Holi is one of the most popular festivals of India and is celebrated amidst much festivities and gaiety all over the country. But there are some places where the celebration of Holi are so unique that you have to be there to witness it for yourself. In West Bengal, Holi or Dol Jatra is inexorably linked with Shantiniketan. Basanta Utsav at Shantiniketan, as it more popularly called here, is an event that has to be experienced and felt.
Shantiniketan is a place that is the melting pot of learning, art, culture and dance. The first thing that we are reminded of while thinking about Shantiniketan is Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore. This place was previously known as Bhubandanga but later renamed as Shantiniketan by Maharishi Devendranath Tagore. He also found an ashram here in 1863 and Rabindranath Tagore came here in 1873.
Rabindranath Tagore himself was not immune to the charms of spring and Dol Jatra or Holi. So he decided to celebrate this special occasion in a beautiful way – where there is much love, fun and celebration of art. And the legacy continues till date. With the advent of spring, Vishwa Bharati University at Shantiniketan gears up for the Basanta Utsav or celebration of spring. There is a riot of colours everywhere with yellow colour taking the centre stage. Men and women are dressed in colourful traditional attire. Women adorn their hair with palash flower. There are spring in everyone’s steps and alacrity in every heart. The whole atmosphere seems to be singing the tunes of Rabindra Sangeet and exalting smell of ‘abir’ (dry colours).
This year, we celebrated our Holi or Dol Jatra at Shantiniketan. The Basanta Utsav celebration is held at the Bhubandanga Playground adjacent to the Viswabharati University complex. The Utsav starts with various cultural song and dances being performed at the playground by the University students. They sing and dance to the Rabindra Sangeet of the season of spring. It is so great to see the teachers and students taking part in this cultural extravaganza. We were a little late, so the programme was almost at its end when we reached the playground. Once this is over, different groups disperse and celebrate the festival of colours in their own way.
The whole atmosphere was electrifying. The whole ground was crowded and so was the university and roads. The people were singing, playing instruments and playing colours with each other. They were occasionally throwing colours up in the air making the whole place a riot of colours. All were playing colours with each other. A few came to us and smeared us with abir while wishing us happy Holi. There was no bar or hindrance of any kind. Everyone was happily and joyfully playing colours. There were people of all ages. And yes, there was also no untoward incidents and misbehaviour towards any woman. Shantiniketan meaning ‘the abode of peace’ was actually a much serene place.
After the main programme, people formed various groups and started singing and dancing. There are Baul performances with the playing of ‘ektara’, a single stringed instrument. It was totally an incredible experience at Shantiniketan. There were no water colours, everyone played with dry colours – abir or gulaal. It was sublime to see all the happy abir smeared colourful faces. In very few places is Holi celebrated so peacefully yet vibrantly. As I said earlier, you have to experience the phenomenon called Basanta Utsav at Shantiniketan.
How to reach:
The nearest Railway station is Bolpur. There are a number of trains connecting Bolpur from Howrah station. From Bolpur station, you can take a rickshaw to reach Shantiniketan
Shantiniketan is about 213 Km from Kolkata by road.
Places to stay at Shantiniketan:
There are numerous hotels, lodges and a few homestays at Shantiniketan. If you are planning to stay during the Basanta Utsav, it is recommended to book in advance due to the rush.
Visit Khowai or Sonajhuri from Shantiniketan. There is a weekend market at Khowai where local handicrafts are displayed. Also, baul songs and local dances are performed here during the Basanta Utsav.
Here are a few pictures that will make you yearn for Shantiniketan.
ওরে গৃহবাসী খোল্, দ্বার খোল্, লাগল যে দোল।স্থলে জলে বনতলে লাগল যে দোল।দ্বার খোল্, দ্বার খোল্॥
রাঙা হাসি রাশি রাশি অশোক পলাশে, রাঙা নেশা মেঘে মেশা প্রভাত-আকাশে, নবীন পাতায় লাগে রাঙা হিল্লোল।দ্বার খোল্, দ্বার খোল্॥