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Subodh Gopal Nandi

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Subodh Gopal Nandi : The Visva-Bharati Library

Face. Image courtesy - National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

It is a historical fact that the concept of the ‘Library’ had received generation-wise support by the family of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. This particular Tagore family provided sincere patronage to the development of ‘library movement’ in our country for three generations. This patronage sustained more than one hundred years, starting from the year 1835 and continued up to 1941, the year of Rabindranath Tagore’s death.

Library and Prince Dwarakanath Tagore

Prince Dwarakanath Tagore, the grand father of Rabindranath, had a great contribution to establish the Calcutta Public Library1. The Calcutta Public Library owed its origin to Mr. J.H. Stocqueler (pseudonym of Jachim Heyward Siddons), the editor of the “Englishmen”. The proposal of establishment of a public library in Calcutta was placed before a public meeting in August 1835, presided by Sir John Peter Grant, one of the judges of the Supreme Court and the said meeting passed the resolution as:

That it is expedient and necessary to establish in Calcutta a public library of reform and circulation that shall be open to all ranks and classes without distinction, and sufficiently extensive to supply the wants of the entire community in every department of literature2.

To accomplish the resolution, one Provisional Committee of 24 members was constituted which included two Indians: Baboo Rasik Krishna Mallik and Baboo Rasamay Datta. The committee decided in its meeting that fund would be generated from the public to establish the Calcutta Public Library. The committee also came to a decision that any person subscribing Rs.300/- at a time or Rs.100/- at a time and rest in two installments within one year be considered as proprietor of the Library. The decision welcomed by the then city people heartily and for which a bulk amount had been contributed to establish the library. As a real library lover, Prince Dwarakanath Tagore subscribed Rs.300/- at a time for the Calcutta Public Library and this incident had been recorded thus:

Prince Dwarakanath Tagore became the first proprietor of the Calcutta Public Library. In grateful remembrance of his patronage the citizens of Calcutta installed his marble bust, executed by sculptor Weeks, in the premises of Calcutta Public Library, which still adorns in the entrance of the National Library at Belvedere.3

Library and Maharshi Debendranath Tagore

Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath, once came at Bolpur by way one of his journeys and selected for a particular place for his prayer and meditation. This particular place attracted Maharshi to a great extent. He was so attracted for the place that purchased 28 bighas of land from Lord Sinha family and pitched his tent under two Saptaparni trees (no other trees were there) and spent his time in meditation and prayer. The place was originally a bare spot and was notorious for being the haunt of dacoits. Maharshi’s love for the place made it as his Asram site. He was very interested to establish here one prayer house, one library and one Ashram Vidyalaya. From the Annual Report of Visva-Bharati, 1923 this rapid change would be clear:

The Maharshi’s love for the place of his realization wrought in it a complete transformation. The chief of the Dacoits came and surrendered himself to the Maharshi and entered into his service. Rich soil was brought over, trees and shrubs planted, and a garden and orchard laid cut. A house was built and later on a temple. When the place had thus became a thing of beauty the Maharshi dedicated it, as an Asram, to the public under a Trust Deed, executed in 1887, endowing it with an Annuity of Rs.6,000, for the use of everyone who wished to meditate on God, free from all antagonisms of creed and sect…Although mention is made in the Trust Deed of a Library and a Brahma-Vidyalaya, no such institutions actually came into existence until 1901, when a beginning was made by Rabindranath Tagore with the permission and approval of his father.4

Library and Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath wrote only two articles on Library: “Library”, in the year 1908 and the other one “Function of a Library” in 1928. In these two articles, the concept of modern library and their ideal functions were distinctly stated in such a way that the Library of modern times not across much ahead in respect of introducing new functions and services except by inclusion of computers and information technology. Library in the words of Tagore was a repository of knowledge that had to be properly organised:

The bigness of the library is estimated by the number of its volumes … In order to bring a library into the fullest use, it is necessary that its contents should be clearly and specifically brought to notice, otherwise it is difficult for the ordinary man to find his way about them, and the library is left as a city of vast accommodation that lacks sufficient means of communications.

According to Tagore, library works very praiseworthy and he categorically mentioned about the functions of a librarian in this way:

What a great function is that of the librarian! His duty does not end with the acquisition, classification and care-taking of the volumes in his charge. In other words, it is not exhausted by mere multiplication and division; he must have a proper understanding of his books as well.

Tagore believed that librarian should always invite its readers to the library and should introduce readers on library books or collection. In Tagore words:

The worth of a librarian I would gauge by his power of attracting and looking after such circles, of acting as the intermediary for an intimacy of relationship between the reader and the library. That is to say, on him is cast the burden not only of the books, but of their readers as well, and in the maintaining of both is the test of his efficiency, of the proper discharge of his trust.

