Jorasanko Thakurbari: the sanctuary of the Bengali renaissance

Hitaishi Majumder | Live the World

November 23, 2022

In the North Kolkata neighbourhood of Jorasanko stands the Jorasanko Thakurbari (Thakur- the local name of the Tagores, bari- house), the ancestral home of the illustrious Tagores who were at the forefront of the Bengali Renaissance. Over three centuries, the family produced icons. Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, the great patriarch, was one of India’s first industrialists. His son Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, the great philosopher and scholar, was the founder of the Brahmo creed. Exceptional artists such as Gaganendranath Tagore and Abanindranath Tagore made indelible contributions to modern Indian painting. The greatest luminary from the Tagore family was the polymath Rabindranath Tagore, Asia’s first Nobel laureate and the founder of the Visva Bharati University in Shantiniketan. This eminent family lived in the grand red mansion at Jorasanko that now serves as the Rabindra Bharati Museum. A visit to Kolkata is not complete without a tour of this heritage mansion that was the sanctuary of the creme de la creme of Bengal’s and India's intellectual community. 

Around the Jorasanko Thakurbari

© Wikimedia Commons/ Biswarup Ganguly

The palatial house was built in 1784 by Prince Dwarkanath Tagore who commissioned British architects and hence the Indo-European style is apparent from the facade itself. Inside, the hanging verandas, expansive aisles, and cathedral-style window walls will transport you to a different time and space.   At first, make your way to the west wing of the house where a beautiful broad veranda will take you to the three adjacent rooms where Rabindranath lived and breathed his last. The great poet’s rooms have his signature overalls, dress-stand, mirror, bed and other personal belongings on exhibit. The room where he breathed his last will simultaneously instil melancholy and a sense of the great man’s achievement that brings scores of people from across the world to visit his familial abode. The walls of all these rooms are adorned with his writings that will give you a peek into the vast scope of his thinking.

© Wikimedia Commons/ Biswarup Ganguly

Down the aisle, you will find the Paintings Gallery that houses beautiful paintings created by not just members of the Tagore family but also immortal artists such as Nandalal Bose and Jamini Roy of the Bengal school of painting. The winding staircases will then take you to the different parts of the house. Look out for the family maternity room where Rabindranath himself was born in 1861, the family tree listing all the stalwarts of the family and the family's majestic dining table. There are different galleries documenting Rabindranath’s travels across the world and exhibiting the things that he used on such journeys. The north wing of the Jorasanko Thakurbari has the Bichitra Bhavan where you will find Abanindranath Tagore’s easel stand and his ivory trinket box. Additionally, you'll find there Prince Dwarkanath’s silver-plated mirror and many other personal significant things. This wing also has Maharshi Debendranath Tagore’s room with his own bed and a small prayer room attached with it.

© Istock/ranadev ray choudhury

The next stop within the Jorasanko Thakurbari is my favorite place there, the Maharshi Bhavan. It is a pristine white courtyard right in the middle of the complex where the Tagore family used to organize plays and several other cultural events.  You will need to catch your breath after touring the gigantic Thakurbari and the Maharshi Bhavan is the best place to do so while admiring the beautiful arched hallway surrounding the rectangular area.

How and when to visit the Jorasanko Thakurbari

© Wikimedia Commons/ Biswarup Ganguly

The easiest way to reach the Jorasanko Thakurbari is by availing the Kolkata Metro. It is located an 850-meter walk away from the Mahatma Gandhi Road Metro Station. It is better to avoid travelling to the place by road due to the notorious traffic in the area. The Jorasanko Thakurbari remains open from 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM on all days of the week except Monday. Apart from the regular pass available at the front gate, you will need to purchase a separate pass from the office of the Rabindra Bharati Museum for photography in Maharshi Bhavan. Rabindranath’s birth and death anniversaries are celebrated here with grand cultural festivities on 25 Baishakh and 22 Srabon respectively. Baishakh and Srabon are the first and fourth months in the Bengali calendar. Hence, the dates vary according to the English calendar. However, they can be tentatively pinned to sometime around the 7th of May for his birth anniversary and the 7th of August for his death anniversary.

The epicentre of social, cultural, and literary movements

© Wikimedia Commons/ Biswarup Ganguly

The Jorasanko Thakurbari and its inhabitants have enriched the history of Bengal and India and have influenced our lives in innumerable ways. The way in which Indian women drape their sarees today, coupled with a blouse, was first introduced by Jnanadanandini Devi, Rabindranath Tagore’s sister-in-law. We, Bengalis, resort to Rabindranath’s poems or songs in any given situation, be it in celebration or in mourning.  The Bengali Renassaince found its solemn sanctuary in this household. Simply put, the Jorashanko Thakurbari is a treasure trove of historical and cultural abundance that you can not afford to miss out on during your trip to Kolkata.

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