Kolkata remains a strong bastion of Shakti worship. You may not spot the temple dome from afar thanks to the rising skyscrapers but as you come close, those massive hibiscus garlands will surely catch your eyes. And, you know, you are near one of the quintessential Kali Mata Temple of Kolkata or the Kalibari Kolkata. In Sadhu Bengali (an old school style of written Bengali, used by the likes of Rabindranath and predecessors), Kolkata was Kalikata, Kali being derived from Ma Kali’s name.
The old Bengali proverb goes, “Amar Sontan Jeno Thake Dudhe Bhaate”(May my children live in abundance of rice and milk). In the 18th CE poem, Annadamangal, the boatman Ishwari prays to Devi Annapurna for the wellbeing of his children, so that they get their rice and milk for the rest of the life. Debi Annapurna is the keyword here.
Since time immemorial, people of Bengal have indulged in worshipping of various forms of Hindu Goddess Parvati. If you delve a bit deeper into the unending resources of mythology, folklore, Buddhist Charjapads, and rituals, you will find an overwhelming presence of the spirit of Shakti, a specific sect of Hinduism that assumes the Goddess to be an all-encompassing entity. Parvati is the wife of Shiva, a major God of Hindu trinity. In Bengal, Shiva is dearly called Bom Bholanath. He worries a little of the worldly matters and keeps himself busy in Shadhona (the pursuit of supreme knowledge) while his wife takes care of the disciples’ daily lives and scares away the evils.
In one of the many forms that Devi takes, she is Debi Durga. She comes to “Baaper Bari” (the maternal house, where the girl is born and raised before getting married off) once in a year, with four children. And, the Durga Puja happens. Durga Puja is the sacrosanct celebration of the spirit of Bengal.
Soon after, she appears in a different avatar, Maa Kali. Thus, Bengal celebrates Kalipuja while the rest of the country celebrates Diwali. She is painted with the dark of the moonlit night. She brings Dakini Jogini alongside, and she is on a mission to end the evils of the world. Her trance stops as she mistakenly steps on Shiva’s belly, and sticks her tongue lolling out.
In the Bonedi Baris (traditionally rich and elite families), the tongue is often made with pure gold! She is intimidating, yet a muse for many; Ramakrishna, Bamakhyapa to name a few! There is a whole section of devotional music dedicated to Kaali, also known as Shyama Sangeet.
During my childhood, I remember witnessing a few Kali puja celebrations back at home. The elders would remain cautious and alert regarding every minute details. Every petal of the blood-red hibiscus flowers will be handpicked. A kochi patha (a young goat) will be bought to be sacrificed during puja. I remember the melancholy of playing with the black ram and seeing it being headless in the korikaath (the Bengali version of guillotine where the sacrifice takes place)… the pain, the tears rolling down…
The meat is offered in puja and cooked without adding onion and garlic, thus becoming a “Niramish Mangsho”, vegetarian meat! Make no mistake by assuming the Goddess as bloodthirsty, it is the food habit of her followers! Plenty of asafoetida is used to mask the gamey stench.
Kali Mata Mandir of Kalighat
My pain and emotion came a full circle when I read Rabindranath’s writing. “Why so much blood?” screamed one of his characters! So did I, when I first stepped into Kalighat temple on a day of Boli (sacrifice, usually a goat). It was very different than the Shitala mandir I will go with my Dida by the side, the earliest memory of a Devi temple engraved in my memory. Shitala is a Goddess sitting on the top of a donkey and with a sweep in one of the four hands. She is believed to cure your seasonal diseases, like smallpox!
If you are intrigued by history and love observing culture, I definitely recommend a visit to the temple of Kalighat. Standing on the banks of Adi Ganga since the 12th century, this is one of the Shakti Peethas, where Sati’s right toe fell during Shiva’s Rudra dance.
The temple is built after the old school style of Bengali houses, Atchala Style. The domes are decked up with bricks and meenakari work. The unique Kali statue has three huge eyes. You may find a lot of yellow cabs in Kolkata having the statue as a showpiece against the front glass. The present CM of Bengal, Mamata Banerjee resides right across the street.
Walk by Kalighat Temple
The walk behind the Kalighat temple is very engaging. There are roadside stalls selling Shaka-Pola (a symbol of marriage among Bengali women) and the iconic white saree with a red border. One of the oldest brothels of the country also lies in the area. Century-old houses are situated by the side of the road.
