The Theory of Education: In The Light of Aurobindo & Tagore

The definition of true education is a very debatable concept about which the agreement has yet to be established. Generally we denote by the word ‘education’ the system of education received by us during our school and college days. But is this denotation is appropriate?  If yes, then education will stand just for bookish knowledge encouraged by our traditional educational institutes. Education certainly not means that. In its true sense, education should be that training, both mental and physical, of the children, which will enable them to reveal their internal capabilities as well as introduce them with the knowledge of all things belonging in this vast world. According to swami Vivekananda, by which education we learn to control and dominate our moral wills and to limit their speed completely that education should be considered as the proper kind of education[1]. It will encourage the pupils not only to learn from books, but also from nature.  Because a person, who does not believe that Nature is the best teacher of a child, is actually rejecting one of the most significant principles of education. A child, deprived from the nature, is unable to utilize his bookish informations due to lack of appropriate training. In books, he will learn the process how to acquire and memorize some information, but unable to know about their utility; however in nature he will both learn the fact as well as its usage. Thus, the prospective of education over our whole life seems quiet vast; as it does not remain limit only within the small boundary of books, but expanded throughout our whole life-experiences. In this present paper, I will try to compare between the educational theories of Sri Aurobindo and Tagore, whose writings will help us to understand properly the true picture of our present educational conditions and also to reform it whenever found necessary.

[1] Swami Vivekanander Bani Sanchayan, p. 22

[1] On Education, p. 32

Tagore also realized that the traditional system of education under the British rule was nothing but a kind of silly joke made with the future of Indian students. In his opinion, in the name of education we make children bound to gather or even swallow several types of bookish information. So, the pupils are really very unfortunate as no one other than them suffers from such a tremendous pressure of education and have to bear extreme pain in their procedure of learning. Such signs of terror and mechanism are existent in every where of this traditional system of education. Hence education in this is making men mechanical, but fails to awake the Real man within him. But if education can be obtained by the pupil with happiness and freedom of acceptance, then their power of thinking and reasoning will naturally be developed. In this way the inner human being of every child will come out with fullest potentialities. He had a firm belief that ‘Freedom of the Soul’ is gained in no other means than ‘a free way of education and learning procedure of the Indian children’.  Thus, we can discover from their concepts that character building was accepted by both of them as the integral part of education.

Now let us discuss of their concepts regarding the role of the teacher in the educational system. Sri Aurobindo mentioned that the tutor should produce himself as a helper and guide of the child. He must not impose something which seems external to the student or try to taught him; for to force the child to learn something against his will, means to demolish his natural process of growth. To compare a child with lifeless clay that can be molded in any way as the teacher wish is barbarous in nature. So, anything brought from outside should be offered to his mind, but not imposed. In his opinion, the basic goal of education should be in helping the growing soul of a child to be perfect in every respect. And in this noble endeavor the tutor should take an essential part.

We can have a similar response from Tagore when he exclaimed that in the traditional system of education, the teacher took the form of businessman to whom giving education is just like selling goods and his basic intention was mainly earning money by selling his bookish information. For this give and take relationship of the teachers formed with the educational system, the pupils become completely unable to respect them from the bottom of their hearts and lots of frightfulness and hatred remain stored in their mind. Thus, for giving education we need that type of teachers who will take this huge responsibility of education as their only means of living. In this way, the teacher will be able to understand the pupil’s mind and can try to solve his problems without thinking it inferior in importance. Education of this kind will be proved as blessings towards the students. Hence, both Sri Aurobindo and Tagore admitted the fact that knowledge can not be sold, rather given by the masters. Thus, the value of education is not dependent on money, but on the mutual respect and devotion between teacher and student.

