Destinations - India Heritage

Shantiniketan | In the Footsteps of Gurudev Tagore…

Written by Poorna & Brinda

Shantiniketan. The unique university founded by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. We were there to explore the legacy of the great man during Diwali last year.

We always wanted to visit this place. Ever since we read of Basant Utsav celebrations  in Shantiniketan, we were keen explore the place.

Brinda happened to see a lovely heritage bungalow which had just opened to guests. Diwali being a holiday for both, we decided to make use of it. This time we did not want miss a chance. The plan was to spend a day in Shantiniketan and then couple of days in Kolkata.

Our friends in Kolkata had arranged for a taxi. This time we did not go in for self drive car as we were to spend two days in Kolkata. It is difficult to manoeuvre the place if you are new to city, especially in Kolkata.

Ramprasad, our driver was waiting for us when we landed in Dum Dum airport in the morning. We drive straight to Shantiniketan which is around four hours drive. Taking a detour from the highway at Bardhaman we enter Bengal heartland. The bounty rainfall meant the paddy fields are gloriously green.

The green fields stretched for miles and soothing to eyes……

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A nice contrast of colours. A small mandir amidst green fields.

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We loved this sight of a bridge….

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We reached the bungalow around 3 PM. A nice estate of around 4 acres, the bungalow is built in the traditional Bengali architecture. Rananjoy – the young man who manage the bungalow – was there to receive us and we were given a spacious room on the ground floor. We stayed in the room named “Poet’s Recluse”

Young and energetic, Ranajoy tells us about the weekly haat or weekly village market which happens close to the bungalow. We are naturally keen to visit the haat as it will give a glimpse into the local culture. A walk through the Santhal village bring us to the place where haat is held.

The walk through Santhal village itself is interesting. Santhals build their houses in mud. The beauty of these houses are the artistic murals on the outside walls.

A street through Santhal village. The mud houses with thatched roof which keeps the place cool during hot summers and warm in cold winters.

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Interesting murals depicting the rural life on the walls…

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A woman outside her house.

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Unique technique of water harvesting!!

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The haaat is in full swing. Ranajoy tells us many people come from Kolkata to check out the Haaat. Hawkers of all kind are here. All these folks are from local villages. Some of them have come from faraway tribal villages as well. We could see tribal arts and crafts, jewellery, handloom fabrics and other interesting stuff.

Interesting part of the haat are the make shift eating joints and folk singers/dancers. Home made stuff served fresh by the villagers. An of course there are tribal dance and music shows as well.

A folk dance troupe in action..

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Villagers and tribals selling their stuff in the haat.

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There is some entertainment too. A folk singing troupe in action…..

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Look at the variety of tribal jewelery on sale!! 

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And quiet flows the Kopai river close the area where haat is held.

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And finally the eating joints. Home made food from villagers. Poorna and Ranajoy deciding what to choose from the menu!

Shantiniketan

We taste Patishpata. It tasted like dosa with sweet filling inside.

Brinda buys some tribal jewellery. We pick up some small artefacts. After haat experience, our next stop is at the house of Biswas’s. While walking to haat, we notice a potter’s house. It looked interesting. Ranajoy, sensing our interest says that  we will visit them on our way back.

We stop over at the lovely house. Mr Biswas is an Architect and Mrs Lipi Biswas is a potter. There is an array of pottery. Lovely pieces. The challenge is how to take it to Bangalore. We pick up some lovely pieces to take it along with us. We can not resist picking up lovely “Bateha”. It is too big to carry and Mrs Biswas agrees to send it by courier.

We start chatting with Mrs Biswas and she offer us gur (jaggery) chai we can not refuse!  We walk upstairs which also happens to be their studio. It is virtually chai pe charcha! We have a nice discussion over wide-ranging topics. “Didi” as everyone calls her tells us about her journey as a potter. It is an evening well spent!

A lovely place. The ground floor is the studio with an interesting array of pottery.

Chai pe Charcha!

Next days’ programme is decided. We will spend half a day exploring Vishwa Bharati University campus. Ranajoy says that next day being a holiday, many places in the university would not be open. Bengalis celebrate Kali Puja during Diwali and is a big festival. We had not expect this and is trifle disappointing. He says that one can go around the university area except for museums which would be closed.

We don’t have a choice. Next day morning, Ranajoy, instruct the driver where to take us. He also advise us to take a guide who will take us to all the important places.

Bablu, join us in the car as our guide and our first stop is at the Kala Bhavan complex. Vishwa Bharati is  not a typical university. Tagore never wanted it like. That’s the alluring factor of visiting this place as it will spring surprises wherever you go! Bablu starts telling us about the place in his Bangla – Hindi mix.

