Chandrani Roy ChoudhuryChandrani loves exploring different parts of the world…
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!
‘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.
Apart from being a shopper’s paradise, the haat is a perfect amalgamation of art, craft, music and dance.
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!
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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Chandrani Roy ChoudhuryChandrani loves exploring different parts of the world and the uniqueness of lands and their cultures. Her passion to explore manifests itself in the beautiful artefacts she creates…in the form of metal mural, mosaic and stained-glass paintings which adorns the wall of her house