Vishnupur & Shantiniketan

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Once the kingdom of Malla dynasty for almost a thousand years, Vishnupur is now renowned for its temples with exclusive Terracotta craftsmanship.Vishnupur (the distance from Kolkata is 132 kms), now the headquarters of the subdivision of the same name in Bankura district, is a seat of crafts and culture.For almost a thousand years it was the capital of the Malla kings of Mallabhum, of which Bankura was a part, till their power waned during the times when Mughal rule weakened under the last monarchs of the dynasty.The patronage of Malla king Veer Hambir and his successors Raja Raghunath Singha and Veer Singha made Vishnupur one of the principal centres of culture in Bengal. Most of the exquisite terracotta temples, for which town is famous, were built during this period.Apart from the unique architecture of the period, Vishnupur is also famous for its terracotta craft and its own Baluchari sarees made of tussar silk.
Royal patronage also gave rise to Vishnupuri gharana (school) of Hindustani classical music and the Vishnupur School of painting.

Terracotta, metalware & temples characterise Vishnupur. The temples are built mostly of brick & at times, of laterite. Clay & laterite are the only building materials available here besides wood and bamboo. The architecture is modelled on the pattern of Bengali huts built of bamboo & mud and roofed with thatch.
Vishnupur will remain ever famous for its distinct style of music, i.e. the Vishnupur Gharana, if not anything else. The name of Jadu Bhatt, the music teacher to Rabindranath Tagore, is remembered with respect to this day.

A discerning visitor may find traces of the past splendour and glory that was Vishnupur in its superb temples and unique handicrafts.

The present Bankura district is the heart of the ancient Summha area of Mahabharat or Rarh or Larh of the old Jain Acharanga- sutra. Rarh Desh was described to have two areas, namely, Bajjabhumi and Summhabhumi. In the Buddhist Jatakas also there is mention of Summhabhumi. The present district of Bankura has the districts of Purulia, Burdwan, Hooghly and Midnapore at her borders.

The district lies in between the hills and terrains of Chotanagpur and Santal Parganas in Bihar on one side and the alluvial fertile land of Bengal on the other. The physiographical features of this district are partially available in the bordering districts of Midnapur and Purulia.

It is significant that Bankura district has a predominance of the Santals and the so-called low castes but essentially martial communities of the Doms and the Bauris. Roughly the population of the Bauris in West Bengal comes to a little more than three lakhs and about two and half lakhs of Bauris live in the districts of Burdwan, Birbhum and Bankura. The Doms count a little more than a lakh in Bengal and two-thirds of them are to be found in Bankura district.1

The contribution of these so-called lower but virile and important castes to the culture-complex of Bengal is substantial although it has not yet been fully appraised. Many of the local legends and much of local history are associated with the Dhibars (fishermen), Doms, Bauris and such other castes that are collectively known as Bygra-Kshatriya. Many of the ruling families in this area either emanated from them or entirely depended on the strength of their arms for the continuity of their rule. Many of their indigenous gods and godlings have found a place in the eclectic Hindu pantheon of deities. Any enquiry into the folk-tales, ballads, local songs, proverbs and local festivals will show how deep was their contribution to the social and cultural level. It is they who fought for the rulers and supplied military escort for treasures. It is they who supplied the labor for cultivation. Even the history of the temples in the district of Bankura cannot do without a reference to these so-called lower castes of the district.

An International University founded by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore where the cultures of the East & the West could meet and mingle. Named Vishva-Bharati, the University represents Indian traditions while incorporating the best of other cultures. Shantiniketan, the abode of peace, was initially an Ashram or hermitage founded in 1863 by Maharishi Devendranath Tagore. In 1901 his son, Rabindranath converted it into an experimental open-air school with just five students. It proved a success. He widened the scope of studies which gradually formed the nucleus of a University.

Another interesting feature about Santiniketan is that splendid sculptures, frescoes, murals and paintings of Rabindranath, Nandlal Bose, Ramkinkar, Bindobehari Mukhopadhyaya and others adorn the campus Shantiniketan is synonymous to Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore’s memories come alive in this town. Located 212 kms from Kolkata, Shantiniketan is a centre of oriental education and culture where under a tree with five pupils, Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagre founded an open-air school in 1901 with a unique vision of a world where man exists in perfect harmony with nature. The world famous Visva Bharati University is now a unique centre of international studies and culture.

You can call this place a University town and a centre of learning. The Uttarayan complex, where the poet lived consists of several buildings such as Udayana. Konark, Shyamali, Punascha and Udichi, reflect the architectural genius.