Jorasanko Thakurbari: Where Rabindranath lived, died & became immortal

Photo Copyright: Carpe Diem Tales/Shreya Teresita
It was like I was at the funeral of a very dear friend, late by decades. Everybody had left and moved on. I was...late to mourn a grave loss.

Darao pothik bor!

You’re about to enter the house where Rabindranath Tagore was born. You will soon stand in the room where he breathed his last. You will be walking down the very ‘sankos’ (bridges) he wrote about in his autobiography; the very corridors he once tread, possibly mulling over the lines of a song or poem we hold dear even today, over a century later. Stop a while, traveller. You are about to walk through time.

Jorasanko Thakur Bari (Photo Copyright: Shreya Teresita)
The Jorasanko Thakur Bari (Photo Copyright: Shreya Teresita)

The Sprawling Ground — Pay 50 Bucks to Photograph it!

The bright-red Jorasanko (meaning 'twin bridges') mansion sprawls across some 35,000 square meters, partly used as Rabindra Bharati University, and partly as a museum summing up the life and time of the Nobel Laureate. Topnotch renovation, with air conditioners, LCD TVs, uniformed guards, etc., hush the fact that this house was built in 1785. However, it still fails to take away the feel of the ancient. And if you have read Tagore’s Jibon Smriti, you will be able to see what young Tagore talked about when describing his home.

The first thing that greets you as you walk in through the gates at Rabindra Sarani is the Rabindra Sangeet, softly playing in the background. It never leaves your side through your trip across the Jorasanko Thakur Bari.

Before you proceed, though, you must pay an entry fee of Rs 30 (an extra 50 if you want to take pictures) if you’re an Indian, more if you’re a foreigner. You then walk across the sprawling green front yard and over to the inner daalan, a smaller courtyard.

Jorasanko Thakur Bari (Photo Copyright: Shreya Teresita)
The inner courtyard at Jorasanko Thakur Bari (Photo Copyright: Shreya Teresita)

Take as many pictures as you want here, for photography is ‘strictly prohibited’ inside the museum, which you will now head to up the stairs. Another rule, take off your shoes!

The First Floor — Take a Walk Through Tagore's Life

The walls on the first floor, through pictures, trinkets and pieces of writings, tell you the life story of the Nobel Laureate, all the way from his birth, childhood to the last days of his life. Here, you will also find much about the Tagore dynasty, from much before Robi Thakur's time.

One of the first things you see on the first floor is the room where Rabindranath Tagore died, on one unfortunate 22she Srabon. Joined with two corridors on both sides and another room in the front, via three doors, this room opens into the spot where Gurudeb's deathbed once lay. The spot is now lays barricaded, much like the garden in Teen Murti Bhavan where Mrs Gandhi collapsed after being shot — a human attempt to keep their footsteps be the last ones there.

A vase of fresh flowers sits in the centre of room, before a tall, framed picture of his. Silence prevails; those who speak, speak in hushed voices, like one would in a church.

I have always been a mad ‘bhakt’ of Rabindranath Tagore. Pretty much a stereotypical Bong in this matter. But standing in his room, it was a revelation of different sorts. Not the giddy feeling you get when you’re a Coldplay fan at a Coldplay concert, or a wannabe cricketer getting Sachin Tendulkar’s autograph.

It was like I was at the funeral of a very dear friend, late by decades. Everybody had left and moved on. I was...late to mourn a grave loss.

Standing in this room, I cried. Yep. It may seem like an overreaction or an exaggeration to some. It was hella embarrassing, I can tell you, for the other visitors kept giving me the much-feared side glances. But I couldn't help it. The lump in my throat wouldn't go away. I felt chills run down my spine as I tried to imagine what Tagore must have felt like in this room in his last moments, having once so profoundly contemplated his death in the lines of Jokhon Porbe Na Mor Payer Chinho.

Another thing about this museum that touched my heart was an excerpt of his love letter to his wife, Mrinalini, where he writes in Bengali, “You do not have to do anything to please me. Just love me unconditionally, and that shall be enough.”

That, my friend, is the Bard of Bengal for you.

The Resounding Absence of Kadambari Devi

One thing that thoroughly disappointed me about the Jorasanko Thakur Bari, however, is the lack of his sister-in-law Kadambari Devi’s presence in the entire museum. Barring a couple of mentions about how ‘Notun Bouthan’ inspired Rabindranath Tagore, Kadambari is completely absent here. Unlike that of Tagore's, his father's and his wife's, the room where Kadambari had died is not a part of the museum. It is locked away in the terrace, out of bounds for visitors.

Over a century has passed since Kadambari killed herself in this mansion, in 1858, under mysterious circumstances. Even today, it seems like she’s being shunned for that.

As someone who inspired Tagore’s masterpieces, who was instrumental in turning him into the writer we know today, I believe Kadambari deserves much more than mere a two-line mention in a corner.

Jorasanko Thakur Bari (Photo Copyright: Shreya Teresita)
The stairs on the left lead up to the museum at the Jorasanko Thakur Bari (Photo Copyright: Shreya Teresita)

The Second Floor – Tagore's Many, Many Foreign Trips

Strewn across the second floor and some other wings of the museum are the mystical records of Tagore’s some 40-odd international trips — to Japan, China, the US, the UK, Budapest, Iran, Germany, etc. Almost each place has a room dedicated to it, wrapped in its own traditional decor, detailing Tagore’s relationship with it, his work there, and the people he was close to.

On the second floor lies a room where, the museum claims, he was born — a record filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh and many others have vehemently contradicted. In one of his interviews, though, Ritu Da fondly reminisced how, while location-scouting for his documentary on Tagore, he’d sat outside this room and had an epiphany. The key to an out-of-bounds staircase had gone missing, and the security guards told him that they were looking for it.

While waiting for them to find the key that would open up this door for him, Ritu Da realised that he “would never find the key that opened the door to Tagore’s mind…”

The mansion has many other such corners, filled with treasures like his manuscripts (where he edited out rejected lines with doodles), his paintings, intimate family photographs, family portraits, family tree (Sharmila Tagore is nowhere on it!), various accounts of the Bengal renaissance, heirlooms, tapestry, antiques, newspaper cuttings...and, of course, his writings.

Sprawled over the other wings and two more floors, the Jorasanko Thakur Bari museum also encapsulates the contributions of the other members of the Tagore family — Gurudeb’s grandfather Dwarkanath, father Debendranath, wife Mrinalini, etc.

Jorasanko Thakur Bari is not a place you can wrap up touring in an hour or so, nor is it a place you visit to ‘hang out’ in. If you love literature, history or architecture, or are looking to know about Rabindranath Tagore beyond his writings and Google searches, take out three to four hours from your day and head over to 6/4, Dwarakanath Tagore Lane.

This place has a soul.

Tip 1: Keep a voice recorder handy if you want to record your trip, for there are guards aplenty to smack you if you try to take pictures in the museum.

Tip 2, Seriously, don’t try to trespass in search of Kadambari Devi’s room. I tried, and it was not pretty.

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