Both of them also agreed about the role of nature played over the student mind. According to Sri Aurobindo, education grasped from Nature is the proper education as it is the best medium of learning procedure. Our traditional education can only make the children frighten and hamper their natural process of growth. The relation formed between child and books is the relation of terror and distance. But only under the supervision of Nature, students will become properly educated and this education is however much more practical, sound, interesting and higher in qualities than our traditional one. Hence, in his opinion, ‘It is by allowing Nature to work that we get the benefit of the gifts she has bestowed on us’[1], we can prepare a child to gain a free and natural growth which was rather impossible through our education process dependent completely upon books.

[1] On Education, p. 35

In this context, Tagore also mentioned that the persons, detached from nature, can only be glad of being traditionally educated after receiving some sorts of Degrees and Diplomas, but infact they are not needed for the recreation of our nation in a newer way. Because they are completely ignorant of the real fact that nature plays a vital role to teach a child. In our traditional system, we detach a child from the nature’s lap, and confine him within the clumsy atmosphere of institutions. Education grasped from nature gives a child enough chance to learn freely, and do not forcefully impose anything upon his weak shoulders as a burden. For the inner growth of a child, education acquired from nature play a very essential role. May be that is the reason for which both Tagore and Sri Aurobindo preferred the education of children given within the boundary of ashram.

However, behind their establishment of ashrams in Pondicherry and Shantiniketan, another important factor acted silently. Both of them were tremendously fascinated with the ancient Indian educational culture where education was given by the gurus and received by students living within the natural atmosphere of Tapoban. But they both admitted that for the welfare of India we have to accept the truths demonstrated by modern Europe. According to Sri Aurobindo, it was falsely thought that we want to fetch back the old Tol systems of India in the name of national education as living in this advanced age it is definitely impossible to revive the ancient system in its oldest form. It is true that past had attained success in many respects, but only for that above reason, it will be quite unjust to refute all the scientific truths of enlightened Europe. Thus, in his view, education, being universal in nature, must be free from any national character or border. As a advocator of national system of education he clarified his position, ‘It is not a return to the fifth century but an initiation of the centuries to come, not a reversion but a break forward away from a present artificial falsity to her own greater innate potentialities that is demanded by the soul, by the Shakti of India’[1]. And to revive the true spirit of India we have to collaborate the modern scientific truth of Europe with the past glory of India. In this way, as he hoped, a greater future can emerge out of its foundation of Indian past along with the modern European present. In Sri Aurobindo Ashram he tried to lay the foundation of this dream.

[1]  On Education, p. 9

Like Sri Aurobindo, Tagore also visualized the same truth. While living in America, he saw the worst side of European culture – lust for power, lust for growth and lust for dominating others. However the goodness of Western culture lies in its cultivation of scientific knowledge by the help of which man can achieve a way to win over diseases, pain, death etc. and ancient Asia always concentrated on gaining spiritual knowledge by which we can ultimately reach our destination of moksa or liberation. In his opinion, by reconciling these two cultures altogether we can hope of achieving something new in form but old in spirit in the upcoming future for the welfare of human race. He clarified that with Europe, India has to establish the give and take relationship. Europe’s excessiveness of scientific thought and India’s life-long devotion towards spirituality have to be exchanged, because in Europe spiritual truth and in India scientific truth never touched their extreme limit. Hence, a greater India can emerge out of its unification with all, even Europe. And in this noble endeavor of unification, education also has to play a significant role. For that reason, within the national system of education, we have to unite the ancient glory of Indian educational system along with the inner goodness of modern European culture. In his Viswa-Bharati he actually started this process of constructing a new India by preparing all of its students as the new citizens of the newly-made India.

Sri Aurobindo mentioned that the medium of instruction must be such that it can touch our Indian soul, reflecting also our temperament, culture and basic needs. We want to learn English, Latin, French, German etc. languages following Westerns, which are the representatives of Western culture, thought and behavioral pattern. But the true fact is that we have no resemblance with them in any respect. For that reason the pattern of education which seems relevant in West, will not be so much applicable in India. And a child’s mother tongue is mostly required to gain his mastery over other secondary especially foreign languages. Only in it, our mental and logical faculties concerning judgment, comparison, reasoning, observation etc. will be flourished, which seems quite tough to develop on the basis of foreign languages. So, according to him, our mother tongue is the suitable medium of instruction for education, because only it can have the power to evoke a child’s innermost potentialities. And for that reason, the fundamental responsibility of the child, in his view, is to be the master in his own mother tongue, through which the mastery over other languages will be easily achieved.        

