Celebrating Holi, Read Basanta Utsav: A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan



(This post accounts for a previous visit in 2018. #stayhome and #armchairtravel)

“Let’s go somewhere, Joy! Life’s taking a toll on us. Let’s plan an outing,” pinged Riku.

I do take pride when she calls me by that name, I do. And, I was given a Herculean task of finding a place that would fit in everyone’s comeback schedule. At the same time, it could not be a cliched Digha-Puri-Darjeeling (DiPuDa) quick fix. The hunt for the place quickly escalated and finally narrowed down to two- Murshidabad and Bolpur. While both the names depicted the socio-cultural construct of Bengal, Bolpur outsmarted the match. Why? Because it was March.

In India, come March and the people goes gaga preparing for Holi. The festival of colours. In Bengal, however, Holi is either known as Dol or Basanta Utsav. The former portrays the timeless romancing of Radha-Krishna while the latter refers to the celebration welcoming spring. Spring translates to Basanta in Bengali and festivity, Utsav. Hence, the name. And Shantiniketan is an august destination for Basanta Utsav.

And so, Bolpur it was! With a bit of everything, Bolpur came to our rescue- Palash, and lalmati as colours of nature, the literary trails of the Bard, and the spirit of festivity. No stone unturned, indeed!


Basanta Utsav: A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan @doibedouin
shantiniketan blog @doibedouin
Shantiniketan is all about Rabindranath Tagore. There were no pedlars, nor handcarts, that did not have these little frames. Tagore is the very soul of this township.  






    Reaching There

    The best connectivity is through trains. Aboard at Howrah Junction and drop off at Bolpur Shantiniketan. Aplenty superfast trains are available from Howrah junction. Although, if you are starting off from Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport (CCU), you could hire a car directly to Bolpur.


    Where to Stay

    Santiniketan has many options from both frugal and big-budgeted stays. Peak timings will block all Bolpur alternatives. Prantik is your best bet then.

    In the group of the budgeted hotels, Shantiniketan Villa is the best. Other contemporary being the Birbhum Guesthouse. Baul Monn and Pubali Homestay are slightly on the hefty side of the margin. Semi budgeted ones take in Madol Eco Stay, ShakuntalaVillage resort along with its counterpart Roshnai Resort, Ekantika Homestay and Ram Shyam Village Resort. High-priced ones are The Garden Bungalow, Choupahari Homestay Boutique and the BubahutBoutique Resort.


    Best Time to Visit Shantiniketan

    Fall and spring are the best timings to visit Shantiniketan. The weather is pleasant and famed for Poush Mela or Poush Utsav. By the same token, spring counts for Basanta Utsav. Summer, on the other hand, is too scorching to explore, although Poila Boishakh and Rabindra Jayanti are celebrated in summer.

    • Basant Utsav: The day before Holi in March; next on 29 March 2021.
    • Poila Boisakh: Bengali New year day, either on the 14th or 15th of April every year.
    • Rabindra Jayanti: Birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, mostly on 9th May every year, accordingly with 25th Boisakh in the Bengali New Year.
    • Poush Mela/Utsav: Per 7th Poush, commemorating the establishment of Brahmo Samaj by Maharshi Debendranath Tagore; 24 – 26th December 2020.






    Day 1. Colours in the Air, Already.

    Hardly had the train pulled into Bolpur-Shantinekatan station, it was a flock of people, loads of them! The station floor was jam-packed with cheering holidaymakers, daubed in abir (the dry colours as we call it). It was more colours, strictly speaking. At random, men donned tinted wigs and coloured glasses; while women had hues streaking their cheeks and typically a flower tucked into their buns. It was an ocean of portraits, but I did not have the nerve to reach out for my camera in that mass. It was in mint condition back then, so why take a chance?

    Negotiating out our conveyance, we geared up for a stopover at the Viswa Bharati University. As we walked in through the gate, it was riots of colours, again! But in a more pleasant way than the previous encounter. We were late in the day, too late to watch the stage celebrations. Still, better late than never!

