Kolkata

Kolkata

At a Glance
Population
7,80,619
Area
NA
Geo Location
West
Average Climate
NA
Best time to visit
Throughout the Year

Crossed by the Hooghly River, Kolkata is the capital of West Bengal. It has 12 million inhabitants making it the second largest city in the country behind Mumbai (Bombay). Officially the name of Calcutta is Kolkata since a decision of the government taken on August 24, 1999. But this modification is far from entering all minds, including India.

A few kilometres off the centre of the city of Kolkata, in a suburb called Barisha, live the descendants of the man who sold Kolkata to East India Company for a price of twelve hundred rupees! The seller was one Sabarna Roy Choudhury, a land lord, and the buyer, on behalf of the Company, was Mr. Job Charnock. The transaction took place on November 9, 1695. The history of the city of Calcutta is relatively recent, since the city has existed as such only since 1690. It was on that date, on the 24th of August, exactly that Job Charnock, an official of the British India Company, received permission to build a factory in Sutanati. In 1698 the Company obtains the right to collect property taxes on the cities of Sutanati, Kalikata and Govindapur. On this occasion the three cities were united in a single baptized Calcutta. In 1717, taking advantage of the weakening of the Mughal empire, the Company obtained trade rights over Bengal. In 1735 the population of Bengal was 100,000. The Company became the Zamindar over three villages, Kalighat, Govindpore and Sutanati. Charnock had arrived there a few years back and founded a factory at Sutanati in 1690.

Historians do not credit Charnock with much talent, but they agree that he was a brave man. One day, on the outskirts of an Indian town, Charnock had to pass by a solemn crowd. A funeral pyre was under preparation – not only for a young man who was dead but also for his wife who was alive and beautiful. Charnock stood for a while charmed by the sad beauty. Then he took recourse to a daring move. He advanced and took hold of the young Lady and told her in a broken native tongue, “You are not meant to die now. Come away”. The young lady was perhaps in no mood to understand much, just as she was in no mood to die. She stood up, dazed and walked away with the Sahib. She might have taken long to realize that her saviour was no supernatural being, but the Agent of the East India Company. The villagers too were not likely to have grasped the situation instantly. By the time they woke up to its import, the touch of the lady had awakened the chivalrous in Charnock. He brandished his sword and scared away the unarmed enforcers of Sati. And Charnock and the lady were married and lived happily thereafter!

By 1716 a full-fledged English bastion, Fort William, had been built—indicative of the Company's design not to remain as mere traders but become rulers in course of time. In 1717 the Company obtained from the Mughal Emperor its right of free trade in Bengal for an annual payment of three thousand rupees only. The name Kalighat after an ancient and famous temple dedicated to Goddess Kali had by then become Kolkata. As a centre of trade; Kolkata grew rapidly and had a population of 100,000 by as early as 1735. Its shipping amounted to more than ten thousand tons around that time. In 1756, Siraj-ud-daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, annoyed at the Company's policy of expansion, invaded Kolkata and defeated the Company's army. But he neglected the city. Consequently, the Company, under Clive's leadership, recaptured it in January 1757.

The animosity between the Nawab and the Company resulted in the battle of Plassey in the same year. Siraj-ud-daulah was defeated and executed. The Company placed a friendly man on the throne. Although Murshidabad was the Nawab's capital, Kolkata was the Company's headquarters and as such, grew in importance keeping pace with the Company's growing influence and jurisdiction. In 1772 the Company appointed Warren Hastings the Governor-General over its possessions in India. Thus Kolkata became the official capital of British India.

Rudyard Kipling described it as "Chance-directed, chance- erected" city. But what a chance it was for those early Englishmen! Some of them had a couple of hundred servants to attend on them! They included cooks, valets, fan-bearers, bodyguards, palanquin-bearers, exclusive barbers and hair-dressers and a dozen able-bodied fellows at their beck and call.

"In the first years of British conquest Kolkata was far from tedious. The hours of work in summer were from 9 a.m. to mid-day. Dinner served at 2 p.m. consisted (for Mrs. Faye and her barrister husband) of soup, a roast fowl, curry and rice, a mutton pie, a fore-quarter of Iamb, a rice pudding, tarts, very good cheese and excellent Madeira. Mrs. Faye at this time was still much of an invalid. When she stoutly maintains that the heat of Bengal does not destroy the appetite, one can well appreciate her truthfulness. During the hours of leisure they rode, they danced, they gambled. . ." (Eardley Latimer).

Gradually the whole of India came under British rule; Kolkata continued to be the capital, even when the Company forfeited the empire to the British throne. It was in 1912 that the capital was shifted to Delhi. Kolkata remains the headquarters of West Bengal.

Kolkata's growth, population-wise, has been phenomenal. In the seventies of the century its population of 8 million was nine times more than what it was at turn of the century. Today's Kolkata is a dire contrast to the Kolkata of the 19th century. Rabindranath Tagore who was born in Kolkata in 1861 reminisced about his childhood in the city thus (translation from Bengali): "I was born in an old-fashioned Kolkata—a Kolkata where hackney carriages used to ply raising layers of dust all around, drawn by emaciated horses.... There was no tram, no bus, no motor car. That was a time when haste and tension were unknown, days rolled on at a leisurely pace. The Babus used to go to their offices after a snatch at the hookah and munching betels on the way; some went by palanquins and some by carriages hired jointly. . .”

Bengal also becomes the focus of the dispute for independence. Numerous reform movements were born in Kolkata under the impulse of the Bengali intellectuals. In 1912, the British decided to transfer the capital from Kolkata to Delhi, following a series of disturbances and the bitter failure of the partition of Bengal. This transfer did not prevent Kolkata from continuing to grow, both economically and demographically. The city suffered enormously during independence as its population was composed of Hindus and Muslims. It still suffered in 1971 when the creation of Bangladesh because it saw the influx of thousands of Pakistani refugees. Mother Theresa made known the problems of Calcutta to the whole world.

Today's Kolkata is a weird combination of many contrasts: palaces and slums, art and filth. A contemporary Bengali writer, Manik Bandopadhyay, calls it "tense, restless, alert, fearful, calm, patient, despairing, jolly, ugly, beautiful, stubborn, tender, filthy, great." But nobody can deny that Kolkata, India's one of the largest cities, has a vibrant soul of its own. One has to be in Kolkata for a few days to experience it. Today the city is still overcrowded and presents visitors with a face often despairing. Kolkata is still nevertheless the cultural capital of India and offers an undeniable and astonishing charm. It is equipped with a subway.

Kolkata Tour Packages

Golden Triangle with Kolkata Tour

Golden Triangle with Kolkata Tour

6 Nights / 7 Days
Destination : Delhi-Jaipur-Agra-Kolkata

3 Days Kolkata Tour

3 Days Kolkata Tour

2 Nights / 3 Days
Destination : Kolkata

East India with Nepal Tour

East India with Nepal Tour

13 Nights / 14 Days
Destination : Delhi- Khajuraho – Varanasi – Bodhgaya –Bhubaneswar –Puri – Konark – Kolkata – Kathmandu –Bhaktpur - Patan

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