“Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Rabindranath Tagore

Shantiniketan or Santiniketan is a small town near Bolepur in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, India, approximately 165 km north of Kolkata. It was established by Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, and later expanded by his son Rabindranath Tagore whose vision became what is now a university town, Visva-Bharat i University.


Shantiniketan is situated at 23.68°N 87.68°E. Has an average elevation of 56 meters (187 feet). The area is fringed on two sides by the rivers, the Ajay and the Kopai. Santiniketan earlier had a widespread forest cover, but extensive soil erosion created certain areas of barrenness, the resulting phenomenon is locally known as khoai. However, because of the consistent efforts by botanists, plants, and trees from all over India flourish in parts of the town. Although the overall environment of the surrounding areas has changed with time, the core area of Santiniketan has retained its attachment with nature.


Santiniketan was earlier called Bhubandanga (after Bhuban Mohan Sinha, the Zamindar of Raipur in WB), and was owned by the Sinha family. In 1862, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, while on a visit to Raipur, showed interest in land near Birbhum. There was only one building there namely ‘Santiniketan’ (which is still adjacent the upasana mandir known as ‘Odisha Bhawan’). Maharshi liked the place and registered it in the name of Maharshi Devendranath against Rupee One as a token value. He called his home Santiniketan (after the name of the house). Santiniketan became a spiritual center where people from all religions were invited to join for meditation and prayers. He founded an ashram here in 1863 and became the initiator of the Brahmo Samaj.

Rabindranath Tagore first visited Shantiniketan on 27 January 1878 when he was 17 years old. In 1888, Debendranath dedicated the entire property for the establishment of a Brahmavidyalaya through a trust deed. In 1901, Rabindranath started a Brahmacharyaashrama, and it came to be known as Patha Bhavana from 1925.


Socio – Culture Centre:

Social and cultural events include Basanta Utsav, Barsha Mangal, Sharodutsav, Nandan Mela, Anandamela, Poush Mela, Magh Mela, and Rabindra Jayanti. Of these, the Poush Mela is a major tourist attraction. It is a three-day fair (Bengali, Mela means a fair), starting on the seventh day of the Bengali month Poush (usually, last week of December). It attracts tourists, artisans, folk singers, dancers, and the traditional Baul from the neighborhood.

In Shantiniketan, seasonal changes bring their own colors and beauties with various festivals. The emphasis in organizing these festivals is on traditional Indian forms and rituals. Numerous festivals range from Basanta Utsav and Barsha Mangal to Maghotsav and Rabindra Jayanti. Holi (Dol), the festival of colours, is celebrated in its own style at Santiniketan – it is called Basanta Utsav and welcomes the arrival of spring. The program starts from the morning with singing and dancing to Tagore's tunes by the students and ends with spreading-coloured powders (called ‘abir’) and expression of festive wishes follows vide cultural programs.

Worldwide Importance:

Instituted by Dr. Rabindranath Tagore in 1901 and located about a hundred- and fifty- eight-kilometers northwest of Kolkata in Bengal’s rural hinterland, Santiniketan represents the condensation of Rabindranath Tagore’s life, philosophy and highest works through his lifetime and the endless legacy of his special model of education and internationality through a living institution and architectural ensemble. And while many of Tagore's greatest art and literary works bear a unique association with Santiniketan, it can be argued that his model of an Indian education through the revival of the Tapovan tradition and humanist ideology finds its greatest reflection in Santiniketan, thus making it Tagore’s greatest work. In his last letter to Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore wrote ‘Visva Bharati is like a vessel carrying the cargo of my life’s best treasure and I hope it may claim special care from my countrymen for its preservation.’

Currently, Santiniketan and Visva Bharati demonstrate the continuance of Tagore’s works, both as a living educational and cultural center as well as through the cohorts of outstanding alumni who shined in the worlds of painting, literature, music, sculpture, cinema, economics, and politics. The architectural and landscape setting of Santiniketan symbolize Tagore’s vision of an extensive architectural expression that was a blending of diverse cultural traditions in a landscape setting that formed the backdrop for a literal translation of “Santiniketan”; as an abode of peace.


Among the notable structures built by the Maharshi was the Santiniketan Griha or house and the beautiful stained-glass Mandir, or temple where worship is non-denominational. Both structures built in the second half of the 19th century are important in their association with the founding of Santiniketan and the universal spirit associated with the revival and reinterpretation of religious ideals in Bengal and India. A beautiful garden was laid out on all sides of the Santiniketan Bari. The top-layer of gritty dry soil was removed and filled up with rich soil brought over from outside. Rows of various fruit trees and trees with extended foliage for shade were planted. The avenue of Sal trees, so familiar to earlier asramites as being Rabindranath's favourite walk, was planted at this time. The famous Cannonball tree having canon ball shaped fruits, botanically classified as Couroupita guianensis, of the Lecythydaceae family also exists and is surviving here.

The other important structures built later, after Rabindranath moved to the site of Santiniketan are, the Patha-Bhavana, with beautiful frescoes by Nandalal Bose and his students, Natun-Bari, built in 1902 by the Poet for his family, this simple thatched cottage was offered to Mahatma Gandhi's Phoenix school boys in 1915. Mrinalinidevi, the Poet’s wife died before the house was completed but her name lives on in the nursery school named after her – Mrinalini Ananda Pathsala which is housed here. Dehali was built in 1904 and Rabindranath lived here for a while. Santoshalaya, a single-storey house with a tiled roof is named after Santoshchandra Majumdar, one of the first students of the Santiniketan Vidyalaya. Santoshalaya is a hostel for young students at the school. Chaitya a small structure made of mud and coal-tar in 1934 resembling a typical thatched hut of Bengal, yet it carries a Buddhist name. Planned by Nandalal Bose and Surendranath Kar, this structure has a glass-paned showcase where newly created works of art are on display every few days. Ghantatala, resembling a gateway to a Buddhist stupa stands at the crossroads of Salvithika and the road leading to Cheena Bhavana from the Santiniketan house. A bronze bell hanging from the structure would, at one time, regulate the classes and other events held during the day.


