Shantiniketan literally means a peaceful abode but is more popular as a destination, as an institute, as a campus for recreation, as a place of social welfare, as a place beauty within nature. It is famed for the great polymath and the first non-European Nobel Laureate Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore who spent a considerable amount of his life in Shantiniketan. He founded the Vishwa Bharati University and propagated the concept of open-air education in Shantiniketan.
Shantiniketan revolves around the name of the great poet. The place is so much associated with Tagore and his family that it has become the identity of the place. It has a distinct place in the heart of the intellectual Bengalis. It is adored, revered, reminisced and celebrated on various occasion and even on a daily basis.
To write about Shantiniketan I definitely do have to give a brief introduction to the Tagore family and their link with the place. I personally find a strange peace in visiting this place during the offseason. The calm surrounding and the greenery around appeals to me even more than its intellectual aspect and its association to the poet.
After a small introduction and history, I would share my experience and personal liking of this place. This small town is located near Bolpur city in Birbhum district of West Bengal. Maharshi Debendranath Tagore was a Bengali philosopher and a learned man, son of the industrialist Dwarkanath Tagore and the father of Rabindranath Tagore.
Debendranath Tagore was also a Bengali reformist who helped Raja Ram Mohan Roy to start the Brahmo Samaj (a monotheistic movement against the rigorousness of the Hindu religion during the Bengal Renaissance). On one occasion he on his visit to Raipur a village adjacent to Shantiniketan and got intrigued by this place then known as Bhubandanga. The mentioned land had a sole building then known as Shantiniketan.
Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, against the token amount of Rupee One, registered the place in his name from the Sinha family who was the zamindar of the area. He built his home close to this building and named the place as Shantiniketan. In the year 1863, he built a meditation centre here where people from all religion participated.
Rabindranath Tagore moved to Shantiniketan in the year 1901, here his wife and two children died and later in the year 1905 his father died. He founded an ashram here with a prayer hall called the mandir. He set up an experimental open-air school, library, gardens and groves of trees.
The Patha Bhavana was started with five students as an educational institution of his dreams. The school was different from the conventional way of learning and was developed on the basis of his philosophy where education was imparted in the closeness of nature without any physical or artificial barrier between the students and the teacher.
This ashram system of school later developed into the Viswa Bharati University. In the year 1921, Rabindranath Tagore purchased some land along with a huge manor in Surul village in the vicinity of Shantiniketan. This place was located at a distance of 3 km from Shantiniketan and subsequently became the second campus for Viswa Bharati.
This place came to be known as Sriniketan. The house was used for various social work. Tagore with the help of other reformist set up the Institute of Rural Reconstruction here. With the objective of making the villages self-reliant, he started working for the upliftment of the villagers providing them education and other life skills to encourage completeness where they can meet their own needs and design solutions to their problems without depending on the outside world.
In 1921, this co-educational, open-air school and the training institute was further developed into a college with the help of the prize money from the Noble Prize he received in the year 1913. Gradually the zamindars of Taltore sold more land and property to the college and the ashram converting it into a vast complex.
The ashram had already become the centre for national activities, Tagore now started organising various Melas for more congregation of people and the upliftment of the villagers. The Poush Mela and Basanta Utsav are the most notable among them which are celebrated till date with much fanfare. The Poush Mela was initially conceptualised by his father and held on a smaller scale in a ground near the Brahma mandir in Shantiniketan. With growing popularity, it was later shifted to Purbapalli.
Poush Mela is a three-day-long annual fair held in the Bengali month of Poush to celebrate the harvest season. This age-old cultural fair includes live performances of Bengali folk music, such as Baul, Kirtan and Kobigan along with the other customary fair-like stalls set up by the locals. The Basanta Utsav is another festival held during the springtime with the dates corresponding with that of the Holi (read more about Holi) celebrating the colours of nature after the dry winter.
With passing days the popularity of the fairs have increased and these days Bolpur and Shantiniketan is the hub of all activities during the Melas. Apart from the intellectual section of people who come to participate or experience cultural events, there is a huge influx of common tourists who just come to enjoy the ambience and the fair. I could never dare to venture to Shantiniketan during such time.
I blame my phobia for the crowd to miss this beautiful festival every time, leave apart the other hassles of the mad rush in getting hotels or other amenities. I always wanted to have the first-hand experience of the Melas but could never win over my fear of crowds and left it to be heard from others and yes, I am happy for my decision.
The vast expanse of greenery with tall trees of Sal, Piyal, Mahua, Palash (read more about Palash of Purulia) and the clean empty paved roads in between them taking turns to various direction some leading to the Chatimlata or the Mandir, some leading to the Kalabhaban, some to Shonajhurir Haat, some to Khoai, to Palash Boni and to any direction. Everywhere there is a feeling of peace – a place which is an abode of peace – a place called Shantiniketan.
“SHE IS OUR own, the darling of our hearts, Santiniketan.
Our dreams are rocked in her arms.
Her face is a fresh wonder of love every time we see her,
for she is our own, the darling of our hearts.
In the shadows of her trees we meet
in the freedom of her open sky.
Her mornings come and her evenings
bringing down heaven’s kisses,
making us feel anew that she is our own, the darling of our hearts.
The stillness of her shades is stirred by the woodland whisper;
her amlaki groves are aquiver with the rapture of leaves.
She dwells in us and around us, however far we may wander.
She weaves our hearts in a song, making us one in music,
tuning our strings of love with her own fingers;
and we ever remember that she is our own, the darling of our hearts.” – the Shantiniketan song by Rabindranath Tagore.