Memories of a Receding Past: 46

Kolkata - Santiniketan

My junior colleagues in Kolkata had always been telling me to take a trip to their city for a visit to Santiniketan during the Poush Mela. Poush is the 9th month of Bengali Calendar overlapping both December and January of the Gregorian Calendar. It is the season of harvests and farmers have enough money to celebrate.

On the last day of Poush the festival of Poush Sankranti is celebrated. In Santiniketan. Poush Mela is a massive celebration with sweets, several varieties of delectable Bengali dishes, music, recitations and folk theatre accompanied by folk music and dance.

I could never make it to Santineketan during the Mela. This time too my wife and I were there but only after the celebrations were over and inmates of the place were back studying for their examinations. But having come to Kolkata and not visiting Santiniketan would be an affront to the Bard of Santiniketan. That is what we thought – a trifle over-estimation of ourselves.

The beginning of Santiniketan dates back to earlier than 1901. Tagore’s father Maharishi Debendra Nath Tagore had bought this piece of land from Rajbari of Raipur for a pittance for his spiritual needs. He used to come here for meditation and, later, others too seemed to have joined him. The building which is reckoned as the original Santiniketan was constructed for his use.

After almost fifty years followed Patha Bhawan in 1901, which came into being as an institution of primary education run by Rabindra Nath Tagore. It was during this time that my maternal uncle was admitted at Patha Bhawan. Initially there were only 5 students. Characterised by its philosophy “of learning by the heart with closeness to nature without any superficial barrier between teachers and students” as opposed to the Western method of rote learning, its system of teaching and learning was different. What started as a school grew into the Vishwa Bharati University. It is perhaps the only primary school that is affiliated with an University.

While only a building was earlier known as Santiniketan, today it is the entire complex of numerous structures is known by that name. It comprises intellectual activities, literary and artistic efforts as also crafts like on cloth or leather. Music is another integral part of the education. No wonder one can often find the students go on musical soirees. That Tagore gave birth to a distinctive genre of music universally known as Rabindra Sangit is perhaps a very well known fact. A large number of youngsters flock to the place only to specialize in Rabindra Sangit. 

They have to make extraordinary effort to master 2000 songs that he had written, each set to a different tune by him.

Apart from music Santiniketan is known for art – visual art. From our childhood we had seen many practitioners of art who had internalised Santineketan way of painting so much so that a brief look at it would be enough to tell us the provenance of the style.

All in all, it is a great institution. It  produced different kind of men and women who were well educated, well behaved and gentle and cultured to a fault. When they went out in to the wide world they carried Santiniketan along with them. I remember the wife of a faculty member from the up-country of the Indian Institute of Public Administration who had been to Santiniketan and used to speak flawless Bengali. She had Santiniketan seemingly imprinted all over her.

As visitors what we can do is only to see the standing structures or gawk at the sculptures of Ramkinker Baij and collages of Nandlal Bose. I find that very frustrating but then I cannot do anything about it. I console myself with the thought that it is enough we have been able to visit the place and pay our silent homage to the great polymath who preceded our generation.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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