SHANTINIKETAN – The Treasure of Art and Culture Part 1 - Uttarayan

28th Jan 2019

SHANTINIKETAN – The Treasure of Art and Culture

Part 1 - Uttarayan

I have eagerly waited to visit Shantiniketan as I have always been hearing about this place and after a long wait, I got the golden opportunity to visit Shantiniketan at Bolpur, Birbhum district. I came to Kolkata with my parents to attend a wedding and post wedding ceremony, we all planned to visit Shantiniketan and I was very excited to visit the place. On 28th Jan’ 2019, at early morning at 0800 hours, we all departed from the guest house for Bolpur to visit Shantiniketan Vishwa Bharati university at Birbhum district. We were told that it will take around 3- 4 hours to reach by road. I was feeling excited, as this journey brings ample opportunity for long drive lovers to enjoy nature’s beauty, experience clean environment and traditional professional activities. We boarded a cab, arranged by my uncle along with a local young person well acquainted with the place and approximately after 3 hours we entered Birbhum district. It was a pleasant journey and got an opportunity to witness beautiful lash green meadows. On the way, we had our lunch at a unique place named ‘Khodi Maati’, it was beautifully decorated with all types of antiques, flowers, trees, plants etc. and this restaurant would make you feel sitting in a resort in forest. After lunch, we reached our guest house at Bolpur which was booked for us to stay; we kept our luggages and moved to visit Shantiniketan as we all were in hurry to reach there to spend our time in this great institution. Soon we entered Vishwa Bharati Shantiniketan at 3.30 pm. I experienced it as a different world; it’s a huge area full of peoples of diverse origin, artistry, handicrafts, unique cultures, etc. that articulates any tourist. My dad recalled his memory, as many years ago he visited this place and today he is visiting again the unique heritage of culture, education & art etc.

Shantiniketan is a small town near Bolpur in Birbhum district of West Bengal, India, located approximately 165 kms north of Kolkata. It was established by Maharishi Devendranath Tagore and later reshaped & rebuilt by his son Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore whose vision made this institution, a Central university namely Vishwa Bharati to promote Art, traditional culture and rural industry to build a healthy economy. Shantiniketan was earlier called ‘Bhubandanga’ as after the name of ‘Bhuban Mohan Sinha’, the Zamindar of Raipur in West Bengal and was owned by the Sinha family. In 1862 while on a visit to Raipur, Maharishi Devendranath Tagore showed interest in land near Birbhum. At that time there was only one building namely; 'Shantiniketan' which is still there adjacent to Upasana mandir, known as 'Odisha Bhawan'. Maharishi loved the place and registered it in his name against Rupee One as a token value. He renamed this place Shantiniketan on the name of the house. Shantiniketan slowly 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.

At Shantiniketan, we visited all houses of Rabindranath Tagore in Uttarayan complex, located in the heart of Vishwa Bharati campus and are encompassed with tree lined avenues, graveled courtyards, exotic gardens and houses namely; Udayan, Konark, Shyamali, Punashcha and Udichi.

Udayan – Udayan is the house of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore where Rabindranath Tagore lived and the beautiful white heritage building is very well maintained. Udayan is the most imposing house and place where Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose came to attend a conference with Rabindranath Tagore and also used to hear the music of Tagore post conference. This house is beautifully surrounded by flowers, plants and trees, big gardens and in this house Tagore’s piano, writing desk, chairs and furnitures are kept. Udayan has many suites of rooms─ each on a different level which gives this house its individuality & uniqueness. Distinguished visitors have stayed here are like Stella Kramrisch, Margaret Milward, Sir Maurice Gwyer, S. Radhakrishnan and later as President of India and Jawaharlal Nehru.

(Not mentioned in video)

Konark – Konark is the next house of Rabindranath Tagore which was built in 1919. Konark was originally a mud house, the earliest dwelling which Tagore built to provide a place for his work and poetry. This house went through various stages of transformation as it stands today. A red colour & east facing verandah was built at a few steps down the main room, lined with pillars where the Poet spent time for poetry reading and places were used as a stage for plays and dance dramas composed by Poet. The Mrinmoyee Patio is a beautiful cemented floor with sitting arrangements. This house also has an old printing press kept outside on verandah. This was built on the foundation of the other mud house when it was pulled down as Poet would sit in this open patio and write.

Shyamali – Shyamali is the third house of Poet which was built in 1934. This is a mud house with a mud roof, was constructed as an experiment. Rabindranath Tagore wanted to see if a permanent mud roof could be built instead of thatched roof which were vulnerable to fire hazards and it was to be a low cost structure and serve as a model house for villagers over there. The walls of this house were heavily built so that the weight of the mud roofs could be borne long. According to Rabindranath Tagore, room constructed by using earthen water-pots arranged inside plaster-casings to form its roof and walls would keep rooms cool as the hot air passing by, would lose some of its heat. Keeping Poet’s ideas in mind, the entire outside walls were decorated with beautiful antiques by Kala-Bhavan students under the guidance of Nandalal Bose. It depicts the culture of Santals on either side of the main door and on the eastern corner, was done by Ramkinkar Baiz. Gandhiji and Kasturba Gandhi stayed as guests in this house.

Punascha – Punascha means postscript is next house of Rabindranath Tagore built on the eastern side of Shyamali. This house also suggests Poet’s change of mind. Rabindranath Tagore moved in this house in 1936 where he would often sit and work in the open terrace and in front of the house. Poet lived in this house for a short while and he created most of the paintings in this house. This house is decorated with beautiful flowers, tree saplings, plants, and sindoori flowers on the rooftop of the house, anyone would feel the immense pleasure to sit on the verandah and write peacefully.

Udichi – Udichi is the last house of Rabindranath Tagore which is of two floors and where he moved in after he left Punascha. Poet felt, he wanted a room to be constructed on four pillars so changes were made according to the poet’s wish. Poet used to take poetry classes on the ground floor as poet said as classes should always be in proper and peaceful place which helps all to understand poetry deeply.

All these houses of Rabindranath Tagore have the collection of Poet’s work, paintings, poetries, furnitures, photos, scholars’ work, culture depictions, hand written notes, awards received, etc. The moment, tourists enter in these unique heritages, feel nostalgic and proud visiting such a temple of learning. I really got emotional, visiting these historic places and wish to visit again. 

- Sattanurupa Saha 

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