Basant Utsav at Shantiniketan

The last time I went to attend Holi Festival, it was in Mathura. Hundreds and thousands of Instagram photos tempted me to go, be a part of this festival, see the bash of colours by myself. But when I reached there I realized that Mathura Holi is nothing but a galore of eve teasing and hooliganism being practiced by locals and tourists alike. I hated every moment of it and decided never to go attend a Holi festival ever again.

But then a year or two went by and I got to learn about Shantiniketan’s Holi or as they call it, Basanta Utsav of Shantiniketan. The festival has a more historical value in Indian culture than we know about it. Some people convinced me to be a part of the event and it took almost six months of planning to finally be there.

You see, Bengalis are really passionate about their festivals. A simpleton North Indian like me will only know about Durga Puja but there are other festivals that are celebrated with the same zeal and enthusiasm. I will write about another festival soon but let’s focu on Shantiniketan Holi for now.

It was December when I decided to go attend Holi in Shantiniketan. In December, all hotels on every travel portal were full. There was no budget hotel in Bolpur left for booking. I couldn’t find a single airbnb around Bolpur and Shantiniketan. I finally went to Couchsurfing and realized that everyone had fixed their hosts for months in advance.


Basant Utsav Shantiniketan (2)

So I booked a hotel n Burdhawan or Burdhaman, stayed there for a night and then took a train to Bolpur which is only an hour away from here. I reach Bolpur with hundreds of singing and dancing folks who had acquired a similar strategy to travel till the venue. When we reached Bolpur, the scene was totally different. There was a flood of people, but unlike Mathura, everyone was walking in a certain synchronized way giving way to vehicles.

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I don’t know how I reached Shantiniketan but I am sure it took a lot of walking. From a point where the festival venue was supposed to be reached on foot, the crowd only increased. But to my surprise, no one was pushing anyone. Everyone was happy high, singing still, pouring colours on each other, walking patiently.

Basant Utsav Shantiniketan (5)

Shantiniketan is located in Bolpur region of the Birbhum district. The town is 200 km away from Kolkata and was formerly known as Bhubandanga. This place was the foundation ground for Nirakar Brahma, founded by Maharshi Devendranath Tagore. Later Rabindranath Tagore. followed his footsteps and founded several institutions. It was Rabindranath who started the tradition of playing colours in springtime.

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This is when I had a sudden realization. Everyone at the venue was in Kurtas and traditional dress, I on the other hand was out of place wearing a Captain America t-shirt.

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There are barriers, behind which audience are sitting. People have been around since 4 in the morning waiting to find a place in the crowd. Performance is happening at a distance and I am cursing myself for not having a Zoom lens. I click some photos then realize that a majority of action is happening around the ground. People have formed their groups and are dancing, singing and playing colours.

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I walk around the ground, take some quick videos and photos when some pretty Bengali girls come to me and add colour to my clean looking face. Jeewan Safal moment :D.

Holi festival Shantiniketan (2)

The most interesting thing about Shantiniketan Holi was that it was not vulgur like the ones I have attended in Mathura and Pushkar. Here, colours were put on after asking and if someone seemed uncomfortable, they were not forced to the notion of ‘bura na mano holi hai’ jingo.

Holi festival Shantiniketan (4)

Basanta Utsav (the festival of the spring) is the name for Holi in Bengali. The festival has a clear dominance of the yellow and red colours that are used everywhere from decorations, attire and splash.

Holi festival WEst Bengal (1)

Soon the sun went on the head and I decided to return back to Bardhaman. Shantiniketan Holi was a fun experience that could have been better if I had known about the dates and ways to find a accommodation at a nearer place.

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How to reach Shantiniketan

Shantiniketan is 3 hours away from Howarah Station and an hour away from Bardhaman city. During holi, it is difficult to find an accommodation in the town so most people stay in Bardhaman itself.

How to plan for holi in Shantiniketan

Holi or Basantotsav in Shantiniketan is a three day affair that starts two days before Holi festival. Make sure that you have advance booking for hotels in Bardhaman or if lucky then in Bolpur itself. Attend at-least two days of the festival because it will give you a glimpse of the event in the most amazing way.

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This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Anwesha Guha

    I have been meaning to go to Shantiniketan for Basanta Utsav for a quite some time now. But I can never manage to get leaves during March to visit Shantiniketan for Holi. Reading you post brought back an urge to make it happen next year.

    1. ansh997x

      You must start planning your visit in December so that you find a place during the festival.

  2. shreyasaha1987

    I have lived in Kolkata for a couple of years and I wonder why I have missed visiting this amazing festival that happens a few hours away from Kolkata during the spring. Thanks for bringing out the different colors of the festival. The culture of the place is vibrant and it is great to see the happy faces in your pictures. Maybe someday, I manage to attend this festival.

    1. ansh997x

      It is really nice, I am in love with West Bengal’s vibe overall. I really want to visit and attend Durga Puja someday.

  3. Eden Fite

    Your photos make this such a beautiful post. I felt like I got to experience the festival right along with you. I first heard of the Holi Festival this year, but am only familiar with the one held near Agra. These festivals look like such a good time, I hope I get to experience this one day as well.

  4. Soumya Gayatri

    I have heard a lot about the Basant Utsav of Shantiniketan but have never had a chance to experience it myself. Through your pictures, I felt I was right there enjoying the festival with you. It looks so beautiful and colorful. And I am glad people enjoy it in good taste. That is what makes all the difference at the end of the day. Hope to be able to make it here one day.

    1. ansh997x

      You must try to visit it sometime in future. Of all the holi versions this one was my favorite.

  5. Anita

    I had a chance to participate holi few years ago in India. It was a memorable experience! The festival in Shantiniketan is longer and that sounds even more fun!

  6. Jas

    I’ve definitely seen and heard a lot about Holi Festival from social media too and have always wanted to experience it firsthand, but was a little anxious that it’d perhaps be a little too “crazy” for me. I love how the Mathura Holi is more structured/organized. Not to mention, how polite that you’re asked before people put colors on you! I think this is definitely more for me and I’d love to witness this beautiful tradition someday.

    1. ansh997x

      I did’nt really like Mathura Holi in fact it was all opposite of what you said. But yeah, the tradition is beautiful.

  7. Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions

    I’m learning about Holi for (basically) the first time by reading your post, and it looks like a really amazing experience. It’s unfortunate that it was a letdown in Mathura, but I’m so glad to hear that it was an experience defined by respect in Shantiniketan. I can clearly see how yellow and red are dominant as you mentioned. You’ve also captured some amazing candid moments during the celebrations, and I feel as if I’m surrounded by the festive atmosphere just from seeing your photos.

    1. ansh997x

      Holi has different versions all around India. You can research about it and explore its various customs.

  8. Yukti

    I have heard so much about Shanti Niketan and its Holi celebrations that I always want to go. But could not make it, but reading your post makes me tempted to celebrate my next Holi here in Shanti Niketan.

    1. ansh997x

      It is a beautiful festival, you must plan some time in future