Rabindranath founded a school for children at Santiniketan and it was around this nucleus that the structure of an unconventional university developed through careful planning. In 1863, on a seven-acre plot at the site of the present institution, Debendranath Tagore, the poet’s father, had built a small retreat for meditation, and in 1888 he dedicated, the land and buildings, towards establishment of a Brahmavidyalaya and a library. Rabindranath’s school Brahmacharyasrama which started functioning formally from December 22, 1901 with no more than five students on the roll, was, in part, a fulfilment of the wishes of his father who was a considerable figure of his time in the field of educational reforms. It was inaugurated on December 23, 1921 and from 1925 this school came to be known as Patha-Bhavana.
The school was a conscious repudiation of the system introduced in India by the British rulers and Rabindranath initially sought to realize the intrinsic values of the ancient education in India. The school and its curriculum, therefore, signified a departure from the way the rest of the country viewed education and teaching. Simplicity was a cardinal principle. Classes were held in open air in the shade of trees where man and nature entered into an immediate harmonious relationship. Teachers and students shared the single integral socio-cultural life. The curriculum had music, painting, dramatic performances and other performative practices. Beyond the accepted limits of intellectual and academic pursuits, opportunities were created for invigorating and sustaining the manifold faculties of the human personality.
Iin May 1951 Visva-Bharati was declared to be a central university and an institution of national importance by an act of Parliament. Visva-Bharati has the President of India as the Paridarsaka (Visitor) and the Governor of West Bengal as the Pradhana (Rector). The President of India appoints the Acharya (Chancellor) and the Upacharya (Vice-chancellor) of the University.
Location and Transportation – Visva-Bharati is located in a rural setting in the district of Birbhum, about 160 km by road from Kolkata. The nearest railway station is Bolpur (Santiniketan) on the Eastern Railway and the air-terminal is Kolkata Airport. The University campus at Santiniketan, about 3 km from the railway station can be reached in a little over two hours from Kolkata by train. By train it is about 146 km. The University has two campuses, one at Santiniketan and the other at Sriniketan, which is about 3 km from Santiniketan. The institutional buildings and departments are distributed among them.
The university is divided in to institutes, centres, departments and schools. The respective departments are included in the institutes.
Hostels – In the past Visva-Bharati had a unitary residential character. At present as a whole 1100 male students and 1170 female students (including school section) reside in 44 hostels of different capacities.
Education for Foreign Students – They can pursue any regular course of the University or certain specific courses specially designed for the foreign casual students. Before joining any course of the University they must satisfy the academic requirements set for the course and obtain clearance from the Ministry of Education, Govt. of India, for studying in India. They should apply early so that all formalities can be completed by April, and they may join the course in August. They may have application forms gratis any time of the year on request from the Office of the Deputy Registrar (Academic), Visva-Bharati.
There is also a Research Fellowship programme for foreign students. Research students recommended by any Government or University and with specific programmes for investigation approved by proper authorities and accepted by Visva-Bharati are provided with research facilities and guidance. They will be required to stay here at least for one academic session, which is of about one year’s duration.
Research Fellowship – The University has a number of research fellowships in different fields awarded by the UGC, CSIR, ICAR, DST, DAE, ICSSR etc. Advertisement for award of such fellowships are made from time to time.
Scholarship / Stipend – There are a number of University merit scholarships awarded on the basis of merit and stipend on the basis of merit-cum –means available for pre-degree, undergraduate and postgraduate students. Some government and private agencies also award fellowships for entry in some courses.
Hospitals – Free medical treatment is provided to all the students (both residential and day scholar) of the University by the Pearson Memorial Hospital, a University hospital located at Santiniketan and another Hospital located at Sriniketan.
Libraries – There are 3 Libraries. The central library has today 3,76,531 volumes of books, around 4,000 users and a daily transaction of 300 books. The library has a number of important collections; mention may be made of the collections of Prabodhchandra Bagchi, Pramatha Choudhuri, Humayun Kabir, Satikumar Chattopadhyay, Lila Ray, Ashok Rudra and Abanindranath Tagore.
Rabindra Bhavana Library – The library has over 40,000 books which include different editions of the poet’s writings, translations in various languages, a rare pamphlet collection, journals in which the writings by Tagore first appeared, newspaper clippings on Rabindranath dating to 1905. This is a reference library for scholars working on the life, time and works of Rabindranath. Queries on Rabindranath are answered personally, by post and over the Internet.
Sectional Libraries – These are Cheena Bhavana, Hindi Bhavana, Kala Bhavana etc.
Earn while you Learn Scheme – The University offers selected number of part-time positions of Student Assistants in Library, Book Bank, Mess, Hostel and in the field of Physical Education with the monthly allowance of Rs. 250/- per month.
Student’s Aid Fund – The University operates a Students’ Aid Fund from which students get grants for purchasing books or for reimbursement of expenditure incurred towards the purchase of medicines or medical check-up which are not available in the University hospital.
Study Tour – All the Departments of the University conduct Study Tours each year with a partial contribution from the University.