Every year, in late March or early April, India celebrates Holi or the festival of colors. Children spill out into the streets and gleefully spray each other with a rainbow of liquid or powdered colors. In Shantiniketan in the south of India, the festival is celebrated when the teak and mango trees, coconut palms, creepers, and orchids are in full tropical bloom.
Set in physically beautiful countryside, Shantiniketan also boasts a unique university that grooms students from childhood to adult maturity. It was founded by the Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. The Spring Festival is a living tribute to Tagore's vision of an organic system of education, that exists in close contact with Nature.
During the Spring Festival children array themselves in the colors of the season -- orange, crimson and yellow. Wearing garlands, and accompanied by the blowing of conch-shells, they make a procession, dancing to the lilting tunes of vernal songs written by Tagore himself.
This unusual university, founded in the 1920s, was animated by a subtly nationalist agenda. In Tagore's own childhood, he had chafed against the claustrophobic classroom style of education introduced by British rule. In his autobiographical work "My School" Tagore writes of his dream of an academic institution where beauty "can enter into the very heart of the human dwelling." To realize his dream, Tagore recalled ancient Indian methods of learning lessons in open-air ashramas, where students and teachers could harmoniously share a common intellectual and cultural life through cultivation of the arts and direct observations of natural phenomena in a curriculum which finds books in the running brooks and sermons in stones. At the heart of Tagore's vision was an international university that could promote world peace. The university was named Visva-Bharati -- which translates as: a place where the world worships knowledge. It housed a number of centers for the study of different countries, long before multi- culturalism became a catchword, and it was meant to bring the East and the West closer to each other. In the 1920s, in a climate of global conflict and violence, Tagore's message was strikingly relevant. Surely it continues to be so today.
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Copyright 2004 © Malini Roy
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