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Shantiniketan’s Saturday Soiree

Shantiniketan’s Saturday Soiree

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Khoai Haat, a unique market located near Vishva Bharati complex

Shantiniketan is not just about a world class university… the locals are in the locale, in ‘Khoai’, a weekly market that sells everything, from art pieces to exotic saris and peethey-payash

by Chandrani Roy Choudhury

Shantiniketan ‑ the moment we hear the name, the image of the great Bard of Bengal, Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, flashes in our minds; for the two words are synonymous.

Amidst towering trees and greenery, Shantiniketan is true to its name: Shanti = Peace, and Niketan = Abode.

This is the land which Rabindranath’s father, Devendranath had bought. This is the land where Rabindranath set up a unique university, the Vishva Bharati, which bustles with academics and academicians.

Beyond academics, tourists know Shantiniketan for its many hugely popular festivals, which unfortunately the Corona virus has now eaten up.

But much near the Vishva Bharati complex is another serendipity – which has survived the Corona ‑that people from afar are not aware of… just wait for a while before I bore you with mundane details like…

True to its name, Shantiniketan really is an abode of peace, serenity and tranquility.

The beauty of the world famous university, Vishva Bharati’s premises can lure anyone to fall in love with studies again.

The open-air classrooms under the blue sky, the huge trees providing shade from the scorching sun, the seats made of tree trunks ‑there cannot be a more perfect environment for learning.

Whether it’s Ravindra Bhavan, the museum which is a storehouse of Tagore’s personal belongings, photographs and writings, or the Uttarayan Complex that includes Tagore’s five houses where he lived, and were all designed by him, all are worth paying a visit to.

But, there is more to Shantiniketan than all that, which we are telling you in East India Story!

crowd gathered at the Khoai HaatNot many people are aware of the Khoai Haat, a unique market located at a distance of only two kilometres from the Vishva Bharati complex.

‘Khoai’ is the typical Birbhum district landscape of laterite soil, red and romantic in colour… remember that song by Tagore… “Gram chhada oi ranga matir poth?”… where ranga refers to nature’s ‘red carpet’ for us?

That is khoai haat, where the ‘shops’ are all on the ground level and shoppers stoop down to the sellers to buy their wares.

Also known as the Sonajhuri Haat or Sonibaarer Haat (Saturday Market), this is a must-visit place for everybody to get the real vibes of Shantiniketan.

Adjacent to the Sonajhuri forest, (which, by the way, is home to the lone tribal Durga Puja, and which East India Story will feature in detail soon) the haat is active – as the name makes it clear ‑only on Saturdays, from about 2 p.m. in the afternoon till dusk.

Khoai Haat is a complete experience, where all your senses get stimulated – eyes dazzled by myriad colours, ears pleased by the soothing Baul music, the cool breeze from nearby forest caressing your face, the aroma of the ‘masala chai’ and peethey tickling your nose…

The haat covers a huge area where hundreds of artisans sell their thousands of varied products, but all with an artistic touch.

The beautifully embroidered bed covers, the intricately woven Kantha-stitched saris, the hand painted shirts and kurtas, the beautifully decorated household items like kettles and saucers, the jewellery made from jute, shells, seeds, etc., the batik(a variety of tie-and-dye) printed leather bags, the innovative handmade toys for the children, handcrafted showpieces – all the items are bound to grab one’s attention!

The vibrant and colourful market – also called ‘Khoai Boner Annyo Haat’ ‑is a treat to the eyes in itself and without doubt, people get spoilt for choices definitely.

Baul Singers performing at Khoai HaatMany artisans also sit by with their paints and brushes to create their own magic then and there, according to the customers’ wishes.

Apart from being a shopper’s paradise, the haat is a perfect amalgamation of art, craft, music and dance.

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And for those with a sweet tooth, there is also on sale payash (what is called kheer in north India) and peethey, a grated-coconut-stuffed rice pudding.

One can find different groups of Baul singers (the typical mystical – in a way, Sufi‑ singers of rural Bengal) rendering their soulful music and dancing to their own rhythms, playing the single-stringed Ektara instrument.

They showcase their talents and entertain the tourists by their performances.

The ambience is such that one can just sit and relax and spend the whole afternoon ad evening enjoying a glimpse of Bengali culture and tradition.

Have some peethey, slurp some tea from the earthen cups, chat up with friends on how things are tenuous under the lockdown!

A performance artist in a monster get up to entertain the audienceAmong the trees, nearby the haat, you might suddenly come across a mythical character like the Ramayana ghoul Surpanakha, or a one-eyed demon, standing like a statue and staring at you.

As seen in the streets of New York or Thailand, persons fully painted from head to toe and standing like a statue is another attraction of the haat.

So, the Khoai Haat is a complete experience where all your senses get stimulated – the eyes are dazzled by the rainbow colours, the ears are pleased by the soothing baul music, the cool breeze from the nearby forest caresses on your facegently, the aroma of the ‘masala chai’ tickles your nose and you are compelled to satisfy your taste bud by drinking a sip from the traditional ‘matirbhar’ (earthen cup).

 

Photographs and Video by : Rudrarup Roy Choudhury

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View Comments (8)
  • Very nice and informative piece.. that entices the reader to visit the place and experience its wonders and all that it has to offer.

    • Dear Kallol, yes, you are very right. The charm of localized institutions such as Khoai Haat are, as you say, very enticing. Many of the festivals of Shantiniketan have gone under the water due to tourism industry pressure, like, say Basanta Utsav. But Khoai Haat survives, and ‘entices’ people to visit Shantiniketan. Do keep reading and sending us your valued inputs.

  • Wonderful narrative on Santiniketan … Had always associated the place with Tagore but it seems that the place has another cultural aspect too ….which consists of the local tribal diaspora…..the khoai haat and the lone tribal Durga Puja at Sonajhuri must be explored …putting Santiniketan in my bucket list once more

    • Dear Manisha, yes, it was a wonderful narrative on Shantiniketan. There are many aspects of Shantiniketan. Like Shriniketan, which is a handicrafts institution started by Rabindranath Tagorein keeping with the Gandhian tradition of developing rural economy as the spine of Indian economy. The Khoai Haat is also indirectly influenced by Tagore, though it is no manned by locals. But the tribal Durga Puja was started by a sagacious artist, Badhan Das, in 2001. But your comments are so encouraging. Thanks! Do keep reading and sending us your valued inputs. We have already commissioned a senior writer to do an article on Tribal Durga Puja, so do wait for that and more!!!

  • A well written piece with plenty of enticements thrown in about this one of a kind market where man and nature blend with each other. The writer has ably created a vivid picture in the mind of the reader alongwith the photographs about the beauty of the place and I am sure that at the end of the day the article will successfully se encouragethe the intrepid traveller on a sojourn to Santiniketan to include a visit to Khoai Haat as a must do.

    • Bedabrata, how right you are! And I cannot help quoting you: “I am sure that at the end of the day the article will successfully encourage the intrepid traveller on a sojourn to Shantiniketan to include “a visit to KhoaiHaat as a must do”. Do keep reading and sending us your valued inputs.

  • Good job Chandrani! Keep writing…. Knowing your love for traveling, I am sure you could come up with a travelogue.

    • Thanks Nandini. Yes, that was an article from Chandrani Roy Choudhury we all enjoyed. But just keep pushing her to write more for East India Story! Do keep reading and sending us your valued inputs.

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