The metropolitan area of Kolkata presents a perfect picture of modern India along with traditional art and culture. The city, which has witnessed many vicissitudes in the past, still presents a true spirit of Bengali culture. Kolkata, or cultural capital of India as it is better known, is home to over 4.4 million people. The population of the metropolitan area is estimated to be 14.38 million, ranking it third in India after Mumbai and Delhi. Kolkata is the main business hub of East India, thus it attracts many migrants from other states. It is a densely populated urban agglomeration.
East India Company
In the late 17th century, the three villages that predated Kolkata – Gobindapur, Kalikata and Sutanuti – were ruled by the Nawab of Bengal under Mughal suzerainty. After the Nawab granted the East India Company a trading licence in 1690, the area was developed by the company into an increasingly fortified mercantile base. The beginning of rule or dominion of the British East India Company is variously dated as 1757 after the Battle of Plassey when the Nawab of Bengal surrendered his dominions to the Company; as 1765 when the Company was granted the diwani, or the right to collect revenue in Bengal and Bihar; or as 1773 when the Company established a capital in Calcutta (the British anglicised the name, as they were wont to do), appointed its first Governor-General, Warren Hastings, and became directly involved in governance. Nawab of Bengal Siraj ud-Daulah occupied Kolkata in 1756 after the Company started evading taxes and due to increasing militarisation of the fort. The East India Company retook it in the following year and in 1793 assumed full sovereignty after Mughal governorship (Nizamat) was abolished. The rule lasted until 1858, when, after the Indian rebellion of 1857 and consequent of the Government of India Act 1858, the British government took over the direct administration of India in the new British Raj (“raj” means “rule” in Hindi and refers to the British dominion over India from 1757 to 1947). Under the East India Company and then the British Raj, Kolkata served as the capital of India until 1911, when its perceived geographical disadvantages, combined with growing nationalism in Bengal, led to a shift of the capital to New Delhi. British rule on the Indian subcontinent lasted between 1858 and 1947, when India gained independence (and partition into India and Pakistan).
Job Charnock and sati
Sati (or suttee), was a funeral practice within some Asian communities in which a recently widowed woman immolated herself, typically on the husband’s funeral pyre. The practice was outlawed in India by the British in 1829 A case of sati in India as recently as 1987 sparked widespread debate. There is a story told about sati involving the early days of the British in India. Kolkata’s recorded history is said to have begun in 1690 with the arrival of the British East India Company, which was consolidating its trade business in Bengal. Job Charnock (c. 1630–1692), an administrator who worked for the Company, has traditionally been credited as the founder of the city. In about 1663 Charnock took a Hindu widow as his common-law wife. An East India Company servant, Alexander Hamilton, later wrote that she was to be a sati but Charnock, smitten by her beauty, had rescued her from her husband’s funeral pyre by the River Ganges in Bihar. Charnock’s mausoleum can be seen in the graveyard of St. John’s Church, the second-oldest Protestant church in Kolkata. The inscription omits any mention of his Hindu wife Maria. The story does not quite end there. In 2003, a five-member expert committee found that Job Charnock should no longer be named as the founder of Kolkata, because the city had neither a founder nor a foundation day. The findings were endorsed by the Division Bench of Kolkata High Court. The Division Bench, at its historic judgment, directed the state government to immediately rectify all official documents pertaining to Kolkata’s foundation day as per the expert committee’s report, and to correct history books and other writings where Job Charnock has been named as Kolkata’s founder. The High Court ruled that August 24, 1690, would no more be observed as Kolkata’s foundation day because Kolkata (Kalikata) existed much before the arrival of Charnock. The name of Kalikata was mentioned in the “Monasavijay Kabya” much before his arrival and the land document of “Aain-e-Akbari” in 1596. The Sabarno Roy Chowdhury family got the zamindari (system of landholding and revenue collection by zamindars, or aristocrats) of Sutani, Govindapur and Kalikata in 1608. Hence, Job Charnock cannot be named as Kolkata’s founder, the Bench stated, quoting the committee’s report.
