ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Tagore’s concept of space and architecture is an immensely vast area of exploration and it is extremely difficult to express it through just a few visuals within a limited space in all its entirety. Architecture for Tagore was not just confined within the idea of a man made space but it was closely integrated with the concept of life, education and nature. In order to understand it, one has to realize the significance of what a life without constraints means for him, about his idea of freedom. Even during his school days Tagore could not take the strictness and frigidity of the so called discipline and decorum that the schools expects you to maintain and it is one of the first instances of his realization of his love and need for freedom, he mentions this in the ‘ Jiban Smriti’ collection of essays.
After Kolkata, Tagore went on a journey to self-realization. During his stay at their estate in Bangladesh, he delved deeper into the sea of self exploration, trying to find himself, crystallizing his ideas and concepts about life and beyond. One can see the execution of his well refined ideas in his school Santiniketan. A team of extraordinarily talented, immensely creative and self-taught architects executed Tagore’s dream and transformed his philosophy into a tangible reality within the space of the Ashram. It was the beginning of a different kind of architecture, experimentation with a different philosophy of space in those days, however unfortunately it was never followed in the years that followed after Tagore’s death.
This exhibition is a small effort to throw light on the immense vastness that this subject covers. For the last fifteen years of my life I have been deeply involved with this subject trying to explore the details, actively engaging with the enormous amount of materials left behind, and it could probably take many years to comprehend them. My journey with this subject begins around 1993 when I started to explore it initially while I did a brief work on it as part of my MA dissertation in 1996. Later on my relationship with this topic extended to various other directions.
Within a very limited number of visuals, I have tried to come up with a brief presentation of Tagore’s idea of space and architecture through the architecture of Santiniketan. Here the journey begins from collate Jorasanko house and moves through Bangladesh to conclude in Santiniketan. One can see how the Jorasanko house was and what kind of an interior it had before the advent of ‘Swadeshi’ and how it came to look post ‘Swadeshi’. An intervention to create a hybrid culture and the influence of Japanese culture resulted in a variety of transformations within the Jorasanko House. The Tagore’s living in number 5 Jorasanko house took the initiative (Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Samarendranath Tagore) in this case with all the major national and international scholars arriving at number 5 Jorasanko House much before. A few great scholars who visited are Okakura, Taikan, Sister Nivedita, and Rothenstein etc, later on the spirit of this change that was happening expanded to include Jorasanko number 6 as well, where Rabindranath Tagore lived.
During Rabindranath’s stay at their estate in Bangladesh he realized the meaning of a wide-open nature flourishing in its full form and its calmness, the soothing effect it has on the human mind. The endless depth of sky, the vastness of the forever extending wide horizon took him to a different land, beyond everything. He felt that here could breathe freely, live without constraints and could realize the nature in its entirety. We can get a glimpse of that vastness of the sheer beauty of nature through some of the great master’s works like Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and Mukul Dey, just to name a few and needless to mention about Rabindranath’s series of letters called ‘Chinnapatraboli’
The last portion of this show depicts Tagore’s Ashrama Santiniketan phase, where he was looking for and experimenting with a form of education that would concentrate on inculcating a sense of totality and essential growth of human condition. Tagore had deep respect for the ‘Upanishad’, he derived major philosophies from the same, been deeply influenced he also tried to implement them in his own life and within his Ashrama Santiniketan. Keeping all this in thorough consideration he tried to build each and every corner of Santinketan from the barren raw land that existed. He had a clear idea about his concept of the Ashrama (he did not want one similar to the ancient ‘Topovan’ but a different modern version of it). Tagore never had a liking for a man made garden but rather desired one that interacted with nature, he wanted a delicate integrity to prosper between man’s creation and nature. Whatever man made structures were built within Santiniketan, it was always kept into consideration that they should never create any kind of obstruction or conflict with nature or interrupt the vast skyline and wide horizon. Been highly impressed and influenced by the Indian tradition and far eastern culture, he has extracted the best from both and used it in the creation of a new dimension within the arena of art, architecture and various other fields. During British era it was a giant step and as he put Visva Bharati on the world map. India in those days needed a modern cultural role model to look up to, a revival of the arts and culture, creation of modern aesthetics, and in this respect the Kolkata Tagore house (Jorasanko and Pathuriaghata both) and its extension to Santiniketan has a very important role to play in the making of a new benchmark towards the creation of modern Indian cultural ideas.
As Alain Danielou mentioned in his book titled ‘A brief history of India’ (Fayard, 1971) “India is itself a sort of museum”, I would like to borrow this line and use it in the context of Santiniketan and say that Santiniketan is also a sort of a museum. However many of its aspects still need to be widely analyzed and studied in modern days context.
Santiniketan, in those days was like a lab of innovation and exploration, where various new dimensions were explored in the field of earth architecture, utility design, and decoration for a festival without any religious reason, furniture, batik and also in the area of creation of an unique education system. There are so many significant things to learn from, to discover, to understand, which are still relevant in the context of architecture and education, as it is today, if only one can look back on this vibrant history on a more deeper level.