Shyamali, covered with plastic sheets. Picture by Snehamoy Chakraborty
Santiniketan, Sept. 11: Visva-Bharati has approached Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for the restoration and renovation of Rabindranath Tagore’s mud house in Santiniketan — Shyamali — the poet’s summer retreat.
ASI officials said they would begin the renovation of Shyamali, constructed in 1935, after the monsoon.
“The condition of the mud house has deteriorated over the years. The roof is badly damaged and is leaking. This is harming the interiors. So we have decided to restore the house. We have requested the ASI to take up the project,” said Tapati Mukhopadhay, the director of Rabindra Bhavana.
Workers engaged by the ASI have covered Shyamali, where Mahatma Gandhi had stayed with his wife twice, with plastic sheets to protect it from rain. ASI officials said the mud would be chemically treated to increase the longevity of Shyamali.
One of directors of the ASI, T.J. Baidya, told The Telegraph from Delhi: “We will start the conservation work after the monsoon. The mud will be chemically treated to give the house a long life. We are consulting our chemical engineers so that the structure becomes long-lasting.”
“Restoring such an old mud house is a challenging job. It is very difficult to find construction workers who have expertise in making such mud houses. We have found after a long search workers from Midnapore and Birbhum. There are some bitumen art works of Nandalal Bose outer wall of the house. Restoring the building keeping the art work intact is also challenging,” he added.
Visva-Bharati officials said after Tagore’s death in 1941, Santhal women used to occasionally give the walls and floors a mud coating and polishing. “Some patch-work repairs were carried out with the help of tribals. Now, a complete renovation has become a necessity,” an official said.
Tagore built the house in 1935 and stayed there in summer to escape the scorching heat of Birbhum.
Visva-Bharati spokesperson Amrit Sen said another reason for building the house was Tagore’s wish to “find out whether a permanent mud roof could be built instead of the fire-prone and then-common thatched roof”.
“Tagore felt that if a house with a permanent mud roof could be built, it would serve as a model for villagers. He felt it would be cost-effective too (as the straw on a thatched roof needs to be replaced periodically). The walls of Shyamali are thick enough to endure the weight of the mud roof,” Sen added.
Varsity sources said sculptor Suren Kar made the architectural plan Shyamali and Nandalal Bose had decorated the outer walls with “beautiful relief work”.
Some of the art work on the outer walls had also been done by Kala Bhavana students under Bose’s guidance.
The Santhal reliefs on either side of the main door were done by Ramkinkar Baij.
Tagore had named a volume of his poems after Shyamali.
A varsity official said: “Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba stayed at Shyamali when they came to meet Tagore in 1940. They stayed at the same house during another trip a year later. Tagore had passed away then.”
Painter Jogen Chowdhury, who lives in Santiniketan, said: “The house has a historical background. So, the authorities should look after its restoration work and maintain its glory.”