India was the oft-quoted “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire. Queen Victoria, born 24 May 1819, died 22 January 1901, reigned from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she used the additional title of Empress of India but in those pre-Suez Canal days she never visited her far-off colony. Nevertheless, George Curzon, Viceroy of India, suggested the creation of a fitting memorial, and Victoria Memorial was built between 1906 and 1921. In 1912 King George V announced the transfer of the capital of India from Calcutta to New Delhi, thus consigning the memorial to what would be a provincial city rather than a capital. Its dome echoes the Taj Mahal and it is built of white marble. The British Indian states, along with individuals who wanted favours from the British government, were the main contributors towards the cost of building it. The Victoria Memorial has the largest single collection of the paintings of Thomas Daniell (1749-1840), an English landscape painter who spent ten years in India, and his nephew, William Daniell (1769-1837). Victoria’s childhood rosewood pianoforte and her correspondence desk from Windsor Castle can be seen among many other exhibits. After the Second World War a bronze statue of victory was placed atop the building, mounted on ball bearings so that it rotates with the wind. The Victoria Memorial is the grandest of all Kolkata’s buildings.
Black Hole of Calcutta
St. John’s Church and its grounds are full of history. One such is the Black Hole of Calcutta memorial, just outside the church. In 1712, the British completed the construction of Fort William, on the east bank of the city’s Hooghly River, one of the many mouths of the River Ganges, to protect their trading factory. Facing frequent skirmishes with French forces, the British began to upgrade their fortifications in 1756. When Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah’s protests about the militarisation and tax evasion by the company went unheeded, he attacked, capturing Fort William. The Company’s local lockup for petty offenders, popularly known as the Black Hole, was a room 5.5 metres long and 4 metres wide, with two small windows. Into this small dungeon, troops of the Nawab placed European and British soldiers and civilians as prisoners after the surrender and capture of the fort on 20 June 1756. Prisoner John Zephaniah Holwell claimed the conditions were so cramped that 123 prisoners out of 146 held died from suffocation, heat exhaustion and crushing. However, the precise number of deaths and the accuracy of his claims have been the subject of controversy. A force of Company soldiers (sepoys) and British troops led by Robert Clive recaptured the city the following year. The incident was held up as evidence of British heroism and the Nawab’s callousness. A study in 1959 by author Brijen Gupta suggested that the number who entered the Black Hole was about 64, with 21 of them surviving. The Black Hole disappeared shortly after the incident when the fort itself was taken down to be replaced by the new Fort William, which still stands today in the Maidan, the vast urban park in the middle of Kolkata. The precise location of the former guardroom is in an alleyway between the General Post Office and the adjacent building. No traces of it remain today.
St. John’s Church
Inside St. John’s Church hangs a Leonardo da Vinci-style “Last Supper”, painted by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810), a German neoclassical painter active mainly in England. The painting is not an exact replica of Leonardo’s masterpiece. Zoffany rather gave an Indian touch to the biblical event. Its most unusual feature is the selection of models used by Zoffany to represent Jesus and his twelve disciples. Jesus is portrayed by a Greek priest, Father Parthenio, Judas by auctioneer William Tulloh and John by W.C. Blacquiere, the police magistrate of Calcutta during the 1780s. The effeminate police officer was a master in adopting female disguises. One of the models for the painting did not like his depiction and slashed the canvas. It was repaired but today you can still see the scar.
Warren Hastings (1732-1818), the first British Governor-General of India, from 1772 to 1785, had his office in the church, apparently because of a shortage of suitable buildings, and it is preserved there today. From it Hastings established the system of civil administration that was the basis of Anglo-Indian security and prosperity.
Esplanade is the heart of Kolkata. It consists of the region just north of the Maidan and includes BBD Bagh, the former Dalhousie Square with all its colonial British buildings. The district takes a visitor back to the Raj era with nostalgic overtones. Many of the city’s important buildings are here. It is the central business district of the city. BBD Bagh’s full name is Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh. After the independence of India, the square was renamed from Dalhousie Square after three youngsters who dared to challenge British rule and died there in 1930. It is the large central square of Kolkata with Lal Dighi, a big water tank, in its centre. This was there before the arrival of the British. The place was then called Dihi Kolkata. The British decided to settle there because it was less crowded than other areas in the neighbourhood. They built the old Fort William at the place where the General Post Office now stands. After their victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the British built the new fort in Gobindapur, one of the three villages that merged to form the city of Kolkata. Dalhousie Square remained at the heart of what was then the “White Town” of Calcutta. No Indian, rich or poor, dared to live in the area. They came for work during day time and went back to “Black Town” (Sutanuti) before sunset. With the Writers Building occupying the north side and numerous commercial offices all around it became the administrative and business centre of Kolkata. Even now it stands out as a “period piece”. The General Post Office is notable for its imposing high domed roof and tall Ionic-Corinthian pillars. It was built in 1868, at the site of the old Fort William, and has remained an important landmark of the city ever since. Kolkata High Court is the oldest High Court in India and was established as the High Court of Judicature at Fort William in 1862. The High Court building is said to be a replica of the Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium (perhaps not as grand as that, we think). The Writers Building is the secretariat building of the West Bengal state government. Raj Bhavan (Hindi for Government House) is The Governor’s Residence. Built in 1803, modelled on Lord Curzon’s home, Keddleston Hall, Derbyshire, England, this is now the official residence of the Governor of Bengal. There are many rare works of art and other interesting items but entry is restricted.