Read More – Best Kolkata Souvenirs to Buy
During Diwali, while the rest of the Bengal celebrates Kalipuja, Kalighat temple performs Laxmi Puja. There are days of particular importance, like Tuesday and Saturday when there are long queues of devotees of Ma Kali. If you are ready to shell out a few extra pennies, the Sebayeets or the Pandas will take you to the VIP line for a smooth and fast worship experience.
Though the written history states that landlord Saborno Roychowdhury endorsed the build of the new form of this temple around 200 years back, there have been many references of Kalighat temple from 15th CE literature.
The Potuapara of Kalighat
The Pat artists of Kalighat are charming artisans, capturing the minute details of everyday life in a few lines of sketches, often secular and political in their art depiction. You can observe the highest form of Kalighat style of Patchitra (painting) in Jamini Roy’s paintings.
A. N. Sarkar & C Mackay remarked that “The Kalighat school of painting is perhaps the first school of painting in India that is truly modern as well as popular. With their bold simplifications, strong lines, vibrant colors and visual rhythm, these paintings have a surprising affinity for modern art”. The Potuapara these days also get busy in idol making for Durga and Kali Puja.
Nearest Metro Station: Kalighat Metro. You can get into a hand-pulled rickshaw from here. Please note, from 2-5 pm, Maa Kali takes her afternoon nap. The temple door opens again after 5 and remains open till 10 pm at night.
Kalighat temple complex has plenty of famous Pera shops inside. Do visit Apanjan, the very old and famous restaurant after you have offered worship. The Vegetable chops are amazing here!
Dakshineswar Kali Temple
Inspired by the age-old Radhakanta Temple of Mahabirtala, Tollygunge, Bhabatarini Kali Mandir of Dakshineswar was built by Rani Rashmoni Devi in 1855. She appointed Mackintosh Burn company (now a government undertaking heritage entity) to build this massive temple complex. (Ref: Page no 42, 43, 75, Kolkatar Mondir Mosjid by Tarapada Santra, Ananda Publishers)
Further, her youngest daughter Jagadamba Devi had built a replica of the same and named it Annapurna Temple at Barrackpore. Both the temples are situated by the banks of river Ganga.
Sri Sri Jagadishwari Mahakali
Earlier, the temple was known as Sri Sri Jagadishwari Mahakali. Legend has it the idol was brought from Benaras. Another school of historians suggests that Nabinchandra from Daihata, Hoogly was the head sculpture.
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The head priest was Ramkumar Chattopadhyay, soon to be succeeded by his nephew Gadai, known as Ramakrishna Paramhansa to the world. For the coming years, Ramakrishna, his wife Sarada Devi and beloved disciple Vivekananda made a huge impact on the society in the country and world as well.
The Panchabati, huge and ancient Banyan tree under which Ramakrishna performed Sadhana and achieved Darshan by Maa Bhabatarini is still standing tall.
Do have a lingering look at the multi-span steel-made Willingdon Bridge, now known as Vivekananda Bridge which connects both motorable road and railroad over an expanse of 10KM. The relatively new Nivedita bridge is built to handle the growing traffic condition.
Nearest Metro Station: Noapara /Dumdum (if you are visiting on weekends)
If you are visiting Dakshineswar, I highly recommend a visit to Joy Mitra Kali Bari (history states it is 6 yrs. older than Dakshineswar), Raghu Dakat-Er Kalibari Kolkata, Glass temple and age-old Dutch Kuthi (established in 15th CE).
Thanthania Kalibari Kolkata, College Street Area
The three hundred-year-old temple houses Siddheswari Devi, another name of the goddess. The idol is believed to be even older and Jagroto (one who is awake, the literal meaning and fulfills all the wishes, thus named as Siddeshwari.) The evenings are mellow with incense sticks and Dhuno along with Kashir Ghonta (a brass made musical instrument)!
The idol is made of clay and painted in red and black hue every year, stands right in the middle of the temple complex. Legend has it the dacoits would honk their horse carts before going off for action and the sound would come up like “Thon Thon”. Thus, the name Thonthonia has been derived.
Opposite to Thonthonia Kalibari stands tall the old school red bricked Laha Bari, one of the elite families of North Kolkata. You must visit the place during Durgapuja and experience Shib-Durga idols which is unique to this family.
Nearest Metro station: MG Road and College Street. You can also take a tram ride from Shyambazar or Esplanade and reach the Kali Mata Mandir. During Monsoon, the roads are often submerged in water.
I also recommend the Sarbat Shop named Kapila Ashram which has survived for a century and still churns out some of the best hand churned drinks. I loved the Abar Khabo, which is a Malai Sarbat (not your regular smoothie). If visiting during winters, do try their Christmas special fruitcake too!
