SHANTINIKETAN, Bolpur ~ Vishwa Bharati and Heritage of Rabindra Nath Tagore
Shantiniketan is a small township near Bolpur in the Birbhum district of West Bengal and about 212 kms north of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). It was made famous by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, whose vision became what is now a university town – Visva-Bharati University. The place now attracts thousands of visitors each year. Shantiniketan was earlier called Bhubandanga (named after Bhuban Dakat, a local dacoit), and was owned by the Tagore family. In 1862, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, the poet’s father, while on a boat journey to Raipur, came across a landscape with red soil and lush green paddy fields. He decided to plant more saplings and built a small house. He called his home Shantiniketan, the abode of peace. He founded an Ashram here in 1863 and became the initiator of the Brahmo Samaj. In 1901, Rabindranath started a school at Shatiniketan named Brahmachary Ashram that was modeled on the lines of the ancient gurukul system. After he received the Nobel Prize that enhanced not only the Pride of India but also the prestige of Shantiniketan, the school was expanded into a university. It was renamed Bishwa-Bharati, which Tagore defined as where the world makes a home in a nest.
History of Shantiniketan
Shantiniketan was earlier called Bhubandanga (after Bhuban Mohan Sinha, the Zamindar of Raipur in WB), and was owned by the Sinha family. In 1862, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, while on a visit to Raipur, showed interest in land near Birbhum. There was only one building there namely ‘Shantiniketan’ (which is still there adjacent the upasana mandir known as ‘Odisha Bhawan’). Maharshi liked the place and registered it in the name of Maharshi Devendranath against Rupee One as a token value. He called his home Shantiniketan (after the name of the house). Shantiniketan became a spiritual centre where people from all religions were invited to join for meditation and prayers. He founded an ashram here in 1863 and became the initiator of the Brahmo Samaj.
Here Rabindranath Tagore started Patha Bhavana, the school of his ideals, whose central premise was that learning in a natural environment would be more enjoyable and fruitful. After he received a Nobel Prize in 1913, the school was expanded into a university in 1921. In the year 1924 based on the same ideology and with the intention of educating and training the people belonging to deprived part of the society he founded Siksha Satra with only 7 students. The journey initiated by Kabiguru to kickstart the education system transformation slowly turned into a reality when the institution was recognised as the first university to be recognised in the year 1951 by central government. Over the course of time university has witnessed the growth of talented singers, artists, academicians and scientists contributing to the various domains.The Shantiniketan provides the living education for students (1901)
Shantiniketan is a tourist attraction mainly because Rabindranath lived here and penned many of his literary classics (namely Rabindrasangeet, poems, novels etc.) here at his home where is a place of historical importance.
What to see in Shantiniketan
The Shantiniketan campus is adorned by splendid sculptures, frescoes, murals, and paintings of Rabindranath, Nandalal Bose, Ramkinkar, Binodbehari Mukhopadhyay and others. Birbhum District, where Shantiniketan is located, is also famous for its fairs and festivals like Poush Mela (December), Joydev Mela (January), Basanta Utsav (Holi) in March and the famous mystic Baul Singers. Rabindra Janmotsav is celebrated in mid-April to mark the Bengali New Year and as well Tagore’s Anniversary. Briksharopan, the festival of planting saplings, and Halakarshan, the festival of plowing the fields, are celebrated on 22nd and 23rd day of Sravana (August). Varshamangal, the festival of rains, is celebrated during August/September. Poush Mela is an annual fair and festival that takes place in Shantiniketan. Commencing on the 7th day of the month of Poush (Dec-Jan), the fair officially lasts for three days, although vendors may stay up until the month-end. Poush Mela is characterised by its live performances of Bengali folk music, specially traditional bauls, wandering minstrels singing Bengali songs. Tribal dances (i.e. santali) are also the part of the fair.
The Shantiniketan campus is adorned by splendid sculptures, frescoes, murals, and paintings of Rabindranath, Nandalal Bose, Ramkinkar, Binodbehari Mukhopadhyay, and others. Birbhum District, where the Shantiniketan is located, is also famous for its fairs and festivals like Poush Mela (December), Joydev Mela (January), Basanta Utsav (Holi) in March and the famous mystic Baul Singers.
One of the most valued places in all of Santiniketan, Tagore’s Aashram is located in the Uttrayan Complex. It is the place that Tagore’s father first built when he arrived many years ago. He called his home Santiniketan, Abode of Peace. Later the entire region adopted this name. One has to walk through the area. Guides are generally available outside Uttarayan Complex/Rabindra Bhaban. You can also explore the region on your own as the area is pretty easy to navigate through.
This place was the meditation spot of Tagore’s Father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore. A scholar himself, he advocated meditation and introspection as the keys to success and world progress.
The Uttarayana complex where the poet lived consists of several buildings such as Udayana, Konark, Shyamali, Punascha, and Udichi, which reflect the architectural genius of the poet’s illustrious son the late Rathindranath Tagore.
Kala Bhavana is a noted institution of education and research in visual arts, founded in 1919, it is the fine arts faculty of the Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan, established by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Held in the month of March on the day of Holi, spring is welcomed through music and dances. Teachers and students greet each other with Abirs in this festival day. Basant Utsav literally means the ‘celebration of spring’. The beautiful tradition of celebrating spring festival in Bengal was first started by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, at Vishwabharati Shantiniketan, the University founded by him. Actually, Basant Utsav is no different from Holi, except for the gracefulness with which it is celebrated. In Shantiniketan, Basant Utsav is celebrated with immense fervor and zeal.
The mela sees local artisans and tourists from all over the country coming together in this spirit of celebration. Folk dances, music, food and culture are in rampant display during these days. Santiniketan leather bags, earthen wares, paintings, etc are sold in this fair.
As vibrant as always the Sonajhurir Haat happens to be one of the major attractions of Shantiniketan. The haat itself is a big hamper for the visitors. This is where local artisans gather to sell their creations , ranging from handmade bangles to sarees. There are end numerous food stalls where one can savor their taste buds . Performances by the Santhals and the Bauls are surely to captivate the onlookers.
Khoai refers to certain geographical formations in Bengali. But that’s just a geographical data that its made up of laterite soil and supports theSonajhuri plants. The beauty of Khoai in and around Shantiniketan hasbeen immortalized by Rabindranath Tagore in many of his writings. Several famous painters like Binodbehari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar and Nandalal Bose have painted the Khoai as their creations. With time, Khoaibecame a part of the cultural heritage of Shantiniketan and apparently of Bengal as well.
Located near Sriniketan, 3 kms from Shantiniketan, the Ballabhpur Wildlife Sanctuary which is popular as Deer Park established in 1977. Originally, the area was a fast eroding `Khowai’. It is now a large wooded area with herds of deer and makes a natural bird sanctuary.
How to Reach :
Located near Sriniketan, 3 kms from Shantiniketan.
How to Reach:
By Air: The nearest airport is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose international airport, which is located at Kolkata.
By Train: The nearest railhead is Bolpur. Frequently Trains are available from both Howrah and Sealdah (Kolkata) to Bolpur.
By Road: An excellent road connects Shantiniketan with Kolkata. Other major cities are well connected by road with the place.