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AT HOME IN THE WORLD

In ARCHITECTURE OF SANTINIKETAN: TAGORE’S CONCEPT OF SPACE (Niyogi, Rs 1,495), Samit Das brings together photographs, most of which are from his camera, and an informed commentary to present the way Tagore imagines, envisions, thinks of and designs space. Santiniketan is the unique example of a designed space, where not only does architecture fuse with and express nature, but it is also ‘placed’ within a whole environment animated with a particular purpose: the flowering of the spirit through education and creation.

Das sees his own study as a split-level edifice like Tagore’s Udayana (centre, top) whose integrated structure, Das says, obscures the fact that it took almost eight years to complete. Das’s study took 15 years, and it gives the impression of a mind and eye still exploring ways to express the complicated harmony of Tagore’s vision. His search takes him back to early images of designs and spaces Tagore may have carried in his mind from his childhood and youth in Jorasanko. Some of the most striking photographs are from there, as for example, that of the courtyard of Number 6 in Jorasanko taken from the natmandir there (left).

Among other equally suggestive photographs from Jorasanko, there is one of the split-level second-floor rooftop of Number 6, where Tagore spent much of his youth with his older brother Jyotirindranath, his wife, Kadambari, and their brilliant friends, surrounded by and participating in music, singing, poetry and drama.

It is Das’s achievement that he is able to connect for the reader Jorasanko with Santiniketan in terms of architecture and the creation of meaningful spaces, while he traces the subtle movement from the traditional to the modern in Tagore’s vision of building. The photographs, focusing on shapes both material and insubstantial, and capturing the rhythms of the landscape echoed and celebrated in the built, are carefully selected and arranged. The arrangement illuminates the spirit of the architecture of Santiniketan, where lessons, nature, poetry, art, music, festivals, decoration, history and novelty merge.

Classes in the open (top, right), a photograph by Shambhu Saha, is an almost symbolic representation of Santiniketan’s informing spirit, echoed, for example, in the gateway at the ashram (bottom, centre) with its stylized tree along the column ending in the suggestion of a flowering lotus at the top. The traditional floor decoration taken from rural Bengal, called alpona, (bottom, right) was used by Tagore and others around him for celebrations and for welcoming guests, demonstrating, says Das, the transformation of ritual art into a vehicle of modern expression. Alpona is also a collaborative work of art, therefore suited perfectly to the spirit of the place.