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Shantiniketan is a small town near Bolpur (the nearest railway station) in the Birbhum district of West Bengal state of India. It is about 180 kilometers or 112 miles north of Kolkata. The road from Kolkata to Shantiniketan is very good. There are some trains also available from Howrah to Bolpur and the train journey takes about 3 hours. Originally it was called Bhubandanga after the name of a dacoit called Bhuban Dakat. In 1863 Maharshi Debendranath Tagore established a Brahmacharya Ashram at a spot that is now known as Chatim Tala in the heart of Shantiniketan complex. It was later renamed Brahmacharya Vidyalaya. The purpose of this ashram was to attract people from all walks of life to come to this place to meditate and relax. In 1901 his youngest son, Rabindranath Tagore, established the Patha Bhavana inside the premises of the ashram as a co-educational school for children. There were originally four students at this school who studied under road lamps with Tagore as their teacher. One of them was Sudhi Ranjan Das, a former Chief Justice of India who went on to become the vice-chancellor of the Vishwa Bharati University that evolved out of the original Patha Bhavana . Rabindranath Tagore became the first Nobel Laureate in Literature in 1913. The school was expanded into a university in 1921. By 1951 it became one of the most prominent universities of India. Rabindranath Tagore himself was the first Upacharya (Vice-Chancellor) of this university. Another member of the Tagore family who served as a Upacharya was Indirani Devi Chaudhurani. Though the Vishwa Bharati University is famous for its arts and humanities departments, it is has science departments also. It has research programs in life sciences like biotechnology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Statistics. It receives funding for its various learning and research programs from central government. Many internationally prominent personalities have been associated with this university like Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur royal family; Indira Gandhi, the first female Prime Minister of India; Abdul Ghani Khan (1914 to 1996) who was one of the most prominent Pushto language poets and son of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (popularly known as Frontier Gandhi), the freedom fighter and disciple of Mahatma Gandhi; Satyajit Ray, famous Bengal film director and producer; Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate in Economics in 1998, who still lives in Shantiniketan; Ramkinker Baij, the famous sculptor who created the two gigantic statues guarding the Reserve Bank of India in New Delhi; Binode Bihari Mukerjee, a famous artist and Jahar Dasgupta, another famous artist. Vidhya Bhavan is the Institute of Humanities; Shiksha Bhavan is the Institute of Sciences; Palli-Shiksha Bhavan is the Institute of Agricultural Sciences; Binay Bhavan is the Institute of Education and Kala Bhavan is the Institute of Fine Arts. There are four schools associated with Shantiniketan also. Patha Bhavan, Shiksha Satra are two elementary and secondary level schools, where most classes are held under shady trees in the open garden. Uttar Shiksha Sadana is a higher secondary school that also confers certificates in various courses of the university. The Bengal Institute of Technology and Management (Shantiniketan) and IIIT Kolkata are associated with Shantiniketan also.
The ancestral home of the Tagore family, where Rabindranath Tagore lived for many years and wrote some of his famous literary classics, was converted into a museum in 1942. This museum is housed in the Uttarayan Complex of Shantiniketan. This historical museum is open from 10.30 AM to 1 PM and 2 PM to 4.30 PM on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, it is open from 10.30 to 1 PM on Tuesdays and it is closed on Wednesdays. This museum preserves personal collections of Tagore as well as gifts made to him by people and organizations in India and abroad. The Museum consists of a library section containing manuscripts of Rabindranath Tagore, letters to and from Rabindranath Tagore, books on and by Rabindranath Tagore and a general section comprising paintings, photographs, cine-films and voice-records of the poet.
Fairs and Festivals of Shantiniketan:
Khoi Mela is a weekly fair that is open from about 3 to 6 PM every Saturday.
Paush Mela is held from 7th to 9th Poush (approx. December 22 to 25) annually and tribal sports, folk songs and dances including Bengali songs by Bauls, the itinerant singers from neighboring villages participate in this fair. This fair is very popular and people from all over India and even from abroad come to visit Shantiniketan at this time. There are very few accommodations in Shantiniketan area and it is advisable to book rooms well in advance for this and other fairs in Shantiniketan.
Maghotsav is the anniversary of Brahmo Samaj, a reform movement started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, many people from the Tagore family were active in the Brahmo Samaj also. This fair is celebrated on January 25 corresponding to 11th day of Magha month.
Vasantutsav is held to celebrate Holi festival that is very popular in northwestern India. The students dance and sing in procession through the campus of the university.
Rabindra Jayanti is celebrated on the first day of Bengali New Year in mid-April although it is a celebration of the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore that is on 25th Baisakh corresponding to May 8 or 9.
Briksharopana is celebrated with the planting of saplings and Halakarshana ploughing of the fields in the month of August corresponding to Bengali calendar month of Sravana.
Varshamangal is the festival to celebrate the rainy season during August and September. Tagore was very fond of this time of the year and mentions this season in many of his poems.
Hotels in Shantiniketan:
- Park Guest House is a beautifully laid out hotel near the Deer park in Shantiniketan. The rooms have attached bathrooms with showers. It has a beautifully decorated dining covered dining area as well as a garden dining area under the shade of the trees. Joan and I stayed in this place for two overnights and enjoyed it very much. If informed in advance Rabindra Sangeet or tribal Baul music and dances can be organized.
- Bnashori Guest House is a smaller hotel with only 7 rooms
- Mark & Meadows Hotel - 34 air-conditioned, beautiful Cottages
- Rater Tara Diner Guesthouse, Shantiniketan - 11 rooms
- Mitali Homestay - 3 rooms