There are literally hundreds of books on the enchanting city of Kolkata—its history, its music, its streets, its people, its festivals and so on. But it is difficult to find a comprehensive volume on all the important places of worship, even with a lot of effort. Mala Mukerjee and Jael Silliman have filled this gap by bringing in vivid colours all the interesting places of worship of different communities that lend Kolkata its unique vibrancy and zest for life.
Dakshineshwar Kali Temple
Rani Rashmoni built the Kali Temple at Dakshineshwar in 1855….
The temple symbolises the mingling of faiths and is dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. Its architecture combines elements of the Bengali thatched hut with features borrowed from some Sultanate mosques. Twelve identical Shiva temples stand opposite the main temple. The complex also has a temple dedicated to Radha and Krishna, known as the Vishnu or Radhakant Temple.
Baikunthanath Temple, Gopuram
The Baikunthanath Temple, built in 1961, is the most impressive of the six South Indian styled temples in the city [Kolkata]. What is fascinating is that this South Indian styled temple, which has a South Indian priest, was built by two brothers—Mungee Ram Bangur and Ram Coowar Bangur—who were wealthy Marwari traders in Calcutta.… Members of Calcutta’s many communities worship here, at this temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
The white temple has an ornate, five-tiered, intricately-carved gopuram or entrance gateway characteristic of Dravidian temple architecture.… The origin of the gopuram dates back to the early structures of Pallava kings.
St. Paul’s Cathedral; Fresco on the eastern wall, St. Paul’s Cathedral
Saint Paul’s Cathedral, with a tall tower and soaring spire, was consecrated in 1847. Designed in the Gothic style… It was the first cathedral built in the overseas territory of the British Empire. Queen Victoria sent ‘ten pieces of silver gilt plate’ for the important occasion.
The Altar, Mahabodhi Temple
The Ceylonese Buddhist monk Anagarika Dharmapala built the Mahabodhi Temple in Kolkata in 1911. Dharampala and the British journalist and poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, established the Mahabodhi Society in 1891 in Colombo to rekindle Buddhism in India, and most importantly, to restore the ancient Buddhist shrines including the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya, and to bring them under Buddhist control. In 1892 it moved its offices to Calcutta.
It contains a relic—a tooth of Lord Buddha, which is displayed on his birthday….
The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, [after] which… the Calcutta temple is named, is the most holy site for Buddhists who believe it to be the navel of the earth. It is believed to be the site that will disappear last when the world ends next, and it will be the first place to appear when the world is recreated.
Nakhoda Mosque, view from Chitpur
The Nakhoda Mosque, built in 1926, is a principal mosque in Calcutta. It took sixteen years to build. It is so large that its main hall can hold 10,000 worshippers. This lavish mosque gets its unusual name from its founder, Abdur Rahim Osman. A shipping magnate, he spared no expense in building this expansive, exquisitely worked three-floor place of worship. He and the Kutchi Memon Jamaat, a small Muslim sect in Calcutta, endowed the City its biggest mosque.
Chinese Kali Temple, Tangra Roadside
At this Kali shrine, Chinese Hindus take care of and worship the Goddess with a mix of Chinese and Hindu offerings and Chinese as well as Hindu devotional practices. For example Ma Kali is offered noodles, chop suey, rice and vegetables as well as bhog. Hindus as well as members of the Chinese community pray at this shrine, just as many Sufi sites have mixed Hindu and Muslim worshippers.
Where Gods Reside Sacred Places of Kolkata
Photographs by Mala Mukherjee
Texts by Jael Silliman