Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shantiniketan – The abode of peace

Sometimes taking a small step out can take you far off, lift you from the monotony as you start introspecting in the luxuriant freshness. Shantiniketan is one such place, which is only two and a half hours from Kolkata, yet the ambience there is so dissimilar and clean that it takes you in its realm of charm, instantly.

We deliberately did avoid the riffraff of the Pous mela as we were in no mood to toss ourselves in the hoi polloi, where enjoying Rabindranath comes a distant second to the froth and frolic of the pot bellied nouveau-riche.

A glimpse of the shrinking landscape
We stayed at Prantik, next to Bolpur, the station to disembark for visiting the Ashram. Mou, a friend of ours was kind enough to lend us the keys of her house at Prantik which was no less comfortable than a beautiful guest house. On the first day we hired a rickshaw and headed for the Ashram towards Bhubandanga. As the dark lanky fellow pedaled with all his might and his calf expanded with every thrust to fight an unequal battle against poverty, he started his rendition- “ This area is Bhubandanga, a village in the nineteenth century Bengal, named after the deadly dacoit, Bhuban, who prowled this area. The landscape was amazing. 
Over undulating laterite soil, lush green fields of paddy, orchards of mango and grooves of sal, shimul and jamun created an ambience where any tired traveler could take a break. Maharshi Devendranth Tagore, Father of Gurudev Rbindranath Tagore instantly liked the spot seeing it from the boat en route to Raipur. He sat under a Chatim tree and meditated and found peace. He decided to buy around 20 Bighas of land around the tree from the erstwhile zamindar of Raipur, built a glass prayer hall in the vicinity and planted trees to establish an Ashram which he named Shantiniketan, i.e., the abode of peace, he stopped as he was out of breath. Then he started again…

“Gurudev first visited Shantiniketan at the age of 12. In 1901, on the 7th Day of Pous, he established the ‘Brahmacharya Ashram’ which ran like a Gurukul system out in the open. In 1931, he formally started the Visva Bharati University, infusing funds that he got from the Nobel Prize and the royalties from his books, into his ashram” he stopped his pedaling. That is the ashram gate and there you will find a guide. My name is Babu Mukherjee, a Brahmin and a rickshaw puller. “Achha Namaskar!”. He left. 
Bewildered, we stood pondering over his abilities when someone called us. “Sir, I am Samir, a registered guide who can show you the ashram”, he flashed his i-card. We hired him. Soon he took us to the Chatim tala. The old dead trees were replaced by new saplings, as old order Changes yielding place to the new. We entered the famous Amra-Kunja where Samabartan Utsav- the annual convocation ceremony is held every year. Each pass out is given three leaves of chatim to commemorate Devendranath’s first step in Shantiniketan.
Upasana Griha

 A Glass house for prayers (upasana griha) is located close by. The temple is devoid of any idols and men of any religious faith can offer prayers to Him over here. We saw Hindi Bhavan (famous for its rich library), China Bhavan (Centre of Chinese studies) Vidya Bhavan (College of Humanities), Sangit Bhavan (College of Music and dance) Siksha bhavan (College of science). Nearby was the Gurudev’s new house Dehali, where he used to live with his wife Mrinalini Devi. A red pebbled road covered by sal trees on both sides stretches itself from the Daheli to the Chaiti (or kitchen).  This road was very close to gurudev’s heart and whenever he was disturbed he used to stroll straight on this road, which he named Saalbithi. Within a flicker I saw a tall, white bearded man briskly walking on the red track, slightly stooping forward. His white hair and beard playing in the cold west wind. Then he faded in thin air. “Hallucination at its natural best” I laughed at myself.
Saal Bithi

 Far off junior classes are being held below the trees till today, following the Gurukul system of education that Tagore espoused and re-introduced in India.

 At the north of the campus is the famous Uttarayan Complex, where Rabindranath built his famous houses and lived. All of them were planned by Rathindranath, his son. UDAYAN, KONARKA, SHYAMALI, PUNASCHA and UDICHI are the five houses here. 
"The Matsa-Mahish" by Ramkinkar Baiz

The museum and the library is situated in Bichitra, now called Rabindra Bhavan. Manuscripts, paintings of the Tagore family,  first copies of books, prizes and belongings of Gurudev are preserved here. 

Kalabhavan or the College of Arts has a museum which showcases paintings, murals, frescoes and sculptures of famous artists like Ramkinkar Baiz, Nandalal Bose, Binod Bihari Mukherjee ( Teacher of Satyajit Ray) and Somnath Hore.

One should avoid Wednesdays as it is the official day-off over here. One can visit the Kankalitala temple 4 km away adjacent to the Kopai River. The journey along the river will be etched permanently, so arresting is the landscape.

Three Kilometer away is Sriniketan, a place of manufacture and sales of traditional handicrafts, Kantha embroidery, Dokra Crafts and Batik paintings. In the adjacent podium I saw a group of Bauls singing Lalon Fakir’s songs, their content extolling humanity – devoid of caste, creed or religion. What else can be more befitting?

Navigator :-

 By Train form Howrah or Kolkata which is approximately 136 Km.
 By car The route is a bit longer about 214 km. Nearest Airport is Kolkata. Train is however the best option and Shantinikatan Express, Bolpur Express and intercity express are the best options.

Where to Stay:
       West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation’s Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge at Bolpur        (03463-52699), Camellia (+91 3463 262 043 ), Mark Meadows (+91 3463 264 870 ), Chhuti (+91 3463 252 692 ) are some of the hotels of stay. 
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