Visva Bharati Publication
Though the article is being categorized under the ‘Book Review’ section, the author no way intends to review the book in the sense of a critical appraisal. This book is regarded as a most authentic and earliest book available on ‘Bramha Vidyalaya’, the school set up in 1901AD by Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan. This is actually a compilation of a speech by Sj. Ajit Kumar Chakraborty, one of the earliest teachers of Bramha Vidyalaya, delivered at the annual general meeting in 1911AD. The first edition was published in 1911AD itself, on the occasion of Poush Mela. Later it was republished again in 1951AD, when the school Patha Bhavana (renamed from Bramha Vidyalaya) completed its 50 years of existence. I have the republication of the 1991AD edition. Due to irregular republication, this particular book often remains out of circulation and is hard to come across. Coming back to the earlier argument why this is not intended to be a review of the book in truest essence of review, the book is a pure piece of history, or rather the philosophical history of evolution of an unique school during it’s very nascent stage. One deeply involved with the school, emotionally and philosophically, narrates the history, as an active teacher entrusted with giving shape to Rabindranath Tagore’s ever evolving vision on education. The narration is so intimate that it just cannot be reviewed. The reader has to read the book with all the silence at his disposal, soak in the intimacy, contemplate and think about those very nascent days of Patha Bhavana & Santiniketan.
There is no scope for a critical review here. It was however great to note that such serious and contemplative thoughts on the evolution of the Bramha Vidyalaya were shared with the whole audience in the annual general meeting (Barshik Sadharan Sabha), naturally the school children & teachers cutting across all ages and background; and it was great to realize that the evolution process of a great school was shared equally by all.
This is perhaps the greatest realization to glean from this book, each one of that era- whether a student or a teacher, felt inspired enough to shape the foundation of the school. The level of intimate relation of the nascent evolving institution with its inhabitants was amazingly high.
The very first paragraph of the book, in its very few lines, can highlight many aspects of that era; and also can point out exactly where an institution can fail. In those days, by their concerted actions, the students and teachers tried to shape an abstract idea of education as perceived by Rabindranath. In the process the participants reacted with the institution, and in the process became synonymous with the institution itself. The institution and the people involved became one entity, called the Bramha Vidyalaya. The ability of the institution, or even the place Santiniketan to interact with its inhabitants, the teachers and the students, in those days made the experience a very intimate and fruitful one. Sj. Ajit Kumar Chakraborty, actually mentions of discovering of ‘truth’ by teaching a handful of school children. Teaching in Santiniketan, in those days was in fact a search for ‘truth’ of some dimension, and people reacted and evolved around that concept! It is an unimaginable idea for a present day school teacher; such power of interaction between the students, teachers and the institution itself, is just missing in modern institutions.
On the other hand, when we discuss often about the failures of Visva Bharati University today, on several committees, among ourselves, and in press often resulting in an awful, distasteful and disgusting blame game- we forget this very essential feature of early Santiniketan. Does the supposedly well structured Visva Bharati University now allow intimate interaction with the participants, does it let the participants to evolve along with the institution, does the participants feel the innate urge to interact intimately with the evolution of the institution? Well, after reading this book, I would like to infer that this ‘level of intimacy and the innate urge to react’ -the most important thread to deliberate and decide on while discussing if Visva Bharati has dithered from the path set by Rabindranath Tagore.

This deficiency is not exactly confined to Visva Bharati either. In many educational institutes in India, though an intimate interactive relation with ones own area of operation is expected; people hardly take part in overall evolution of an educational institute. It has now primarily become the job of principals and vice chancellors to run the show and the systems and sub systems have got structured away into corners of existence. One particular corner might look scintillatingly beautiful; but another corner just might not be aware of that fact! In society also, we are severely cramped about within our sphere of interaction; it is normally strictly confined within our own area of specialized activity.
This book, Bramha Vidyalaya by Ajit Kumar Chakraborty, primarily deliberates on the philosophical inter-relation of the nascent school with the people involved. It is an intimate and contemplative narration. It a sheer wonder to feel the intimacy; and in that respect it is a very rare book, certainly a great piece of history of a different dimension.
A pain, right within the soul and an urge to establish a path of ‘truth’ appears to Ajit Kumar Chakraborty as the main force which led Rabindranath Tagore to establish his school in Santiniketan. In essence, a pain within the soul and a desire to probe the path of truth to mitigate that pain, is a journey undertaken by sages of India from time immemorial. Goutama Buddha can be an ideal example of such a path of pursue among many others. If that is so, then Bramha Vidyalaya, Patha Bhavana, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan & Sriniketan all becomes institutions and places basically to traverse that path of ‘truth’.

