Tagore, Besant and Krishnamurti -A Confluence of Ideas and Ideals of Education
| 28 Sep 2016
| Onkareshwar Pandey, Editor In Chief, NOP

Tagore, Besant and Krishnamurti A Confluence of Ideas and Ideals of Education

• Sushanta Dattagupta

Having worked for close to thirty five years in various scientific institutions in India -- Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam (1976 -- 81), School of Physics, University of Hyderabad (1981 -- 86), School of Physical Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (1986 -- 1999), S. N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Kolkata (1999 -- 2006), and Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Mohanpur (2006 -- 2011) -- it was my great fortune to have entered the portal of Visva-Bharati, an institution founded by one of the world's greatest thinkers: Rabindranath Tagore, in 1901. I term it my 'great fortune' because my eyes opened up to a concept of education that was so far not familiar to me -- a holistic, seamless form of education that knew no boundaries, a model of education that imbibed pathshalas and residential schools, established in the structure of an Ashram, education that is embedded in Nature as a laboratory. Thus, through classes held outside -- under trees -- students were exposed to Nature's gifts: seasonal changes through the orientation of the sun and the moon, photosynthesis, basic animal behavior (Ecology), social colony of insects (Entomology), music, dance, art, painting, .... . From such a border less, all-round exposure students evolved directly into innovative research -- a remarkable concept indeed.

Slowly and gradually it sank into me that we in India have made educational institutions so straight-jacketed -- partitioned into technical, medical, business and even science and social science-oriented organizations -- that are so specialized that the products lose touch with life itself. Where is the time for a science student, say, to think of music, arts and even history? Where is the possibility of a technocrat to ponder about the environment and climate change issues? Where is the time for a music or a social science student to worry about basic notions of creation? I was shocked to learn that a majority of present Visva-Bharati students and faculty had no exposure to Rabindranath's "Viswa-Parichay" or Rathindranath's "Pran-Tatwa"! In these books, written in lucid Bengali, Gurudev and later his son, the founder Vice Chancellor of Visva-Bharati, had penned elementary but deep theories of the cosmos, the atom, the environment, the plant and human physiology. It is astonishing to fathom the fact that right around the time Rabindranath was writing "Viswa-Parichay" he embarked on the inspiration to author a book for small children called "Sahaj Path" -- and here we are referring to a person who was reckoned as a giant in the literary world, having received the Asia's first Nobel prize in literature (in 1913).

I arrived at Visva-Bharati in September 2011 right after the experience of founding one of the Indian Institutes of Sciences, Kolkata (in Mohanpur campus) which was a new experiment in our country to integrate basic sciences by removing the barriers between subjects like mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics, geoscience and so on through a Masters programme, just after high school, in which all sciences are taught in the first two years before students start specializing (from the third year). The curriculum also incorporates research from the third year itself culminating into a Masters' thesis in the fifth year. Tagore's Visva-Bharati, however, was envisaged to move a step further by recognizing that there is actually very little difference between creative pursuits of literature, music and science. One can even introduce scientific phenomena through the aid of Tagore's music -- "Rabindrasangit"!

While I was in the midst of the process of absorbing this fantastic scheme of thinking, I had an opportunity of visiting the Besant college in Madanapalle, sometime in the year 2012. Madanapalle is situated near the border of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh from where Annie Besant began her experiment on education. I learnt to my fascination that Rabindranath Tagore had visited Madanapalle in the year 1919, and it is there that he got involved in translating his famous poem: "Jana GanaManaAdhinayako...." -- our national anthem -- into English!. Tagore, who was fourteen years younger to Anne Besant, had a strong bondage with her. He was deeply pained when the British had imprisoned Madame Besant for what they considered as her anti-national (i.e., anti Indian) activities. Rabindranath further wanted her to be the President of the Indian National Congress.

