This week’s story comes from Saptarshi, a reader of this column, who wrote to me about a tea ceremony at Santiniketan, West Bengal. Called Bodhi Cha, it’s designed by Nilanjan Bandyopadhyay, an artist and a calligrapher at Santiniketan, who felt that as a nation of tea drinkers, with fine teas growing here, we ought to have a ceremony befitting them.
The tea ceremony borrows from the Chinese and Japanese traditions of gong fu and sado, respectively, but Bandyopadhyay has introduced elements to make it an Indian one, as much about the tea as about harmony. The accessories are chosen as carefully as the tea. There is no charge. One participates by paying attention to the tea and the process of tea-making; a YouTube link to a ceremony is available on the channel Kokoro Santiniketan.
“It was in Japan that I learnt how to drink Darjeeling tea,” says Bandyopadhyay on phone. As is the case with most Bengali families, milk tea was a fixture at home. On his first trip to Japan in 1999, he was served the sencha. He also tasted fine Darjeelings—and it changed his perception of tea. From then, it was “2g of tea in 150g of hot water, steeped for five minutes”.
However, it was the process of tea-making that left an impact. We pay little attention to how tea is made, he says: the process of choosing utensils, the bowls, the pot and the tea, and then the tea itself, untainted by anything else.
I learn that Rabindranath Tagore saw tea as a way to establish friendships and invited tea masters to Santiniketan. On his first trip to Japan in 1916, Tagore is said to have attended a tea festival and later wrote, “Immersing oneself in the profundity of beauty away from disorder and intemperance is the essence of the tea celebration.”
For Bandyopadhyay, Bodhi Cha, which he started in 2021, is about beauty, in the flowers chosen, the calligraphy and poetry he adds, the garden, and even just a clean home. People can contact him via his Instagram handle (kokoro.santiniketan) or on Facebook; if he’s available, he accommodates requests. He says every tea encounter now is a Bodhi Cha ceremony for him.
My favourite part of the story is of the time Bandyopadhyay considered creating a custom Bodhi Cha blend. He asked the Japanese tea master Ajioka whether he had ever wanted a blend of his choice. Ajioka said he never had because it would have meant he was showing disrespect to those who produce tea. A profound lesson in pride and humility.
Bandyopadhyay dropped the idea of creating a blend. Instead, he introduced another element to Bodhi Cha, a tiny cup named the Cup of Humanity. It borrows from the Indian tradition of first offering food to the gods. This is where the first tea is offered, as a tribute to those who make the tea, pots and cups. He hopes the art and practice of Bodhi cha can offer a sense of beauty, an acceptance of imperfection, and a reminder of the joy of changing seasons.
Tea Nanny is a fortnightly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1 on Twitter.