West Bengal is so rich in diversity that sometimes it might feel that one lifetime is just not enough to explore it. Santiniketan in Birbhum is the land of red soil where the air breathes music, art and culture. Though the place is almost synonymous to Rabindranath Tagore and Visva Bharati, there are more to explore in and around Shantiniketan. The country roads will take you home to peace, calm and simplicity. Passing by the exuberant rural landscape, green fields, ducklings swimming into the pond, farmers heading for the fields you will find beautifully decorated tribal huts. Bolpur being a tribal rich belt is home to one of the largest homogeneous tribal communities of India – Santhals.
It’s true that Tagore had a special affection for the Santhals as he interpreted their life through his poetry. The Santhals are descendants of pre-Dravidian people. They migrated to regions of East India preserving their language, culture and traditions. They still maintain a social and cultural distance from the people of the mainland and known to be simple, honest, peace-loving people fond of their rice-wine. Their unique traditions, customs and cultural influences can amaze you every bit which will lead you to a greater understanding of socio-economic factors, as well as life as a whole. Panthashala offers homestay near Visva Bharati from where you can head to nearby villages for an exciting joyride.
Villages around Santiniketan:
If you love to explore offbeat places away from the crowd, there are some romantic villages around Shantiniketan that will fulfil your craving for serenity and peace.
Just one-hour drive from Shantiniketan, Labhpur is a sacred place with historical importance. The beautiful temple of Devi Fullara is the key attraction here. This place is believed to be one of the holy Shakti Pithas (hyperlink to Shakti Peeth blog) where the lip of Sati fell. This is also the birthplace of famous Bengali writer Tarashankar Bandopadhyay. Tourists comes to visit his residence which has now been converted into a museum.
Kenduli is located on the banks of Ajay River and acquired its fame due to its association with the 12th century Sanskrit Poet, Joydeb. Joydeb is the author of Geet Gobinda, a treasure of Bengali literature. The beautiful terracotta temple and Kenduli Mela are the main attractions of this place.
It is a perfect romantic getaway amidst dense Sonajhuri forests which is also home to rare species of birds and many Santhali tribes. Enjoy the rustic environment of the villages with a leisure ride through the village to Kopai river.
Originally Santhals were hunter-gatherers who used to clear forests for agriculture. They live in a community where individual interest takes a back seat. All their ceremonies centre around the community barring the scope for individual celebration. They mostly rely on physical labour for a living. They live in the present moment and never really interested in accumulating or saving wealth for the future. Santhals are satisfied with the limited requirements and comforts. They love dancing and use it as a way to express themselves. They also perform dance for the tourists where the men beat the drums and women dance in the line sequence wearing saree. Apart from dance, Santhals also love to play various unique music instruments, mostly made of bamboo. There is no caste system or social discrimination within the Santhal community. They consider the nature around them sacred and their daily life and value system is deeply rooted in nature. All their folk tales and histories talk about the innate connection of nature with mankind. They also believe in supernatural powers and animal sacrifices are common to appease Gods.
Tagore felt deep compassion for Santhals on account of their poverty and the repression they suffer. But now, things have changed a lot. Efforts have been made to improve their socio-economic condition. The education system in the villages all around has noticeably improved. Thanks to Visva Bharati, Santiniketan has become probably the largest centre for educated Santhals in West-Bengal.