Traveling through India’s East: Maluti to Santiniketan

It was a spur of the moment decision to drive to Santiniketan via Maluti, the poster child of Jharkhand tourism today, as a part of our Holi celebration. We were totally unaware of what was in store for us. Forget Mathura and Vrindavan for Holi (which are way too crowded and hooliganism seems to rule the roost anyway) Bolpur is where one should be headed. One should definitely travel this belt in spring when the landscape is alive with blossoms of palash, aptly called flame of the forest (Rabindranath Tagore likened its bright orange flame-like flower to fire and in Santiniketan this flower has become an indispensable part of the celebration of spring) making it a point to attend Dol utsav (Holi celebrations at Visva Bharati University). What follows is the detail of our road trip that started from Deoghar in Jharkhand.

Maluti

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Maluti is a tiny temple hamlet is an otherwise nondescript Jharkhand countryside. Located about 50 kms from Dumka, the hamlet boasts impressive medieval architecture. Home to 72 (originally 108) terracotta temples based on the char-challa (four sloping roofs) form of architecture, Maluti is Jharkhad tourism’s flagship initiative. The temples are dedicated to various gods and goddesses, most of them local deities. Some of the temples feature intricate terracotta designs featuring episodes from Hindu epics. They are believed to have been built during the reign of Baaj Basanta dynasty.

The story goes that the village was the capital of nankar raj (tax-free kingdom). The kingdom was awarded to Basanta Roy by Sultan Alauddin Hussan Shah of Gaura (1495 – 1525) as a reward for catching and handing over the pet hawk (baj) of the sultan. Hence, the Baj Basanta dynasty. The capital of Baj Basanta dynasty shifted to Maluti from Damra.  The rulers of the dynasty were known to be very pious: instead of constructing palaces, the rajas built temples which made Maluti a unique temple village.

Details on the history (ancient, medieval and modern) and other logistical information (including how to reach) can be found on the official website: http://www.maluti.org/index.html

How to reach:

It is a good idea to club Maluti with other nearby destinations, hence our decision to start from Deoghar. With its own set of important and impressive temples like Baba Baidyanath Temple and the Naulakha Mandir (its architecture similar to the Ramakrishna Temple in Belur and its name derived from the amount spent in its construction, which was donated by Rani Charushila, a queen of Pathuria Ghat royal family, Kolkata), Deoghar is well connected by trains (Jasidih being the relevant station).

Deoghar to Maluti is a distance of 126 kms (takes about 3 hours). Maluti to Santiniketan is 61 kms (takes 2 hours), Santiniketan being 160 kms (roughly 3 hours) from the Kolkata airport. So one could start from Kolkata for Santiniketan and then do Maluti as a day trip as well. The nearest railway station to Maluti is Rampurhat, West Bengal.

Santiniketan

When we started for Santiniketan, we had no idea that Holi was a major event in the local calendar, our purpose being to visit the famous university that Rabindranath Tagore founded in 1901. Tagore started Brahmachary Asrama, the school at Santiniketan modelled on the lines of the ancient gurukul system, to help education go beyond the confines of the classsroom and transcend the barriers of religion and region. Even today, the tradition of holding classes in the lap of nature is alive at the University. In the words of Tagore himself:

She is our own, the darling of our hearts, Santiniketan.

In the shadows of her trees we meet

in the freedom of her open sky.

Our dreams are rocked in her arms.

Her face is a fresh wonder of love every time we see her,

for she is our own, the darling of our hearts.”

That spring should be a reason of celebration in the university established by Rabindranath Tagore is only natural. Inspired as Tagore was with spring, he wrote extensively on the subject. Among Tagore’s poems inspired by spring are One Day in Spring and Firelflies. To understand the origin and importance of Dol/Basanta Utsav, an article in The Hindu titled Spring in their steps helps:

Tagore’s celebrations of the seasons in general and Basanta Utsav in particular were designed to meet high standards of aesthetic enjoyment for which he composed many lyrics…He did not stop after including dance in the school curriculum. Spring songs were penned for which dance had to be composed and taught. It is indeed amazing to note that Basanta Utsav has become the most important festival of Bengal…

The aesthetic element of Basanta Utsav has in fact tempered the madness of Holi with artistic sensibilities…The dance teachers of Sangeet Bhavana presented their students in dance performances accompanied by the inimitable lyrics of Tagore. The songs were sung by the teachers and the students were the dancers.

The Basanta Utsav begins with Baitalik performance on the previous night of Holi. University students and performers offer prayers at the Kaanch Ghar (Upasana Griha) to announce the advent of Spring and Dol celebrations under a full moon. Next morning, residents of the Ashram, costumed in the colours of spring, can be seen dancing their way to the venue, beckoning householders to open their doors to welcome spring with, “Ore grihabasi, khol daar khol, laglo je dol… ” Students, teachers and visitors gather at the Upasana Griha for another Baitalik programme post which the procession starts around 7 a.m. Girls are dressed in saris in different shades of yellow and their hair is adorned with palash flowers, while men flaunt white kurta pyjamas. It is the time of year when Santiniketan blooms. Dancing and throwing flowers, children and adults go around the university campus. Then, the performances on songs of spring written by Tagore begin – Fagun Haway Haway, Rangiye Diye Jao Jao, Amar Bone Bone Dhorlo Mukul – on the Ashram grounds. The main attraction of Basanta Utsav is abir khela on campus right after the morning programme. It is quite an experience to see rows and rows of girls and boys dancing through the lanes of the Ashram to reach the festival place, to enjoy the dances to be presented on stage. Emphasis of the dances are in portraying the mood and spirit of the season. This is followed by a spectacular dance recital/drama in the evening. Needless to say, there is going to be a lot of crowd, so don’t expect “space”.

There are other things to do around the University. A student at the University took us for a walking tour, informing us about the history and significance of the various structures that dot the campus.  There is Aamar Mati Handicraft Centre and the local (jungle) Haat selling indigenous wares (including Kantha embroidered dupattas and saris) which has quite an atmosphere with all the singing and dancing.

Best time to Visit: December (Pous festival), March (Dol festival) and April (Poila Baisakh which is the Bengali New Year).

How to Reach: Air- Kolakata is the nearest airport that is 160 kms (3 hours) away.

Rail- Bolpur is the nearest station, 2-3 kms away.

Roads- The place is well connected by roads, we drove to Santiniketan from Maluti, took us approximately two hours to reach.

5 thoughts on “Traveling through India’s East: Maluti to Santiniketan

  1. It’s beautiful Parnika… you have literally depicted every single detail of Basanta utsav so vividly that it reminded of my days in the Land of Santi….

    Like

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