In the opinion of Tagore, the medium of instruction of education must be our own mother tongue, because we have lost most of our energies in learning such an unknown language like English in our early youth. But if this obstacle is removed then our language learning will be much easier. Being ironical to the lovers of English language, he mentioned that, many Bengali Babus do not even imagine that Shiksha-Saraswati can wear sari, and anyhow if this impossible will become possible, then she should loss her own her own status. His warning against this narrow mentality of the educated people was prevalent in everywhere of his thesis. Probodh Chandra Sen quoted Saddler Commission’s report where the fullest description of Tagore’s educational theory was given in brief – ‘the chief medium of instruction in schools should be the mother-tongue. He has four reasons for this belief; first, because it is through his mother-tongue that every man learns the deepest lessons of life; second, because some of those pupils who have a just claim to higher education cannot master the English language; third, because many of those who do not acquire English fail to achieve true proficiency in it and yet, in the attempt to learn a language so difficult to a Bengali, spend too large a part of the energy which is indispensable to the growth of the power of independent thought and observation; fourth, because a training conducted chiefly through the mother-tongue would lighten the load of education for girls…’[1].

[1]  Sen, P. C., p. 43

In Sri Aurobindo’s theory of education we find the mention of harmony between men and everything else. In his opinion, man gains harmony by the constant process of evolution of his several aspects such as physical, vital, mental, psychic, spiritual and supramental. According to him, a true and living education has to deal with three conditions ‘the man, the individual in his commonness and uniqueness, the nation or people and universal humanity – – that alone will be a true and living education which helps to bring out to full advantage, makes ready for the full purpose and scope of human life all that is in the individual man, and which at the same time helps him to enter into his right relation with the life, mind and soul of the people to which he belongs and with that great total life, mind and soul of humanity of which he himself is a unit and his people or nation a living, a separate and yet inseparable member’[1]. Thus, in his opinion, harmonization of man with his community as well as with universe will be possible through the true education. This harmonization procedure occupies a very crucial place in his theory as through it he later developed his notion Divinization of men.

[1]  On Education, p. 13-14

Tagore in his theory of education said that education must be meant for self-realization of man by the help of which he could find out his harmony with nature, with universe, with whole human race. So, also in his writing we discover the deep urge to explore man’s relation with anything affecting himself as in Sri Aurobindo. For the development of the individual, the necessity of identifying the individual soul along with the universal soul is extremely necessary. Hence education helps a man to overcome all the limitations of his individual personality as well as to search for his universal personality. And this universal personality of a man can be discovered not only within himself, but also in every single moment deploring his relationship with nature and environment. Thus R. N. Sharma truly evaluated that ‘He (Tagore) believes in an inner harmony between man and Nature and God. In man, again, the physical, the mental and the spiritual aspects are equally important and internally related. Therefore, like Sri Aurobindo, Rabindranath believes in a multisided education with physical, intellectual, moral and religious aims’[1].  This belief helped him in his construction of Viwsa-Bharati.

[1]  Sharma, R. N., Textbook of Educational Philosophy, p. 320 

Physical education, according to them both, plays a vital role in the child’s learning. Sri Aurobindo claimed that, for the total perfection of the being, the physical part of it can not be ignored as it is the basis upon which this perfection can be attained. Games and sports are not mere tools of amusements and fun, but the fields helpful enough to develop good habits and better qualities. Thus, we should accept the importance of sports, because by their help, our consciousness about the body awakes along with the arousal of the sporting spirit necessary to meet the challenges of both life and game. Therefore, in his view, for making the life divine we have to give necessary emphasis on developing the body divine. For this above reason, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother both gave so much stress upon the physical training of the children living at Pondicherry Ashram.

