Shantiniketan is a small town near Bolpur in the Birbhum District of West Bengal and about 212 kms north of Kolkata. It is famous due to Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, whose vision became what is now a University town - Visva-Bharati University. The place now attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Shantiniketan was earlier called Bhubandanga (named after Bhuban Dakat, a local Dacoit), and was owned by the Tagore family. In 1862, Maharishi Devendranath Tagore, the poet’s father, while on a boat journey to Raipur, came across a landscape with red soil and lush green paddy fields. He decided to plant more saplings and built a small house. He called his home Shantiniketan. He founded an ashram here in 1863 and became the initiator of the Bramho Samaj.
In 1901, Rabindranath started a school at Shantiniketan named Bramhachari Ashram that was modeled on the lines of the ancient Gurukul system that later came to be known as the Patha Bhavan, the school of his ideals, with central premise that learning in a natural environment would be more enjoyable and fruitful. With the financial backing of the Maharajah of Tripura, the Visva-Bharati Society was established in 1921. Tagore envisioned a center of learning which would have the best of both the east and the west. Nobel Prize (1913) won by Rabindranath Tagore, not only the enhanced the pride of India but also the prestige of Shantiniketan. The school was expanded into a University. It was named Visva-Bharati, which was defined by Tagore as ‘Where the world makes a home in a nest.” The Open-air education as opposed to being cloistered in the four walls of a classroom became a reality here. Eminent people from all over the world came to Visva-Bharati during its peak period. Visva-Bharati became a Central University in 1951. Leaves of the Chhatim (Saptaparni – or 7-leaf sprigs) trees are given to graduating students at the annual convocation. Many world famous teachers have become associated with it over the years. Indira Gandhi, Satyajit Ray, and Amartya Sen are among its illustrious students. The Prime Minister of India is the Chancellor of the University.
Kala Bhavana, the art college of Shantiniketan, is still considered one of the best art colleges in the world. Other institutions here include Vidya Bhavana: the Institute of Humanities, Shiksha Bhavana: the Institute of Science, Sangit Bhavana: Institute of Dance, Drama and Music, Vinaya Bhavana: Institute of Education, Rabindra Bhavana, Institute of Tagore Studies and Research, Palli-Samgathana Vibhaga: Institute of Rural Reconstruction, and Palli Shiksha Bhavana: Institute of Agricultural Sciences. There are also other centres, affiliated to major institutions such as Nippon Bhavana, the Indira Gandhi Centre for National Integration, Rural Extension Centre, Silpa Sadana; Centre for Rural Craft, Technology and Design, Palli-Charcha Kendra: Centre for Social Studies and Rural Development, Centre for Biotechnology, Centre for Mathematics Education, Centre for Environmental Studies and a Computer Centre. Apart from Patha-Bhavana, there are two schools for kindergarten level education: Mrinalini Ananda Pathsala, Santosh Pathsala: a school for primary and secondary education known as Shiksha Satra, and a school of higher secondary education known as Uttar-Shiksha Sadana.
Shantiniketan is also home to Amartya Sen, the 1998 Nobel Prize winner in Economics.
Shantiniketan is adorned by splendid sculptures, frescoes, murals and paintings of Rabindranath, Nandalal Bose, Ramkinkar, Binod Bihari Mukhopadhaya and others.
Shantiniketan is also famous for its fairs and festivals like Poush Mela (December), Joydev Mela (January), Basanta Utsav (March) and the famous Mystic Baul Singers.