The very first step into sleepy Shantiniketan introduces you to verdant greenery, fresh air, dusty red roads and the inexplicable presence of the great Bard of Bengal, writes joydeep banerjee
VERY keen on attending Basanta Utsav in Shantiniketan this year, we also anticipated – given that the festival of Holi fell at the fag end of March — the scorching heat and the usual mad rush to get a room at one of a handful of the hotels available. As an afterthought, we finally decided to set off on 1 March.
Our party of five boarded the Ganadevta Express at Howrah station at 6.05 am and reached Bolpur (145 km north of Kolkata) around 9 am. At the local bazaar, we procured our groceries, vegetables, fish and meat, had a light snack and took an auto to our pre-booked holiday home at Prantik, a 10-minute trip to the next station from Bolpur. Of course, the Ganadevta Express also halts at Prantik, but the market there is virtually non-existent so it&’s advisable to get whatever you need from Bolpur. Destination achieved, we headed straight for Mahua, our cottage at Prantik.
The next morning brought pleasant weather and there was still a nip in the air. We first visited Kankalitala (one of 51 peethas) and then Amar Kutir. Here we got the opportunity to see artisans making various local artifacts like leather bags, showpieces, purses, etc. There is also an emporium where these products are sold.
We strolled around the Deer Park, though it was not in good shape at all and then made for Sriniketan and finally Visva-Bharati University around noon. Maharshi Debendranath Tagore (Rabindranath&’s father), found Bhubandanga (named after Bhuban Dakat, a local dacoit) very peaceful and renamed it Shantiniketan (abode of peace) after acquiring it from the Sinha family. He founded an ashram here in 1863 and became the initiator for the Brahmo Samaj.
Rabindranath Tagore started Patha Bhavana in 1901, the school of his ideals here, and later, after getting the Nobel Prize for Literature he converted the little school into a university in 1921 and named it Visva-Bharati. Today it is a central university. He gave an entirely new meaning to the word education, taking the system to the glorious old days of the Gurukul system.
The aim of this school was to blend the new Western and the traditional Eastern system of education. We first went to Chhatimtala, where Maharshi Debendranath Tagore meditated daily. We then visited Kala Bhavan, the art college there. Rabindranath&’s manuscripts, paintings and personal items are displayed at the Museum and Art Gallery in the Uttarayan complex. Even today, Shantiniketan has retained the sanctity of an ashram in spite of being part of the contemporary world.
After lunch, we took the same auto to a tribal market towards the evening. We were fortunate that it was “haat baar” (Saturday). The locals were selling their wares in makeshift stalls under large trees and kind of things were available — from ektaras (single-stringed musical instruments) to ornamental jute bags, baskets and saris. Soulful renditions of Baul songs echoing through the jungle kept us entranced.
At twilight, between the orange sky and red soil, there were saffron-clad minstrels dancing as if they were unfurling the inscrutable rhythm of Mother Earth and the Cosmos in their Sahajiya philosophy. No surprises, then, in the fact that Baul music had a great influence on Tagore&’s compositions.
The very first step into this sleepy town, introduces you to the verdant greenery, fresh air and dusty red roads. And, more importantly, the inexplicable presence of the great Bard of Bengal.
What would be the place you recommend people must see before they die? Or how about your worst holiday experience? E-mail your travel piece and photographs to [email protected] The suggested length is 750 words. We will not consider articles that have already been published in print or online. The Statesman is not able to return submissions. Payment for travel articles is left to the discretion of the Editor.