Bolpur is a subdivision headquarter and also a municipality under the Birbhum district. This subdivision of West Bengal is designated as the Bolpur Lok Sabha constituency and has a total population of 80,210 (as per 2011 sensus). Bolpur is the central hub of art and culture of the state as well as the country. The credit goes to the presence of Visva Bharati university which was set up by Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. Two more famous institutions namely Shantiniketan and Sriniketan are located at a very close proximity. Bolpur is situated about 145 km to the north of Kolkata and is one of the most popular getaways from the city.
The best time to visit the place is from December to March as the climate is favorable and festivals like “Poush Mela” and “Holi” can also be attended. Bolpur is a place for both nature and literature lovers to visit. The whole atmosphere of oriental education, culture and profound greenery will surely make you feel enchanted. In order to experience the beauty of Bolpur to its fullest, you must stay at the place for a week. Make sure that your stay includes a Saturday because the famous “Haat” (local market) takes place only on that day, every week. From Bauls singing to birds chirping, Bolpur is truly a magical place in the heart of Bengal.
A bit of the history:
The origin of Bolpur heads back to about 150 years when it sprouted as a small typical village named Kalikapur. The place had red soil which the people called “lal-mati” and cultivated paddy. This is why, even now Bolpur is often called “Lal-matir desh” or the city of red soil. By the dawn of the 19th century, many small villages namely Sian, Dihipara, Paruldanga, etc. emerged on the outskirts of the main village expanding the geography of Bolpur.
The village had no railway communication or proper roads till 1859 when the East India company laid the first set of railway tracks. In 1860, the Bolpur railway station came to existence. With the onset of proper communication, the development of the village started and local business flourished. The popularity of Bolpur started with the establishment of a religious meditation centre by Maharishi Debendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath Tagore. However, the fame increased manifolds after the establishment of Visva Bhararti University by Rabindranath himself.
How to reach Bolpur?
Since Bolpur doesn’t have its own airport, the nearest airports are Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport (which is 136 km from Bolpur) and Ranchi airport (which is 244km from Bolpur). As for the railway transport, Bolpur is well connected to the major cities of the country. The station, Bolpur Shantiniketan (BHP) receives quite a lot of traffic round the day. You can even plan a short visit to the place by boarding an early morning train to Bolpur and returning from the same by catching another lately. To know how to cherish the magic of the place in a day, CLICK HERE!
If you are looking for other options to reach the place, you can even opt for a bus. Bolpur is well connected by both government and private buses from all around. If you are travelling from Kolkata, you need to board the Kolkata-Asansol or Kolkata-Suri buses. Another way to reach the place is by going through the same route as that of the bus but in your own car. In case the final option is your choice, you need take the road from Kolkata to Dankuni and then take the Durgapur expressway. It is now known as the National Highway 2. From here, bypass Shaktigarh and Bardhaman and turn right at Panagarh. Take the left road at Shantiniketan-Sriniketan junction to reach your destination. The total journey should take about 3-4 hours from your starting point.
The must visits:
There are a lot of places to see in and around Shantiniketan. Tagore’s Ashram is a heritage site that was established in 1888 by Maharishi Devendranath Tagore. It was called Shantiniketan and later the whole city came to be known by its name. There are several buildings related to Tagore that you can explore here. The Shantiniketan building, Nutan bari, Dehali, etc. receive the most amount of history dwellers, around the year. The Amra Kunja or mango grove is the place where the classes and other functions are organized. It remains closed only on Wednesdays. To add to that, tourists are not allowed during the class hours on other days of the week for obvious reasons of the students getting disturbed.
The Uttarayan complex has well-laid gardens and several buildings associated with the memory of Tagore. The Rabindra Bhaban museum remains open from 10.30am to 4.30pm on all weekdays except for Wednesday. There is a minimal charge to enter the museum which varies from students to foreigners. The place has Tagore’s original paintings, manuscripts and medallions and even has the recreated Nobel Prize (the original being stolen a few years back). You simply cannot miss visiting the Amar kutir where beautiful Shantiniketani handicrafts are sold.
