Shantiniketan (Abode of Peace) was established by Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore, the great writer, poet, songwriter and educationalist of his time and India’s first Nobel Laureate. He also happened to be one of the prominent members of Bengali Renaissance.
Shantiniketan is one of the best gifts given to people of India by Rabindranath Tagore. It was the year 1901 and Rabindranath opened a school in Shantiniketan which would later go on to become the nucleus of Bengali culture and art and would become one of the most renowned universities in the world.
The Visva- Bharati University at Shantiniketan founded in the year 1921, is the epitome of revolutionary tradition of breaking barriers of all kinds, be it castes, religions, class, creed, genders, cultures with principal focus on humanities, arts, and contact with nature.
Even today, Shantiniketan follows Tagore’s principles of equality. It houses a little over 10,000 students in its campuses who comprise Indian and international students within a co-educational facility. The trend of Gurukul (open air classes) is still practised under the campus trees.
Shantiniketan is also famous for its many festivals. Some of them include the grand Poush Utsav (fest) celebrated on the Foundation Day of the University. The Basant Utsav is celebrated on Holi. Students make artworks and display them during the Nandan Mela, and attempt to sell them during the fest. Initially, the Nandan Mela had started as a fund-raising event to raise money for covering medical needs of poor students.
Other festivals which are celebrated with equal pomp and zest in Shantiniketan are the Sarad Utsav (Autumn Festival), Maghotsav (Magh Utsav - Founding Day of the Sriniketan campus) and Vrikhsharopan Utsav (Tree Planting Festival).
The tourist footfall in Shantiniketan is numbered to be way above 2 million per year.
Location of Shantiniketan
Shantiniketan is located at around 200 kilometres northwest of the city of Kolkata in the rural Bolpur subdivision of Birbhum district in West Bengal.
History of Shantiniketan
Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath Tagore took a 20-acre land in 1863, on permanent lease from the talukdar of Raipur in Birbhum district of West Bengal. It is during the same time that Debendranath had founded the Brahmo Samaj. He built a small guest house on the land and started calling it Shantiniketan, which literally translates to ‘Abode of Peace’ due to its location. With time, as people started visiting the guest house, it gained popularity and the entire area came to be known as Shantiniketan.
A trivial fact about Shantiniketan and the land purchased is that it was illegally occupied by a gang of local dacoits long before Debendranath had purchased it. The place was known as Bhubhandanga after the zamindar of Bolpur, Bhubhan Mohan Sinha. However, as time passed the gang made peace with Debendranath and worked hand in hand with him to develop Shantiniketan.
Rabindranath was 12 years old when he had first visited Shantiniketan and instantly fell in love with the aura of the place. It became his go to place to write poems and work on arts and literature. The year was 1873 and there was no going back after that.
After his father decided to dedicate the entire property for establishing a Brahma- Vidyalaya in 1888, Rabindranath started a school and named it Brahmacharya ashram in 1901, which was later named as Patha Bhavna in 1925. He started it with the vision of following a system of Gurukul (residential school where both teachers and students lived together).
Rabindranath used all his prize money from his Nobel win to expand his school and established Visva Bharati in 1921. Rabindranath reached out to people within his network and explained the teaching model of Visva Bharati and asked for their help to set up an environment of cultural exchange programs. He encouraged artists from all walks of life to set up residence in Shantiniketan and help promote and revive folk arts, dances, Indian classical dance forms such as Manipuri, Kathak and Kathakali, by teaching the students.
Eventually, in 1951, Visva Bharati was recognised as a central university and an institute of national importance.
Places to visit and Things to do in Shantiniketan
1. Tagore’s Ashram: The Ashram complex is the oldest area of Shantiniketan where Maharshi Debendranath Tagore had built Shantiniketan Griha, the first guest house. Being a heritage site, it is very well preserved.
The ashram complex houses quite a few buildings which include Path Bhavan with beautiful frescoes on the walls which were done by Nandalal Bose. The Natun Bari (New home) built in 1902, Kalo bari (Black home) is a mud structure built with a mix of coal tar. Other houses are namely, Dehali, Santoshalaya, Singha Sadan, Dwijaviram, Dinantika, Taladwaj, Chaitya, Ghantatala, Panthasala, Ratan Kuthi, Malancha and others – each house has a backstory to tell with a perfect historic relevance.
2. Rabindra Bhaban Museum or Tagore Museum: The Rabindra Bhaban Museum was founded just after the death of Rabindranath Tagore in 1942. Until a few years back, the focal point of the museum was the original Nobel Prize medallion of Rabindranath Tagore. However, the medallion was stolen due to lax in security which made the staff extra vigilant after the incident.
