Despite rapid growth and encroachment into the tribal Santhal habitat, the peaceful haven of Shantiniketan, 136km northwest of Kolkata, remains a world away from the clamour and grime of the city. Founded by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1921 on the site of his father’s ashram, both the settlement and its liberal arts university Visva-Bharati were designed to promote the best of Bengali culture. Towards the end of the Bengali Renaissance, Tagore’s vision and immense talent inspired a whole way of life and art; the university and school still operate under this momentum.
Centred around the Uttarayan complex of buildings, designed by Tagore, the university is very much in harmony with its surroundings, despite its recent growth as Kolkatans have settled or built holiday homes nearby. Well-known graduates include Indira Gandhi and Satyajit Ray, and departments such as Kala Bhavan (art) and Sangeet Bhavan (music) still attract students from all over the world. The renowned Bauls, Bengal’s wandering minstrels, who play a unique style of folk music, gather during the afternoon at the informal shanibarer haat (Saturday market) held under the trees by Shantiniketan’s canal, where Shantal tribals also gather to sell their crafts. The large fair of Poush Mela, between December 22 and 25, attracts numerous Bauls each year.