Cultural Capital of India: The Magnificent City of Calcutta

Calcutta is not only known as the ‘city of joy’ but is also the Cultural Capital of India. The city is known as the birthplace of modern Indian literature and Indian nationalism.  A perfect blend of both western and Indian culture has given birth to various organizations that have contributed to the development of Kolkata’s cultural life.


Kolkata Calcutta

The early period

The very first name of Kolkata was Kalikata and it was first mentioned under the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. Kolkata under British rule was always considered an important port in terms of trading under the East India Company in 1690.

In 1717, the Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar granted the East India Company freedom of trade in return for a yearly payment of 3,000 rupees. This money was utilized for the growth of the city. One of the major setbacks for Kolkata came after the partition of Bengal between newly independent India and Pakistan. A lot of refugees from East Pakistan fled to Kolkata giving rise to social problems and increasing population. There was also an economic downfall in 1960 which further increased the instability in the city.

In the 1980s, large-scale public work programs and centralized regional planning contributed to the improvement of economic and social conditions in the city. Under this, major changes were made like large scale companies were replaced by small scale units and other service sector companies were also built. But due to the protest by labour and trade unions, this process was slowed down as they were against the technology that was being used.

Modern Day

In 2001, the city’s name was officially changed from Calcutta to Kolkata. Although Kolkata is not as economically dynamic as some of the other major Indian cities, it continues to be a cultural, artistic, literary, and intellectual centre.

Why is Calcutta called 'The Cultural Capital of India'?

Kolkata is very rich in traditions, art, and values. The best part is that while you are on the street, you'll see people from all the age group discussing in their "addas" (chat or moreover, intellectual exchange of ideas) about cricket, exhibitions, politics, and everything that’s under the sun. Kolkata has always been a major contributor to the world of literature and art. This city was the birthplace of the British Empire and is known as the hometown of Rabindranath Tagore and Mother Teresa. Because of this reason, it is also considered as the intellectual capital of the country. Till the year 1912 Kolkata remained a gateway of entrance for British India and was the very first capital under British rule. Due to this the city has a perfect blend of monarchy monuments, religious, and cultural bonds. You will find here the old buildings of constitutional importance, that still speak of the city’s glory.

1) Food

food kolkata
Kolkata is also known for the cuisine it offers. And who can forget about Misti doi, rosogolla and fish when talking about Kolkata? The best thing about this city is that you will find people from all kinds of taste buds here. Due to this reason, it provides as a merger of different cultures and serving people having different taste. Whether you are a sweet-toothed fellow, or someone who loves something spicy and chaat, the city has everything to satisfy your cravings. From the city’s heart comes fuchka, radha ballabhi, kochuri and moghlai porotha. And did we just forget to mention the heartthrob, that is, momo? When you visit Elgin Road, you will find tons of outlet serving momo with soup in a traditional way.

You go anywhere in the city and you are sure to find people having rice and macher jhol (fish curry). People here love fish and almost on every occasion, a must-have is fish. And every fish comes with a number of preparations. Apart from this, a biyebari (marriage ceremony) will surely serve you a thaali of aaloo bhaja (fries), beguni (fried eggplant), mangsho (meat), famous chicken rolls and, of course, deserts like sandesh, etc.

A city that has a culture dating back to hundreds of years, you will find a variety in every variety of food. Kolkata is known to serve people from all income backgrounds. You will find lip-smacking food on the streets, as well as on top of high buildings with a great view of the city. Kolkata never fails to take your breath away.

2) Temples

temple kolkata
The number of famous temples that are in the city will astound you. Hundreds of kaali bhakts here visit the temples of Kaali Devi even on working days! We can only imagine what happens during weekends!

Kalighat: It is believed that the temple is over 200 years old!

Dakshineshwar: Dedicated to another form of Kaali, this temple is devoted to Bhavatarini Mata. This temple was built by Rani Rashmoni in 1855.

Calcutta Jain Temple: Built in the late 1860s, this Jain Temples is visited by people from all around the world.

ISKCON Temple: This temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna and Radha. It is a world-renowned temple, having built places of worship all around the country and even internationally.

3) Museums and Libraries

museum kolkata
Calcutta has more than 30 Museums covering a wide variety of fields. It is also a home of the Indian museum founded in 1814. The archaeology section here contains some valuable items from history. Victoria memorial shows what was known as British relation with India.

Kolkata Police Museum: This museum contains tales of bravery and wonders about our ancestors who fought in the freedom struggle. The entry to this place is free.

Birla Industrial and Technological Museum: This museum has on display everything that related to technology, communication, nuclear weapons, iron and steel and so much more.

Gurusaday Museum: This museum houses artefacts and details about various cultures and folklore. For lovers of folktales, this is where you should head to. 

State Archeological Museum: Unlike any other, is this archaeological museum. It houses a number of stone carvings, tools and other items from the medieval era.

4) Filmmaking and Literature

rabindranath kolkata
If you're a fan of modern day filmmaking and love art film then this is the city where you belong since all this started here. People like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak remain as the prides of Kolkata for many decades. Their work has been highly appreciated all over the world. A revolution in the film industry was created by the release of Pather Panchali in 1955 which was made by Satyajit Ray. This movie was appreciated around the world.