Tagore’s personal belongings are displayed in the museum along with the family genealogy. Some most intriguing artefacts include Rabindranath’s passport which is just in the form of a letter. His meetings with prominent figures of the renaissance era are documented clearly. This includes his meetings with Hellen Keller, Nehru, Bose, Bernard Shaw, Einstein, Freud, Gandhi and others.
3. Vishwa Bharati University: Established with the principal motto and objective to explore arts, humanities, language, music, dance and folk arts, Visva Bharati’s focal point is to create oneness in diversity. This makes the university campus the most important place in Shantiniketan.
The university campus houses institutes specializing in different departments and are named accordingly such as, Cheena Bhavana, Hindi Bhavana, Kala Bhavana, Sangit Bhavana, Bhasa Bhavana, Nippon Bhavana, Bangladesh Bhavana and others. Some of the famous alumni of Visva Bharati include internationally acclaimed filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, former Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi and Maharani Gayatri Devi.
4. Uttarayan Complex: Located in the northern part of Shantiniketan, the Uttarayan complex is a collection of five houses built by Rabindranath Tagore during his lifetime. Each home has a name, Udayana, Konark, Shyamali, Punascha, and Udichi. The entire complex was well planned by Tagore himself.
Out of these houses, Shyamali was an experimental home and its visual perspective was based on Barabudur style. The paintings on the outside wall of Shyamali were done by students of Kala Bhavan, guided by famous Nanda Lal Bose, the pioneer of Modern Indian Art. Ramkinkar Baij, an Indian sculptor and painter worked on the santhals on either side of the main door of Shyamali. One of the prominent guests who stayed in Shyamali were Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba Gandhi.
Udayana is the impressive of all houses and is meant for residence of important guests who visit Shantiniketan.
The latest addition to the Uttarayan complex is the Guha Ghar, a museum started as a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore.
5. Upasana Griha: Upasana Griha or the Prayer Hall is one of the stunning buildings in the entire Shantiniketan area. Its walls are built from Belgian glass and is also known as deity less Glass Temple.
6. Kala Bhavan: One of the most beautifully designed blocks within the Visva Bharati University premises is the Kala Bhavan. As the name suggests, it gives precedence to art and the students who have designed the building are students of fine art developing their flare for art.
7. China Bhavan: The academic blocks within the vicinity of Visva Bharati University Complex are named in accordance with the purpose, culture and subject being taught there. As the name suggests, China Bhavan is the centre for art, culture, traditions and language of China. The instructions are given to people having their expertise in Chinese.
8. Nippon Bhavan: Like China Bhavan, the Nippon Bhavan is dedicated to Japanese culture, literature, art, language and tradition. There are exchange programs also conducted to and from Japan. Through this, Visva Bharati University aims to forge Indo- Japanese relations. However, the University itself doesn’t hold any control and the block operates as an autonomous body.
9. Chhatimtala: The site of Chhatimtala is considered to be sacred and is of great importance to everyone at Shantiniketan. The place was used by Maharshi Debendranath, father of Rabindranath Tagore for his meditation. A scholar himself, he highly recommended meditation to deal with the stress and also to introspect.
10. Amar Kutir: Amar Kutir is a society for rural development located very near to the university complex and displays local artefacts and handicrafts such as the famous Shantiniketan designer batik style leather bags and clothes. One can also visit the Batik factory to see the process of printing and coloring batik on clothes.
In addition to leather bags and Batik clothes, other souvenirs that one can buy from Amar Kutir are garments, linen, Dhokra art, coconut shell jewelry.
11. Kopai River: A tributary to Bakreswar River, the Kopai river is also called as the Sal River and flows through Bolpur, Shantiniketan, Kankalitala, Kirnahar and Labhpur villages of Birbhum district in the Indian state of West Bengal.
12. Kankalitala Temple: At a distance of 7 kilometres from Shantiniketan lies Kankalitala, and a drive to this quaint village takes you through lush green fields and beautiful landscape. The Kankalitala temple in the vicinity of the village, is considered very sacred by the villagers. One should take a walk through the village to get a glimpse of the local way of life here.
13. Srijani Shilpa Gram Complex: The Srijani Shilpa Gram complex is a massive housing complex with replicas of house structures from Eastern and North Eastern states of the country. The replicas are beautifully decorated with colourful wall murals, and are developed and maintained by Eastern Zone Cultural Centre (EZCC).
14. Buddha Vihar: The Buddha Vihar is relatively new and the giant white Buddha statue piques everyone’s interest in visiting the place at least for once.
15. Khoai Shanibarer Haat: The Khoai Shanibarer Haat (local Saturday market) at Sonajhuri is a must explore place if you are there in Shantiniketan on a Saturday. The makeshift market is set up amidst Saal forest and becomes colorful as the day progresses. There are baul songs being performed by singers, tribals dance to the beats of baul dhols.
