It was unusual for students of the Visva-Bharati University to congregate for an occasion other than the annual festival in winter at the famous Chatim tala, the very spot from where the ashram grew to a full fledged university.

The congregation on Sunday was to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.

The celebrations began here at the crack of dawn with the customary Boitalik, a procession of students singing some of the poet's well known songs to the beats of dhol and cymbals.

Their young voices gave way to the deep, sonorous tones of the poet himself, as the recordings of his recital of his own poems and extracts from his prose were broadcast from the Uttrayan complex — the numerous residences of Tagore, including Shyamali, a mud-hut.

The occasion was an added incentive for the university's alumni and sightseers. All the rooms were thrown open to visitors, including those wanting to take photographs — a privilege not allowed to them on ordinary days. “Usually Gurudev's birthday was never a large-scale event for students, as it inevitably fell during the summer vacation,” said Shayamoli Mullick, who spent 15 years as a student in Santiniketan.

At the assigned time, students, teachers and visitors congregated for the special prayers at Chatim tala — area near the twin Dita bark trees that form the epicentre of the university. This is an exception, as prayers, including the weekly assemblies on Wednesday, are held elsewhere. The last time when special prayers on the poet's birth anniversary were held at Chatim tala was during his centenary.

Incantations of shlokas and the sermon interspersed with music – including the song written and composed by Tagore himself for his birthday – were followed by the offering of flowers at the poet's personal effects at Udayan, one of the residences where they are preserved.

The other highlights were exhibitions of photographs and his artwork, performances of his play Tasher Desh (Country of Cards), and music gatherings.

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