Feeling the dew drops on the grass, soaking into the tinge of orange sun in the sky and listening to the sound of prayers from the distant Kanch Ghar is how I began most of my days in Shantiniketan.
Far from the hustle of the big cities, Shantiniketan is cozily located on the banks of river Ajay and Kopai in Birbhum district of West Bengal. A 4 Hour drive by road or a 3 hour ride in a train from Kolkata – could lead you to my beautiful home town.
The essence of Shantiniketan lies in the peace you find within. A century and more ago when Maharshi Debendranath Tagore visited Shantiniketan – he felt the same stillness and calmness in the air. A place where your soul meets your body and becomes one in peace. Probably the reason why he named Shantiketan – abode of peace.
Growing up in the city of Laal Mati, admist the Baul Gaan and sound of Eektara gave my childhood a different meaning. Poetry, Prose and Paintings made our surroundings. My neighbour Ajit Jethu (Uncle) as I lovingly called him would invite me to his home to show his sculpture works and paintings. A busy afternoon would mean Jethu carving out a beautiful face from a boulder of rocks with his metal chisel and hammer.
If Maharishi found the abode of peace, his son Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore took this village town and converted it into a HUB for literature, art and culture. Gurudev’s Shantiniketan is world famous for the Vishwa Bharathi University, beautiful Handicrafts, Batik Print and embroideries.
If you manage to take a stroll inside the campus early in the morning, you would see little boys and girls dressed in yellow and white getting to their open air classes.
Blackboards hung on trees, small cemented seating areas for students to sit, dried leaves falling off from the trees and teachers gleefully gazing towards the Ghanta Ghar and waiting for the bell to ring to start their daily teachings. This is how school life is in Shantiniketan.
“You understand the pain of something, when it hurts you the most” probably it had been true for Rabindranath. His dislike for education in claustrophobic classrooms lead to world’s first formal open air classrooms.
One of the major tourist attraction while visiting Shantiniketan is the Upasan Griha (Prayer Hall) or as we call it the Kanch Ghar . It was built by Maharishi Debendranath Tagore in 1863 and was modeled like the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park.
This beautiful glass house (Kanch Ghar)is my personal favorite, as I cycled across the Kanch Ghar in the evenings of Kali Pooja to bring more Baji (fireworks), I have seen it being beautifully decked up with Candles. It is a sight you cannot miss.
It is equally mesmerizing to see the Prayer Hall in full glory on Christmas or on Rabindra Jayanti. Lucky are those who got a chance to study in Vishwa Bharathi and see the Kanch Ghar from inside.
My home in Shantiniketan is tucked somewhere in between the Vishwa Bharathi Campus exteriors and one of Bengal’s largest wild Life sanctuary. Me and my cousin spent our childhood playing hide and seek and cycling in the woods of Deer Park which formed a part of the Bhallavpur wild life sanctuary.
A daily cycling to school meant crossing the two Noble Laureate’s home – Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and Amrtya Sen. As a child I never realized the significance of the nobel, probably until the time Gurudev’s Nobel was tragically stolen from Uttarayan (Rabindranath’s home, now a Museum).
It was me and many others in the world who then realized the true meaning of a Nobel Prize. A massive witch-hunt started, funding was increased by the central government, walls, barricades, additional security was provided. Once neglected Central University, found its old charm with the lose of it’s Nobel.
It is sad but true that for us to realize the value of anything, we need to lose it first.
Both my Parents are passionate gardeners. Mornings at my home are spent on gardening. When we moved to our house in shantiniketan three decades ago, my mother first planted a Bougainvillea. That tree blossoms even today. The bright shades of pink flowers adorn our porch. It gives a dimension to our home.
As a child both me and my brother hated the Bougainvillea as the tennis ball got stuck time and again in the thorny branches of this magnificently beautiful pink flowered tree. we would have to stop our cricket match and spend the next hour to figure out how to take the ball out without hurting our tiny hands.
Today we long to see the same tree. A picture of our home does not get completed without the glimpse of our Bougainvillea.
Someone asked me, when is the best time to come to Shantiniketan, the answer to that was simple – anytime is good time.
The reason to come to Shantiniketan can be endless. We have reason for every season.
You can enjoy the joyful Kalboisakhi from your balcony on a summer evening, get adventurous and explore the lush green forest in Deer Park in the monsoons. Visit us during the Durga Pooja Holidays and witness the Surul er Jomidar Barir Poojo or just drop by during everyone’s favorite Poush Mela in the Winters or Dool Utsav in Spring Season.
Shantiniketan to me is an emotion. This little city holds my childhood. This is the place where I spent my school days, where I roamed around as a kid on a red and white bi-cycle, this is where all the love for Luchi, Ghugni, Chop, Singara happened. This is my happy place…
A place where I lived every day of my life is now a place where I visit once a year for less than 24 hours. Every year I come back to the city, it treats me the same way – with lots of love and a whole heart of niceness.
If only in some way, I could tell this city how much I yearn to be here.
Shantiniketan is a dream world, you cannot choose it, it has to choose you.