Tagore was very critical to our prevalent system of education as not giving importance on physical education. One of the aims of education, in his view, is physical development of children. In R. N. Sharma’s translation we find out Tagore’s point of view about the value of physical activities ‘Even if they (the children) learnt nothing, they would have had ample time for play, climbing trees, diving into ponds, plucking and tearing flowers, perpetrating thousand and one mischiefs on Mother Nature, they would have obtained the nourishment of the body, happiness of min and the satisfaction of the natural impulses of childhood’[1]. So, physical fitness, according to him, has to be achieved for the complete development of child; because then, he gets enough opportunity of proper development.

[1]  Ibid, p. 320

Both Sri Aurobindo and Tagore provided some reasonable grounds for their acceptance of the intimate value of the mental education. According to Sri Aurobindo, very child can imagine, create mental images, use analogy about the characters depicted in his school-books; hence, through proper mental education we have to encourage his hidden powers and inborn qualities to flourish which will otherwise lie dormant in him. He should not be confined within the boundary of bookish knowledge, rather should be encouraged to grow in his own way. He straight-forwardly claimed ‘Every child is an enquirer, an investigator, analyser, a merciless anatomist. Appeal to those qualities in him and let him acquire without knowing it the right temper and the necessary fundamental knowledge of the scientist. Every child has an insatiable intellectual curiosity and turn for metaphysical enquiry. Use it to draw him on slowly to an understanding of the world and himself. Every child has the gift of imitation and a touch of imaginative power. Use it to give him the groundwork of the faculty of the artist’[1]. Education of the mind given in such a way will help a child to be perfectly grown up in future.

[1]  On Education, p. 34

Tagore equally laid emphasis upon the mental aim of education. In his view, for proper livelihood we have to flourish two powers, i.e. the power of thinking and the power of imagination. However the prevalent educational system put too much stress upon the memory power and too little on thinking and imagination. But both of them are really indispensable for the growth of child life. For their lack of presence in our traditional system, we have to bear the burden of memorized knowledge, but do not learn to apply them in reality. But if the child from the very beginning learns how to apply his knowledge, then his mental capacity will be naturally flourished and the mind will, in fact, receive the appropriate opportunity to show its inherent abilities.

In his system of education, Sri Aurobindo did not differentiate between male and female. The education for men and women must be similar in every respect. He proposed that we should treat women as equal as men. Neglecting females will be very harmful for our society because, in his opinion, they are also very essential part of our social structure.  Therefore, no distinctions were made by him on the basis of sex division in his ashram. Even the same kind of physical exercises were given here to both male and female. The absurdity of the idea of sex division was reflected in The Mother’s voice ‘for God’s sake, can’t you forget that you are a girl or a boy and try to become a human being?[1]’. The main aim of Sri Aurobindo’s educational theory was to synchronize between both sexes by giving them same education, same training, same chance to grow; so that the proper advancement of the human race will become ultimately possible.

[1]  On Women, p. 48

Tagore’s theory was partially similar with that of Sri Aurobindo in the context of co-education. In his theory, every human being has natural right of education, so women should not be deprived from it. Educated female will be completely reluctant to their basic household works, this absurd theory was not at all accepted by him. Their mental propensities like kindness, respect, love, devotion, tolerance, shyness etc. will also not be affected by their learning. However, unlike Sri Aurobindo, he made distinction between the educations given to both men and women. In his view, knowledge has two aspects – pure knowledge and practical knowledge. In the case of pure knowledge both sexes will get equal right to gain it. But the practical knowledge received by both of them should be different according to the difference of their nature. Female are distinct from their male counterparts not only in their bodily formation, but also in their mental structure. So, he never admitted that the practical field of work for both male and female should be equal with each other. Thus, here we discover a basic difference within the theories of co-education advocated by Tagore and Sri Aurobindo.

