Bracketed by two rows of quaintly painted cottages at either end of the partly landscaped field, the Baul-Fakir Ashram seemed a world unto itself–vast, uncrowded, and peaceful. It had taken us almost five hours to reach from Kolkata, with a spot of sightseeing and an elaborate breakfast on the way.
No sooner than we got down from the car, manager Saiful and his associates took charge. Our luggage was dispatched to the room in one of the faraway cottages while we were guided to the dining hall tucked among the row of cottages near the gate. We freshened up and sat down for a home-cooked meal. As we were the only guests that weekend, a local family was entrusted with the charge of cooking and delivering the meals.
Located in Purba Bardhaman district, Bannabagram is a small village hemmed by sal forests and agricultural fields. Just off the main black tar road that continues to the village market is this cultural complex started by Banglanatak dot com, a social enterprise which works across India ‘to foster inclusive and sustainable development using culture-based approaches’.
Responsible tourists looking for simple stay arrangements are welcome to enjoy at 4 well furnished cottages (double occupancy, with attached western style toilet), booking at [email protected], 8420106396. This is a— banglanatak dot com (@banglanatak) December 31, 2020
banglanatak dot com initiative ! pic.twitter.com/zChUnYPg5y
One of the areas where the organisation has been working for long is the realm of Baul-Fakiri music of Bengal. Rising above the tenets of regular religious beliefs, Baul and Fakiri singers believe in the existence of the formless Divine spirit, and music as the means of reaching spiritual freedom. It is surprising how these people, often unlettered, can break the most complicated philosophies of life into simple lyrical expressions. And in today’s strife-torn world, their messages of brotherhood, love and tolerance, have become all the more important.
Banglanatak has been supporting this community for a long time by disseminating their music among a wider audience, holding workshops, or training new generations through the ‘Guru-Shishya Parampara’. But soon they realised that it is necessary for the musicians to have a permanent place to perform, and also attract a regular audience. To fulfil this ambition, they started the Baul-Fakir Ashram, not far from the educational and cultural hub of Bolpur-Shantiniketan.
You may either visit the ashram on a day visit from Kolkata or Shantiniketan or spend a weekend there. There are four double bedrooms (individual eco-friendly cottages), simple but comfortably furnished, and with attached washrooms.
Traditional wood craft of Nutangram adds an artistic touch to the cots and tables. Narrow paved paths connect the performance arena to the cottages. Trying to be self-sustaining as far as possible, the complex grows its own vegetables. There is also a pond to one side. Each cottage comes with a tiny sit-out from where you can enjoy the performances. But we found it more interesting to gather around the smaller of the two stages where the daily performances took place. If you stay overnight, you can join the Bauls at dawn when they render a special set of songs called ‘Prabhati’, urging people to get up, enjoy the nature around them, and chant the name of the divine.
Each week, one group is invited to perform at the complex. Each day there are three performances – at dawn, late morning and in the afternoon. The performances are free for all visitors, including local people. But you may donate if you desire; there is a donation box near the stage.
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However, please note, this is not a typical tourist complex. It is a place to enjoy the quiet countryside and immerse yourself in Baul music by day. At night, the place is well lit. But there is no activity. There are no televisions in rooms. However, you may try star gazing or try to locate the resident owls. The set-up is ideal for small music groups to hold their own retreats.
Bannabagram is a little over 150km from Kolkata via Guskara and Ausgram.
On the way, you can see the 108 Shiva Temple at Nabab-haat (near Burdwan town) built in 1788 by Maharani Bishankumari Devi, the widow of Maharaj Tilak Chand, and renovated in 1968 by Birla Janakalyan Trust. You will also pass through Shaktigarh, the town known for the Bengali sweet called ‘lynagcha’.
In January, charges at the Bannabagram Baul Fakir Ashram were pegged at Rs 2,000 per head per day, which included one night accommodation, lunch, dinner and breakfast.
The place can be visited between August and April but the best time is winter. But do check for the latest information before planning.
For more details and booking, write to [email protected]