Tagore felt that librarian has a great role in case of the purpose of quality book selection. And for the same, his unique advice to a good librarian is most appropriate for the present day situation:

Even as to the books themselves, the librarian’s duty should not be confined to those that he can collect in his library, but he must also keep himself acquainted with all those others that are published from time to time, subject by subject. For the purposes of our school at Santiniketan, for example, we have to keep ourselves in touch with all publications intended for children, so as to be able to make our selection.5

Rabindranath always admitted that the library has a vital role in case of education and for that he built the library with the very establishment of the Brahma Vidyalaya at Santiniketan. Thus the subject ‘library’ also received his great touch. The establishment of Santiniketan Library had been stated by Rathindranath Tagore, the elder son of Rabindranath thus:

Father had obtained permission from the Maharshi to start a school to be called Brahmacharya Asrama at Santiniketan. The formal opening ceremony was to be performed on the 7th Paush (23rd December) 1901… The first step taken towards equipping the school was to fit up a library in one of the rooms of this house. Father had brought his magnificent collection of books from Calcutta and this formed the nucleus of the future library at Santiniketan.6

In the year 1921, the Poet’s institute of learning Brahma Vidyalaya was converted to Visva-Bharati matching his idea of establishing a center of learning, where the whole world would meet in a comprehensive communion of culture. The name Visva-Bharati coined from two Sanskrit words: ‘Visva’, which meaning the world in its universal aspect, and ‘Bharati’, from the word Bharat (India), meaning wisdom and culture as embodied in the true spirit on India. Visva-Bharati was to have as its motto where the whole world forms its own single nest.

Several higher learning activities flourished at Visva-Bharati as per thinking and planning of Rabindranath. The departments grew up for multifarious learning one by one: Vidya Bhavana (1918), Kala Bhavana (1919), Sangeet Bhavana (1919), Siksha Bhavana (1921), Village Reconstruction Centre, Surul (1922), Silpa Bhavana (1937), China Bhavana (1937) and Hindi Bhavana (1939). This growth makes Visva-Bharati a unique learning system in our country at that time. [7]

The Santiniketan Library

The growth of Santiniketan Library increased gradually but steadily with the growth of Bramhacharya Ashram Vidyalaya. In January 1913, Tatvabodhini Patrika published the Annual Report of Bolpur Bramhacharya Ashram. The Ashram library reported in the following way:

Books were not sufficient in numbers in the library of Bolpur Bramhacharya Ashram Vidyalaya, but the library had books on different subjects. Some new books had been added in each and every year. The library had two parts. The first part contains English and Bengali books and the second part contains books on other Asian languages. The library had total 4788 books in its collection.8

Rabindranath was a book lover and keenly interested to study different subjects and for the reason he bought many books on Literature, Philosophy, Economics, Politics, Sociology, History and other subjects. After reading these books, he presented all books to the library for the use of teachers and students. Many of these books were marked with his marginal notes and comments. Those books were preserved at Rabindra Bhavana Library, at Uttarayan complex, Sanntiniketan. Few books containing Tagore’s signature, etc. were also preserved at Central Library, Visva-Bharati. Some of those books: The Ocean of Story: being C.H. Tawney’s translation of Somadeva’s Katha Sarit Sagar or ocean of streams of story; now edited with introduction, fresh explanatory notes and terminal essay/ by/ N.M. Penzer, in ten volumes. Out of that volume 2 and volume 3 (Accession No.26337 &26338) contained the signature of Rabindranath Tagore. [9]

The Growth of Visva-Bharati Library

After the establishment of Visva-Bharati and introduction of different learning centers, the Visva-Bharati Library received a considerable numbers of complimentary books from different parts of India and abroad. These complimentary books coming from different sources, which may be categorized as: persons of repute, Learning Institutions, Private Organizations and Government Departments. All of them were admirer of the works of Gurudeva and Visva-Bharati. We may refer to some of those names:

a) Learned persons: B.K. Bose, C.F.Andrews, Atmananda Jain, Rathindranath Tagore, etc. One complimentary book added to Santiniketan Library from CF Andrews. The author of the book was Olcott, Mason. The title of the book ‘Better Village Schools: a programme of action’ published from Calcutta: YMCA Publishing House, 1937 and presented to CF Andrews with the remarks “To Charles Andrews who likes Francis of old has served men in simple love, from his friend, Mason Olcott”. This book was received and accessioned (41543) in Santiniketan Library in the year 1938.
b) Political persons: Rabindranath received 500 books as compliments from Italian Government in the year 1923 and those books were added to Visva-Bharati Library collection (Accession No.25544 – 26044).

