Top Things To Do At Tagore’s Shanti Niketan

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Shanti Niketan Paintings
Shanti Niketan Paintings

Shanti Niketan – the university town immediately brings out an image of Rabindranath Tagore writing from this quaint town. It has been on my wishlist for a long time. I had goosebumps when I got down at the Bolpur station – something that I experience every time I finally manage to be.

History of Shanti Niketan

Brahma Mandir at Shanti Niketan
Brahma Mandir at Shanti Niketan

Shanti Niketan was set up by Maharishi Devendranath Tagore sometime around the 1860s. The land always belonged to the Tagore family but it was probably inhabited by dacoits. It was even named after one of them – Bhuban Dakat. Devendranath while passing by this landscape was enticed by the beauty of the red soil and the Chhatim trees. He decided to build himself a house here and called it Shanti Niketan. Little did he knew that the name would become a cultural icon one day. Over a period of time the whole place would take the name – Shanti Niketan. Literally, it means the abode of peace.

This home took the form of an Ashram that was open to people who wanted to come and meditate or pursue their spiritual quests. It played an important role in the Brahmo Samaj movement of Bengal.

Devendranath’s son RabindraNath Tagore started Patha Bhavan – a small school with just 5 students. His idea was learning in the natural environment rather than an artificial classroom. The system came to be known as Ashram system. I think it is a good blend of ancient Guru-Shishya system and modern classroom system. Even today you can see the classes being held under the giant trees.

This school would later grow into the Viswa Bharti university.

Things to See at Shanti Niketan

You can do most of Shanti Niketan in a day. Here is a brief guide of things to see there.

Rabindra Bhaban Museum or Tagore Museum

Rabindra Bhaban Museum - Shanti Niketan
Rabindra Bhaban Museum – Shanti Niketan

Housed in one of the many houses in the Uttarayan complex, this is a small but interesting museum. Whole of the museum is all about Tagore. The biggest attraction of this museum – the noble prize medallion of Tagore was stolen a few years back. This has made the staff extra vigilant. I was surprised at the number of people posted in the museum – probably more than the visitors at any point in time.

Museum tour begins with the Tagore family genealogy. Family’s personal items on display like – utensils, combs, pooja articles, medicine boxes. There are collectibles like gifts received from China, French & Japanese porcelain, Roman vases. There are personal artifacts of Tagore like his paint brushes and colors.

Car of RabindraNath Tagore
Car of RabindraNath Tagore

Passport of Tagore in the form of a letter is intriguing. Wonder when they started the booklets we have now.

There are various portraits. The one I remember most clearly is the portrait of Tagore himself while painting. There is a documentation of his meetings with Gandhi, Einstein, Freud, Bernard Shaw, Hellen Keller, Bose, Nehru & many other stalwarts of the era. There are many letters on display.

Everything written only in Bengali turned out to be my barrier at the museum and in rest of Uttarayan complex. I wish there was at least an English or a Hindi Translation.

Photography is strictly prohibited.

Uttarayan Complex

One of the houses at Uttarayan Complex - Shanti Niketan
One of the houses at Uttarayan Complex – Shanti Niketan

This is a complex of various houses built by the Tagore family. They are named Udayana, Konark, Shyamali, Punascha, and Udichi. On the face of it, houses look simple in their pale yellow and white exteriors with red floors. However, the displays there make them special. There is a printing machine outside one house. A garage has the car owned by RabindraNath Tagore. Some houses have exquisite wood-carved panels. Others have a well laid out Diwan with tasteful upholstery.

Portrait & Printing Machine at Shanti Niketan
Portrait & Printing Machine at Shanti Niketan

Gardens have sculptures and plants competing for your attention.

There is an open portico called Mrinmoyee.

A big Banyan tree with its uncountable branches looms large. I looked at the tree and it said – you know I have seen this place since the time it was a mere hut.

Santhal family sculpture at Uttarayan Complex, Shanti Niketan
Santhal family sculpture at Uttarayan Complex

The famous sculpture of a Santhal family stands in one of the grounds.

There are artworks on display in the compounds and in the open spaces between the houses. I would later discover that art is very much a part of the Shanti Niketan culture. Wherever you stand in the town, you just can not miss an artwork around. Some of them belong to the illustrious names like Nand Lal Bose but most of them belong to students of Shanti Niketan.

Walk around the Viswa Bharti

Sanskrit Marble Tablet at gate of Viswa Bharti
Sanskrit Marble Tablet at gate of Viswa Bharti

We started this tour from Brahma Mandir or the Upasana Griha. Behind the metal gate is a marble plaque with a Sanskrit verse.

In the middle of a garden stands an ornate glasshouse, the kind you see in most gardens left behind by the British. This is in fact, the Brahma Mandir. It opens on specific dates and is closed most of the days in the year.