Annie Besant went on to establish the Theosophical Society in then Madras (now Chennai) and wrote to Tagore on 18 October, 1918:
"Dear Sir Rabindranath, I quite understand -- I am sorry you could not come up to Madras; you would have liked the place at Adyar. The river and sea and trees and it would have been so great a pleasure to have you here. I had chosen a room for you where you could look straight into the heart of a great banyan tree that you have liked..... ". The mutual admiration is further exemplified by an earlier letter that Mrs. Besant wrote from jail on 9 July, 1917 :
"My dear Rabindranath Tagore, Thank you so much for your beautiful message which I read in New India. I count it an honour to suffer for the freedom of the motherland. It is, in itself a horrible life, cut off from everything that is worth having.; but no nation ever won its freedom without struggle and sufferings and those should be happy who are counted worthy to share in both. I think of your lines: 'Into that heaven of freedom my father Let my country awake' and it will".

While in Madanapalle I was intrigued to realize that the place is not far from Chittor where Jiddu Krishnamurti, an avid disciple of Besant, had began his model of a school: Rishi Valley. Thus, I felt, here I was -- standing at the confluence of three great Indian minds who broke the shackles of the imperial British model of education and had striven to create something that would be rooted into our ancient philosophy of the Vedas and Upanishad. That model is indeed the message of Lord Buddha as well, and is steeped into observation of Nature. It is this Man-Nature interface with the Creator that can help unravel the mysteries of this universe -- an ultimate goal of human creative endeavour.

It was only recently that I was blessed with the chance visit to Rajghat in Varanasi where Krishnamurti founded a Montessory school. J. K. had followed her "Guru": Annie Besant to Varanasi and lived his later years there on the bank of the great river: Ganga. There is no better way to describe how I felt, having descended on a place that helped me to complete the circle of my confluence with the three Indian giants: Tagore, Besant and Krishnamurti, than to quote from the inaugural address in the school that Rabindranath delivered on 2 December, 1934:

:.... Let me assure you that the child within me is still actively alive. ... I have felt every day of my life with mother Nature crowning me with her morning light and kissing me with her fragrantly tender breeze ....because I have loved her. ..... ... Knowing personally the originator (Read: Annie Besant) and the Director (Read: Jiddu Krishnamurti) of this endeavour, I was sure that this institution was not a mere repetition of the numerous other education factories which monotonously revolve their wheels in order to turn out branded bales of standardized commodities.... This institution where I have received my welcome today has a sympathetic heart. In this my own Sadhana finds its harmony in the Sadhana which is the motive force of this endeavour. .... I believe that children should be surrounded with the things of Nature which have their own educational value. Their mind should be allowed to stumble on and be surprised at everything that happens in the life of today. ... This is the best method for the child .... Our grown-up mind is always full of things we are to arrange and deal with, and therefore the things that happen around us, such as the coming of morning, heralded by music and flowers -- have no mark on us. ....we merely choose those lessons which are useful ....because we want the shortest cut to success. .... There is one more idea which I should mention -- the minds of children are usually shut inside the provincial enclosures, so that they become incapable of understanding other people with different languages and customs. This causes us ....to grope with each other in darkness, to hurt each other in ignorance, to suffer from the worst form of blindness.... .

Education, according to me has for its objects freedom, freedom of intellect, freedom of sympathy, freedom in the material universe through our truthful dealings with her universal laws, freedom in the society through our maintaining of truth and love in all human relationship. It is a most difficult ideal and that immense difficulty only proves the majesty of human soul and magnificence of our true civilization".

Sushanta Dattagupta, most recently the Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati, Santniketan (Sept 2011 to Feb 2016), is a physicist, known internationally in areas of Diffusion, Magnetism, Relaxation and Dissipation, on which he had written more than 150 papers and four authoritative books. On his experience in Visva-Bharati, a book in Bengali “Je Path Diye ….” and a monograph: A Random Walk in Santiniketan Ashram, have been published. Dattagupta has been an institution builder, as Dean of Physical Sciences, J. N. U (1987 – 1989 and 1993 – 1995), Director of S. N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences (1999 – 2005) and Founder Director of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (Kolkata) (2006 – 2011). He is a Fellow (and has been Vice President) of all major Indian Science Academies, and a Member of the World Academy of Science, Trieste. His other recognitions include Young Scientist and C.V. Raman medals of Indian National Science Academy, Meghnad Saha Lecture of National Academy of Sciences, C.V. Raman Birth Centenary Award of Science Congress and ‘Sera Bangali Puraskar’ of Ananda Bazar.

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