After receiving these valuable books Rabindranath acknowledged the Emperor Musolini on November 21, 1925 by Telegram

Allow me to convey to you our gratitude in the name of the Visva-Bharati for sending us, through Prof. Formichi, your cordial appreciation of Indian civilization and deputing Prof. Tucci of the University of Rome for acquainting our scholars with Italian history and culture and working with us in various departments of oriental studies, and also for the generous gift of books in your name, showing a spirit of magnanimity worthy of the traditions of your great country.8

The King of Egypt sent 500 Arabic books to Visva-Bharati as complimentary copies, which was also acknowledged.

c) Public Organisations: Sastu Sahitya Mandal of Lahore, Hindi Granthalaya (Bombay), Messrs. Mussuddilay Jain, Ahamadia Anjuman of Lahore and Madras, Sahitya Parishat of Bengal, Andhra Research Society, etc.
d) Government Departments: Government of India, Government of Bengal, Government of Baroda, Government of Mysore, Government of Travancore, Government of Cochin, Government of Ceylon, etc.
e) Universities: University of Calcutta, University of Madras, University of Bombay, University of Allahabad, Illinois University, etc.

Rabindranath reported on this donation publicly, in a speech delivered at Presidency College, Calcutta on August 21, 1922. He informed the audience that the Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan received good number of books as complimentary from European countries: France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Bohemia, etc. The incident was also recorded in Visva-Bharati Annual Report. From the annual Report of Visva-Bharati 1928, published in The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, April-July, 1929 it came to know that the collection of Santiniketan Library in the year 1927 was 29890. 1279 books were added during the year 1928 and thus the number of books at the end of year 1928 was 31169. The total numbers of manuscripts were 3136 at the end of year 1928. [11]

The annual Report 1929 of Visva-Bharati, published in The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, January, 1930 reported the increase of Visva-Bharati Library collection through gift from different sources thus:

The most notable gift that we received was a collection of German classics from Germany, which included several rare editions of German authors, and a copy of the Dictionary of German Language by Grimms, a work which was begun in 1854, but is not yet complete, and which already comprises a large number of volumes of closely printed pages. We also received publications and journals from the Dutch Government of Java, the French Government of Indo-China, the Government of Siam and the Soviet Government of Russia”.
“…Recently our connection with the Society of Friends in England and America through Nalin Chandra Ganguly has opened another avenue and we received a large number of books from different Societies of Friends abroad.
A most notable gift received this year was the magnificient collection of books sent by Mr. Pramatha Chaudhury of Calcutta. It is a very valuable collection and the best thanks of the Visva-Bharati are due to him.
The Library owes a deep debt of gratitude to the Founder-President who not only presented a large number of books but subscribed for all the foreign periodicals in the Library. Mr. C.F. Andrews, who has been away from Santiniketan for some months, has always kept the Library in his mind, and we received several big parcels of books from England and America containing books which he personally collected among his friends.
It is not possible to thank all the donors individually, but we take this opportunity of conveying our best thanks to the following persons: - Mr. Puran Chand Nahar who completed the Abhidhana Rajendra by presenting the last two volumes; Srimati Anurupa Devi who gave a complete set of her works; Messrs Jagadananda Roy, Kartick Chandra Das-Gupta, Ramananda Chatterjee and J.T. Sunderland.12

Tagore’s Plans for the Development of the Visva-Bharati Library

Tagore set up plans for his Visva-Bharati very well, which is still valid today in case of modern University Library. For good and easy maintenance of his Santiniketan library he introduced the following programme and activities:

a) The post of Librarian: For the Santiniketan Library he recruited one permanent whole time Librarian. Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay was the first Librarian since April 15, 1909. However, Prabhat Kumar left this institution after two years and finally came back in the year 1917 for the post of Librarian and continued this service for thirty-six years till his retirement in the year 1953.
b) Adoption of Scientific Classification, Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme, in case of proper arrangement of library books and other documents to help the reader and library people to locate his/her required books quickly from the library stack.
c) Cataloguing of library books on standard format to help the reader to know what books are available in this Library by author, title, subject, editor, series, etc.
d) Modern shelving arrangement of library stack by using iron shelves along with traditional wooden shelves.

