Shanti Town III

As the car sped through the road giving way to the stray bullock carts or tractor led containers my mind rushed back to the memories of Basantotsav attended last year…The festival, initiated by The Nobel Laureate during his time, has been continued with fervour and is one of the biggest Festivals for Bengalis not just in Shantiniketan but accross the state. Generally celebrated in late February or early March depends on when Holi is scheduled, this festival of colours it at its envious best here at Shantiniketan.
The event starts in the early hours of the morning as each student of the Vishwabharati University from nursery to the highest levels dress the same way – women in red bordered yellow saree and men in yellow kurtas and white churidars. A batik uttariya and a sash around the waist with garlands of Palash around their necks is commom for all with women tucking the garlands in their hair as well. two streaks of red and green Aabir adorn their forehead as in rows they enter the campus area dancing to an evergreen composition by the poet ” Aji Dokhin duar khola” sung continually as long as all the students don’t come and settle down in front of the open air stage at Gaur Prangan at the very heart of the Univeristy campus. The actual programme then commences on the stage with students from Kala Bhavan and Sangeet Bhavan putting up performances to the typical array of Spring songs by the poet. This function is a result of vigiour practice for months at the end of which the Vice Chancellor inaugurates the festivities. (Photo courtesy Sanjib Ganguli)
The norm is that he would have to throw a handlful of Aabir into the air, only after which, can anybody put colour on anybody else. Though shattered by the uncouth number of outsiders with every passing year, the students still follow the norm. It is after the function that the best part of the festivities begin. Students sit around the campus ground in clusters singing and dancing impromptu to the well known songs. The biggest of these sessions are held in front of the much known Kalo Bari beside the Sangeet Bhavan where the students of the Kala Bhavan and Sangeet Bhavan start their own show. With a chorus of melodious voices echoing in perfect unison and the Khol and Pakhawaj keeping the beats, the dance seems like a celebration of life as young and old students join the show. A little distance away a group of Baul Singers create a rustic ambience with the haunting strains of the traditional sings and the complimenting twines of the Ektara or Khomok as they call it. Till the late hours of the day the air around is left colored in various shades thanks to all the Aabir which is thrown into the air. The smell of spring mixed with the fragrance of the various colored abirs can surely render you tipsy, intoxicated with life.
The evenings are generally scheduled for one of the dance dramas rehearsed intently and performed by students of Kala Bhavan and Sangeet Bhavan again on the Gour Prangan Stage. This can either be viewed from sitting in front of the stage or from the ground though a screen. The strange concoction of the liting strains of the memorable songs by the great poet, the spring air with a slight chill still lingering, the smell of the many unnamed and unknown shrubs enmeshed with the string smell of Polash and Krishnochura and the full round moon illuminating the world around – if there is heaven on earth it must be here! A quiet dinner at Bhalo Mondo with the ever smiling Sardarji at the helm smiling and speaking in immaculate Bangla is all you would need to make it memorable for the rest of your life.

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