Firingee Kalibari, Bowbazar
No Bengali was ever born and raised without watching and re-watching the film Antony Firingee and crying profusely as Uttam Kumar breathed his last as the passionate Kobiyal (a poet who would participate in the folk performance of instant poem writing).
However, even if we keep our iconic film actor aside, Antony Firingee was a real person. He was a Portuguese who fell in love with contemporary Hindu culture, married a Bengali widow and built a Kali Mata temple which stands till date in the Bowbazar area.
The Firingee Kalibari Kolkata is situated at BB Ganguly street at Bowbazar where the Bandopadhyay family gets the chores done. Besides Maa Kali, you can also see idols of Shitala Devi, Mansa Devi, Shiva and Narayan idols. Every full moon night, Satyanarayan Puja takes place here. Legend says, the original temple was 500 years old and was a worship place for Shiva. Things changed with Anthony’s enthusiasm as he dedicated the temple to Siddheswari Kali. It was pathbreaking for a European to offer worship and practice Hindu rituals.
Hensman Anthony (1786–1836), was born to a Bengali mother and a Portuguese father. Originally from Farashdanga, (the old name of Chandannagar), he relocated to Kolkata with his career tryst in Kabigan, folk art of Bengali language. He was noted for his devotional songs for Goddesses Kali and Durga.
People, irrespective of religion come here seeking blessings and respite from epidemic even today.
Nearest Metro station: Chandni Chowk
Lake Kalibari, Rabindra Sarobar
Near Kalighat, another temple stands which is home to Sree Sree 108 Karunamoyee Kali Mata! It was built as the seat of five skulls (Panchamundi’s Ashan) for the performing ‘Tantra Kriya’ to ensure the upliftment of mankind. It is relatively new, 70 years old. Originally made of cement, renovation is ongoing to build it with white marble.
Read More – Ekla Chalo Re by Rabindra Nath Tagore
It is said that the temple was founded by Haripada Chakraborty in 1949. Legend says he used to distribute medicine to locals on every Tuesday and Saturday and cured the ailing patients.
Nearest Metro: Rabindra Sarobar
Manohar Dakater Kali, Konkalmalini Kali
Established by a Decoit Manohar Bagdi, who soon scaled height of a legend, Manoharpukur Kalibari stands with many legends buried under it. It is said, human sacrifices were a norm in those days. The idol would be adorned with a real human head and a garland of skeletons (thus the name Konkalmalini) unlike other Kaali idols where gold jewelry is common.
The history of this temple dates back to the pre-Raj era and the battle of Plassey. The now swank Triangular park in south Kolkata back then was marshland and full of forest. Adi Ganga flew steady connecting Kalighat with other parts of the country.
Legend of Manohar Dakater Kali
Once, the dacoit found a woman and a boy stranded on the banks of the river. The woman was bleeding and from what it looked like, she fell prey to a tiger attack. It was the age of Robin hood and dacoits were largely respectful to women and children. Manohar Dacoit tried to provide care for the ailing family however the mother died. The boy survived and lived in the name of Haradhon, later adopted by Manohar.
Haradhan grew up, went to a missionary school, was renamed as Haradhan Biswas and inherited his father’s fortune which was later put to use in the development of the area. Many ponds were dug in, a few roads were constructed. The legacy remains in the Kalibari, known to locals as the Dakate Kalibari (Kali Mata temple of the Dacoit). The K. B. Bhattacharya family is taking good care of the Kali Mata temple near Purna Banerjee Road.
Nearest Metro: Kalighat
Bamondas Mukherjee Kalibari, Baranagar
An old-school temple made with white marble recently renovated and carrying the legacy of the era when India was fighting for her independence: Bamondas Mukherjee Kalibari by the banks of river Hooghly tells many tales. Bamondas was a leading industrialist back in the early 20th century. the temple was built of many acres of land in 1904. The land was a Bagan Bari (a recreational place) of a British citizen named John Hart.
A plaque on the walls of it states the grand reception was conducted by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Locals offer worship in this temple on a regular basis. Animal sacrifice is not performed on the premises.
The Chinese Kali Mata Mandir, Tyangra
One of the prime examples of how Bengal’s cultural Amalgamation evolved over the centuries would be the Chinese Kali temple. It has been around 60-70 years that a black stone, smeared with vermillion, was placed in the temple at the Tyangra area of Kolkata. Soon after, an ailing child from Chinese community was brought in the hope of cure and cure happened. Eventually, the place gained more popularity in the local culture.
