Two years back, while I was in ITC-SRA, Kolkata, to cover the nine-daylong “Bangla Gaan-er Utshab”, I decided to make a trip to Shantiniketan. I along with Ashish-Ur-Rahman of the Daily Prothom Alo, arrived at Bolpur by train. As we got down from the train, the Geetanjali Museum caught my attention.
A wonderful museum was recently opened by Indian Railway, containing rich information about Tagore and his life. The salon compartment which was used by Tagore for his last journey from Shantiniketan to Howrah Station in 1941 was kept for public viewing on the bard's 150th birth anniversary.
The beautiful ambience of Shantiniketan fascinated me. I had the opportunity to observe noted artiste Jogen Chowdhury's exhibition that was on at Nandan (named after Shilpacharya Nandalal Bose) at that time. I was lost among Tagore memorabilia kept in the museum, the bard's several houses, shreeniketan and many rare species of trees.
The splendid sculptures, including one by Ramkinkar Baij at the entrance of Kala Bhaban, unique frescoes, murals and paintings of Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Binod Bihari Mukhopadhaya and others at Shantiniketan made me go back to yesteryears.
I watched the evening beauty of glow-worms and heard the buzzing of crickets all around the idyllic ambience.
Shantiniketan is an artistic assembly of Bauls, urban artistes, classical artistes, academics and many more. Perhaps no other university has had a tribal component and cross-cultural assimilation like this during the colonial period. Tagore's experiment greatly influenced educational experimentation worldwide.
Tagore was a 'free spirit in movement' and emphasised endless learning. He would encourage children to help their creative faculties flourish. In 1901, the bard started a school at Shantiniketan named “Brahmachari Ashram”, modeled on the lines of the ancient Gurukul system. It later came to be known as the Patha Bhavan, the central premise being that learning in a natural environment would be more enjoyable and fruitful.
With financial backing of the Maharajah of Tripura, the Visva-Bharati Society was established in 1921. Tagore envisioned a center of learning combining the best of both East and West. The school was expanded into a university named Visva-Bharati, which was defined by Tagore as “Where the world makes a home in a nest.” The open-air education as opposed to being confined in the four walls of a classroom became a reality there.
Eminent people from all over the world came to Visva-Bharati during its peak period. Visva-Bharati became a central university in 1951. Leaves of the Chhatim (Saptaparni or seven-leaf sprigs) trees are given to graduating students at the annual convocation. Many world famous teachers have become associated with it over the years. Late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray, and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen are among the illustrious students of Shantiniketan.
Kala Bhavana, the art college of Shantiniketan, is still considered one of the best art colleges in the world. Shantiniketan is also famous for many fairs and festivals like Poush Mela, Joydev Mela, Dol/Basanta Utshab, Borsha Mongal, Sharodutshab, the well-known assembly of mystic baul singers along with the bard's birth and death anniversary programmes.
Shantiniketan is a small town near Bolpur in Birbhum district of West Bengal, and is about 180 kilometres north of Kolkata. The place now attracts thousands of visitors each year.