    The grounds were peopled with smaller groups, merrymaking with all shades of colour. Abir and Rabindrasangeet. In between the “Fagun legeche boney boney”, “laglo je dol… orey grihabasi” there were few folksongs and contemporary Bengali and Hindi songs too. Never had I seen a place so full with Joy (and I said I take pride in being called that, cheers!). No wonder, why people from far and wide come and flock here. All souls touched with the omnipresent grace of Kabiguru Rabindranath Thakur.



    ***


    Shantiniketan translating to “Abode of Peace” is Tagore’s brainchild impressing on the Gurukul system that prevailed in ancient India. Open-air classrooms under the shades of trees. And he envisioned it as Viswa Bharati – “the communion of the The world with India”.


    ***

    shantiniketan @doibedouin
    shantiniketan weekend tour guide @doibedouin
    On our way to our hotel, we also stopped at Shyor Bithi. This time, we were too early to attend a program there.



    Day 1. An Evening to Remember.

    In these few years of travelling, I have learnt one fact. There has to be at least one overwhelming moment that will stand out permanently. Be it a funny incident, awe-inspiring one or even the travel fails, you would have it. That evening was one of a kind.

    En route to Theatre House. Milon Mela was a non-descript name until then. A Baul programme was scheduled in the evening. As we passed by the already dimming village side, the only concern seemed to be returning back. It was more than a few turns into the mud roads, barely visible even under a full-moon sky. Our vehicle screeched through some really remote roads. To be very honest, we all doubted the legitimacy of the place at one point, even if they were constantly on the phone.

    Indeed, there was no mark-up of the property and yet Google map kept on insisting we were nearing it. When almost lost into nowhere, a figure outlined in the dark alongside a property sign. It wasn’t anything short of scary at that moment, and yet we were all relieved, even our driver was.

    What followed, however, kept all the accumulated distresses at bay. A musical.ly hit the floor as soon as we reached. Santhali dancers took to the centre stage in the open garden area. Dancing rhythmically to the beats of dhamsa and madol, harmony reflected in their every step. The folkloric show ended with a kind of Raibense dance, with the rough beats of dhol and kansai and a human pyramid as the showstopper. Soon followed was a phenomenal Baul sangeet. Besides the usual ektara and khamak many more musical instruments appended to their biz, namely the khanjani, dhol, bamboo-made flute, kartal, and dubkiThe programme ended over a customary Bengali dish- luchi, kosha mangso, chatni, papad, and misti.


    Santhali dance at Shantiniketan @doibedouin
    Baul sangeet at Shantiniketan @doibedouin
    Besides Rabindranath Tagore, folk-cultures prevailed throughout the veins of the township. On our three days trip, mainstream Santhali dancers and Bauls were always in sight, without fail. That evening though, the dancers surprised us with a human pyramid, which was inevitably applaudable. And the Baul sangeet was, by all means, reposeful.



    By the time, our vehicle pulled out, it was dark. Despite the full moon, the road ahead reduced to hardly anything. In the dark contours of the trees, fireflies flickered and a faint Baul song hummed through the air. Or my ears buzzed!

    And that was it. The drum-roll moment. In that hypnotic shadows of the night, what could have been a travel-fail, wrapped up into a beautiful closure.



    Day 2. Another Day, Another Set of Encounters.

    Having done with a crash course in Baul and Santhali culture, spending the second day in and through the footprints of our very own Biswakabi seemed a pretty good idea. Regardless of what we have planned though, for our toto driver, Kankalitala was more intriguing. He was seemingly the Pied Piper whom we relented.


    ***


    Kankalitala is considered a Shakti peeth, located by the Kopai River. It has an adjacent pond and a burning ghat. Folklore has it that a stone resembling a human skeleton lies in the depths of the water. Which is why, the name.


    ***



    kankalitala shakti peeth at shantinikatan @doibedouin
    kankalitala shakti peeth at shantinikatan @doibedouin
    The temple structure is simple with a porch. What drew me more was the tree with all those strings, underlining the hopes of people, past and present.



