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A Visva miles away in Lanka

- Sri Palee College has Patha Bhavan & holds open classes
Students of Sri Palee College perform a dance to welcome Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Sushanta Duttagupta (in black waistcoat) on October 3. Picture credit: Visva-Bharati

Santiniketan, Oct. 16: The college has a Patha Bhavan and Kala Bhavan, but it’s not in Santiniketan.

In the Sri Lankan town of Horana, 33km from Colombo, is Sri Palee College, the foundation of which was laid by Rabindranath Tagore 78 years ago.

According to Visva-Bharati officials, such was the influence of the poet’s vision on education that the college started open-air classes and named its departments on the lines of Visva-Bharati.

A team of 42 students led by Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Sushanta Duttagupta visited the college last month.

The visit, during which the students of Sangeet Bhavan performed Tagore’s dance drama Shapmochan at Hillwood College in Kandy, was part of the varsity’s efforts to spread the poet’s ideas in the country where he had spent a considerable part of his life. The team visited the Sri Palee College on October 3.

After Tagore returned from Sri Lanka in 1934, he had sent several teachers such as Santidev Ghose — one of the main dancers in Shapmochan that was staged in Sri Lanka in 1934 — to Sri Palee College.

Visva-Bharati officials said Ghose went to Sri Palee College twice after Tagore’s visit and taught students Rabindrasangeet and classical dance. Several students from Santiniketan had also visited the college.

Last month’s “revisit”, a team member said, was an attempt to renew the ties, which had weakened over the years.

“Tagore maintained a close relationship with Sri Palee College. However, in the past 78 years, Visva-Bharati’s connection with the Lanka college had almost snapped. This is the first time after Tagore’s death that a team from the varsity visited Sri Palee,” a varsity official said.

Vice-chancellor Duttagupta was elated on finding the “little Santiniketan” in Lanka. “It is very interesting that the spirit song of Sri Palee is Tagore’s Ekla Cholo Re translated in Sinhalese. They have named their departments Patha Bhavan, Vidya Bhavan and Kala Bhavan. We were attracted by this. The students of Sri Palee College also visited Santiniketan last summer. We want to have an exchange programme and I have conveyed our wish to the Indian high commissioner and the vice-chancellor of Colombo university.”

Some Visva-Bharati officials said the college, which has been taken over by the Sri Lankan government, is losing some of the “culture” Tagore had started there.

“The college’s ties with Visva-Bharati have seen a long gap. Sri Palee is facing a crisis to follow a culture like that in Santiniketan. So, they have agreed to Duttagupta’s desire for an exchange programme to revamp the activities started by Tagore,” an official said.

Duttagupta has invited Lankan high commissioner Ashok K. Kantha and the Colombo university vice-chancellor to a programme on December 19 to celebrate the 100 years of Tagore’s Nobel.

“I think it will be the landmark for starting a regular cultural exchange programme,” Duttagupta said.