Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize winning Bengali poet and polymath, is an eminent figure in the history and culture of modern India. As the Indian Independence Movement grew in the early twentieth century, Tagore used his renown to establish a university in the rural community of Santiniketan: Visva-Bharati, “where the world meets in a single nest.” All of Tagore’s efforts — artistic, educational, and social — were informed by a universalist philosophy that he developed based on the Upanishads. Tagore’s philosophy facilitated unity between all creation, including harmony between the peoples of humanity and between humanity and the natural world. The architecture of Santiniketan is a tangible manifestation of Tagore’s philosophy. Designed under his direction by his associates Nandalal Bose, Rathindranath Tagore, and Surendranath Kar, Tagore’s residences at Santiniketan, in particular the houses Udayan and Shyamali, illustrate Tagore’s universalism in two primary ways. The designs unify a diverse set of traditions within a Modernist framework, and provide for maximum interaction between indoor and outdoor spaces. Udayan is a synthesis of Indian, Japanese, Javanese, and European designs, finding commonalities in the traditions through abstraction and modern materials. Shyamali also draws from a variety of influences and, in service to a connection between man and nature, the design blurs the boundaries between indoors and outdoors by using the natural material of mud. The architecture of Santiniketan, because it is a product of Tagore’s unique values, does not fit easily within the major trends of Modernist architecture in India or beyond. It is best evaluated as a single thread in the contrapuntal nature of Modernism.



College and Department

Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters



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colonial India, Rabindranath Tagore, Santiniketan, Visva-Bharati, architecture, modernism, universalism