Mongpu and Rabindra Jayanti

Even as the mists over Mungpoo lifted,
In a riot of colours the hills erupted.
The ancient wizard, rapt in his game,
Not a care in the world, no worry to his name.
Sitting here, as I peer into the past,
As ever the sun and the clouds flit past.
How many kingdoms rose and fell,
How many heroes – only the bard can tell…
The tree there, forever like an overgrown child,
Looks on as the sun rises, and sets each night.
The slope of those hills, so parched and bare,
Evening chants her prayers there.
Down in the valley, like a ribbon blue,
The Teesta lightens the arid gloom….

On 10th June, 1938, Rabindranath Tagore wrote these beautiful lines as a homage to Mongpu (Mungpoo), an idyllic Himalayan hamlet. Mongpu is a special place when it comes to Rabindranath Jayanti, i.e., Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday.

Mongpu and Rabindranath

Maitreyi Devi’s house at Mongpu was a much loved summer retreat of the legendary poet, playwright, composer, author, artist and philosopher. Between 1938 and 1940, Rabindranath Tagore paid several visits to this quaint little mountain village; eventually celebrating his 80th birthday here in 1940. He visited and kept returning to Mongpu on the invitation of Maitreyi Devi, protégée of poet, and her husband, Dr. Manmohan Sen, the director of the quinine factory, where the bungalow is situated. Maitreyi Devi was a renowned poet and novelist, best known for her ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’ winning novel, ‘Na Hanyate’ (‘It Does Not Die”). She recorded Tagore’s stay at her house in Mongpu in her book, ‘Monpoote Rabindranath’ (‘Tagore by the Fire Side’). He used to cherish sitting by the fire place at the imperial bungalow.

Mongpu’s Rabindra Museum

Maitreyi Devi’s bungalow was called, ‘Surel Kothi’. It is a beautiful vintage bungalow with large glass windows and sprawling gardens looming into cinchona plantations and the factory. Lush green rolling hills surround the place. The bungalow was converted to ‘Rabindra Smriti Bhawan’ in 1944 and finally this house became ‘Rabindra Museum’ in 2009. It is well maintained and is being renovated to be promoted as one of West Bengal’s significant heritage destinations. Mongpu is a noteworthy place of serenity and natural beauty which the Nobel Laureate appreciated and drew inspiration from. This year in March, I visited the Mongpu Rabindra Museum. It is a lovely place with lots of trees, plants and flowers. There is a bronze bust of Rabindranath Tagore at the entrance. The museum houses manuscripts and writings of the poet, old photographs and also items and furniture which he used. His bed and self-designed desk are displayed.

Mongpu and Rabindra Jayanti

Mongpu is a witness to Rabindranath Tagore’s presence. He spoke to his guests, recited his poetry and often sung for them. Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday (Ponchishe Baishakh, 25th day of the month of Baishakh by the Bengali Calendar in the year 1861), was celebrated at Mongpu’s ‘Surel Kothi’ in 1940. It was 7th of May and his 80th birthday. Definitely it was special and this event has haloed this lesser known Himalayan hamlet. On this day Gurudev had written 3 poems which were later anthologised in the book ‘Janmadiney’ (‘On My Birthday’) and published the next year. The three poems differ in mood and tone from one another. Tagore completed many of his memorable works during his stays at Mongpu, including ‘Chelebela’, ‘Nobojatok’, ‘Sesh Kotha’, ‘Bangla Bhashar Porichoy’, ‘Giribas’, ‘Sanai’ and ‘Akash Pradip’ besides ‘Jonmodine’ and ‘Mongpu’, the poem with which I started writing today.

Other Things to See at Rabindranath’s Mongpu

Mongpu Buddhist Monastery- At Naldira Square stands a very old Buddhist Monastery of Mongpu, Dinchen Sherap Chhoeling Gumpa. Rabindranath himself was highly influenced by the teachings of Buddha and he had paid homage to the lamas of this monastery.

Jogighat Bridge over Riyang River- Jogighat Bridge is 74 meter long bridge connecting Mongpu and Sittong. The bridge has innumerable colourful prayer flags tied to it, fluttering in air. The awesome hilly River Riyang flows under the bridge, over large boulders making a soulful gurgling sound. I dipped my feet in the cold water and sat for quite some time. The bridge was inaugurated by the Yoga icon, Baba Ramdev. The old wooden bridge from the British era is still present but is not in a state of use.

From Mongpu one can visit Kalimpong, the popular hill town which also has a Rabindranath connection.

Jogighat Bridge and Riyang River

How to Reach Mongpu

Mongpu is 60 kilometres from New Jalpaiguri Station (NJP) and 50 kilometres from Siliguri (Bus Stand and/or Bagdogra Airport). It is better to hire a car to reach Mongpu as there is scarcity of public transportation and/or shared transportation.

It is better to avoid monsoons.

Gurudev and the Himalaya

Maitreyi Devi describes Gurudev’s focus on writing in her book, “When he sits down to write, which he does every single day of his vacation, mornings and afternoons, he is so completely absorbed in his work as to look like one of the solitary hilltops in the far distance.” Rabindranath was a mountain of wisdom, knowledge and creativity and he was inspired by mountains, especially the Himalaya. The stories of Tagore’s travels across the globe would form a novel in itself; him having travelled 34 countries in those days. He was one of the most travelled men in the world, in his time. Yet natural beauty, solitude, and quietude of some of the simplest places, often unheard of, influenced him most and this little tranquil Himalayan hamlet, Mongpu, is one of those.
Dipannita Bhattacherya

3 thoughts on “Mongpu and Rabindra Jayanti”

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