It is the 25th
day of Baisakh (8th May). Gurudev Rabindranath Tagores
Jorashanko house known as Thakur Bari, in north Calcutta, is milling
with people. Men, women and children start arriving from the early
hours to pay obeisance to the great savant on his birth anniversary.
The Thakur Bari now houses the Rabindra Barati University.
Incidentally, the university also houses a museum of Tagores
memorabilia named Bichitra Bhaban. Strains of the poets
lilting songs transform the atmosphere and take one to a period when
Calcutta was still nascent.
century the roads of the city were largely unmetalled and the clatter
of horse-drawn coaches was an all-too-familiar sound. It was at this
time in 1785 that Nilmoni Tagore constructed a clay-walled house at
Jorashanko on a bigha of land donated by a wealthy merchant
named Baishnav Charan Seth.
Years spanning Nilmonis
demise in 1791 and Rabindranaths birth in 1861 saw Jorashanko
undergo a drastic change. From the nucleus of the house, known as
the andar mahal (which functioned as the private abode of the
Tagores), followed the bar mahal which threw open irts doors
to the world outside. The principal architect of this changing face
of Jorashanko was Dwarkanath Tagore who inherited the estate after
To steer clear of
conflicts with his tradition-bound family and allow room for his
unorthodox pastimes (which included socializing with Englishmen),
Dwarkanath built for himself a three-storeyed house on the same
compund. This mansion, called Baithakhana (a reception
house), in essence became an extension of Jorashanko and bore a
common address, 6 Dwarkanath Tagore Lane.
character altered half way through the 19th century.
Dwarkanath dies in England under strange circumstances shortly after
dining with Queen Victoria. Following his passing away in 1846
Jorashandos affairs devolved on Maharshi Debendranath
(Robindranaths father) and over time on Rebindranath himself
who held the reins as karta (head) of the Tagore family.
spiritualistic bent and Spartan lifestyle, Rabindranaths
stupendous intellectualism and the exquisite skills of his
illustrious nephews, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath saw Jorashanko
shedding its mere aristocratic trappings and flinging its blinds open
to the winds of revivalism. The ages of Brahmo, (a breakaway
discipline of Hinduism) liberalism and Tagorean unversalism had
dawned on the Jorashanko House.
The Tagores subtly
mingled their assiduous intake of swadeshi (Indian) literature
and the Upanishadas with the study of Shakespeare, Walter Scott and
the diversity of French philosophers and novelists. The first
swadeshi soap is also known to have been manufactured at the
One of the truly
remarkable happenings at the Jorshanko House in days of dogged
obscurantism awas the devoutness of the Tagores to emancipate the
ladies of their family. Feminism, till then, was stifled in the
inner chambers of the andar mahal. On a summers
evening, the shackles fell asunder. In the fading light, as the
world gaped aghast, two horses trotted out of Jorashankos deori
(entrance) and galloped in the direction of the riverside. Leading
the waywas Jyotindranath Tagore (Rabindranaths brother) and by
his side, with head held high, was Kadambari his wife.
(south-facing) verandah of Jorashankos Baithakhana House, which
overlooked the fountains on the lawns, has now become synonymous with
Tagores halcyon days. This south verandah or dakshin-barandah
has seen a motely stream of characters. Together with customary
visitors like political reformers, intellectuals and friends of the
Tagore came Chinese shoemakers, Burrabazars (an old north
Calcutta trading center) textile merchants and dress designers.
Gabriel, a Jew from Istanbul (who, Abanindranath thought resembled
Shylock) would also drop by to sell perfume and distribute silk
handkerchiefs as giveaways.
It is said that
Abanindranath and Gaganendranath spent hours in the dakshin
barandah palette in hand, to create some of their unforgettable
works. Occasionally, Abanindranath would be found here in the
evenings plucking on the mandolin or esraj (an Indian string
instrument) to the soulful songs of a family acquaintance named
Motibabu. The aroma of tobacco, paan (betel leaves) and
orange-syrup wafted across the verandah. And in the event of a
family wedding it was stacked with wrapped gifts.
monumental visions had begun to blossom in Shantiniketan (100
kilometres away from Calcutta) from the turn of the century. As the
Tagore family splintered and fortunes nosedived, Jorashankos
luminosity paled. On 7th August 1941 the tapers flickered
out at the house which had bathed Bengal in infinite glory.
Rabindranath Tagore died. The Jorashanko House, inevitably, changed
hands and the magnificent edifice (requisitioned by British to billet
soldiers for a while) was knocked down. Gurudev, we learn, had
yearned to end his days in the solitude of his idyllic Shantiniketan.
Destiny designed differently. The dakshin barandah stared forlornly
as a dazed human mass carried a genius from the portals of Jorashanko
for his eternal journey.