North of the ashram area described above, is the enclave of Rabindranath’s own houses, built over the last three decades of his life (1919-1941). Konark, initially a mud house, was the earliest dwelling that Rabindranath built for his own seclusion from activity to provide a place for his own work. The Konark verandah was used for poetry readings by the poet. The Mrinmoyee Patio is a beautiful, cemented floor with sitting arrangements. This was built on the foundation of the other mud house when it was pulled down. Rabindranath would sit in this open patio and write. Shyamali: the construction of a mud house was an experiment. The Santals on either side of the main door and on the eastern corner were by Ramkinkar Baiz. Gandhiji and Kasturba stayed as guests in this house. Punascha, meaning postscript suggests the Poet’s change of mind. Another house was built on the eastern side of Shyamali. He lived in this house for a short while, but it was here that he created most of his paintings. Udichi is the last house built for Rabindranath. He felt suffocating, he said, and wanted a room to be constructed on four pillars. However, changes were gradually made according to the owner’s needs. He took poetry classes on the ground floor. The most striking house in Uttarayana is Udayan. Uttarayana is the area where these five houses are located in. The gardens of Uttarayana were planned and laid out by the Poet’s son, Rathindranath, a horticulturist by training. He planted in Uttarayan and in the surrounding area exotic plants and trees from other lands. The African Tulip (Spathodea campanulata) from Equatorial Africa, the Sausage tree (Kigelia africana) and Rhodesian Wistaria (Balusanthus speciosus) from Tropical Africa, the Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean Trumpet tree (Tabebuia aura) from Latin America are some of the trees that have survived in Santiniketan as have the ideas and research studies done by foreign scholars who came to Santiniketan.


In 1922, Visva Bharati was inaugurated as a Centre for Culture with exploration into the arts, language, humanities, music, and these are reflected in diverse institutes that continue in their educational programs, which are based on the founding principles of excellence in culture and culture studies. As originally intended, these serve as institutes for Hindi studies, Hindi Bhavan, Sino Asian studies, Cheena Bhavan, centre for humanities, Vidya Bhavan, institute of fine arts Kala Bhavan, and music, Sangit Bhavan. The structures in these institutes constitute a myriad of architectural expressions which are as diverse as the Kalo Bari, a mud structure with coal tar finish and sculpture panels, Mastermoshai studio, a single storied structure built for the first principal of Kala Bhavan, Nandalal Bose, murals and paintings on Cheena and Hindi Bhavan, created by the illustrious artists like Benodebehari Mukhopadhyay, Nandalal Bose, Surendranath Kar, Somnath Hore with active involvement of students.


Also in the core area, is Sriniketan, an Institute for Rural Reconstruction founded in 1922 with Leonard Elmhirst as its first Director. Surul Kuthibari: Rabindranath purchased this building in 1912. The house was often used by the Poet as a retreat and here, in solitude, he would write. It housed the Sriniketan office and is associated with Leonard Elmhirst and Kalimohan Ghosh. In front of this building on a wall, Nandalal created a mural depicting Halakarshana a ploughing festival introduced by Rabindranath to honour the tiller of the soil. Sriniketan also houses the very significant institutes and farms that are in continued use: the Silpa Sadan, a centre for village crafts; Palli Samgathan Vibhaga, the centre for rural reconstruction; Palli Siksha Bhavan, a center for education for village children and adults; Rural Extension Centre, that conducts research in organic and innovative farming techniques and animal husbandry.


The Santiniketan Aesthetic:

For Rabindranath, who was essentially a poet and artist, the insight and the expression of beauty was the utmost objective in human life. His belief about beauty, according to true Indian tradition, was inseparably connected with truth and goodness. Whatever is true and noble in life, nature and art is also beautiful. Thus, aesthetic sensitivity, in the true sense, is a fundamental aspect of spiritual education. Rabindranath expressed in no ambiguous terms that man’s physical confrontation with the natural environment was as important as his mind’s probe into its inner mystery, and any worthwhile society should provide for both. Nandalal Bose (1882-1966) took it up as a challenge. For him, with the right effort, all members of a community, whether housewives, working men or schoolchildren can be creative of sorts within their talent and potential. So, he gave attention to all, inducing them to learn alpona, batik, leather-craft, picture making with simple units. The murals on many of the asrama buildings were created at his initiative; he would involve his students in this work. The murals on the lives of medieval saints which Benode Bihari Mukherjee (1904-80) created in Hindi Bhavana in 1946-47 was the artist’s magnum opus. In 1972, even after he lost his eyesight, he made a large ceramic mural on the Kala-Bhavana campus.

The landscape of Santiniketan is spread with sculptures by Ramkinkar Baij (1906- 1980), larger than-life figures of Santals who part of the landscape were. A Santhal family, complete with dogs, a group of workers running along at the call of the mill, their clothes flying in the air, a thresher, all situated along the main road. Nandalal planted Eucalyptus saplings in the area, knowing that one day these tall trees would be a perfect setting to Ramkinkar’s Sujata. It was Nandalal Bose, who crafted an environment where art would be a part of life and the children of Santiniketan have grown absorbing these beautiful monuments as they have the oxygen in the air.

‘She is our own, the darling of our hearts,


In the shadows of her trees, we meet in the freedom of her open sky.

Our dreams are rocked in her arms.

Her face is a fresh wonder of love every time we see her,

for she is our own, the darling of our hearts.’ — Rabindranath Tagore



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