Kolkata has a number of landmarks. One is the massive Howrah Bridge, over the Hooghly River, which swarms with tens of thousands of people and vehicles daily. Howrah is on the west bank of the Hooghly River and is a twin city to Kolkata. Construction of the bridge began in 1936 and it was commissioned in 1943. No nuts and bolts were used; rather the 26,500 tons of steel are riveted. Coolies plod across with heavy loads on their heads. Tens of thousands of people cross eastwards in morning peak hour, then westwards in the evening. A rare sight these days is a fortune teller with two green birds in a wooden cage to help him select the cards that are said to know your fate. Corrosion has been caused by bird droppings and human spitting, problems rectified by regular cleaning and painting, and some fibreglass covering in 2011. It is forbidden to photograph the bridge, among modern-day security concerns. Remember the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, which India said originated from old adversary Pakistan. Three other bridges and ferry services also cross the Hooghly. You can also sneak a photo of the bridge from the bustling (everywhere in Kolkata is bustling) Mullik Ghat flower market, beneath the eastern end of the bridge. This is apparently India’s largest flower market. Flowers are an essential element in Indian temple rituals and offerings, weddings, parties and festivals. About 2,000 flower growers from surrounding areas come to sell their flowers and garlands in the stalls or anywhere they can find space. It’s possible to get a good overview of the surging energy of the market from the bridge but the best way is to brave the throngs and wander through the maze of flower stalls, revelling in the scents and colours.
Howrah Railway Station
This is the oldest station and largest railway complex in India, one of the four intercity railway stations serving Kolkata. The terminus station is on the west bank of the Hooghly River, linked to Kolkata by Howrah Bridge. With 23 platforms, it is an exceedingly busy place. Such evocative names as the Rajdhani Express, the Shatadbi Express and Secunderabad Falaknuma Express operate out of Howrah. India’s mighty steam trains no longer run except for heritage trips and have been replaced by the more faceless electric and diesel locomotives, as is the way of the faster, modern world. Indian Railways was founded in 1853 and is one of the world’s largest railway networks, with 1.3 million employees, a route of 65,436 kilometres and 7,172 stations. Howrah Railway Station is the oldest station and largest railway complex in India, having opened in 1954. These days it is no longer overrun with coolies in their raggedy red jackets vying to carry passengers’ large metal trunks on their heads. In the modern world, most suitcases have wheels. A man laying on the concrete just outside one of the entrances is conscious but apparently unaware what is happening to him. He looks as though he will be dead by the end of the day and it is a shocking moment.
Grand Trunk Road
Howrah is on the west bank of the Hooghly River and is a twin city to Kolkata. In a nondescript old area of raggedy shops, there is the usual tangle of ancient buses, tuk-tuks, Ambassador taxis, motorcycles and unrestrained cows. Imagine the surprise to be told that this scruffy street is part of the Grand Trunk Road, 2,500 kilometres long and one of Asia’s oldest major roads. For more than two millennia it has linked the eastern and western regions of the Indian subcontinent. From its origin in Chittagong in Bangladesh it passes through humble Howrah on its vast journey to Kabul in Afghanistan, a road redolent of the romance of travel if ever there was one. Rudyard Kipling wrote in his novel “Kim”: “Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims – and potters – all the world going and coming. It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood. And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India’s traffic for fifteen hundred miles – such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world.”
Mother Theresa and Rabindranath Tagore
Two great people associated with Kolkata were Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic missionary who won the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, and Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1913.
The Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity, on A.J.C. Bose Road, has been home to Mother Teresa and her sisters since 1953. Inside, the sisters wear their white habits with blue trimming and there is an atmosphere of calm and reverence. Mother Teresa’s large white tomb attracts pilgrims and sightseers. So does the simple room where she slept. A museum contains her sari, sandals, crucifix, sweater, blanket, vase, towels, wheelchair, a little rubbish bin and the chair she sat in the day she died in 1997. “Let us not use religion to divide us,” Mother Teresa said. “In all the holy books we see how God calls us to love.” A listing of the Missionaries of Charity around the world is on display and includes Budapest, Erd and Miskolc. As we leave the Mother House, a sister gives us three items: a tiny medallion called the “Miraculous Medal”, a pamphlet explaining how Mother Teresa gave these medallions to the poor and sick wherever she went, and a picture of Mother Teresa with a prayer on the rear. All in all, a visit to the Mother House is a humbling experience.
Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941, used new prose and verse forms to free Bengali literature from traditionalism based on classical Sanskrit. He wrote novels, stories, songs, dance-dramas and essays, as well as being a painter and actor. He received his Nobel Prize “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West”. The award was largely for the English version of Gitanjali, which can be translated as “An offering of songs” or “Prayer offering of song”, and which Tagore translated himself to pass the time on a boat from India to London. Apparently he was unimpressed with his own translation, though, and said he had not been able to capture its essence properly in English. A good idea of his life can be gained from a visit to the ancestral family home in Kolkata, a comfortable 1784 family mansion within Rabindra Bharati University that contains the room where Tagore was born and the room where he died 80 years later. Today the house is a museum with three galleries dedicated to Tagore, members of his family and the Bengal Renaissance, a socio-cultural and religious reform movement. The galleries give glimpses of intimate family photographs, life-size portraits and Tagore’s evolution as a poet philosopher. There is an exhibition on his links with Japan, photos from his acting days and quotations that give an insight into his deeply universalist philosophy. He visited Hungary in 1926, though the exhibit listing his travels gives no details of this. Tagore’s grandfather, Dwarkanath, was the only Indian at Queen Victoria’s wedding, and when visiting England was a guest at Buckingham Palace. A bust of Rabindranath Tagore was unveiled by His Excellency Malay Mishra, Ambassador of India to Hungary, at the Faculty of Humanities, ELTE, Budapest, in May this year. The bust is a present from the Embassy of India in Budapest to celebrate the close relations between the embassy and the Department of Indo-European Studies at ELTE. Again, in the Tagore ancestral family home, as at the Mother House, it is rather chastening to see how much one person can achieve in a lifetime.
One of the world’s iconic cricket grounds, Eden Gardens sits in central Kolkata. It is the largest cricket stadium in India and third-biggest in the world by seating capacity. Melbourne Cricket Ground and ANZ Stadium in Australia are the biggest. Eden Gardens holds 66,349 people following renovations for the Cricket World Cup 2011, a capacity down from an estimated 100,000 before the upgrade and from about 120,000 before the 1987 World Cup. When minnows Kenya played Zimbabwe in the 2011 World Cup, the stadium had the smallest ticket-purchasing crowd in its recorded history, with 15 spectators having bought tickets. On The Budapest Times’ visit to Kolkata in August, Indian cricket fans were mourning that day’s capitulation by an innings to England at Lords, to lose the series 3-1.
West Bengal was ruled by the Left Front for 34 years (1977–2011), making it the world’s longest-running democratically elected communist government. Our guide tells us that one legacy is the abolition of the feudal system in the countryside, resulting in greater rural prosperity and consequently lower crime and fewer beggars in Kolkata. The Marxists wanted to rid the city of hand-pulled rickshaws, ruling it inhuman if a man performed the function of a horse. But protestors said that 10,000 rickshaw wallahs and family members would be left penniless, so it was decided instead not to issue new licences. Hundreds, probably thousands, remain on the streets but as the human horses die off, they are not replaced. They are not allowed on the main streets and neither are the hand-drawn carts that remain in use. Kolkata may be the last place on Earth with hand-pulled rickshaws. Demeaning it may be but they are one of the sights of the city. Wizened men run between the shafts with dogged steps. Presumably one day they will have disappeared, just like the punkah wallahs who used to sit for hours pulling a cord to operate an overhead fan made of hanging material.
