Calcutta

Welcome to my Calcutta Photo Album!

Calcutta is a very diverse city from an architectural point of view. From majestic Victorian mansions with large verandas, to "tropical Bauhaus," you can find here some of the most interesting buildings.

College Street is the area near Calcutta University. The neighborhood may be called the arts and intellectual center of Calcutta.It is a mostly muslim neighborhood.

If you're not Bengali, or do not have Bengali friends, you've probably never had Bengali food. Apparently, Bengalis don't like to go out that much, and when they do, it is typically not to enjoy meals that taste just like home. This is a shame, because when cooked well, Bengali food is absolutely delicious! Here you can find information about my two favorite places to eat in Calcutta.

Photos with friends, some anonymous, some not...

One cannot get a real feeling for the city without having explored the Waterfront and been on the Hooghly. Being part of the holy Ganga, the Hooghly is at the center of the religious life in Calcutta.

Here are a number of neighborhoods I walked through during my three-weeks stay and some other miscellaneous images.

Calcutta is home to a very large Muslim minority. Most are Bengalis, either from West Bengal or "refugees" from neighboring Bangladesh. But one can also find Muslims hailing from Punjab, Bihari, and even Afghanistan in certain neighborhoods

The Jews were once a thriving community in Calcutta. Most of them hailed from Baghdad, although they were joined by Ashkenazi Jews fleeing the persecution during World War II.  Most of the Calcutta Jews have now left for Israel, Singapore, or Australia. Of the three remaining synagogues (Neveh Shalom, Magen David and Beth El), I could only visit the last two. I have heard that Neveh Shalom is locked up because of a bitter legal dispute.

To visit these Shules, one must secure authorization from Mr. David Nahoum, their caretaker and a community leader. Everyone knows Nahoum in Calcutta: he is the owner of a famous cake shop located in new Market. His number is 2252-3033. Upon a visit in his shop (Metro: Esplanade), he will either give you a note, or send along a guy from his staff to show you the way and prove your bona fides to the tenants who are also responsible for the upkeep of the two buildings. They will show you around, and it's a good idea to tip them generously. They seem to be doing a great job at preserving these architectural wonders.

Shaktism is the main cult followed in Calcutta. It is the result of the absorption by Hinduism, a religion dominated by male gods, of the mother Goddess cults that prevailed over most of the Subcontinent before Aryanization. Shaktism worship Shaktis, the wives of the male gods of Hinduism: Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning is the consort of Brahma the creator; Lakhshmi, the Goddess of Fortune, the consort of Vishnu the Preserver; Parvati, the consort of Shiva the Destroyer and the source of of his energy.

One of the most popular deities is Durga, the symbol of prosperity and of Victory over Evil. According to the main legend about her, a demon, Mahisasura, was threatening the Gods. He had chased them away from Heaven and was preventing priests to perform the rituals. The Gods turned to Shiva the destroyer for protection and Shiva, in turn, asked his wife Parvati to do battle. She went as Durga, an avatar shaped and armed by all Gods. After fierce battle she killed Mahisasura, using the trident given to her by Vishnu. Durga, although not an indigenous deity, is worshipped all over Bengal. She is also venerated as the mother of Ganesh, the Elephant-God of Wealth, of Kartikeya, the God of War, and of Lakhshmi and Saraswati already mentioned above.

Kali, is a form of Durga, the consort of Shiva. She is the symbol of female energy, of destruction, creation and preservation and, as such, the deity through which most local mother cults have been incorporated into the Hindu pantheon. Kali worship has retained many pre-Aryan rituals and most Kali temples stand on the sites of former Mother Goddess shrines. Kali is represented as a terrible-looking black, sometimes blue, woman, naked except for a girdle of hands and a necklace of skulls. Kali is the resident deity of Calcutta. There were already active Kali temples there when Job Charnock came in 1690. At the turn of the 20th century the Bengali revolutionaries adopted a slogan, Bande Mataram, "Hail to the Mother," and launched a Kali cult revival encouraging worship of the Goddess for courage and strength to fight the British.

Here are a few artifacts of everyday life... Street Art certainly contributes to make the city colorful.

The Calcutta street signs are funky. Here is a sample of places I have been to.