It is a bit of struggle to spot Thakurbari, the birthplace and ancestral abode of Rabindranath Tagore, in the narrow bylanes of Jorasanko. Though it seems in a state of neglect, the palatial house is a quite place, away from the maddening crowd of the historic city.
Rabindranath Tagore was born in 1861 in this ancestral home. On entering the complex, the visitors are greeted by a glass-painted board displaying a few lines from the poem "Parichay", along with a photograph of the poet, with some peasants of Bengal.
The house, built in 1784 by Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, grandfather of the Nobel Laureate, was the hub of Bengal’s cultural milieu for well over a century. Not only were the men of this household progressive, even the women were far ahead of times. They travelled abroad in scholarly pursuit, took part in the freedom movement and worked towards the emancipation of women.
Digambri Devi, wife of Dwarkanath Tagore, is said to have consulted Brahmins whether a wife could refuse a husband, who had forsaken traditional values. Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, Dwarkanath Tagore’s eldest son and Rabindranath’s father, sent his daughter, Saudamini, to Bethune College, Kolkata, the first women’s college in India. She was one of his first students at the college, as he wanted to set an example for other Bengali families. The very first progressive Brahmo Samaj wedding was also held in this household.
Built upon a sprawling area against a picturesque backdrop, the house has been transformed into Rabindra Bharti Museum. It is an integral part of Rabindra Bharti University, which was established for higher education in humanities and performing arts.
The museum provides revealing glimpses of the poet’s life and other illustrious members of his family. Various galleries exhibit varied moods of the poet, the Tagore family, the Bengal Renaissance Movement of the 19th century and collections of paintings and much more, including an album of portraits of Tagore at different ages.
The museum primarily displays the life and activities of the poet in visuals, represented through his personal habitat in the building, his personal belongings, his paintings and a variety of documents and publications. The house was a meeting place for many leading personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Chitranjan Das, C. F. Andrews and many renowned scholars, litterateurs and reformists.
On the first floor of the building is situated Maharshi Bhawan. The first room of this section is called Prayan Kaksha, where the poet breathed his last on August 7, 1941.
Next are the two living rooms used by the poet and his wife. The room, adjacent to the Prayan Kaksha contains a low diwan, a few bookracks, a showcase displaying paan boxes made of silver and some photographs of Gurudev. The next room exhibits some of his clothes. It also has some photographs of some important events of his life. A little apart from these rooms is the family maternity room where Tagore was born.
There are two more bhavans — Vichitra Bhavan and Ram Bhavan —overlooking a clean courtyard. Vichitra Bhavan has huge collection of photographs of Tagore’s visits to Burma (1930), and his meetings with Albert Einstein and author Hellen Keller.
One of the rooms adjacent to the Vichitra Bhavan belongs to poet’s wife Mrinalini Devi. Some of her personal belongings, including a beautiful Dhakai jamdani sari and a dressing table are exhibited in the room. One of the many photographs adorning the walls of the room shows young Mrinalini with Tagore. The wedding invitation sent out by Tagore hangs on a wall in the room.
Mrinalini breathed her last in this room in 1902.
There is also the poet’s study room, where he used to receive his guests. The study, used mostly during his later years, is replete with handicrafts. The Vichitra Hall also has a display most of the ‘first-edition’ books of Tagore and translations of his works in different languages.
The house of Tagores was considered a prime centre of the Bengal Renaissance. The small antechamber in Maharishi Bhawan displays many objects connected with the movement Portraits of Rammohan Roy, Keshab Chandra Sen, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekananda, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Michael Madhusudan are prominently displayed in a gallery here, along with notable literary documents and a unique collection of the personal belongings of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
The first art gallery is
devoted to the paintings belonging to the Bengal School e.g., those of
Abindranath Tagore and other eminent exponents. The next gallery has
some outstanding creations of Tagore in colour. Finally, the visitor
can glimpse at some lovely oil paintings by European masters. Here the
exhibits include portraits of members of both branches of the Tagore
family residing, respectively, in Jorasanko and Pathuriaghata.