The river Kopai, flowing through Bolpur. It is a tributary of the Mayurakhi river, which in turn joins the Hoogly, and finally merges into the Bay of Bengal.
“Beyond a distant river somewhere
On the edge of a thick forest somewhere…
You’re finding your way,” – Rabindranath Tagore
Santiniketan – Bolpur is all this and more. A university town, in the colourful district of Birbhum in West Bengal, it is the seat of art and culture in India and a hub for traditional handicrafts.
A journey to this vibrant land in the month of October, takes us through fields of green lined with ‘Kashphool’ stalks swaying gently in the autumn breeze. ‘Kashphool’ is a seasonal wild grass which grows in the silt rich soil of the region.
The Kala Bhavan campus in Shantiniketan, set up by Rabindranath Tagore, has nurtured many renowned artists and personalities. The beautiful tribal motifs on this building have been painted by acclaimed artist K.G Subramanyan, who was also a student at the university.
Girls cycle to school in a village in Bolpur, India. This traditional Bengali attire of the white saree with a striking red border, is still a common sight in the interiors of West Bengal.
A regular day in a Santhal village. The Santhals are one of the largest surviving tribes of Bolpur, though most of them have now adapted to the modern ways of living.
Santhals decorate the walls of their huts with elaborate pictorials depicting activities of their everyday lives. Music and dance is an important part of the tribe’s cultural milieu.
A ‘Sonajhuri’ forest in Bolpur. The tree gets its name from the vibrant golden yellow flowers which bloom in the summer months. It is also called ‘Akashmoni’ because of how tall it grows. The scientific name for this tree is Acacia Auriculiformis.
Every Saturday evening, the ‘Sonajhuri’ forest is taken over by artisans from around Santiniketan and the interiors of Bolpur who gather here to sell their creations. This handicraft flea market or ‘Shonibar-er haath’, as it is locally called, is a colourful affair.
Baul singers performing at the ‘Shonibar-er haath’. Bauls are wandering minstrels, native to this region, having denounced the traditional way of life. They live like nomads, answering only to the call of their music. Bauls have developed a unique style of folk music, deeply steeped in spirituality. Their songs and tales mirror their life philosophy, borrowed from multiple sects like Sufism, Tantric beliefs, Vaishnavism and Buddhism.
Long winding red clay (“Lal maati”) roads, lined with ‘Sonajhuri’ trees are synonymous with Bolpur. On a magical evening like this, watching the sun play hide and seek with the clouds, it is easy to see why so many poets and artists have found their muse here.