Tagore’s magical verses in his melodious composition… “Gram chara oi ranga matir poth….Amar mono bhulay re…” (Those red soiled paths of the village…mesmerizes my mind…) brings tears of joyfulness, peace and tranquillity in every soul on the known world who had loved and adored his immortal works for ages. His verses were perhaps our inspiration for a small trip in the early springs of 2013 to the district of Birbhum, West Bengal.
A picture post card from beautiful Birbhum
How did we move in..
We were in Durgapur when our trip to Shantiniketan (Bolpur) and Tarapeeth (Rampurhat) was given shape. It was a long journey and we thought it would be wise to book a tourist cab from City Centre, Durgapur for our two day trip. Even having an early morning start we were quite apprehensive and tensed about escaping heavy traffic at the Darjeeling More Crossing at Panagarh. Soon our car took a left turn from the NH 2 and moved towards Illambazar escaping the threat of a traffic jam. It was a smooth and memorable journey with the green sal woods all around us.
On our way to Shantiniketan through the dark Sal woods
The color of the soil changed from dark brown to red when we crossed Ajay river at Illambazar. We knew we had entered the “Land of Red Soil” (Ranga Mattir Desh).
Way to Shantiniketan (Bolpur) from Durgapur, West Bengal (Courtesy: Google Maps)
Shantiniketan (previously known as Bhubandanga – famous for the notorious Bhuban dacoit) is immortalized by the aura of the Rabindranath Tagore, the pride of India. Shantiniketan is not only famous for the residence of Tagore, but also for the historical “Vishwa Bharathi University” founded by the Nobel Laureate.
Residence of Rabindranath Tagore, Shantiniketan, Bolpur
His private residential mansions have been now preserved in the form of a museum maintained by the University trust. Among the important mansions in this complex, the most important one is the Uttarayan which was not only Tagore’s official residence – it also witnessed many immortal historic moments where iconic personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had talks with the Universal Poet.
The Chhatimtala is one of the most important places of Shantiniketan. This was the place where Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore, got his realisation of the divinity under two Chhatim (Blackboard tree or the Alstonia Scholaris) trees.
Chhatimtala, Shantiniketan (Vishwa Bharati University Campus)
The place itself was perhaps destined to be the seat of intellectual excellence and it had to be none other than the Universal Poet (Bishwa Kabi) to lay the foundation of one of the world’s most respected learning institutions. It was not only Tagore who had made Shantniketan immortal. It was the collective efforts of the country’s best scholars and artists which had made it so special. How could we forget the renaissance age of Bengal under the pioneer ship of Ram Kinkar Baij, Nanda Lal Basu, Binodbihari Basu, Satyendranath Bose, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, Selim Munshi and in recent times Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.
Roaming in and around Shantiniketan on a Rickshaw
The famous mansions in Shantiniketan (Vishwa Bharati University Campus) are spread over a huge area. As cars are not allowed inside the University campus we enjoyed the privilege of a rickshaw ride with packets of jhal muris (masala puffed rice) from a local vendor. We first visited the Museum of the noted artist Selim Munshi – the “Niharika Art Gallery” which houses the collection of his rare paintings and pieces of art.
The Hindi Bhawan, Shantiniketan
The Hindi Bhawan is famous for being a centre of excellence for learning Hindi language. It is said that our late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had frequently been in this mansion during her visits to Shantiniketan. The fantastic attraction of Shantiniketan is the workshop and art studio of Ram Kinkar Baij.
Ram Kinkar Baij’s immortal creations
We were literally mesmerized by the display of his artistic creations. A few yards ahead we came to another important mansion in the “Kala Bhawan” (School of Arts) complex. This was none other than the famous Black House.
The Black House, Shantiniketan
The construction of this mansion was started in the year 1936 under the pioneership of Nandalal Basu and Rabindranath Tagore as a citadel of practicing art, culture and literature. The murals and engravements on the black walls of this mansion depict inspirations from India’s freedom struggle (Swadeshi Movement).
We were amazed to find that this mansion is still used by the University as a centre of learning for students. Many of their laudable creative efforts were on display. They used simple scrap materials like rope, junk materials to create objects of art. One of them was the amazing rope statue of a meditating rishi hung from a tree branch.
Our long cherished destination was to visit “Pratichi” the residence of the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. The simple looking one storied mansion with a beautiful shady garden is a treat to watch.
Pratichi, residence of Nobel Laurete, Professor.Amartya Sen
We felt proud that the world’s one of the best scholars and pride of our Nation, Amartya Sen had spent priceless moments of his life in this house.
Professor Amartya Sen, a living legend…he still receives hundreds of mails at his residence gate at Shantiniketan
Shantiniketan had relentlessly developed and nurtured the best talents and intellectual minds. Perhaps the intellectually enriching fate of Shantiniketan was written long back in the pages of history by the Divine intervention which Maharshi Debendranath Tagore had himself witnessed and had passed on to the able shoulders of his son Rabindranath.
Shantiniketan – a nature’s treat
Shantinitekan as the name suggests, “abode of peace”, is truly the abode where a soul can discover peace of mind. The nature God had gifted the place with immense natural beauty in the form of housing a huge collection of flora and fauna.
Spring in Shantiniketan
It could be a real feat for any professor of botany. We could not stop adoring the natural beauty of the large trees all around us. The gigantic mango trees, banyan trees, pipul trees, and the dark sal woods in the backdrop created a long lasting impression on our minds.
In order to enjoy the feat of the rural Shantiniketan we moved out of the busy streets of the town towards the Kopai river banks which is unfortunately now been under the scanner of resort sharks. Utterly disappointed, we decided to ask our cab driver to take us out towards the rural areas. The views around us were mind blowing. It was spring – the crop fields were lush green.
In the words of the Poet…”Those red soiled paths of the village…mesmerizes my mind”..
The distant lakes with mud huts on their banks in the back drop of long palm trees looked like perfect post cards. This was perhaps the magic of the red soil “ranga matti” a land so beautiful, so picture perfect and evergreen……
….To be Continued…..
Written by & Photography By: Indranil Mutsuddi