By Krishnasharana Jana
Why you should visit Shantiniketan Spending a few days in a humble Indian village away from the city hustle always refreshes the body and mind. Living outside India makes it little difficult to fulfill this dream. So this July we decided to make a trip to Shantiniketan during our stay in India for a few days. As my hometown is In Kolkata, Shantiniketan is not far. Though Shantiniketan is not so humble anymore as it was previously, thanks to tourism and mushrooming bungalows, still the place holds its natural beauty and humbleness.
Although the place is called Shantiniketan, but the actual name of the village is Bhubandanga.
Why Is Shantiniketan Famous?
It all started in 1835 when Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, father of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore took rest under a Chhatim tree (an evergreen tropical tree) in a small village named Bhubandanga. Deeply impressed by the tranquility he wanted a space there from the zamindar of Bhubandanga to build his adobe. Pleased by his request zamindar gifted him 30 acre of land, and that was the foundation of Santiniketan. He built a beautiful house there and named it Santiniketan, (Home of Peace). Later his son, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore expanded that small Shantiniketan into a versatile university. In the university campus still,l the place is kept, and is known as “Chhatim Tala”.To see the Bengali culture at its best one must visit Visva Bharati University, aka Shantiniketan, the brainchild of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore
Our Journey To Shantiniketan
We took a train from Howrah Station to Shantiniketan. We got down at the Bolpur-Santiniketan station, which is just like any other railway station in India. Up to the university, the station road is very congested. Luckily we booked a resort far from the cacophony, in a village just beside Sonajhuri Forest. So, as soon as we left the station road and started towards Sonajhuri Forest the view slowly started changing. The calm and tranquil nature started slowly opening up before our eyes. The Sonajhuri or Acacia grows on the eroded landscape of red soil by the side of peaceful Khoai River. In the dry red soil nothing grows except Sonajhuri trees.
Here we found a new way of traveling. That was a Toto. Something that looks like a cycle-rickshaw and an auto-rickshaw. We hired the toto from the station and reached the “Ram-Shyam Village Resort”. The resort looks beautiful. Amid nature, the beautifully built resort looks like thatch roofed double storied mud hut, but it is actually a concrete house.
First Day Of Our Visit
First, we went to the museum of Shantiniketan. The museum known as Bichitra Bhavan was built after Tagore’s death in the year 1961. The museum showcases the gifts he got throughout his life from different countries, his personal belongings, which includes the famous robe from Oxford University. Sadly the Nobel prize had been stolen a few years ago, so only a replica was placed in the museum.
First, we took a walk through the museum to go through all the artifacts. That museum complex or Uttarayan complex is comprised of buildings namely Udayan, Konark, Shyamali (mud hut), Punascha and Udichi, where Rabindranath lived in all the buildings in different times in his 40 year long stay there. All the five buildings are converted into a museum. The House Konark was built keeping in mind the shape of the famous Konark Temple.
Our Second Day At Shantiniketan
Our toto driver cum guide asked us to visit Kankalitala temple early next day. Armed with umbrellas, as the sky was not promising, we started early morning for the temple. Behind the temple, the famous Kopai River is flowing in her one pace. Visiting Shantiniketen also means visiting a tribal village. The tribal village our guide took us was extremely picturesque just beside the Sal (another kind of tropical trees with big leaves) forest. To get the beautiful local handicraft, essence tribal dance and Baul song one must visit Sonajhuri haat (market place) on Saturday, as it is weekly
In the afternoon again we went back to Visva Bharati University again to visit the campus from the inside. We started from Kala Bhavan. I tried to read the plaques if I found them, but it was not a good way to know about the vast history of the place. So, before going there it is better to read about the buildings, so it will be easier to understand. Then I wanted to see the Chhatimtala, where Maharshi meditate while traveling through the village Bhubandanga. At that time we met one security guard, who told us a little history about the place. I was absolutely overwhelmed by his knowledge. Then went to see the famous round shaped little old mud hut around a palm tree. Rabindranath Tagore named it, Taladhawj, which roughly means palm tree flag. While going to see that we met one university Kala Bhavan student who wanted to show around Shantiniketan with the history behind the place.
Maharshi founded the place keeping his mind above any religion. Till today University doesn’t celebrate any religious festival. We saw the building which Maharshi first build has the structure of a temple, a church, and a masjid. The meaning is that anyone can come to meditate for the supreme god there.
Rabindranath built one mud house where he decided to stay with his family which he named “Notun Bari” (new home). However after his wife’s death, he couldn’t live the same house, so he built another house just beside that, and named that, “Dehali”. He wrote his famous novel, “Gora” (which means white skinned), sitting in that very house. He used to walk in the morning in the front path of these two houses, which he named Sal Bithi (Train of Sal trees). At that time all the paths were built with a red pebble inside the Shantinikatan Campus, just like other village road in the same place. Archeological Survey of India declared that very path as heritage road, Sal Bithi is still a pebble pathway. At the end of the day Tagore used to go to a special building to have afternoon tea, and he named that round shaped building “Dinantika”, means the end of the day. The building also known “Cha-Chakra” or tea-circle. Many noted personalities including Albert Einstein came to visit him and they had tea with in that very building. The ceiling was beautifully painted by artist Binod Bihari, Notun Bari and Dehali Mukherjee. The astonishing fact about him that he was blind. However, seeing those painting no one can even imagine that very person couldn’t see anything. I think this is called god gifted talent.
What Should Not Be Missed!
One must do thing when you visit Shantiniketan is to attend the Upasana (morning Prayer), at Upasana Griho (Prayer Hall) every Wednesday early morning. The Prayer Hall beautifully decorated with colorful Belgian Glass is another major attraction of the place. The early morning songs and speech make the mind fresh and keep hope alive. The dress code is white. To attend the payer one must dressed in white, preferably ethnic.
We always try to go somewhere else far from our home to find beautiful places, but always ignore the small places near us. In our India, we have so many unknown little places full of beauty, which are treasured to visit. My next wish to find small villages near my hometown and go there during my next visit to India.