Was Rabindranath Tagore actually a sage, rather than an educationist? Well, sages after all ran the famous ‘Tapovana Schools’ of bygone centuries. Even Lord Rama was taught in such schools run by sages of almost mythological era! So the genesis of the ‘Tapovana’ school can be easily inferred from this lecture compilation. By reading this book one may put the cause of establishing a school in Santiniketan in this way-‘the truthful evolution of a human soul right from the very formative school days- with education of a new kind being the prime vehicle’. The innate synergy of the inmates of the then Ashrama school with these founding philosophical ideas are great to feel even today. Honestly speaking, whenever I read this book, which I have done several times by now, I am always deeply impressed by the depth of intimacy of the writer with his institution.

In the present context of 2012AD, education and sagacity does not practically go hand-in-hand, though ideally they should! The problems of society from early 20th century to today might have changed scales, but have not changed much in essence. Still today, after more than 100 years of foundation of Bramha Vidyalaya, the modern school education in India is groping hard to establish an  interactive identity with the real society around it. In fact students of today really learn to interact with the society outside the educational institutes when they are put in actual field of operation. The synergy with the educational institution with the society is almost non-existent except in some very rare cases.
Philosophically speaking, the absence of the realization of pain about some loss and not allowing the path of ‘Truth’ to evolve continually is bound to choke the flow of education, even if we do not believe is sages or tapovans. The structures and super structures created over an institution somehow or other is bound to restrict any flow. That is why Rabindranath Tagore abundantly encouraged freethinking among kids in schools. He was a perennial seeker and he knew that the path of search has to be kept open.

Reading this book, the synergy in the overall concept of Santiniketan can be comprehended; the mode being a deeply contemplative one. At the same time, without an intimate interaction all these ideas elaborated in this book, just lose all definition. Rabindranath Tagore might have founded his institution in Santiniketan to propel its members in their path to get intimate with ‘Truth’! Sounds too holistic? But that is the basic foundation of all educational philosophy all over the world.

But here in Santiniketan, Rabindranath tried to put that philosophy in real shape. Though we are now totally confused by sages, tapovans, pain and truth; the basic problems of education however still remain the same. Practically it is a question of intimate interaction, and it is for the society to decide whether we want our children to interact with truth, half-truth or lie; or not to interact at all in their very formative school days!
The great thing about ‘Bramha Vidyalaya by Ajit Kumar Chakraborty is that the book will bring all these questions in the fore ground, even after 100 years of its publication!
In the snap above, a very small part of Ajit Kumar’s book, the Bengali term ‘jog’ is very significant. We may put it in more pure Sanskrit for – ‘Yoga’; then it would basically mean an attempt to link oneself with the vast/god/super consciousness. In simpler form it would mean a link of one’s self with the great process of human evolution and to play an active part in that evolution. This kind of deep-rooted philosophical or spiritual foundation to the idea of a school was discussed in a general meeting with all the students. In all probability they all could soak in these idea as naturally as Ajit Kumar spelt them out, because at that time this spirituality was very much a part of Santiniketan.

In today’s terms, it is unthinkable for a schoolteacher, even from Patha Bhavana or Siksha Satra to discuss such abstract concepts with school children. Spirituality of this brand has now vanished from elite India altogether.
The position of spirituality in the education policy practiced in Visva Bharati now remains undefined in consonance with the general trend in society, the elite society in particular. But from Ajit Kumar Chakraborty’s book ‘Bramha Vidyalaya’, it becomes amply evident that this spiritual blend was the most unique quality in the education policy of early Santiniketan.

The book ‘Bramha Vidyalaya’ also raises this vexing issue of a spiritual foundation behind an educational institute- an issue most difficult to address in modern society. Spirituality is basically viewed as a concept, which is subjective and personal in nature. Today, it is perfectly legitimate to trash spiritualism and embrace existentialism or materialism or any other ism; and such isms are considered to be beyond the purview of basic education. We know that this confusion arises because of our own inability to define spiritualism in the correct context; but practically speaking none of us is too sure about a solution. This makes Tagore’s ‘Santiniketan’ an almost inexplicable concept to us in 2012AD.

This wonderful statement by Ajit Kumar, in a compilation of a speech ‘Bramho Vidyalaya’ makes all these conflicts intimately alive within us.

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