At Santiniketan, the environment is always present in one"s consciousness. It becomes a part of one"s being here, more than anywhere else, which is why it grows on you and having lived here once it is difficult to forget. The Santiniketan environment has changed, grown, and evolved with its community.
Santiniketan is situated at an elevation of 200 feet above sea level giving it a slight bulge in an otherwise flat landscape. The ground slopes gradually to 100 feet above sea-level near the Ajay river about 3 miles to the south and the Kopai stream some 2 miles to the north. The southern boundary of Santiniketan merges into a vast plain of rice fields. On its northern fringes were the khoai lands with deeply indented gullies caused by erosion over denuded land. The District Gazetteer of Birbhum records that in pre-British days, Birbhum had an extensive forest cover. Progressive denudation of forests played havoc with the porous laterite soil. During the hot months, fierce dust storms scattered the loose soil far and wide. During the rains, heavy erosion took place as after every downpour water rushed through undulating land creating gullies and gorges in its relentless march.
In the middle of the 19th century, Maharshi Devendranath Tagore found solace and serenity in this barren land. He purchased the land and started the construction of a house rightaway. This house, named, Santiniketan, was built in the early 1860s; the name later came to denote the entire area. A beautiful garden was laid out on all sides of the house. The top-layer of gritty dry soil was removed and filled with rich soil brought from outside. Trees were planted for fruit and shade.
Change in the environment had begun.
As a child, Rabindranath accompanied his father to Santiniketan and recalled, much later, in Reminiscences, Though I was yet a mere child my father did not place any restriction on my wanderings. In the hollows of the sandy soil, the rainwater had plowed deep furrows, carving out miniature mountain ranges full of red gravel and pebbles of various shapes through which ran tiny streams, revealing the geography of Lilliput… I was never tired of roaming about among those miniature hills and dales in hopes of lighting on something never known before.
I was the Livingstone of this undiscovered land which looked as if seen through the wrong end of a telescope. Everything there, the dwarfed date palms, the scrubby wild plums and the stunted jambolana, was in keeping with the miniature mountain ranges, the little rivulet, and the tiny fish I had discovered.