A Cultural Tour of Kolkata

A Cultural Tour of Kolkata: Victoria MemorialKolkata – Cultural Capital of India

The city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is the capital city of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. This city, which is located on the banks of the River Hooghly, is home to approximately 14 million inhabitants and is the third largest city in India (in terms of population). Kolkata which has produced two Nobel Laureates – Mother Theresa and Rabindranath Tagore, is also referred to as the ‘Cultural Capital of India’ for it is believed to be a center of Bengali culture that also hosts the largest concentration of writers, artists and other creative folk in the country.

Kolkata has a long and rich history, and from 1772 to 1912, the city served as the capital of British India. The city’s colonial legacy is evident in its many grand colonial edifices, like its signature attraction, the Victoria Memorial. After Kolkata lost its pre-eminent position in the British Empire, it suffered a long period of decline, as it was severely impacted by events like World War II, the Bengal famine of 1943, the partition of India in 1947, the reign of the Naxalites (militant communist groups) in the 1960’s and the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.

The city only got back on its feet in the 1980’s, when it democratically elected a Marxist regime that brought some semblance of order in this ‘City of Joy,’ – a term often used to describe Kolkata, coined by noted French author, Dominique Lapierre, who published a book on the city of the same name. Lapierre, in his writings noted that in spite of the general chaos, squalor and poverty that prevailed in Kolkata, its citizens continued to exude a special kind of warmth and happiness that helped them override their circumstances.

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 The Victoria Memorial

The Victoria Memorial is an iconic landmark of Kolkata. Located in the midst of a lush garden, this imposing marble building, which was inspired by the Taj Mahal, was built to commemorate Queen Victoria in the early 20th century. This memorial was commissioned by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India in 1901 after the death of the queen. Sir William Emerson, using the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, designed the building.

The memorial is now a museum, which offers displays of memorabilia from the British colonial rule in India. Recent additions to the collection also showcase the Indian struggle for independence. The memorial is illuminated every night and presents a truly dazzling sight. The Victoria Memorial is a must-see for any visitor with an interest in history.

A Cultural Tour of Kolkata; The Indian MuseumThe Indian Museum

The Indian Museum was founded in 1814 by a Dutch Botanist named Dr. Nathaniel Wallich and is one of the oldest museums in Asia. The museum hosts an extensive collection that is spread over 35 galleries, which are arranged into categories like Art, Anthropology, Archaeology, Zoology, Geology and more. The museum chronicles the history and evolution of India and offers some must-see exhibits like a 4,000-year-old mummy, a Buddhist stupa, Buddha’s ashes and the Ashoka Pillar, whose three-lion crown is the official symbol of the Republic of India.

The Kalighat Temple

The Kalighat Temple, which is located on the banks of the River Hooghly, is an important center of Hinduism in Kolkata. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali, who is thought to be a destroyer as well as liberator. The Kalighat temple is usually the epicenter for the city’s annual ‘Pooja’ festival, which is celebrated every October-November.

The Mother House

The Mother House is yet another iconic attraction in Kolkata. The Mother House is associated with one of the most well-known residents of Kolkata, Mother Teresa, the Albanian nun who worked tirelessly to uplift and alleviate the living conditions of Kolkata’s poorest citizens.

The Mother House, which hosts the Missionaries of Charity organization founded by Mother Teresa, served as her abode as well. Today, the building hosts a small museum that showcases the mother’s simple life. Every room used by Mother Teresa is preserved for display and highlights her selfless life which was dedicated to improving the living condition of others. The Mother House should be counted as a ‘must-see’ attraction in Kolkata, for it provides visitors with a valuable insight into the life of this truly exceptional human being.

A Cultural Tour of KolkataNehru Children’s Museum

Nehru Children’s Museum commemorates Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, who was known for his love for children. The museum offers quite a few interesting exhibits like a collection of dolls that hail from 88 countries, scenes from the Indian epics –the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which are presented in miniature form and various other toys and models.

Alipore Zoo

Kolkata’s Alipore Zoo dates back to 1876. This zoo, which is one of the biggest zoos in India, is believed to have been fashioned after the Jardin de Plantes in Paris and the Zoological Society in London. The Alipore Zoo is spread out over 45 acres and offers displays of several animals and birds hailing from all over the globe. On display at the zoo are animals like the Royal Bengal Tiger, the one-horned Rhinoceros, wild Yaks, emus, macaws, hornbills, zebras, giraffes, chimpanzees and many more.

Science City, Kolkata

Kolkata’s Science City aims to explain the mysteries of science in a fun and interesting manner. The center offers various interesting exhibits like simulations of natural phenomena like tornados and earthquakes, life size models of prehistoric animals like dinosaurs, models to explain the inner workings of a volcano and various displays of live birds and insects. The center also hosts other attractions like the Space Theatre, the 3D Vision Theatre, a Time Machine and the Helios Planetarium. A Ropeway, a musical fountain, a toy train and a children’s play area provide additional avenues of entertainment at Science City. Science City is an entertaining and informative attraction, suitable for children and adults alike.

(Photo credit: 1. The Victoria Memorial; CC-by-sa PlaneMad/Wikimedia; 2. The Indian Museum; Ministry of Culture, India)