Take a four hour car ride or get on a train from Kolkata and head north towards the small university town of Shantiniketan in the Birbhum district West Bengal. Originally a known as Bhubandanga, Shantiniketan was owned by the predecessors of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Literally meaning ‘a peaceful and quiet place’, Shantiniketan was given its modern name by Rabindranath’s father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore.
Tagore moved to Shantiniketan when he was about 30 years old and founded an ‘ashram’, or a prayer hall, which also incorporated a school that taught his ideals. The school was exceptional in nature, since it preached a theme that was at the heart of most of Tagore’s works – the importance of nature.
The school grew into a university after the Rabindranath was awarded the Nobel. Instead of being held in closed spaces, classes were, and still are, conducted in the natural environment and in the shade cast by trees. The university maintains a strict policy against any form of pollution and promotes the Wordsworthian philosophy that a child grows into a perfect being under the influence of nature.
The university, known as Viswa Bharati University, plays host to a hoard of tourists who visit the campus to see the place where Rabindranath Tagore spent most of his life penning his works. A museum opposite the university further entertain the interest of tourists as it preserves artifacts from the time of the British Raj and other items that were used by the Tagore family.
The university is a fascinating place to visit at any given time of the year. However, the ‘Poush Mela’, a fair that celebrates the onset of spring, and ‘Dol Jatra’, a festival of colours, draws a larger number of tourists as compared to the rest of the year.
Seldom is a place or township as completely dedicated to the memory of a deceased leader as Shantiniketan. Everything about the town is embedded with the soul of Tagore. From the roads of red clay to the dry river beds of the ‘khoai’ on the outskirts of the township – everything is a part of the world that was painted by Rabindranath Tagore in his works.
Plan a visit and be awed by the literal manifestation of a fictional reality that still lives by ideals that are otherwise losing ground in the larger world.