Not only this, but the contribution of Bengal in Indian cinema has been enormous. Every year there's a Kolkata International Film Festival organized. Kolkata has given birth to some eminent directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Bimal Roy, Nitin Bose, and more such talents. Bengali cinema has produced some of the finest artists in India and there has been some major influence on the upcoming generations due to eminent people like PC Barua, Prithviraj Kapoor, and KS Saigal. Literature has always provided a platform for many screenplays. One can never forget the novel ‘Devdas’ by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay which was later converted into movies.

It is said that due to the courtesy of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Bengali laureates like Rabindranath Tagore, Kaji Nazrul Islam had a big influence in shaping the thoughts and culture of many Indians.

Other authors like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay explored complex human psychology. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay is known for writing Vande Mataram which also happens to be India's first national song. And do we need to say more on the contributions of Tagore?

5) Music and Dance

music kolkata
Talking about music and dance, Rabindra Sangeet is an integral part of this city. You'll find kids learning this type of Sangeet, which helps them in knowing their roots better. It is also a hub for Indian classical music and dance. Famous musicians like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ananda Shankar were from Kolkata as well. After a traditional twist came the music of the 1990s which included singers like Kishore Kumar, R.D. Burman, Manna Dey, and others.

6) Sports

sports kolkata
The vibrant city, Kolkata, is also known for its passion for sports. Cricket and football run in the blood of the people here. It is the home for one of the most renowned cricket ground across the world known as Eden Gardens. And no matter the weather, be it in a Ranji match or a local club match, you'll always find a crowd here cheering their teams. Who can forget the legendary cricketer Sourav Ganguly AKA  Dada who became the captain of the Indian cricket team and is still favorite among his fans?

Apart from cricket, there's a huge love for football here as well. Two teams are considered to be arch rivals namely Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. You would be surprised to know that the prices of fish vary because of the performance of these two teams! If you're a supporter of Mohun Bagan then you will see yourself with people celebrating by eating prawns and if you are an East Bengal fan, then you will get to celebrate by eating hilsa fish. Due to this popularity, the football world cup is also closely followed. There's also a team named Atletico de Kolkata which is named after Atletico Madrid, one of the famous clubs in European football. In Kolkata, it is said that people often support Argentina or Brazil during world cup matches as if their own players are playing. This is the reason why Argentina national football team also played a friendly match here.

Kolkata also houses the oldest golf club in Asia, The Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Other than this, there is also the very famous Tollygunge Golf Club. Clubs here are quite famous too. There is Calcutta Turf Club, and also The Calcutta Race Course. Rowing competitions and training are held by The Bengal Rowing Society, the oldest in the country.

7) Shopping and Dressing

shopping kolkata
Even though we all know Bengalis are known for their love of Sarees, the unique ways in which the saree culture has developed across eras is absolutely astounding. The state of West Bengal is known for the creation of taant sarees. Not only will you find young women wearing classic silks, but you will also see the same population donning trendy, fusion sarees, and glamming it up with ethnic and fusion jewellery as well. Famous among young men here is the traditional pajama-panjabi. Kurtis among young girls and working women have also made a huge comeback.

However, don’t be misled by this. The city has very well adapted clothing and trends of various cultures and you are sure to find evidence of it around the city.

You will find many markets and shopping complexes around the city where it is easy to find evidence of Kolkatan culture in their clothes and other items that are sold.

8) Commute

Talking about travelling in the city, you'll find all kinds of transportation facility here. From metro to Uber to local cabs to a boat sailing you across Hooghly river. The best part about this city is what separates it from other major cities of India is the cost of transportation is extremely low, and due to availability of almost all kinds of transport you'll find public transport having a decent amount of crowd.

People love to travel here in public transport because of cheap rates and the well-connectedness of the public transports. No matter if you're working in a big corporate or just a small shop, you'll see people sharing the same seat while travelling. The best part is the environment where you talk to random people about politics, social life, the reducing communication amongst young people of today, and whatnot! This has become a routine and integral part of one's life in Kolkata.

Overall, Kolkata is the cultural city of India

Kolkata has always remained an affectionate city for everyone. There's a reason why this city is known as the city of joy. You go to any other big city like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and other metros, the cost of living is very high but it's only Kolkata that invites all the people irrespective of what they earn to live a good life here.

The city is crowded with people. You'll find people of all the age groups here roaming on the street. How this city stands out is unlike big cities where once expansion takes place, it takes place on a very huge scale, you will only find big buildings but when you are in Kolkata you'll find a perfect blend of big buildings and traditional houses, modern architecture and neo-classical. What this shows is that the people here are always connected to their roots, know where they come from.

Therefore, it is not a mere exaggeration of why this beautiful city holds the title of the Cultural Capital of India. The city has well earned it.

How to reach:

By air:

Name of Kolkata’s Airport is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport which is located in Dumdum. There are many domestic flight services from major cities in India Chennai, Patna, Mumbai, etc. There are also flight services to countries in South East Asia.

By rail:

There are 2 major railway stations in Kolkata namely Howrah and Sealdah. Trains like Shatabdi, Rajdhani, etc. connect the city to other major cities like Delhi, Rourkela, etc. Other stations include Chitpur Kolkata Railway Station, Dum Dum Station, and Shalimar Railway Station.

By road:

Kolkata is well-connected to many Indian cities by road. The Esplanade Terminus is a major bus station. There are bus services from Kolkata to Dhaka as well.

This post was published by Rimi Sharma

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