    Welcomed us a banyan tree, all strung up in the reds and yellow of people’s prayers. A queue of devotees waited at the temple porch. Having had ample crowds already, we jostled our way to the pond. Not even as close as hyped, the pond looked way too ordinary. Knee-deep in the waters, a sadhu was performing his morning rituals with the incense and feather plume. While I did not possess a religious tooth, it was complying enough for a few clicks. The Kopai River was on the verge of drying out. The only contentment was the Palash, red tinges piercing through the green leaves. Truly a comfort to the eyes!


    kankalitala shakti peeth at shantinikatan @doibedouin
    kankalitala shakti peeth at shantinikatan @doibedouin
    The beauty of a place lies in its people. The perfect contenders for candids!


    With religion out of the canvas, it was time to delve into literature. The village road ran through some beautiful rustic sceneries of a typical pre-noon countryside. Summer is usually known to be difficult in Bolpur, with the mercury hitting the highs. The summer loo was already getting underway in March and drained us out. The plush green of the paddy fields was a tangible relief in that glare. Past few such fields, many a haystack, and multiple subjects of photography, we reached Viswa Bharati Prangan. With all the festivity in the town and roads made one way, we were dropped off at a turning. Taking this opportunity instead, we nourished ourselves with the freshness of coconut water.


    A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan @doibedouin
    shantiniketan blog @doibedouin
    The plush green of the paddy fields was a tangible relief in that glare, frequented with mud houses and haystacks. As queer as it is, the banner on the mud house reads a "restaurant". And that, precisely, is the simplicity of the place!



    A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan @doibedouin
    mad hatter @doibedouin
    And even from your transport, you will get many a subject for your clicks. The knights of the road and the vendors of happiness. Remember Mad Hatter from Alice's Through The Looking Glass? That's a Good Hatter right there. 


    Once through the gates, Upasana Griha, namely a prayer hall welcomes all and sundry. Santiniketan Bari is placed centrally, is surrounded by a well-manicured garden. Sangeet Bhavan, Kala Bhavan, Kalo Bari, Uttaryan Complex and Singha Sadan are the other notable buildings bearing the imprints of Rabindranath Tagore. Rabindra Bharati Museum exhibits the history, arts, and artefacts associated with the Nobel laureate, the highlight being the replica of the Nobel medallion. In spite of the brilliance of the place, we did not get enough of it. On peak occasions like Poush Mela (mid-January), Basanta Utsav (March), the time is restricted given the huge inflow of people.



    Upasana Griha at Shantiniketan @doibedouin
    shantiniketan blog @doibedouin
    Upasana Griha, the prayer hall welcomes you to the campus. Prayers are performed generally on Wednesdays, all in white being the dress code. The structure stands there magnificently with its Belgian glass all along. A few steps ahead from the gate and there stands the main building as Shantiniketan Bari.


    Leaving the campus behind, we were steered for Amar Kutir. In between, we drew up at Buddha Vihar and Prakriti Bhavan. A slight detour from the main road, into the mud road, led us to a 34 feet Buddha statue, seated on an essential pedestal. Catching an initial glimpse of it was nothing exceptional. It was if someone reluctantly placed it in the middle of an open field. 

    At Prakriti Bhavan, we had a quick recap of our previous night rendezvous. Santhali dancers were preparing for their on-stage performances. As the name suggested, one is in a treat for Nature here, carved out motifs were on display in and out the museum, and throughout the grounds.


    Budhha vihar Shantiniketan @doibedouin
    Budhha vihar Shantiniketan @doibedouin

    A slight detour from the main road, into the mud road, led us to a 34 feet Buddha statue, seated on an essential pedestal. The locals showed us the way through the village roads.


    On reaching Amar Kutir, we were disappointed as the stores were closed. It is where you experience handicrafts first hand, up close. It’s a literal hub of art on display. A restaurant is also there to look after the appetites. After having a late lunch, we scooted off for Srijani Shilpagram at Sriniketan.