2. Viswa Bharati:
Viswa Bharati was founded by Rabindranath Tagore and is one of the major autonomous universities of the Central Government. It had been a college until Independence, after which it became an autonomous University. It is no doubt one of the most renowned places of higher learning in India and received students from almost all corners of the World. It has a bejeweled set of alumni like Amartya Sen, Satyajit Ray, R. Siva Kumar and many more renowned personalities and icons of the nation. Visva Bharati has a unique option for students to choose whichever course they want to opt for. If that particular course is not available then professionals are brought to teach the same. This is because better learning, and not course-type, has always been the institution’s priority.
The history of the place dates back to the time when Babu Sitikanta Sinha, the zamindar of Raipur gave a patch of land to Maharishi Devendranath Tagore in the year 1863. He utilized the land by building Brahmacharya ashram which was later renamed to Brahmacharya Vidyalaya. In 1901, Rabindranath Tagore went on to build a co-educational school inside the premises. The Hindu mela which used to be held in the area went on to became a ground for nationalist activity. Later, some of the zamindars of the adjoining areas started selling out their lands to the ashram and the college was eventually built.
Sriniketan is a small town in Bolpur subdivision and is located near Shantiniketan. This is the the second campus of Visva Bharati. The initiation to build Sriniketan started in 1912 when Rabindranath Tagore bought a large manor house from the zamindar of Raipur. An institute for Rural Reconstruction was set up in that manor house to rebuild the place into what is known as Sriniketan today. It is located just 3 km away from Shantiniketan and is, perhaps, the second-most important place in Bolpur in terms of cultural significance.
The establishment of Sriniketan had several positive effects on the village. The Shilpa Bhavana or Insititute of arts at Sriniketan dealt with handicraft training. It also stressed on solving the problems of the village based upon scientific study. It served for the educational upliftment of the village society as children from the same village and the villages nearby came to study in the school. The Lok- Siksha Samsad was setup to propagate non- formal education among the people who had no access to proper education. In 1963, The Siksha Charcha organisation was made to train the teachers. Following independence, in 1963, an agricultural college was also built which went on to become a boon for the village. Later in 1977, a rural research center was set up for the betterment of people and their surroundings.
Chhatimtala was the prayer place for Maharishi Devendranath Tagore but now the importance of the place has increased to a great extent because it is where all the felicitation ceremonies are held. This is, thus, the site that is revered by all in Shantiniketan. It got its name from a couple of Chhatim trees (Devil Tree or Alstonia scholaris) under which Devendranath Tagore took rest on his way to Raipur. The place is amidst lush greenery upon the place’s characteristic red soil. It holds a nostalgic feel about the classes that were used to be conducted by Rabindranath Tagore under the Chhatim trees in those days.
The entry to the main premises is prohibited to preserve the structures. But there is a meditation center called Upasana Griha where everyone is allowed to meditate. Chhatimtala is a place of heritage in the Shantiniketan area as this is where Tagore shared his vast knowledge of things. Hence, this place is all about the feel that brings back the history in front of your eyes (only if you know it).
5. Uttarayan Complex:
This prestigious place is where Rabindranath Tagore spent his life. The Uttarayan Complex is a place of great importance in West Bengal as well as the country. It is a great tourist attraction for people who have a taste for literature and is in search of a similar place. The tranquility offered by this place is inexplicable and is perfect for literature-thriving heads. The Uttarayan Complex is actually a collection of several buildings flaunting very unique architecture.
The best time to visit this place is from August to March as the temperature remains moderate and one can take a good tour of the whole place. March is probably one of the best times to travel here as the colorful and vivid Poush mela can also be witnessed. The festival is of significant importance as it marks the beginning of the harvest season. The complex has an elaborate gallery, a museum and the five houses in which Tagore stayed- Konark, Udayan, Shamali, Punascha and Udichi. If you are a Tagore fanatic, you cannot afford missing to visit this place.
6. Sangeet Bhavan:
Rabindranath Tagore always laid emphasis on self-expression and according to him, music was the best form for it. Sangeet Bhavana carries on the traditions of eminent musicians and artists like Dinendranath Tagore, Bhimrao Shastri, Indira Devi Chaudhurani, Sushil Kumar Bhanja, etc. It is one of the most acknowledged institutes for dance, drama and music and has produced several eminent musicians over the years. With its huge choice of courses and degrees, Sangeet Bhavan serves as the primary choice for any music-lover seeking education in the same.