The traders come from nearby villages of Sainthia, Ahmadpur and other villages to sell their goods. There are local sarees, other clothing, and accessories on the offer. Apart from clothing and accessories, there are art pieces made by local artisans on display along with handicrafts and handlooms and they can be purchased at very cheap prices.
16. Deer Park Shantiniketan: At a distance of 3 kilometers from University campus lies the Ballavpur forest. It is here that a large family of deer reside in harmony with the nearby human population. A visit to the deer park is worth it when one is around Bolpur and Shantiniketan.
Timings and Entry Fees of Shantiniketan
One can visit the Vishva Bharati University in Shantiniketan from 9 am to 5 pm on all days of the week. There is no entry fee to visit the campus.
Best Time to visit Shantiniketan
Monsoon and Winter: The best time to visit Shantiniketan is either during the monsoon or winter months, which is between July and February. This is due to the comparatively pleasant and cool weather one gets to enjoy during these months as opposed to the high temperatures during spring and summers. Also, one gets to attend the many fairs held during this time. The rainfall is moderate here with light showers and overcast in Shantiniketan except for the days when there is heavy rainfall. Shantiniketan is best explored on foot.
Poush Mela: The festival of music and craft, Posh Mela is organised between December and January. It is celebrated on the Foundation Day of the University.
Basant Utsab (Basant Festival): The Basant Utsav is organised during Holi and is quite an affair at Shantiniketan.
Food Trail of Shantiniketan
Banalakshmi is an authentic place which offers local cuisine and is famous for its homely Bengali menu.
Kasahara is a food place inside the Sangeet Bhavan of Visva Bharati which is rather famous for its choices for lunches ranging from Bengali to Chinese cuisine. This café was established by Debojit Roy in the year 2015 in honor of the Japanese artist, Kim Taro Kasahara, who is known for his immense contribution to Shantiniketan.
Tanzil and Pyala café is one happening place for evening hangouts in Bolpur. It is a boutique cum café. The café offers Bengali snacks ranging from ghugni to chicken chop and egg chop along with steaming cups of tea or coffee.
Places to visit near Shantiniketan
1. Bishnupur: A quaint town in Bankura district of Indian state of West Bengal, Bishnupur is the land of terracotta Temples, School of Hindustani Music and Baluchari Sarees. The town’s unique architecture developed along with its art, music and handicrafts including pottery and weaving.
The town prospered under the reign of Hindu Rajas of the Malla dynasty and is considered to be the only destination for the most brilliant terracotta work in the whole of Eastern India which continues to prevail. The terracotta works on the tiles depict stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata.
2. Nabadwip: Located on the western banks of Hooghly River, in the Nadia district in West Bengal, 76 kilometres from Shantiniketan, Nabadwip is the holy birth city of the great Vaishnava Saint of Bhakti movement, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It is believed to have been founded in 1608 CE and was the old capital of the Sena dynasty between 1159 to 1206, during the reigns of Ballal Sen and Lakshman Sen. The city is famous for its Raas Utsav (Raas Festival). With moderate summers and winters, the weather of Nabadwip is otherwise pleasant.
3. Bardhaman / Burdwan: At a distance of 53 kilometres from Shantiniketan, Bardhaman is a district famous for the Maithon Dam reservoir located in Asansol, Meghnad Saha Planetarium, Burdwan Science Centre and Krishnasayer Ecological Park.
4. Durgapur: Famously called the ‘Steel Capital of East India’, Durgapur is a city in West Burdwan district in the Indian State of West Bengal by the banks of River Damodar, which is also known as ‘Sorrow of Bengal’. As they say, it takes a true blue traveller to explore the most unexplored and trivial places on the earth. Durgapur would ace that list due to its unlikely places of visit starting from the steel plant to numerous temples, woods, parks, heritage monuments like Bhabani Pathak’s Tilla, the famous Durgapur Barrage which was constructed to manage the flow of mighty Damodar during monsoon, and Garh Jungle which has a significant history of being the oldest places in the country where worship of Goddess Durga had begun.
How to Reach Shantiniketan
Shantiniketan doesn’t have an airport and there isn’t any railway station either.
Situated at a distance of 200 kilometres from Kolkata, taking a train from the Howrah Junction Railway station is the best way to reach Shantiniketan if you are arriving via train. The nearest Railway Station to Shantiniketan is in Bolpur. De-board at Bolpur station and hire a local transport to reach Shantiniketan.
The best way to travel to Shantiniketan is by road as it is connected with all cities via road. Taxis and buses are available all year round.
The nearest airport to Shantiniketan is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport. One may hire a taxi or rent a cab from top car rental companies in Kolkata to travel to Shantiniketan from the airport. It would be quite a drive.
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