    Srijani Shilpagram is a theme park with a simple and relaxed cosplay of the village soul through and through. It was a splash of tribal and folk art altogether. The grounds were scattered with figurines. There was quite like it. What caught my interest- those fondly nurtured mud houses representing the village houses from the north-eastern and eastern states. Brightly painted huts with thatched roofs glowed in the setting rays of the dusk.


    Srijani Shilpagram at Sriniketan  @doibedouin
    Srijani Shilpagram at Sriniketan @doibedouin
    Have you ever waited for a special piece of the cake, with the cherry and chocolate flower toppings? Srijani Shipagram is one such special place. You would deliberately linger, enjoying the dusk. Take your time through the rustic benches, bridges and sculptures and get your insta-worthy pictures here.


    Srijani Shilpagram at Sriniketan @doibedouin
    Srijani Shilpagram at Sriniketan @doibedouin
    The display of various mud-houses of villages from Eastern and North-Eastern India.


    Soon after, we headed to our last vantage point. Surul Sarkar Bari, tracing back to the 19th century, with an archetypal Thakur Dalan. Adjacent to it were a set of terracotta Pancharatna and Deul temples. The Pancharatna temple was dedicated to Laxmi-Janardan while the Rekha-deul was dedicated to Lord Shiva. Should you look closely at the terracotta plaques of the Pancharatna temple, they depicted the coronation of Ram (left), the Ramayana war (middle), and Ravana’s courtroom (right).


    surul sarkar bari at sriniketan @doibedouin
    surul sarkar bari at sriniketan @doibedouin
    The Surul Sarkar Bari and the terracotta Laxmi-Janardan temple.



    surul sarkar bari at sriniketan @doibedouin
    surul sarkar bari at sriniketan @doibedouin

    The terracotta plaques of the Pancharatna temple, they depicted the coronation of Ram (left) and the Ramayana war (middle). 



    The evening brisked off at the marketplace, with us eating and shopping and watching the suburban bustling about.

     

    Day 3. Feast Your Eyes at Sonibarer Sonajhurir Haat.

    The third day, being a Saturday was kept reserved for Sonibarer Haat at Khoai. Last day’s dashed hopes at Amar Kutir were, more than somewhat, replenished at Khoai. Terracotta dolls and wind chimes, meticulously made flutes and ektaras, wooden motifs and dolls, and many a more whatnot. Even a Scrooge would want to be a cheesy spendthrift here. The Haat seats neighbouring on the Sonajhuri forests. Absolutely the place for a cinematic peek-a-boo from behind the trees!


    A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan @doibedouin
    A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan @doibedouin
    Absolutely the place for a cinematic peek-a-boo from behind the trees!

    sonajhurir sonaibarer haat @doibedouin
    shantiniketa sonajhuri blog @doibedouin
    A picture-perfect frame was strewn all over the place.


    The place is suited for interactive photography sessions down to the grounds. Have a cup of tea, sing along with a Baul, match a few steps with the Santhali dancers or have an idyllic pace through the trees. A picture-perfect frame was strewn all over the place.



    A Few Things to Remember

    • If you crave for attending the stage performances, it is better to reach the venue preferably in the forenoon.
    • Try to fit in a Saturday in the itinerary for Sonajhurir haat.
    • Peak seasons receive a rise in the demand for transport. So Bolpur often sees an inflow of operators from the neighbourhoods. It is better to hire a vehicle (toto or e-vehicle) from Bolpur station. Outsiders flock at Prantik and they would lure you by charging less. They would just drive to the usual, namely the Viswa Bharati and Sonajhuri. Do not fall prey to such scams.
    • Some places are a bit detour from the main road. Always confer to Google maps. Necessary if it be, ask the locals.
    • Try to avoid the afternoons for entries to museums. We missed Amar Kutiras we were pretty late in the afternoon. Sonajhuri Haat however, functions from 11am to 4 pm.
    • Always carry a water bottle or else the heat will get on your nerves.



