Santiniketan-Paush Mela- An ode to the Bard.
-Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound
Content to breath his native air in his own ground.
Santiniketan is quintessential rural Bengal. A village town nestled in the Birbhum district of West Bengal about 160km from Kolkata which has been blessed by the Nobel Laureate- Rabindranath Tagore and has morphed into a world class tourist destination.
Both trains and a six lane 168km National Highway 1A ( leading to New Delhi ) connects Kolkata to this abode of peace literally where tranquility and peace leisurely rolls on the lap of time and was the real stimulant of the beatific prose and scintillating literary works which flowed out of the bards pen.
The best bet is to take the BarrackporeTrunk road to Dunlop and turn left on the Nivedita Toll Bridge and on to the National highway –NH1A leading to Delhi till you hit Panagarh. You would be doing an injustice to your vehicle if the speedometer comes below 100km/hr, lush green countryside, immaculately maintained highways punctuated by green coconut vendors whose invigorating water leaves you fresh and wanting for more zip behind as God paints the picturesque countryside with his golden pastel into a mesmerizing canvas.
Shaktigarh- a must pay obeisance for connoisseur of Bengali sweets –“ Langcha”,”mihidana” etc will tickle your gustatotary senses to an orgasmical frenzy. The place is about 90 km from Kolkata as you approach the town of Burdwan and consists of a motley collection of roadside eateries dishing out these mouth watering recipes at the most affordable prices.
As soon as you reach the town of Panagarh, cross the town market and the Darjeeling More take the right turn towards Santiniketan – distance of about 25km –bumpy half the way and smooth the other half as this part has full patronage of the State government.
There is no eye which can consume the wealth on stone and wood and mind that can fathom the tranquility of Santiniketan. The best time to visit is between 23-25 Dec every year when the annual Poush Mela or fair is also held. A perfect blend of rural smile with ethnic style.
As soon as you park your car, you will be swarmed by a rickshaw pullers or ‘vano’ drivers –which is the best way to go around the hotspots if you are a first timer as these guy double up also as your guide reeling out folklores and stories which even Rabindranath Tagore never knew. Be sure to haggle with them or you are in for a thorough fleecing which would be worse than a sheared Australian sheep.The fare may range from 100/ to Rs. 250/ depending upon your capacity to bargain.
The tourist spot has four distinct areas to roam about
a)The Science department (b)The arts Dept (c)The museum and the houses of the Tagore family
(d) Paush Mela.
(a)The Science department
The Science Dept consists of series of relatively new buildings housing different branches of science under the Vishwa Bharati university. Then as you enter the main campus you will pass by the house of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and reach the Arts department.
(b)The Arts Dept
The Arts Department is a unique blend of contemporary art, life like statues depicting the varied life of rural Bengal by the famous artists of yesteryears Nandalal Bose. The pedagogic concept of yesteryears- Gurukul is still practiced in letter and spirit to this modern era- where the students are made to sit under shady banyan trees while the teacher enriches them with their lifeskills and values. Each structure in the venue be it the –blackhut, life like statues of Buddha , sandhya made of stone and concrete , the thatched houses bifurcated by a palm tree at the centre, the three step banyan tree has a unique story attached to them which your rickshaw puller guides would narrate to you with zest and humour.
“Chadim tala –another landmark in the campus is famous for the the chadim trees and the enclosure which houses a small podium and is open to the public only during special occasions like –felicititations, vasant utsaav or uttarayan.
(c)The museum and the houses of the Tagore family
The centre piece of attraction is the museum or “Rabindra Bhavan” and the seven houses in which the Tagore family resided. The museum is open from 1000hrs to 1630hrs which is relaxed during Paush Mela and with an entry fee of Rs.20/ you are taken down a priceless memory lane of the great Bards.Each tree, each stone, each piece of furniture is associated with poets folklore.The museum houses the whole life history of Rabindranath Tagore in a picture com commentary format starting from his birth to death, The pens, the clothes , various accessories and varied glimpse of the bard life and various memorabilia are arranged in neatly compartmentalized enclosures which gives a realtime panoramic view of the bards life. A life lived to the fullest , a life dedicated to the pursuit of art and literarture, an iconic brain from whose pen the ink danced and flowed in great abandon , joy and shining purity. You could also visualize the replica f the original Nobel plaque as the original one was stolen-a heinous purolined act. Mobile and Cameras are strictly off limits.
Santiniketan Griha- Maharishi Devendranath Tagore made this house on 20 bighas of land and named from where the locality got is name. Next to the museum is Udyana-conceived by Rathindranath, Shyamali- a mud house with a mud roof has its outer wall artistically decorated by students. “Punascha”-a serene house with a serene terrace where the poet was inspired to wield his pen .He was present all quarters of the earth despite being in this small terrace “Konarka” –house famous for its red verandahs where the poet used to hold his poetry sessions.” Udichi”-the last house built the poet where he came to live before his demise.
(d) Paush Mela
The huge mela ground is divided into three sections. The first section deals exclusively with Bengali folk rural music especially ‘Baul songs which are rendered by ascetically clad local singers, with the accompaniment of ‘ektara’, ‘madol’ and drums-self composed, self conceptualized with each word giving the smell of earthy rural Bengal. You can just sit down , relax and enjoy their rendition from a elevated platform till midnight. The life of this gypsy like balladeers could be found in the well researched work of William Dalrymple ‘s “Nine Lives”.
The next section is the disorganized cottage industry of rural West Bengal at its organizational best . It’s a shopping haven for ladies especially no sane lady will miss the golden chance of gorging on the wide range of ethnic cosmetic wear, sarees , wall hangings, bags , baskets at mouth watering prices would even drain out a dedicated shop alcoholic. The second day of the mela is punctuated at night by an hour of crackling fireworks which would rival any of the well known pyrotechnic show.
The last section consists of the Bengali gastronomic delights with culinary skills at professional best. Counters after counters of lipsmacking delicacies from rural Bengal ranging from fishes in all forms and shapes, to chinglish dishes,steamed sweet rice cakes, rice rolls , pan shops in a neat array to cater to the varied taste buds complete with a paid well maintained toilet makes the mela experience a heavenly one..
Santiniketan is not a tourist spot –it is a blissful experience, every corner of the place has been touched by the bards life as if he is taken a pause and will join us again as per his own words- “Death is not extinguishing the light : it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”
Because Santiniketan visit gave me a new dawn in my life as the bard said-“ I slept and dreamt that life was joy . I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold service was joy.
Acessible from Kolkata-By Road(165Km-NH1A), By Train
Time of Visit:23Dec-25Dec
Closed on : Wednesdays , Museum Time: 10AM-0430PM