At present it offers courses for BMUS, MMUS and FCA. There are a huge spectrum of subjects to choose from- Rabindra sangeet, Hindusthani, classical vocals, sitar, esraj, tabla, pakhawaj, Kathakali dance, Manipuri, dramas, dance dramas, etc. There is also scope for research in the mentioned fields for talented post graduates. It is best to visit during the “Rabindra Saptaha” when functions and festivals are held to commemorate the birth of Rabindranath Tagore. Other festivals are also celebrated with great pomp and show like the Bengali New Year and Spring festival.
7. Rabindra Bhavan:
Rabindra Bhavan was built in 1942, after the death of Rabindranath Tagore in 1941, to preserve the heritage he had left behind. It houses Tagore’s manuscripts, correspondences, sketches and paintings. The archives hold a humongous collection of Tagore’s writings in Bengali and English. It has a very fine library with about 40,000 books and 12,000 journals. For people researching on Rabindranath Tagore and his family, this is the place where their search ends.
The place has a separate part that showcases Tagore’s collections. There is also an audio-visual unit that holds voice recordings of Rabindranath Tagore in tape, ire and discs. There are films related to Tagore that can be found in the gallery. His songs performed by various artists are continuously played inside. Recently, the multimedia cell collaborated with Department of Electronics of the Government of India to work on a multimedia encyclopedia project on the works of Rabindranath Tagore.
8. Cheena Bhavana:
Rabindrnath believed that the India-China relationship was a thing to focus on and strengthen, and hence, he established Cheena Bhavan to research on the old-cultural traits that these two countries shared. This part of Bolpur (especially Shantiniketan) continues to follow Tagore’s ideals and stresses on the relationship between India and China. Cheena Bhavana is specifically the center to study about China in order to promote its ties with India.
Many eminent Chinese scholars visit the Cheena Bhavan and teach the students of Visva Bharati about China, its heritage and culture. The place is a great example of the farsightedness of Tagore as he took the step to bridge the gap between the two nations with belief that a nation can only progress with friendship with other countries instead of war and hatred.
9. Path Bhavan:
Path Bhavan is a primary and secondary educational institution in Shantiniketan. Founded by Rabindranath Tagore in 1901, this place receives thousands of students year round owing to the Gurukul system of learning where students are taught in close proximity to nature. Recognized as one of the best literary institutions of the state as well as the country, Path Bhavan is mostly the primary choice of parents who want to raise their children in tranquility away from the harshness of the city. Extracurricular activities include literary and musicals evenings or Sahitya Sabhas that are held every Tuesday, inside the campus, where students showcase their art and cultural talents.
The school performs plays during the Rabindra Saptaha along with the other institutions of Visva Bharati University. The campus is very beautiful and truly shows the mode of learning outside the walls of the classroom. It is a very primordial yet interesting mode of education as the classes held under trees and lawns are unparalleled. Basically, the whole atmosphere here speaks of knowledge!
10. Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary:
Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary is the famous deer park located near Shantiniketan. It is a beautiful wooded area just outside the town and is mainly the home to deer. The major varieties of deer found here are Blackbuck and Spotted deer. Some carnivores like jackals and foxes can be seen inside the sanctuary. The place is also famous for the huge variety of birds that migrate here at different times of the year making it a must-visit for bird-lovers, ornithologists and photographers.
Just a few kilometres from the Shantiniketan campus, this deer park or mini sanctuary is a good sightseeing in Bolpur. The place opens at 10 am and closes at 4 pm, remaining closed only on Wednesdays. It was established in 1977 and presently houses 150+ deer.
Bolpur is all about Tagore and his works. It has a culture of its own which attracts a huge amount of tourist all over the year. The place also draws a lot of foreign tourists throughout the year. People who want to study about the great literature Epitome, Rabindranath Tagore, are drawn here as moth to the flame. It is a great weekend getaway that would enrich your knowledge in every possible sphere of art and culture. The fresh air, green forest along with a stroll along the bank of Kopai river is something you will never forget.
Bolpur holds the ethnicity to its best. It amalgamates the modern mind to the indigenous mode of living. Life is simple and serene. Knowledge flows everywhere. This could be the heaven for anyone who loves to read. The place keeps you craving for more visits. It could be an escape from facade we hold on to in the modern day life. No wonder why the maestro, who won the hearts of millions with his pen, spent his life here and molded the place to make it as beautiful as his writings!
Featured Photo by ptwo