    A Recap Through Some Image Splash



    A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan @doibedouin
    Since Bauls are an integral part of Shantiniketan, can they be out of the carved artform? These mini-dolls are sure to catch your eyes. And so do the onlookers' when they see the shelves of the showcase back at your home. 




    A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan @doibedouin
    These e-vehicles (toto) are the veins of the place that keep them throbbing. Eco-friendly as they are, as being airy. However, the afternoons are a bit perspiring when the summer loo strikes you.




    A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan
    As Satyajit Ray (another gem of Bengal) believed, children add to the beauty of a place, and films as well.




    A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan
    These clay wall hangings are another lure to your interior decoration reveries.




    shantiniketa blog doibedouin
    This is a window in the Surul Sarkar Bari. It looked eerily attractive then. And hence I clicked. New camera, remember?




    Basanta Utsav: A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan doibedouin
    This is solely for the arrangement, that I got attracted to it. Nothing more, nothing less.



    Basanta Utsav: A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan
    When Ganesha could not resist himself from the Baul sangeet!




    Basanta Utsav: A 3-Days Getaway Guide to Bolpur Shantiniketan
    And the Ektara, lots of them. These one-stringed instruments sure do the tricks when played. Melodies to the ear!






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    shantiniketan blog @doibedouin
    shantiniketan blog @doibedouin






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    13 comments

    1. I like your way of presentation. You have wonderfully drawn the picture and the photos are really great. Keep up the good work. Stay safe these days and keep writing your awesome experiences.

      ReplyDelete
    2. I love India and it's different colors. Nice read!

      ReplyDelete
    3. Greetings from Chhuti resort. Next time visit our resort too. Good read!

      ReplyDelete
    4. Do visit our resort for more comfortable trip. Thank you for your support and consideration. Look forward to welcome you as a guest.

      ReplyDelete
    5. What a lovely article! Thank you for sharing your experiences and adventures. The images are stunning and seem to truly capture the rich culture of this amazing place. Thanks for taking us along with you!

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    6. I have been to India 3 times so far, and I love this country. I hope to visit it again. Unfortunately, I wasn't during the Holi celebrations. It is a great holiday. I would like to participate in one day. I wasn't in Bolpur either. So, your article intrigued me, and I hope I can see this place someday. It is a great, detailed guide and such a fantastic photos!

      ReplyDelete
    7. Wow! So much history, beautiful architecture, culture AND people lol. I would be content to sit and people watch all day and listen to the music and watch the dancers. You have brought India to life in this article.

      ReplyDelete
    8. The pictures come alive with the captions and it felt like I was part of the festival. Thank you for sharing such rich experience. I will love to experience this one day.

      ReplyDelete
    9. Wow, your photography is absolutely captivating. I felt like I was traveling through your post. I'd love to experience the festival one day. Thank you for posting!

      ReplyDelete
    10. I have celebrated 2 fabulous Holi festivals in India but I think I need to add Shantiniketan to my list for next time. Seeing the Santhali dancers and Bauls must have added to the enjoyment of your trip. I love the views of the paddy fields at Viswa Bharato Prangan, the landscape is stunning.

      ReplyDelete
    11. Greetings from our craft village of Raktokorobi Karugram.

      আপনি যদি কখনো আবার শান্তিনিকেতনে আসেন তাহলে আপনি অবশ্যই একবার আমাদের কারু গ্রামের গ্রাম্য সৌন্দর্যে থেকে যাবেন।

      ReplyDelete
    12. Your visit to the Theatre House sounds like quite an adventure. Uncertain moments like that are one of my favorite things about traveling. I hope to someday visit Indi during Holi.

      ReplyDelete
    13. Wow Jayashree! You brought Shantiniketan to life by your words. For us Bengalis, Shantiniketan is like a pilgrimage. To be honest I can never get enough of the place. Be it the Viswabharati complex or the Srijani Shilpagram or Khoai, everything is just lovely there. This post just reminded me of the great times we spent at Shantiniketan.

      ReplyDelete



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