City of Joy
Kolkata has had the nickname City of Joy since a novel of that name by French author Dominique Lapierre was published in 1985 then followed by a film in 1992, starring Patrick Swayze. The book is set in the slum of Anand Nagar, which is based on Pilkhana, Kolkata, and its unsung heroes. The story centres on the tribulations of a young French priest, the hardships of a rickshaw puller and the experiences of a young American doctor. Inspiration is drawn from the efforts of Gaston Grandjean, a Swiss nurse who moved to India in 1972 to devote his life to improving the welfare of slum dwellers. The book also refers to Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. Lapierre donated half his royalties from the book to support several humanitarian projects in Kolkata, including refuge centres for leper and polio children, dispensaries, schools, rehabilitation workshops, education programs, sanitary actions and hospital boats. The New York Times said of the film: “City of Joy probably means well, but it exemplifies the worst kind of simple-minded Occidental literature, in which India exists to be a vast, teeming rehab center where emotionally troubled Americans can find themselves. Or, at least, those Americans who have the time and the money to fly off to India instead of taking a bus to a local clinic.” Ouch!
On the road
“Please horn” or “blow horn” is painted on the back of most buses and trucks but the Kolkata driver needs no invitation. The constant cacophony is mostly mindless. Somehow the constant tangle of hand-pulled rickshaws and carts, bicycle rickshaws, tuk-tuks (40,000 in the city, we are told), yellow Ambassador taxis (35,000), cars, buses and trucks seem to avoid each other and the pedestrians who drift into the road. On a drive into the countryside, our driver negotiates terrible potholes, goats, cows and dogs that wander across the road, plus bicyclists and the occasional bullock cart. There is the constant threat of head-on collision as drivers overtake in impossible situations, forcing oncoming traffic to brake heavily or die. Why aren’t there more accidents, we ask our guide? They are very skillful drivers, is his response, whereupon he launches into the tale of a fearful accident in which a young woman was badly hurt, causing her eyeball to pop out. But it seems she eventually recovered. Leaving Kolkata for a short visit to the countryside, initially we enjoy a four-lane highway, with two lanes on each side. Suddenly, there is a car coming towards us in the fast lane on our side of the highway. Its headlights are on as a warning and the driver is gesticulating at us to get out of his way, which we do, quickly. If there is a Highway Code in India, only one rule seems to actually apply: if you meet an approaching vehicle, pass on the left. When someone overtakes in an impossible situation and is bearing down on you, it is your responsibility to get out of the way and avoid a head-on. Anything goes – overtaking on the inside, driving the wrong way down a street, parking a metre or so from the kerb, honking all the time just for the sheer joy of making a noise. It is the scariest place to be, total highway anarchy. And yet somehow it works.
Long-suffering Kolkatans accustomed to crammed ageing buses and trams have got some relief from the 28-kilometre Line 1 North-South Metro, the first underground railway to be built in India, with the first trains running in October 1984, Of the 24 stations, 15 are actually underground. Line 2 East-West Metro is under construction but no one seems confident that it will be finished any time soon, and another four lines are planned, one of these days. The buses remain crammed, the battered trams less so.
This is famous for its small and big bookstores and many tiny kiosks that sell new and old volumes, earning it the nickname Boi Para (Colony of Books). An article in the journal Smithsonian described College Street as “a half-mile of bookshops and bookstalls spilling over onto the pavement, carrying first editions, pamphlets, paperbacks in every Indian language, with more than a fair smattering of books in and out of print from France, Germany, Russia and England”. The presence nearby of educational institutions such as Presidency University, University of Kolkata, Scottish Church College, Medical College and Hospital, Sanskrit College, Bethune College, Hare School and Hindu School earned College Street its name. There are many academic publications on offer from the 300 or so sellers, and the street has been called the largest second-hand book market in the world and the largest book market in India. An institution is the Indian Coffee House, a café that has attracted the city’s intelligentsia for decades. Opposite the Presidency University, it is a favourite hang-out for students and Rabindranath Tagore and film director Satyajit Ray were regulars. The place seriously needs a lick of paint but this could be dangerous: it might that destroy that indispensable pre-requisite for a good coffee house – atmosphere.
