. Trust me, wherever you begin, you'll find fascinating stories, amazing lives lived, and bold dreams and courageous experiments to build a different way of life for all.
Jessica Zu is an intellectual historian and a scholar of Buddhist studies. She is an assistant professor of religion at the University of Southern California.