"I am very happy to be with all of you today to inaugurate and dedicate to the nation Shyamali, the heritage house of Shri. Rabindranath Tagore.
Shyamali is an experimental mud-house built at Santiniketan in 1935. I am glad to know that the house has been recently renovated by the Archaeological Survey of India as a deposit work. I am told that the historical house is a property of Visva-Bharati at present.
Rabindranath Tagore visited Santiniketan for the first time at the age of twelve and stayed at the house built by his father Maharshi Devendranath Tagore known as Santiniketan Griha. Santiniketan gets its name from this house which stands even today as an example of the splendor of colonial architecture.
Rabindranath, out of a traumatic and claustrophobic childhood-experience of his own education at school within the boundaries of four walls, set up a school for children at Santiniketan in 1901. He then built 5 new houses at the Northern corner of the Santiniketan ashram which is now know Uttarayana and named them Konark, Udayan, Shyamali, Punascha and Udichi.
History says that Shri. Rabindranath Tagore stayed in these houses at various points of time and took special interest in the planning of the houses according to his requirements.
I am told that Shri. Rabindranath Tagore, was dissatisfied with concrete structures and desired to have a new house made of mud as his last abode and as a result, Shyamali was built and that the roof of Shyamali is also made of mud.
He hoped that Shyamali would encourage poverty-stricken families of rural Bengal to have earthen roofs instead of thatched roofs prone to be destroyed in fire. Large and empty earthen vessels were intentionally placed inside the thick mud walls and roof of one of the rooms of Shyamali for the purpose of introducing a natural cooling system.
Rabindranath immortalised this house by publishing a book of Poems entitled ‘Shyamali’ in 1936.
I am happy to learn that the house was designed by Surendranath Kar, built by Santal artisans under the supervision of Gour Mondal and subsequently decorated by Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baiz in association with the students of Kala-Bhavana of Visva-Bharati.
It is a matter of great pride that Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi stayed at this house in 1940 during their visit to Santiniketan and also preferred to stay at this house after the death of the Poet.
My dear sisters and brothers,
Shri. Rabindranath Tagore was the first Asian to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He was a native of Calcutta, who wrote in Bengali and often translated his own work into English.
He wrote poetry, fiction, drama, essays, and songs; promoted reforms in education, aesthetics and religion; and in his late 60s he even turned to the visual arts, producing nearly 2,500 paintings and drawings before his death.
To Bengal, Tagore has been, and remains, an altogether exceptional literary figure, towering over all others.
Tagore’s poetry, which often takes the form of melodious songs, called Rabindrasangeet, has transformed popular Bengali music with its particular combination of reflective language and compatible tunes.
With his translations of some of his poems he became rapidly known in the West. His fame attained a luminous height, taking him across continents on lecture tours and tours of friendship.
For India, especially for Bengal, he is a great living institution and for the world, he became the voice, the representative of India’s spiritual heritage.
He is indeed India’s pride and glory.
Santiniketan embodies Rabindranath Tagore’s vision of a place of learning that is unencumbered by religious and regional barriers. Santiniketan was established in 1863 with the aim of helping education go beyond the confines of the classroom.
By 1921, Santiniketan slowly grew into one of the most revered Universities of India, the Visva Bharati University. It remains the abode to some of the most creative minds in the country.
Santiniketan was affectionately moulded by Tagore on the principles of humanism, internationalism and a sustainable environment.
He developed a unique curriculum that was an optimum blend of art, human values and cultural interchange. Even today, one can still feel his presence, his passion, his dedication and his pride in the institution in the portals of Santiniketan.
The poet who sincerely believed that “The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence”, envisioned the creation of a thriving centre of education where nature walks and excursions were a part of the curriculum and special attention was paid to natural phenomena.
Tagore also sought to expand the school’s relationship with the neighbouring villages of the Santhal tribal community in an attempt to help with rural reconstruction and to sensitize the students about the challenges of rural life. I am glad to note that, thanks to his efforts, Santiniketan has today become the largest centre for educated Santhals in West-Bengal.
As our Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi said “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any”, Over the years, Santiniketan has adapted to the changing times yet preserved its essence in the way what Tagore wanted it to be.
My dear sisters and brothers,
Tagore was an ardent believer in the value of protecting, nurturing and propagating our rich cultural heritage. He once said “Without music and the fine arts, a nation lacks its highest means of national self-expression and the people remain inarticulate.”
India is home to a treasure trove of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. Our heritage is our identity; it is what makes us unique and exceptional. India always held an enviable position in the world because of its rich and extremely diverse cultural heritage.
It is our duty and responsibility to protect every single monument and every single art form and pass it on to posterity so that they grow up in complete comprehension of India’s glorious history. Our cultural heritage is our collective legacy. We have to preserve it so that the generations to come may enjoy the educational, cultural and aesthetic benefits of our great cultural heritage.
Since time immemorial, India has been known for its architectural genius, especially vernacular architecture. Indian vernacular architecture includes informal, functional structures, often in rural areas of India, built of local materials and designed to meet the needs of the local people.
The builders of these structures were often unschooled in formal architectural design and their work reflects the rich diversity of India's climate. They were built using locally available building materials and symbolized the intricate variations in local social customs and craftsmanship.
Indian vernacular architecture is an epitome of sustainability. These structures serve as models of sustainable housing to be emulated, for future architects and builders and therefore must be zealously restored where necessary and preserved.
I understand quite well the arduous nature of restoration work.
It is not an easy project.
But we simply cannot let our architectural gems lie buried under the weight of neglect and inertia. As the famous Sanskrit dramatist Bhasa had said, “it is much more difficult to preserve treasure than to acquire it.”
I applaud ASI for the great restoration work of Shyamali carried out by them.
The government and the civil society organizations must get together and take up the task of preservation of our tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
Both the government and civil society groups must also work to generate awareness among the larger public about the value of these buildings and for the duty of preserving these architectural marvels also falls on each and every citizen of this country.
General public must desist from defacing and misusing these precious buildings and must make every effort to prevent the further degeneration of these jewels.
I am happy to see that a beginning has been made in the recent years to build public-private partnerships to preserve and protect monuments and propagate cultural traditions and art forms. Many more such endeavours should be envisioned.
The dedication of this heritage house to the nation and making its rich history available to everyone is the best tribute that can be paid to India’s immortal bard who always believed in the democratization of knowledge and wisdom.
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake”.
May these verses forever serve as your compass in your journey forward.