Shantiniketan was founded in 1863 by Rabindranath Tagore's father, Debendranath Tagore, as an ashram for people of any caste or religion to meditate on the one true god. Debendranath was a founder of Brahmoism, a Hindu reform movement which rejected caste distinctions, idol worship and scriptural infallibility in favour of rationality and monotheism, beliefs in which Rabindranath followed him. The ashram area is still the heart of the university today.

The Visva-Bharati (www.visvabharati.ac.in) has had many celebrated names as teachers or students, among them artist Nandalal Bose, film diirector Satyajit Ray and Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen.