Day 22 Shantiniketan


This word  has a special meaning for any Bengali, or for an unabashed  Banglaphile, as I am. ( I can  understand Bangla fully, speak enough to hold a basic conversation,  and  even read the script haltingly).   I thus did not mind waking up at 4 am  to get ready and go to the Howrah station to catching the Ganadevta Express at 6 am.  Even before we could get to Bolpur, we were treated to some wonderful music by two Bauls who got into the train at Burdwan. Click on the video link below

Though I had visited Shantiniketan perfunctorily when I was working in Philips in Kolkata in 1977-78, I did not have any memories of the place.  Since then, I had got to know a lot more about Rabindra Nath Tagore and I felt impeeled to revisit the place.  And who could be a better guide than Sankar Datta, my dear colleague since 1984 in PRADAN, and later on in BASIX, and now Dean of  The Livelihood School.   Sankar had gone to school in Patha Bhavana, the school in Shanitniketan and his father Mr Bijoy Gopal Datta, whom I know, was the University Engineer.  This is how he  had planned the day:

We could take a Rickshaw to Santiniketan. Travel through the Ashram: See China Bhavana, Patha Bhavana (the School where I studied), Gour Prangan, Simha Sadan, go by the road in front of the hostels to reach Kala Bhavana, Sangeet Bhavana, then turn back towards Chhatimtala, the point where the journey of Santiniketan began, with Devendranath (Rabindranath’s father) meditating under the tree. Then we could go into the Uttarayan campus, the residential complex of Rabindranath, which has then been converted into a museum.

Then we could break for lunch, where I could request two of our senior teachers, Mrinalda, who taught in Palli Siksha Sadan (the agriculture college) and knows the experiments that Rathindranath did on agriculture fairly well and Dikshitda, who headed the Palli Samgathana Vibhag ( the rural reconstruction department, which has been reorganized and has a new name since I left) to join us for lunch.

After this, we could proceed to Sriniketan and visit Shilpa Sadana, which was the then conceptualization of rural industrialization, and works on variety of arts and crafts, including handlooms (unfortunately, Mani Sengupta, Nabarun’s grandfather, who gave shape to this center directly under the guidance of Rabindranath is no more).

Then, if time permits, we could go over to Amar Kutir, which was also an expression of rural non-farm activities, including political activities. Bengal leaders like Rashbihari, Aorobindo, Subhash Bose, among many others have spent their time doing strategic planning in hiding here.”

Sankar and I on a rickshaw at the gates of Shantiniketan

Another person who decided to join us was Nabarun Sengupta, faculty member of The Livelihood School, who indeed  was born in Shantiniketan, and went to school here. His mother still lives there.   And then there was Siddartha Sanyal, who had started living in nearby Bolpur a couple of years ago. The only “local” I could not meet was former BASIX Board member  Keya Sarkar, who lives and runs a cafe here,  as she was was away to Kerala.

Nabarun came along on his bicycle

Though it was a Sunday, the campus was alive, as it observes a weekly holiday on Wednesdays, a Brahmo tradition that Tagore brought with him.  The students at Patha Bhawan ( the primary school begun by Tagore as an ideal school), as well those at the  Vidya Bhavan, the secondary school, seem to be engaged in joyful learning without any sense of  sel-consciousness at being watched by visitors across the frnces.

Students attending a class in Shantiniketan

But Sankar ushered me quickly to the Uttarayan Complex where Rabindra Nath Tagore ived and worked. The Complex consists of several buildings – Udayana, Konarka, Shyamali, Punascha and Udichi. The Bichitra ( or, Rabindra Bhavan ) designed by the poet’s son Rathindranath Tagore.  Unfortunately, photography was not permitted here, so I have to  show you an image taken from the net:

I spent a whole hour in the Tagore museum  at the back of this buiding wich depicted his remarkable life. Though not very well displayed (small font, big posters), it is still elevating.

Nabarun then led us to Kala Bhavana, the art college of Santiniketan, is still considered one of the best art colleges in the world. It had at some stage Nandlal Bose, Ramkinkar Baij and Beenodebehan Mukhopadhyay living, creating and teaching there.  One can still see many of their works on campus.


Sankar pointed us to Ramkinkar's Gandhi which looks "rudra" and has a human skull under its foot!

Kala Bhavana has many idiosyncratically painted buildings

Quite characteristically,  instead of hearing Rabindra Sangeet there, we found a  bunch of youngsters practising some western style pop songs with an orchestra.  We joined the curious crowd to see this, but no one could explian what was it about, so after a while we moved on.

Western pop in Shanti Niketan!

