Holi in India: ‘Basanta(Spring) Utsav’ in Shantiniketan
“ওরে গৃহবাসী, খোল দ্বার খোল, লাগল যে দোল…” (Oh home-dwellers, open the door, the Spring has come, the Holi has come)
The dawn of the Holi-day in Shantiniketan starts with this song of Rabindranath Tagore who is not only the soul of Shantiniketan but also is one of the greatest poets and writers India has ever had. After so many years of eagerly waiting, finally this year I was able to taste the festival of ‘Basanta Utsav’ in Shantiniketan.
Holi which is called ‘Basanta Utsav’ in Shantiniketan is a little bit different than in other parts of India. Of course it it celebrated with colors but with a touch of Ranbindranath (or Bengali culture) in everything, starting from the dress codes to the music of celebration. Students from different houses of Visva Bharati takes part in the ‘Provat Feri’ (Morning Procession) that starts from the Upasana Griha (Prayar House) and ends at the Purba Palli (see the map in my previous post) Ground where the main festival is celebrated. This is the time of the year (Spring) when the ‘Palash’ flower (Butea monosperma) blossoms and everybody in Shantiniketan wears contrasting Bengali dresses such as yellow-green-orange-blue Sari, Kurta etc and sings and dances with ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ (Created by Rabindranath Tagore) all day.
To take part or to just enjoy the Basanta Utsav celebration, people from different parts of the world come in Shantiniketan, so getting an available room in the near vicinity (around Visva Bharati Campus) becomes so difficult that an unplanned visitor like me had to stay in a hotel which was almost 10KMs away from Visva Bharati and even for a very nominal room in the hotel I had to pay very high. So, be aware! If you are planning to come for the Basanta Utsav, please plan 2-3 months in advance. There is one more thing worth mentioning here. During the two days of Basanta Utsav, any type of vehicle entry inside Visva Bharati Campus becomes very restricted specially during the morning rush hours, so better to plan early so that you can get a booking in a nearby hotel which is close to Visva Bharati Campus and is within walk-able distance from Visva Bharati.
Starting from 7 O’clock in the morning, celebration starts around the center wooden stage at the Purba Palli Ground but people even starts reaching the ground from 2-3 am. Super crazy, isn’t it? Those who reach the ground early can reach closer to the center stage where the main function happens, however delegates, invitees, and celebrities get the reserved seats in the front. If you book in advance with a travel agency, you can get a seat too nearer to the stage. I didn’t do that but I was able to have a glimpse of the dancing, singing activities happening at the stage. I reached the ground at 6am and even at that time the ground was almost half-full.
After the cultural program ends, playing with ‘Abeer’ starts at the ground and spreads all over the Visva Bharati campus from there. Abeer is a sort of colored power but less harmful than the raw colors used during Holi in India. A herbal version of Abeer is also available and is made of flower petals etc which is good for the children. There is no barrier of Age, Religion, Sex, Ethnicity or Caste in the Celebration of Basanta Utsav, everybody can take part in it and enjoy. Somebody may not know you but may happily paste some Abeer on your cheeks saying ‘Happy Holi’. This is the beauty of this festival.
I made a lot of friends during my walk inside Visva Bharati. Guys and girls and aged people came to me many times and (with my permission) gently colored my hair, Kurta and face with red-yellow-green-pink-blue-orange Abeer. Strangers became friends. Young girls started giggling and shying as soon as I requested them to pose for some photographs. Later in the afternoon, I walked towards the ‘Kala Bhavana’ and sang and danced with others with the rhythm of Bengali folk songs. I could not even realize how fast the time passed by. While I was returning to hotel from Visva Bharati, on the road, two guys suddenly stopped my car and put some more abeer on my cheeks and said ‘Happy Holi brother, thanks for stopping and cooperation’. I would love to come back again and again in Shantiniketan during Basanta Utsav because in spring, love flows in the air of Shantiniketan.
Hope you enjoy the post. ‘Happy Holi’!!!