Meaning “potter locality” (kumar = potter, tuli = locality), this area is a truly unusual sight for Western eyes. Over 300 years old, the settlement in northern Kolkata was formed by a bunch of potters who came to the area in search of a better livelihood more than three centuries ago. They earn their living in narrow streets and winding lanes by sculpting clay into idols of Hindu gods and goddesses for use in the various Indian festivals. Nowadays, Kumartuli’s clientele has extended to America, Europe and Africa, among the Indian communities living there. In 2006, Kumartuli supplied 12,300 clay deities of goddess Durga including to about 90 countries worldwide, with new nations often joining the list. Many East European countries, where religious ceremonies were previously banned, have started buying images from Kumartuli. A spokesman of Kumartuli Shilpi Sangha, an association of the craftsmen, said the non-resident Indians of countries such as Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia, Austria and Poland, come to Kumartuli to buy images. While we are there, the sculptors are preparing for the Durga Puja festival from 30 September to 4 October. This marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura and is the biggest festival of the year in West Bengal. Popular writer Sunil Gangopadhyay recalled his childhood in the 1940s: “In those days, instead of buying the idols from the market at Kumartuli, families invited the kumar or artisan home to stay as a house guest weeks before the Puja, during which time he sculpted the idol. The idol at our Puja was known for its magnificent size. It used to be over 10 feet tall. Every morning as the kumor started his work, we children gathered around him and gaped in awe as he gradually turned a fistful of straw and a huge mass of clay into a perfectly formed, larger-than-life figure. And then came the most intriguing part — the painting of the third eye of the goddess. The artisan would sit in meditation sometimes for hours and then suddenly in one swift stroke of his paintbrush, it would be done.”
It is forbidden to photograph Birla Mandir, a Hindu temple built by the industrialist Birla family and one of Kolkata’s architectural beauties. Construction began in 1970 and it took 26 years to complete the entire structure. The exterior is sandstone and the interior is plated with white marble. The main temple houses statues of deities Krishna and Radha, with the left side temple shikhar (dome) housing goddess Durga, the Hindu goddess of Shakti, the power, and the right side dome housing Shiva in meditation mode. The indigenous craftsmanship blends traditional and contemporary art and it is a revered place of worship and devotion. Thousands of people from various parts of India come to offer prayers especially on Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna.
Another magnificent Kolkata temple is Dakshineswar Kali Temple, an architectural treasure. Dedicated to Goddess Kali, there is a 30-metre queue to go in when we arrive. The temple was built by Rani Rashmoni, a philanthropist and a devotee of Kali, in 1855. The nine-spired temple and its large courtyard are flanked by 12 smaller temples devoted to Lord Shiva. It is on the eastern bank of the Hooghly River and on the bathing ghat outside people take a dip in the murky water.
It is also forbidden to photograph Ramakrishna Temple (or Belur Math as it is also called) but a guardian allows The Budapest Times this privilege. The temple is a place of international pilgrimage significant because Swami Vivekananda placed the relics of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa here and envisioned a unique temple to house them. Swami Vivekananda was an Indian Hindu monk and a key figure in the introduction of Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world, credited with raising interfaith awareness. To pay tribute to the multifaceted, all-embracing divine personality of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda envisioned a great edifice combining various architectural features of monuments in various parts of the world. It was his desire that the new temple should embody the salient features of major temple architecture of different religious beliefs so that everyone who comes to the Ramakrishna Temple would feel at home and realise the underlying principle of the universal brotherhood and religion propounded by the Great Master. The first foundation stone was laid by Swami Shivananda on 13 March 1929, the birthday of Sri Ramakrishna. Swami Vijnanananda laid the foundation stone at the present site, 30 metres south of the first one on 16 July 1935. Construction was completed and consecrated on 14 January 1938. Belur Math is one of the prime religious tourist spots near Kolkata[ and a place of pilgrimage for devotees. The temple is notable for its architecture that fuses Hindu, Christian and Islamic motifs as a symbol of unity of all religions. It resembles a temple, a mosque and a church if seen from different positions. It is sited on the west bank of the Hooghly River and is one of the significant institutions in Kolkata.
“Respect Your Girl Child”
Kolkata has an overall literacy rate of 87.14%, making it one of the top cities in India. The sex ratio is around 899 females for every 1000 males, compared with the national figure of 940. When The Budapest Times visited the city recently, we noted an official sign saying “Respect Your Girl Child” on a street. Some parts of India still regard daughters as a financial drain on the family, and therefore better not born. Consequently it is law not to determine the sex of a foetus, and abortion is only legal for medical reasons. In rural areas it may be possible to bribe a doctor on both. Decades of sex-selective abortion have created an acute lack of women in certain parts of India. A series of high-profile rape cases involving girls, foreign tourists and a physiology student who died following a brutal gang rape last December have damaged India’s reputation. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation on Independence Day on August 15, pledged to reduce rapes and female foeticide, impressing some Indians but apparently leaving activists and victims unmoved.