The soul of any place is reflected through its art and culture and Bengal is always known for its inclination towards cultural legacy and beautiful art forms. Where Kolkata is regarded as the ‘cultural capital of India’, Santiniketan located around 160 km from Kolkata, is regarded not as a mere place to visit but a way of life to Bengalis. Santiniketan is literally the ‘abode of peace’ where art flourished in different forms and the place eventually became a cultural icon. Santiniketan owe its rich cultural heritage to its founder Rabindranath Tagore who established the world-famous Visva Bharati University laying the foundation for intercultural learning and exploration. It was Tagore who integrated East-Asian influences to contemporary Indian painting encouraging a Pan-Asian approach to art.
Santiniketan school of art still celebrates the work of significant artists like Nandalal Bose, the first principal of Kala Bhavan, Benode Behari Mukherjee, RamkinkarBaij and of course Rabindranath Tagore. Their work laid the basis of modern art in pre-independent India. Panthashala is offering super-deluxe rooms near VisvaBharati, Santiniketan where you can cherish a homestay experience with warm hospitality and safe homemade food.
Art enthusiasts around the globe with an inherent love for Rabindranath Tagore and his creations can stay here and explore various iconic sculptures and art forms.
Kala Bhavan is the art wing of Visva Bharati University was set up in 1919 under the stewardship of Nandalal Bose that laid the basis of modern art in India. Tagore’s vision was to foster a sense of community by creating self-aware and principled individuals by involving the students in activities like pottery, weaving, agriculture etc that went far beyond the mandate of any art education. The Aztec patterns at Kala Bhavan will enthral you. You can see the harmonious coexistence of western and eastern culture. In Visva Bharati you will feel the creative and artistic vibes oozing out from everywhere.
Uttarayan Complex was the home of Tagore where one can see the vintage printing machine and the car owned by Rabindranath Tagore along with exquisite wood-carved panels, well laid out Diwan and sophisticated upholstery. The garden displays sculptures and artworks that are very much part of the culture. The sculpture of ‘Santhal family’ by Ramkinkar Baij is considered as the first modern public sculpture in India. In this sculpture, a Santhal family is seen to be carrying all their possessions which might be a representation of migration. The Mill-Call is another sculpture by Baij where a couple of factory workers is seen rushing for work hearing the mill-siren with a child running behind. The lifestyle of the Santhal tribe has always inspired Baij that is expressed through his creations.
Murals of Benode Behari Mukherjee are treasures of Santiniketan. He was the student of Nandalal Bose who was considered as one of the brightest stars of modern Indian art. His creation ‘Life of Medieval Saints’ is a mural that celebrates Surdas, a devotional singer of 16th century who was blind and interestingly, Benod Behari Mukherjee too was partially blind while making this mural. Later, he created ceramic tile murals when he completely lost his sights.
Benode Behari Mukherjee’s mentor, Nandalal Bose too created some significant murals. ‘Natir Puja’, ‘Birth of Chaitanya’, ‘Halakarshana’ are some of his notable creations that proudly boast of different mythological stories and tribal festivals.
While exploring the art around Santiniketan, don’t miss the iconic ‘Kaalo Bari’ made of mud and coal tar with symbols and motifs from Egypt, Ajanta and Bengali Folk Art carved on it. Planned by Nandalal Bose, Ramkinkar Baij and Surendranath Kar – this place serves as the senior student hostel now. Srijoni Shilpagram is another must-visit place for art lovers. A cluster of six cottages can be seen that are painted in tribal style. One can also spot houses displaying Patachitra painting that look beautiful as well as tell the story of the long saga of cultural heritage that got richer for its inclusive nature.
Santiniketan has always been a paradise for art lovers. From paintings, fiascos, murals of significant artists to handicrafts – one can find rich cultural heritage oozing out from everywhere.