A day at Shantiniketan

A milieu where cultures synthesize and the mind is in sync with the environment. This dream of Rabindranath Tagore's materialized in Shantiniketan, a unique university where there are classrooms under the skies, and if the student's mind wanders, it dwells on the cosmos.

While visiting Kolkata recently, took up an opportunity or rather a long cherished dream to visit the bard's place, 213 km away from the city. The West Bengal Tourism maintains a Tourist Lodge and cottages in Bolpur, while the Vishwa Bharti has a guesthouse there. The Tourist Lodge has a cafeteria and there are small restaurants in town. It is also possible to stay at private hotels or the youth hostel situated there. However, arriving at the Bolpur station by the Shantiniketan Express, we preferred to stay at a private hotel in the town quite near from the University as it was cheap.

A guide took us along the whole campus and kept us well informed with all the people and historical buildings existing there. The institution was initially an Ashram set up by Maharishi Devendranath Tagore in 1863. His son, Rabindranath experimented with a tiny class of five students in 1901, and Shantiniketan evolved into the Vishva Bharati University. The range of studies is wide, with an emphasis on art, music, dance and the humanities.

The Vishva Bharati campus is an interesting synthesis of murals, frescoes, paintings, sculptures and artistic tributes to Rabindranath Tagore, Nandlal Bose, Ramkinkar, Bindobehari Mukhopadhyaya amongst other prominent personalities in education. The Uttarayan complex where Tagore lived has a number of architecturally unique buildings such as the Udayana, Konark, Shyamali, Punascha and Udichi. The Kala Bhavan, Rabindra Bhavan, Uttarayan Gardens and the Deer Park near Sriniketan are also major attractions.

The Tagore museum is both educative and enjoyable as it has preserved every little belongings and personal possessions of the Nobel Prize winner along with a brief summary of the major world happenings including Indian Freedom struggle, Russian revolution, First and Second World wars, etc in contrast with the poets own involvement and reaction with these major happenings. Countless remarkable photographs of Tagore and with major National and World leaders, rare manuscripts and journals, extraordinary letters, etc are only some of the assets in the museum. At this point, what disturbs us is the fact that in Assam, there is no really effort by the government to preserve our very own bard, Jyotiprasad Agarwalla in a well thought-out manner. Though there is a Jyoti Bharati in Tezpur, the conditions and state of affairs has remained pathetic with no organized effort by governmental and non-governmental organizations to improve the situation there.

About 3 km from Shantiniketan is Sriniketan, which furthers Tagore's vision of rural development. Sriniketan focuses on agriculture, adult education, village welfare, cottage industries and handicrafts. Rural co-operative stores sell the handicrafts like batik, kantha embroidery, weaving, bell metal products, dhokra metal-ware, leather goods and terracotta pottery at affordable prices. While visiting Shantiniketan, no one misses the opportunity to pick up one of them as remembrances of this unique university. Coming out from the campus, you might even contemplate reading 'Geetanjali' once again!