SHANTINIKETAN – literally the abode of peace- is the seat of the Visva-Bharati University set up by Asia’s first Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore. Shantiniketan has grown out of the Ashram (hermitage) that the poet’s father, Maharshi Debendranath Nath Tagore, had built in 1863 where the poet later started a school – the Brahmachary Ashram – modeled on India’s ancient gurukul system of imparting education. This school later expanded to take the form of the university “where the world makes a home in the nest” as the poet himself put it.
Located just 212 km from Kolkata, Shantiniketan, with its red soil, lush green paddy fields and a simple people has a charm of its own, often highlighted by the wandering minstrels – the Bauls as they are called locally – with their non-conformist ways and profound philosophical words strung to the tune of lilting music that sways the heart.
The University Campus at Shantiniketan is a pilgrimage site of sorts, attracting thousands of visitors desirous of paying homage to the Bard of Bengal even as they feast on the frescoes, sculptures, murals and paintings by stalwarts like Rabindra Nath, Nandalal Bose, Ramkinkar Bij, Binad Behari Mukhopadhyay and others. The Uttarayan Complex, where the poet lived, is a perennial draw, especially because of the architectural marvels of the poet’s son, the late Rathindra Nath Tagore. The Kala Bhavan, Sangeet Bhavan, Patha Bhavan, Cheena Bhavan, Hindi Bhavan, Chadimtala and the Prayer hall are also notable attractions.
Shantiniketan is also known for the Melas – fairs and festivals. Basanta Utsav – the harbinger of spring and the festival of colours; Poush Mela that celebrates winter; and Joydev Mela in Kenduli – a celebration of the Balus and their unique life views are impor tant tourist events in their own right.
Shantiniketan is in fact the centre of a tourist trail that encompasses nearby destinations like Follora, Nalbati, Saithia, Kankalitala, Tarapith: Shaktipiths according to Hindu Mythology, apart from Bakreshwar and Messanjore.
The area is also a centre for handi crafts with delectable needlework in the form of Kantha Stitch, exquisitely crafted leather items, textiles, Dokra and burnt clay jewellery and artifacts.
HOW TO REACH THERE
RAIL: The nearest railhead is Bolpur, 2 km away from Shantiniketan. Trains connect Bolpur with HowrahlSealdah (Kolkata).
ROAD: An excellent road connects Shantiniketan with Kolkata (212 km). Local transportation is also easily available.
ACCOMMODATION: The Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge is run by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. There are numerous hotels, lodges, resorts and guest houses that cater to all types of tastes and budgets.