Shantiniketan, abode of peace and birthplace of Visva-Bharati joins UNESCO World Heritage List


New Delhi: Shantiniketan, the cultural hub of West Bengal and the home of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The announcement was made by UNESCO on its social media platform ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) on Sunday, congratulating India for the achievement. Shantiniketan, which means “the abode of peace”, was the place where Tagore founded Visva-Bharati, a unique institution of learning and creativity, in 1921.

Shantiniketan’s inclusion in the UNESCO list was a long-standing aspiration of India, which had submitted a tentative nomination dossier in 2009. The dossier was prepared by renowned conservation architect Abha Narayan Lamba, who expressed her joy and satisfaction after hearing the news. “We always believed in the beauty of Shantiniketan and today seeing it in the UNESCO list has confirmed it,” she said.

Shantiniketan’s nomination was supported by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a France-based non-governmental organization of experts and professionals dedicated to the conservation and promotion of the world’s architectural and heritage sites. ICOMOS had recommended Shantiniketan for inscription earlier this year, recognizing its outstanding universal value as a cultural site.

According to the information available on the official website of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Shantiniketan was originally an ashram established by Debendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath Tagore, in 1863. It was a place where anyone, irrespective of caste and creed, could come and meditate on the one Supreme God. Debendranath Tagore, also known as Maharshi (which means one who is both saint and sage), was a leading figure of the Indian Renaissance.

Among the structures built by Debendranath Tagore were the Shantiniketan Griha or house and a beautiful stained glass Mandir or temple where worship is non-denominational. Both structures, built in the second half of the 19th century, are significant in their association with the founding of Shantiniketan and the universal spirit associated with the revival and reinterpretation of religious ideals in Bengal and India.

Rabindranath Tagore, who visited Shantiniketan for the first time in 1878, transformed his father’s ashram into a centre for art and education based on ancient Indian traditions and a vision of the unity of humanity transcending religious and cultural boundaries. He started a Brahmacharya Ashrama or school in 1901, which later became Patha Bhavana or school of learning. The school has beautiful frescoes by Nandalal Bose and his students. Tagore also built Natun Bari or new house in 1902 for his family, which he later offered to Mahatma Gandhi’s Phoenix school boys in 1915.


In 1921, Tagore established Visva-Bharati or World University at Shantiniketan, which became a centre for international collaboration and exchange of ideas. Visva-Bharati attracted many eminent scholars, artists, writers and thinkers from India and abroad, such as C.F. Andrews, William Winstanley Pearson, Leonard Elmhirst, Victoria Ocampo, Romain Rolland, Albert Einstein and H.G. Wells. Visva-Bharati also played a significant role in India’s freedom movement and cultural renaissance.

Today, Visva-Bharati is one of India’s most prestigious universities, offering degree courses in humanities, social sciences, sciences, fine arts, music, performing arts, education, agricultural sciences and rural reconstruction. It is the only central university of West Bengal and the Prime Minister is its Chancellor. Visva-Bharati is also home to several museums, archives and libraries that preserve and showcase Tagore’s works and legacy.

Shantiniketan is the fourth cultural site from India to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List this year, after Dholavira (Gujarat), Ramappa Temple (Telangana) and Kakatiya Rudreshwara Temple (Telangana). With this inscription, India now has 40 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.