“Dekho saab, that is the tree under which Gurudeb used to teach”. We look at the big banyan tree and could visualise Tagore sitting under the tree with his students!

Let us now take you through a whirlwind tour of the lovely campus.

Talodwaj – a round mud hut with a thatched roof built around a taal tree (toddy palm) with part of its trunk and its huge palm leaves stretching out over the top.

Prayer Hall also known as Upasana griha of the university. This is made of marble and stained Belgium glasses. It was built in 1863 by Maharishi Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore. The prayer hall looks lovely during the evening service.

We walk towards Amar Kunj. This is the place where classes take place under the mango trees.

Ganta Ghar. The bell used to ring the start and end of the classes.

The clock tower, Sinha Sadan

The Chatimtala complex. The place where Maharishi Devendranath Tagore used to meditate. Unfortunately we could not go inside as it was closed being a holiday

We now come to Kala Bhavana. This is a virtual open air art gallery of Shantiniketan! It has great sculptures from the famous sculptor Ramkinkar Baij. This one titled “Santhal Family”

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi

Buddha

It is a pleasure to move around in Kala Bhavana complex. You will be amazed with beautiful murals, wall paintings, sculptures, installations. 

This is one of the beautiful sculptures. To commemorate the National games held in Kolkata. 

You will see these kind of sculptures scattered around!!

In the next few pictures you will see Kalo Bari. Kalo Bari is a unique structure made of mud and coal-tar. Built as a hostel for Kala-Bhavana students, its walls and pillars have been decorated with relief work and is the handiwork of art-students over many years. Begun by Nandalal Bose in 1934, there are examples of Ramkinkar’s works on the northern walls. 

Departmental buildings with lovely statues!

A map of the huge campus

We then drive down to Amar Kutir. A cooperative set up to encourage local artisans. We pick up a nice bronze statue of Kali and other stuff. It has an impressive statue of Tagore.

Being the day when Kali Puja is performed with reverence and gusto, we could see many pandals with the decorated idol of the goddess.

We stayed in the lovely place called “The Garden Bungalow” in Shantiniketan. It had just started its operations. Designed in the style of traditional Zamindar’s bungalow in the 19th century, it is located in a sprawling garden. Ranajoy ensures that you are well taken care of! Ranajoy’s father is a well known painter and we could see the aesthetic sense through out! Some pictures of the lovely place.

The Garden Bungalow. This is where the guests are made to stay.

The older family house designed by Ranajoy’s father is beautiful too.

The sculpture by Ranajoy’s dad. Awesome!

We have late lunch. We had already asked Ranajoy about the best shop to buy “Mishti”or Sweets. How can we leave the place without tasting good “Mishti”. Ranajoy asks us to visit “Sarvamangala” in Bolpur which is the best. Of course we go there to satisfy our sweet tooth before saying good bye to the great place.

We need to return some day to explore fully.

Postscript – We felt that the university can do a better job in preserving and spreading the legacy of Gurudev Tagore and this great institution. We found lack of guided tours or audio guides for example. One is dependent on local guides who do not know the legacy of the place. In the whole bargain, a curious traveller will come back dissatisfied. We need to learn from a small country like Sri Lanka on how to show case the heritage places. We have a long way to go in that aspect.

Travel Information

Getting There

By Train – Shantiniketan Express which starts from Sealdah is the best bet.

By Road – It is a comfortable three and half hours drive from Kolkata. You can hire a taxi or a self drive car.

By Air – The nearest airport is Kolkata.

Stay Options

We stayed in “The Garden Bungalow” and it is excellent. There are many options to stay in Shantiniketan.

Travel Tips

  1. You need minimum two full days to explore Shantiniketan. This is not a place that should be done in a hurry.
  2. You can go around in your car to most of the places. Taking a guide is definitely helpful. Your hotel should be able to arrange one.
  3. It is a sprawling campus of more than 1000 acres. There are many museums to explore.
  4. The Saturday Haat is worth a visit. Plan your trip in such a way that you don’t miss it.
  5. Don’t miss visiting Boner Pukur Danga – The Pottery Studio of Mrs Lipi Biswas to see how pottery is made and also to pick up some nice pieces.
  6. Amar Kutir is a lovely place to go and shop for items which are made by local artisans.
  7. Shantiniketan also has a small wild life sanctuary if you are interested in wild life.
  8. One can also explore stretches of ravines which is very close the pace where the “haat” is held.

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About the author

Poorna & Brinda

We are Brinda and Poorna from Bengaluru, the “Silicon city” or “Garden city” of India.

We travel together. We caught the travel bug 20 years back. On our honey moon, we traveled over the sea, in the train, by bus and in an aircraft! Our adventures probably started in that year. It continues, ever since.

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