The Visva-Bharati Annual Report 1921-22 stated the development of Visva-Bharati Library thus:

The Library at Santiniketan is one of the special features of Visva-Bharati. The library possess a very good collection of books on Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit, a valuable collection of Mohamedan religion and history and a fair collection of Chinese and Tibetan books. The Indian vernaculars are well presented specially Bengali, Hindi and Gujrati. It also contains a very unique collection of continental books on Indology and Arts, chiefly in Franch and German. We are indebted for this collection to our friends overseas who have made a free gift of the books in this section. The total number of books is about 16,000 at present. The library receives about one hundred mazagine and periodicals and oriental journals are well presented. The work of classification and cataloguing in accordance with standard Decimal system is proceeding. Extensive addition has made to the library building and stack room has been fitted with iron shelves. Satisfactory arrangements have been made for the proper care and keep our valuable collection.13

e) Children’s Library: The library had separate juvenile section in this Santiniketan Library from its very beginning.
f) Manuscript Section: The Library also had a Manuscript Section, which were collected from different parts of India and Tibet.
g) Periodical Section: There was a Periodical Section in this Library.
h) Reference Section: The Reference Section of this Library was very good and much helpful to the then research scholars.

All the above facts are cited by Prem Chand Lal in his book Rural Reconstruction in India:

The library is another special feature of the school, and in many ways it is unique in India. Besides a good representative collection of books in English, French, German, Italian, Persian and Arabic languages, on various subjects, it also contains a rich collection of works in Sanskrit, in the different Indian languages, and in Chinese and Tibetan. To these collections have been added a very valuable and remarkable collection of more than three thousand old manuscripts from all parts of India and Tibet. The library is specially equipped for research work in Indology, including Islamic, Zoroastrain and Sino-Indian studies. Scholars of all these studies are to be found eagerly searching for the hidden truths in these rich treasures. There is also a separate juvenile section attached to this library, in which carefully selected books are kept easy reach of the children; and of course the librarian is always there to help them in choosing and finding the kind of books they want.14

i) Establishment of Sectional Library: Due to inconvenience of the rapid spread of the Campus and introduction of specialized course introduction the need for Sectional / Departmental Library was realized. And for the said reasons Kala Bhavana Library, Cheena Bhavana Library, Institution of Rural Reconstruction Library (1927) were established.
From the Visva-Bharati Bulletin [January, 1924 / Magh, 1330] the situation of Kala-Bhavana Library in the earlier times may be estimated:

The Library of Arts and Crafts has been greatly enlarged during the year by the presentation of books, photographs, prints and other collections from various countries, specially Germany and France.15

j) Mobile Library: In the year 1925 a Mobile Library was set up in the Village Welfare Department from where the Institute of Rural Reconstruction maintained its extension works of surrounding villages. This library was known as ‘Chalantika Library’ or ‘Circulating Library’.

k) Life long education and library: The role of library in the spread of mass education and in case of eradication of illiteracy was well realised by Rabindranath Tagore and accordingly a rural library service including ‘Chalantika’ or ‘Circulating Library’ service was started in the year 1925 at Sriniketan and the Rural Reconstruction Library was responsible for organising this much needed service since 1927. This Circulating Library was then used by the surrounding village people and was also open to the girls who were the students of girl's schools. This Circulating Library was properly used by these girl students and they were allowed to carry books home. The only intention behind this was that they may share the reading of the book with other family members. About this Circulating Library Prem Chand Lal, the then Director of Institute of Rural Reconstruction, pointed out thus:

The Circulating Library, although very small, is the first of its kind in Bengal. It has been mentioned elsewhere how quickly rural children fall back into illiteracy. The chief reason for this the fact that they do not have access to any books, and most of the people are too poor to buy any. That the rural children are keen to read is shown by the fact that 729 books were issued during the year 1929, and recorded as distributed in fifteen different villages. Branches of this library have been opened in two other villages, which already had small libraries of their own, and with which books are exchanged.16


Tagore’s plan for the library was very unique in those days. The entire Library Programme that had been implementing in Visva-Bharati by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore remains an ideal University Library System even today. Tagore’s thoughts about the library was not only limited to his educational institute, but also extended for society education. He was in favour of ‘Community Education’ through the library. He was the pioneer for planning his ‘Rural Reconstruction Programme’ and enrichment of Community Education through ‘Circulating Library’ or ‘Chalantika Library’. He had established a system of Community Education through Library at Sriniketan, which may be accepted as model of ‘community development process’ and the ‘mass literacy movement’.