However another vital difference between both of their theories is worthy to mention. In Sri Aurobindo’s theory, the main stress was given upon the underlying aim of realizing the supramental being within us and to be united with him. In the writings of  The Mother we notice the explanation of Sri Aurobindo’s hidden goal ‘As your surrender becomes more and more perfect and integral, it will carry with it the aspiration for identification, a total fusion with That to which you have given yourself, and little by little this aspiration will overcome all differences and all resistances, especially if the aspiration has, added to it, an intense and spontaneous love for then nothing can stand in the way of its victorious onset’[1].  So, Sri Aurobindo always remembered this unique goal of unification of human race with the Divine via educational theories and this was predominant behind his theory of education. Pavitra very clearly clarified this notion in his own book ‘Men and nations will be regarded as souls and group-souls, the Divinity concealed and to be self-discovered in its human individuals and collectivities, group-souls meant like the individuals to grow according to their own nature and by that growth to help each other, to help the whole race in the common work of humanity. And that work is to find the divine self in the individual and the collectivity and to realize spiritually, mentally, vitally, materially its greatest, largest, richest and deepest possibilities in the inner life of all and their outer action and nature’[2]. However, it seems quite complex in nature to common Indian educated masses, because here too much emphasis is given on this concept of Divinization. It indeed has practical significance, but for this complexity in understanding somewhere remains quite unappealing to the thought of common people.

[1]  On Education, p. 128-129

[2]  Pavitra, p. 40

But in Tagore’s theory we find out a kind of simplicity inherent, for which it seems so appealing to common masses. In his theory, he stressed upon the wage-earning for the poor villagers. Though he did not admit that education is a means of earning bread alone, but he admitted that as an intimate part of any sound educational system. In 1922, the Palli Sangathan Bibhag was made by him, which was renamed as Sriniketan in 1923. T. N. Ganguli discovered from ‘The Bulletin of Viswa-Bharati’ that ‘The objective of Sriniketan is to bring back life in its completeness into the villages making their self-reliant and self-respectful, acquired with the cultural standard of their own country and competed to make an efficient use of modern resources for the improvement of their (the villagers) physical, intellectual and economic condition’[1]. For giving education among villagers, Sriniketan was divided into various departments, e.g. agricultural department, industrial department, educational department, rural reconstruction department and samavaya. The foundation of Shiksha-Satra served as a means of not only their own earning livelihood, but also to equip them the necessary training for the improvement of the rural Bengal. 

[1]  Gangopadhyaya, T., p. 86

By the way, it is our task to explore both of their educational theories so that we could evaluate the present condition of educational system in India. Their dream was to construct a new India by reconciling its past glory along with the modern European advancement, which unfortunately remained unexplored even today. For the betterment of India, through the enhancement of its educational condition, we have to take their suggestions seriously.    


  1. Basu, Bishnu and Binay Bandopadhyaya (ed.), Rabindranather Shikshabhavana, Pratibhas, Kolkata, 1989.
  2. Gangopadhyaya, Tapendranath, Rabindranather Shikshacinta Parikalpana o Proyog, Sahitya Prakash, Kolkata, 1995.
  3. On Women : Compiled from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry, 2004.
  4. Pavitra (P. B. Saint-Hilaire), Education and The Aim of Human Life, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry, 2002.
  5. Sen, Probodh Chandra, Rabindranather Shikshacinta (Rabindranath Tagore’s Thoughts on Education), Paschim Banga Rajya Pustak Parshad, Kolkata, 1982.
  6. Sharma, Ram Nath, Text Book of Educational Philosophy, Kanishka Publishers Distributors, New Delhi, 2000.
  7. Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother On Education, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 2004.
  8. Sri Aurobindo and The Mother On Physical Education, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 2002.
  9. Swami Vivekanander Bani Sanchayan, Udbodhan Karyalaya, Kolkata, 2006.
  10. Tagore, Rabindranath, Shiksha, Viswa-Bharati, Kolkata, 1965.



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