Kalighat Temple

Built in 1809 on the banks of the river, the temple of Kali is an important center of pilgrimage. The place is indeed sacred because according to legend, a piece of the body of the goddess would have fallen to this place (Kalighat) when it was cut by Vishnu . The statue of the goddess is in black stone and decorated with gold and silver. Goats are always sacrificed for its cult and every year the statue is bathed during the snanyatra.

For an account of this most ancient institution in the region, we have to go back to mythical times. Sati, an incarnation of the eternal consort of Shiva, married Shiva against the wishes of her father, king Daksha, who had his capital at Kankhal near Haridwar. Once Sati heard of a grand festival being held at her father's palace and went there uninvited. Seeing her, Daksha burst into a tirade against Shiva. Little did the egoistic king realize that his daughter would not be able to bear even a word against Shiva.

And soon Sati jumped into the fire and died. Great was the fury and anguish of Lord Shiva when the news reached him. His supernatural servants, wrought havoc in Daksha's palace, but that could hardly pacify Shiva. He came and picked up Sati's dead body and holding it astride his shoulder, roamed about the earth, engrossed in his sorrow. Vishnu used his chakra, the divine weapon in the shape of a wheel, and cut asunder Sati's dead body. Her limbs were scattered all over the land of India. A toe fell in the river Bhagirathi, another name of the Ganga, near the present Kalighat.

Ages later, a poor Brahmin named Atmaram had a vision of the luminous and beautiful toe of the Mother lying submerged transformed into stone. He found it and installed it as an image of Kali on the shore and worshipped her. The area was a forest. Some devotees who were blessed with the knowledge of the deity came there to worship her. Much later, one evening a landlord was sailing by when he heard the sound of prayer from the forest. He stopped and investigated. He had enough insight to know that the deity was a living power. He constructed the first shrine for her. The deity is the patron-goddess of Kolkata which derives its name from her— Kali Ghat or Kaii Kshetra (the Bank of Kali or the Seat of Kali).

An early Christian missionary, the Rev. Ward wrote: "I have received accounts of Europeans going to this temple and expending Rs. 10,000 in offerings. Very lately, a gentleman in the Honourable Company's service, who had gained a cause at law, presented thanks offerings to Kali which cost Rs 3,000...."

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