1. Nandi, Subodh Gopal. “The National library of India modernization, digital system and Manpower Planning”, in The National Library, India: An Intellectual Resource (NACONAL - 2006). Kolkata: The National Library, 2006. p. 374-392.
2. Kesavan, B. S.: Indian’s National Library. Calcutta: National Library, 1961. p.1.
3. Ibid., p.2.
4. Visva-Bharati Annual Report (1923), in The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, January, 1924. p. 410.
5. Tagore, Rabindranath. The Function of a Library: Address of the Chairman, Reception Committee, All-India Library Conference, Calcutta, December, 1928. Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, August, 1951, p. 1–6.
6. Tagore, Rathindranath. On the Edges of Time. Calcutta: Orient Longman, 1958. p. 51.
7. Roy, Kshitis. Rabindranath Tagore: a Life Story; translated by Lila Ray from the original in Bengali. New Delhi: Government of India. Publication Division, 1961. p. 61.
8. “Bolpur Brahmacharya asramer Barshik Bibarani”. Tatvabodhini Patrika, No.834, 1319 BS (1913), p. 248-249.
9. Nandi, S. G.: “Visva-Bharati Library: an Experiment of Rabindranath Tagore”. Kalyan Bharati: Journal on History and Culture. Vol.3, 2003. p.121-127.
10. Mukhopadhyay, Pravat Kumar. Rabindrajibani O Rabindra Sahitya Prabeshak, Volume 3. Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1952. p.171.
11. Visva-Bharati Annual Report (1928) in The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, April-July, 1929. p.185.
12. Visva-Bharati Annual Report (1929) in The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, January, 1930. p.451-52.
13. Visva-Bharati Annual Report (1921-22). The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, 1923.
14. Lal, Prem Chand. Reconstruction and Education in Rural India: in the light of the Programme carried on at Sriniketan the Institute of Rural Reconstruction founded by Rabindranath Tagore. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1932. p. 47-48.
15. Visva-Bharati Annual Report (1921), in The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, January, 1924. p.410.
16. Lal, Prem Chand. Op.cit. p. 82.


Focus – "Reading Across Time": Tagore Today

  Amrit Sen : Editorial

Lead Article
  Udaya Narayana Singh : Redrawing the Boundaries

Critical Essays

  Nation, History, Cultural Exchange
    Avijit Banerjee : Tagore’s Visit to China
    Bijoy Mukherjee : Rabindranath and Indian History
    Biswanath Banerjee : Tagore and Acharya PC Ray
    Sagarika Chakraborty : Tagore the Diplomat
    Soumitra Roy : Tagore’s Ghare Baire

  Responses to Caste and Gender
    Dhriti Ray Dalai/ Panchanan Dalai : Tagore’s ‘Chandalika’
    Dipankar Roy : Women in Tagore’s ‘Domestic Novels’
    Sanjukta Dasgupta : “Streer Patra” - A Feminist Text?
    Swati Ganguly : Gender, Sexuality and Conjugality in Samapti

  Translation and Reception
    Anindya Sen : Tagore’s Self-Translations
    Jayati Gupta : Whose Gitanjali is it Anyway?
    Sushobhan Adhikary : Cartoons on Tagore
    Usha Kishore : The Auto-translations of Rabindranath

  Rural Reconstruction and Ecopoetic
    Bipasha Raha : Experiments with Village Welfare
    Debotosh Sinha : Tagore and Rural Reconstruction
    Falguni Piyush Desai : Floriography in Tagore’s Poetry
    Marie Josephine Aruna : ‘Letters’ and Ecopoetics

  Aesthetics, Paintings and Dance Dramas
    Aju Mukhopadhyay : The Poet of Sublime Love
    Raghupathi K V : Aesthetics of Tagore and Sri Aurobindo
    Sudeshna Majumdar : Paintings of Tagore
    Sutapa Chaudhuri : Dance Dramas of Tagore

  Tagore and the Short Story
    Dominic K V : Tagore’s Short Stories
    Mausumi Sen Bhattacharjee : ‘The Hunger of Stones’

  Tagore and Visva-Bharati
    Anindita Chongdar : Anecdotes of Santiniketan
    Debmalya Das : The Visva-Bharati Quarterly
    Subodh Gopal Nandi : The Visva-Bharati Library

Creative Responses

    Sanjukta Dasgupta : Remembering Rabindranath

    Frank Joussen : Tagore and Walt Whitman
    Nuggehalli Pankaja : The Voice of Tagore
    Sanjukta Dasgupta : To Rabindranath
    Shambhobi Ghosh : Yet

  Ahmed A H S : Birthday and other poems
  Anup Maharatna : From ‘The Last Writings’
  Ashoka Sen : Africa
  Barnali Saha : The Vacation (Fiction)
  Naina Dey : Chance Meeting
  Parantap Chakraborty : The Son of Man
  Suranjima Saha : Preamble to a Journey
  Swapna Dutta : The Editor

  Amrit Sen:Behind the Veil & Tagore and Modernity
  Kumaran S : Pathos in the Short Stories of Tagore

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