Lunch beckoned us at Khari Mati, a restaurant, niether built in traditional style, nor serving local cuisine. But it was fine and we were met here by  Prof  Prasanta Ghosh of  the Palli-Charcha Kendra; Centre for Social Studies and Rural Development.  Prof Dikhit Sinha, formerly of the Palli-Samgathana Vibhaga; Institute of Rural Reconstruction,  also joined at lunch.  Dikhit da told us about the work that Tagore had done for rural development  as part of the Sriniketan Experiment, taking an integrated approach, improving agricultural productivity, establishing rural industries and working on rural health care by establishing health care cooperatives!

We visited the  Silpa Sadana, the Centre for Rural Craft, Technology and Design,   and were quite depressed to see its state. Tagore’s ideas frozen in time.  But by the time we visited Amar Kutir, our spirit was uplifted again.  This quintessential social enterprise manages to provide a living to over a thousand craftspersons.

Students at the Palli Charcha Kendra

I ended the trip to Shantiniketan by giving a talk to the students at the Palli-Charcha Kendra; Centre for Social Studies and Rural Development,  The talk by itself is old hat, but the opening song is worth listening to,  Click on the link below:


About vijaymahajan

Educated at St XaviersSchool, Jaipur; IIT Delhi; IIM Ahmedabad and Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, USA; Co-founder of several development organisations - BASIX (, PRADAN (, Development Finance Forum (, Andhra Pradesh Mahila Abhivruddhi Society (, Sa-Dhan ( and the Microfinance Institutions Networrk ( Chair of CGAP Excom; BASIX Boards; DSC Board; Board member of MSSRF, ASSEFA, Gram Vikas Honours - WEF Davos Schwab Social Entrepreneur; Ashoka Global Fellow; IIT Delhi Distinguished Alumni Award; HSBC-Access Award for Outstanding Contribution to Microfinance in India; listed among India's top 50 most powerful people in India by BusinessWeek, Asia edition, 2010 Married to Savita, Deputy Dean, ISB, Hyderabad; two children, Chirag and Chandni
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5 Responses to Day 22 Shantiniketan

  1. pradeep says:

    Dear Sir,
    That was a very good lecture which was given to Students at the Palli Charcha Kendra, that video was just 4 min but very meaningful, day by day the things get very interesting, and i m also happy because i am also learning new, i am very exciting to meet u in mumbai on 25th & 26 th March 2011

    • vijaymahajan says:


      I am sorry that the Pen program stands cancelled as the moF has called a meeting on the proposed new MF Bill on Mar 25. We will meet some other time. Tell your colleague also.

  2. Nabarun Sengupta says:

    The train journey showed the Baouls singing. It also showed someone reading the Business page. Quite unmatched and full of contradiction. One talking about philosophy of life and other of money. May be the person who was reading the Business page either never understood philosophy or was above that.

  3. Sir,
    This reply is in connection to the kala bhavan event that you had failed to discover. the space where the event was taking place is our kala bhavan chatal(platform). The event was organised by kala bhavana chhatra sammilini(our student’s union devoid of any political colour) to raise funds for nepali underprivileged children. A group called “Warnamala Pariwar” headed by sangeet bhavan alumni Deoasish Mothey(creative head of the non-profitable project) is working towards creating a new vernacular for nepali kids. They are trying to educate the people by simple means of communication. Their own long lost rhymes and fables are retrieved and weaved into songs with contemporary touch to it. Their own syllable is taught through an animation (which was a brainchild of few kala bhavana alumnus). The pop type song that you refered to must be the nepali version of John Lennon’s Imagine. the performers were all kids(aged 4-13) from siliguri,kalimpong,darjelling underprivileged area. we felt immense pleasure in organizing such event. The event provided them with much exposure and few well wishers donated towards the education of the kids. they will be soon leaving for france to perform. you can see their project videos on YouTube
    and on the rabindra sangeet issue i am preety afraid whether you will be lucky enough to hear one on your next visit. yes we do sing rabindra sangeet but that is not the only genre. we sing baul,bhatiyali,other folk songs of india as well as western classics and contemporary. in kala bhavana atleast we believe that music does not have to have a specific domain. its another important expression of life where freedom should be exercised. thus we sing rabindra sangeet,shyama sangeet along with bob dylan and black eyed peas.

  4. jibon says:

    Dear Vijay,
    I am Jibon, age 42, citizen of Bangladesh, now travelling Kolkata.

    Life is risky in my country as I am a free thinker who wants to contribute significantly for South Asia. I urgently need citizenship of India and some money to begin a new life in India.

    Business Week says you are a powerful man of India.

    Please help me soon!


    8697323643 (mobile) ,


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