Nazrul Tirtha

Nazrul Tirtha

August 29, 2014

Today is the 38th death anniversary of Kazi Nazrul Islam, the great ‘Bidrohi Kobi’ or ‘rebel poet’ of Bengal. In fact, he was much more than just a poet; he was a writer, a musician and a revolutionary. He has a special place in the hearts and minds of Bengalis. His poems and songs have always been extremely popular.

To honour his legacy, a new cultural centre has come up in Rajarhat, on the outskirts of Kolkata. The centre is called Nazrul Tirtha (or ‘Pilgrimage to the place of Nazrul’, signifying the importance that Kazi Nazrul has in the hearts of Bengalis). It is a large complex, about 55,000 sq ft in area, and is located on Major Arterial Road, in front of the DLF building.

Stamp on Nazrul which was brought out by India Post in 1999

Kazi Nazrul in his garden

Sprawling cultural complex

The cultural complex consists of a museum, an academy called Nazrul Academy, a library, a 400-seater auditorium, a cafeteria and a guest house, arranged in circular pattern. There is an open area in the middle too. It looks like there are different blocks, but actually it is all one building, with the parts joined through ramps, gangways and staircases. According to architect Abin Chaudhuri, the twisted formation reflects the tension in the writings of the rebel poet.

A contest was organised by the government of West Bengal in 2012 to decide on the design of the complex. Award-winning architect Abin Chaudhuri of Abin Design Studio won the contest, which was judged by stalwarts like advertising guru Ram Ray, artist Suvaprasanna and architect Prabir Mitra.

Model of Nazrul Tirtha

Unique design

The design he came up with is unique in a sense, as this had never been done in Kolkata. The uniqueness stems from the fact that all the buildings have exposed concrete on the outside. Concrete is normally plastered and painted over. But Nazrul Tirtha has the concrete neither plastered nor painted. The form, texture and colour of the bare concrete gives the building its architectural attraction.

It is worthwhile to note that such a concept of keeping concrete exposed was the hallmark of the internationally reputed Swiss-born French architect, Le Corbusier. The best example of his work in India is the city of Chandigarh, which he designed to a large extent.

According to Chaudhuri, using concrete in such a way being a new concept in the city, builders in Kolkata had no idea how to go about it. Shapoorji Pallonji had to bring its team from Mumbai to build the complex. The Rs 60-crore project is a special initiative of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

As with many modern buildings, this is also an environment-friendly structure. In order to accomplish this, the building’s use of energy has been kept at a minimum. The concrete façade is punctuated by a network of jagged lines, which are broken in places to let in optimal sunlight (too much will increase the heat and push up the air-conditioning costs).

Besides the aspect of design, the concrete used here also helps in heat management, as its thermal mass keeps the interior cooler. Lots of plants, some planted, some potted, dot the area inside and around the building. To the right of the open-air stage is a pool which harvests 2,500 litres of rain water.

The bus stop near the complex has also been named Nazrul Tirtha

Keeping the legacy alive

Being named after Kazi Nazrul Islam, the building’s architecture accommodates him in a major way. At the entrance, pillars in the porch support a black prismatic block of concrete, 8.5 metres high, placed on its side. The two faces which can be seen by a visitor entering, have the words ‘Unnata Momo Shir’ (meaning ‘my head is held high’), taken from the poem, Bidrohi, all over, in stylised Bengali fonts. The words are also a tribute to the rebellious mindset of the poet. Another prominent presence of Nazrul in the architecture is through the background of the open-air theatre, which has his profile on a wall of green plants.

The open-air theatre with Nazrul's profile in the background

The huge complex is a fitting tribute to a poet of such a stature, one who lives on in the hearts and minds of Bengalis. His songs are still regularly listened to, and sung and discussed in various fora. Books about him abound, mostly in Bengali and some in English too, besides his collections of poetry. Nazrul considered himself above all divisions of region and religion, a poet of the world. In fact, this very aspect of his he considered as the one which marked him out as a poet, as a poet can only belong to the whole wide world. As a said at a reception in Albert Hall, Kolkata (now the location of Coffee House) on December 15, 1929: "I belong to the world and all its corners. I'm a devotee of eternal radiance."

The 'Bidrohi Kobi' down the years

Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team

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