The civil war in China during the 1930s saw many people being evicted from the country. Many of them settled in Tyangra, Calcutta and took up the tannery work. The profession changed with time and shifted to the delicious food industry.
The community identifies itself as Chinese Hindu. They offer worship with incense sticks which are akin to the Buddhist pagoda. The Bhog (Prasad, the food offered to the Goddess) are Noodles, chop suey and are amazingly tasty.
Nearest Metro station: Rabindra Sadan. We suggest using the Bus to travel, the metro is situated far off till the new metro station comes up in the vicinity.
Siddheswari Kali Mata Mandir, Behala
This small temple at Behala Tram depot is one of the oldest temples in the city. Before Behala became the refuge of the plight of homeless people uprooted from then East Pakistan, this temple was surrounded by dense forest (heard it from Grandma who came here during the 1940s). It was established in 1763 AD, during the reign of Nawab Mir Kasim Ali Khan Bahadur.
Renovation happened during the reign of Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy. Baba Borothakur (another name of God Shani), Shitala Maa and Sashthi Maa, whose animal is a cat, are also housed here. Though very small in appearance, the temple has been described as the hub of many spiritual experiences by the devotees.
Bagala Mukhi Kali Mata Mandir aka Siddheswari Kali Mata Mandir – Chitpur
Standing by the Rabindra Sarani, this Kali Mata temple faces the old Bagala Temple at the opposite lane and houses one of the prettiest Kali idols, in my opinion. The lamps remind of British era where gas used to be the predominant fuel. It is closed during the afternoon and reopens in the evening after 5 pm.
We definitely, recommend a visit to nearby Kumortuli area which is the mecca of idol making art in the whole state of Bengal.
Read More – Idol Makers of Kumartuli
Hanseswari temple, Bansberia
55 Km away from downtown Kolkata, the marvelous Hangseshwari temple stands in the industrial town of Bansberia. The temple is maintained by ASI and premises are well kept and clean. The temple was constructed by Raja Nrisingha Deb Roy Mahasaya and his widow wife Rani Sankari.
The temple has a distinct architecture with 13 tall Minar’s resembling blooming lotus. The interiors are designed on human anatomy. It is said that the temple architecture represents “Tantrik Satchakrabhed”.
There is another temple designed with terracotta work in the temple complex, named as Ananta Basudev temple.
The temple complex was built during the early 19th CE. The unique feature of this temple is the idol made of the neem tree branch in blue color.
Take a local train towards Bandel station from Howrah and get down at Bansberia. the temple is walkable from station. You may visit the age-old Hooghly Imambara and Bandel Church on the same trip.
If you want to combine a road trip with Kaali Mata darshan, Tarapeeth is your pick! The temple by the river Dwarka (which is a Nod or a male river like Bramhaputra) in Birbhum, houses Goddess Tara. A Maha Shomshan (an ongoing cremation ground) is nearby the temple. It is also an important place of Tantric practice of the region. Tarapeeth was the place of worship by Bamakhepa. Many oral legends thrive in the place indicating Goddess Tara’s multiple appearances.
These are just the rather famous Kali temples of Kolkata, which houses more than 300 temples in the city. I am not even taking an account of the Peethas in Maithon or Bolpur or the Vairab temple in Bankura and many more from rural Bengal. These temples are an important part of the cultural heritage of the city that thrives with million beliefs and makes an incumbent part of the overall cultural weave of Bengal.
Best Time to Explore Kolkata Kali Mata Temple
The best time to explore Kolkata’s Kali Mata temple will probably be Durgapuja when locals flock to the glamourous pandals. While the rest of India celebrates Diwali, the eastern part of the country celebrates Kali puja, the Dipanwita Kali Puja, to be more specific. Another form of worship is Ratanti Kalipuja, whose reference can be found in the famous book of Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhshan Bandyopadhyay.
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There is Shomshan kali (kali of cremation ground) whose worship is more prevalent in the Tantric clan and then there is Dakkhina Kali, the more homely version. This reminds me, on a lighter note, many Bengali girls would be named as Annakali, “Aar na Kali”, (no more Kali), by the poor father who is desperately producing babies, hoping for a son! There are many instances where people have referred to the practice of Kali Mata puja to be more of a rather liberal socio-political practice where the upper cast does not necessarily gain dominance. But that is another story!
This is a guest post by Madhurima Chakraborty.
Madhurima Chakraborty is a Kolkata born, Bangalore based travel blogger of Orangewayfarer (orangewayfarer.com). She loves food, sarees, books, clicking pictures and environment-friendly way of traveling. Aspires to travel to Antarctica someday.
She represented Inditales at Naropa Festival in Ladakh.