Open air classrooms & school bell at Shanti Niketan
Open air classrooms & school bell at Shanti Niketan

A little walk inside from here, we met the open air classrooms. Low circular benches surroundings the old trees. A bell hangs on a red frame that looks like the simplified arches of Sanchi Stupa.

Painted panel at entertance of Painting Department of Viswa Bharti
Painted panel at entertance of Painting Department of Viswa Bharti

Paintings

The university buildings though simple still carry the distinct markers of Indian and Indo-Islamic architecture. Our guide pointed the girl’s hostel where Indira Gandhi lived for some time. Some of the buildings have exquisite paintings. Some of the original paintings that were done my prominent artists of the time are still preserved.

Design school at Viswa Bharti
Design school at Viswa Bharti

It is the design school of Viswa Bharti that blew my mind. The building in black with murals in white can take your breath away. Another building next to it has relief sculptures in black again.

Close up of design school building
Close up of design school building

To add to the aura, current students of the university were busy creating their own works of art. I chatted with few of them and it was wonderful to see creativity all around inspiring more creativity.

Bengali verses on a silk colored building at Shanti Niketan
Bengali verses on a silk colored building at Shanti Niketan

A silk shade building had verses in Bengali written all over it. How I wish I could read Bengali, then.

Ellora relief sculpture replica at Shanti Niketan
Ellora relief sculpture replica at Shanti Niketan

Sculptures replicating some of the scenes from Ellora adorned another wall.

Lovely hut at Shanti Niketan
Lovely hut at Shanti Niketan

Small huts are given a makeover by the student artists. I loved the one that had colorful mirror work on it.

Aura of Tagore

Viswa Bharti Building
Simple yet Elegant – Viswa Bharti Building

Walking around Shanti Niketan is like walking in the India of 100 years ago. You almost feel that Tagore is going to walk out of one of his houses, or may be one of the schools and talk to you. He does speak to you from the every corner of the space he created.

In the month of May, the yellow laburnums were adding the golden color to the campus, making it look bright and shiny.

Come to think of it how many spaces can claim that they have been designed by a poet and a thinker.

Srijini Shilpagram

Tribal Murals at Srijini Shilpagram near Shanti Niketan
Tribal Murals at Srijini Shilpagram near Shanti Niketan

Few kms away from the Viswa Bharti is this art village that celebrates the tribal heritage of India. There are tribal murals and other artworks on display from most tribal regions of India.

I will probably do another post on the wall murals of Srijini Shilpagram.

You can spend 1-2 hours here depending on your interest in tribal art, particularly wall murals.

I guess this is a space that is still work-in-progress.

Amar Kutir

Amar Kutir is a handicrafts shop where you can buy handmade artefacts of Shanti Niketan. Good items to buy include garments, linen, dokra art, coconut shell jewelry & leather work.

Music of Bauls

The region of Bengal where Shanti Niketan falls is known for Baul singers. We were lucky to meet a Baul singer near Amar Kuti singing under a tree. Listen to him singing Tagore’s song – Ekla Chalo Re

I was so inspired by him that I wrote a full post in Ekla Chalo Re…

Travel tips for Shanti Niketan

Tuk Tuks - best way to explore Shanti Niketan
Tuk Tuks – best way to explore Shanti Niketan

Shanti Niketan is well connected by rail and road with Kolkata. Bolpur is the station to reach, which is hardly any distance from Shanti Niketan. In fact, at Bolpur station itself you see the first glimpse of Shanti Niketan.

We stayed at West Bengal Tourism Lodge at Shanti Niketan – it is at the walkable distance from most places. Battery operated rickshaws or Tuk Tuks are available everywhere.

Recommend you read following travel blog on places to visit in Bengal.

  1. Cooch Behar – Places to see in Royal city of West Bengal.
  2. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – A Living Dream.
  3. Kolkata – Colonial Calcutta Heritage Walk.
  4. Bishnupur Terracotta Temples – Bengal Tourist Attractions.
  5. Brush with Kolkata – Jorasanko Thakurbari.

4 COMMENTS

      • There is still neighborhoods named as Bhuban Danga. Regarding the very person named Bhuban Dakat, there may not be 100% true authentic info available as Bengal in early days of British occupation(1700-1850) were frequented by dacoits/thuggees, some of them were so influential that became myth(semi truth). These dacoits/rebels had often huge popularity as well among the downtrodden due to their benevolent work for the poor by plundering the rich,cruel Jamidars(Feudal Lords)/East India Company(Robin Hoods of Bengal). Bhuban Dakat might be one of such half myth half truth characters, who used to operate under many pseudo identities. I may not be 100% correct, but people with access to archives can put more detailed insight on this.

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