Holi is one of the numerous festivals that are celebrated in India, and its sheer boisterousness coupled with an electrifying atmosphere, the clouds of vibrant colours, and the joyous arrival of spring, make this festival one of the most glorious ones in this country. Even though the festival of colours is known by the name Holi in most parts of India, West Bengal’s Santiniketan celebrates it as the Basanta Utsav or the Dol Utsav.
Every year, the joyous, fun-filled Basanta Utsav takes place in the third month of the Gregorian calendar March which usually coincides with the months of Falgun and Chaitra in the Bengali calendar.
Where is Basanta Utsav Celebrated?
Holi may be celebrated in various parts of the country, but the graceful Basanta Utsav is a very special event and celebration of Bolpur in Santiniketan. Literally translated, Santiniketan would mean an abode of peace, and the place in the interiors of Bengal is associated with a rich cultural heritage.
The Visva Bharati University of this region gears up for the festival with a blast of mesmerizing colours. The elaborate festival to welcome spring is an experience that is too precious to miss. Santiniketan is known as the breeding ground of rich culture, a sacred pilgrimage for learning art as well as dance, and it is frequented by people from places nearby and far off during its vibrant and colourful Basant Utsav.
The Origin and Cultural Significance of Basanta Utsav
The renowned Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore had arrived in Santiniketan in the year 1873. Being a place that was very close to his heart, Santiniketan had been a generous host to him for quite a few years. Tagore himself was not immune to the ethereal charm that is accompanied by the arrival of the blossoms of spring and the bright colours of the season.
In the 1920s, he decided to celebrate the arrival of spring during Basant Panchami. After a few years, this festival was shifted to the day which corresponded to the festival of colours. Till date, the legacy of this celebration continues with its graceful beauty. Also known as the ‘Rabindrik Basanta Utsav’, this fiesta receives tens of thousands of people each year.
How is Basanta Utsav Celebrated?
With a colourful atmosphere that is dominated by the bright yellow, the residents of Santiniketan come together to celebrate Basanta Utsav with grandeur and enthusiasm. The students of the Visva Bharati University as well as all the people who pay a visit to this place get dressed in traditional attire. While the women drape themselves with yellow sarees and adorn their locks with the fragrant palash flower, the men usually wear kurta and pyjamas.
Food and Festivities
The youngsters of the university put up a wonderful cultural programme, in which they perform the famous poems and songs of the revered Rabindranath Tagore. Visitors flock together from all parts of West Bengal, increasing the average footfall to over two hundred thousand. Delicious food, batik clothes and accessories, as well as a grand celebration with people running behind one another to smear their hands and faces with ‘abir’, or hued powder, all combine to make this festival one of the happiest.
The continuous presence of the melodies of Tagore popularly referred to as the Rabindrasangeet, from the speakers, sound like honey to the ears. Once in a while, people throw a handful of colours in the air to shower the others in a riot of vibrant hues. Small groups gather together and hum the mesmerizing tunes of these songs on their guitars while the others join in to sing along.
Groups of Baul singers are also present in this carnivalesque celebration, singing songs of peace and joy and love and faith while strumming the chords of the single-stringed musical instrument, commonly referred to as the ektara. All in all, the mystic aura gets blended with the charming elan of this place and gives rise to an elated sense of joy.
Basanta Utsav is what makes Santiniketan the mesmerizing destination that it is – the very soul of this place lies in the festival of colours. Even though it is just one of the several cultural festivals that are celebrated in West Bengal, it has a unique place in the hearts of people everywhere. Everyone, from the ages of nine to ninety, come together to welcome the pleasant season of blooming flowers with a smile on their faces, a song on their lips, and a mixture of colourful ‘abir’ (gulaal or powdered colours) on their faces.
Basant Utsav is held in the month of March on the day of Holi, spring is welcomed through music and dances. Teachers and students greet each other with Abirs in this festival day. Basant Utsav literally means the ‘celebration of spring’. The beautiful tradition of celebrating spring festival in Bengal was first started by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, at Vishwabharati Shantiniketan, the University founded by him. Actually, Basant Utsav is no different from Holi, except for the gracefulness with which it is celebrated. In Shantiniketan, Basant Utsav is celebrated with immense fervor and zeal.