Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Kolkata (alt. spelling: Kolkota) is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Before the official change on January 1, 2001, it was known by its anglicised name Calcutta.

Kolkata came into the possession of the British East India Company in 1690 and dates its beginnings as a city from the construction of Fort William in 1698. From 1858 to 1912, Kolkata was the capital of British India. From 1912 to India's Independence in 1947, it was the capital of all of Bengal. After Independence, Kolkata remained the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal.

The centre of Company control over the whole of Bengal from 1757, Kolkata underwent rapid industrial growth from the 1850s, especially in the textile sector, despite the poverty of the surrounding region. Kolkata grew, mostly in an unplanned way, in the next 150 years from 117,000 to 1,098,000 inhabitants (including suburbs), and now has a metropolitan population in excess of 13.2 million. Kolkata was the most populous city in India until the 1980s, when it was overtaken by Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Much of the overpopulation and the attendant problems were due to various British policies. The last straw was the partition of India when it attracted a huge burden of refugee Hindus from the eastern part of the province of Bengal, first included in Pakistan, later declaring independence to form the republic of Bangladesh in 1971.

A lot of discussion is still going on how the city got its name. There are different views on the issue. The more popular one is that the city got its name from the Hindu goddess Kali.

The city is home to the National Library of India, and is the cultural capital of India, famous for the book-fairs every winter. Other places to visit in the city are the Victoria Memorial, Marble Palace, Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Birla Temple, Shahid Minar, Science City and a lot of other places.

Historically, Kolkata was also the epicentre of activity in the early stages of the national movement of independence. The Indian National Congress was born here, as also many contemporary societies like The Hindu Mela and revolutionary societies like the Jugantar and the Anushilan groups. Among early nationalist leaders, the most prominent were Sri Aurobindo and Bepin Chandra Pal. The early nationalists were inspired by Swami Vivekananda, the foremost disciple of the mystic Sri Ramakrishna and helped by Sister Nivedita, disciple of the former.

Kolkata was also home to the poet Rabindranath Tagore, the social reformers Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. All Nobel laureates of India have been associated with Kolkata at some point of time. The film director Satyajit Ray lived in Kolkata. Scientific greats of Kolkata include, in approximately chronogical order, the multifaceted geniuses Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray, the physicists Satyendra Nath Bose, Meghnad Saha and the statistician Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis.

The seat of three universities, and numerous colleges, including at least four medical colleges, Kolkata still enjoys a prominent position in education, though it has slipped in national indexes in the recent past. The famous Calcutta University saw its direction being ably veered towards indigenous concerns by the first Indian vice-chancellor, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee. The Jadavpur University started off as the National College founded by the National Council of Education as an alternative model to the British system and now houses the foremost engineering college in the city. The Rabindra Bharati University offers humanities subjects.

Kolkata remained in the forefront of Indian prosperity upto independence and for some more years afterwards before the population pressure on infrastructure and political disturbances led to a gradual decline. A violently disruptive Maoist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s and left the city badly bruised. Since 1977, a Marxist party has continuously ruled the state with various allegations of electoral malpractices being common. The Municipal Corporation of Calcutta however is presently controlled by a combine of parties opposed to them.

Despite its decline from the preeminent position of the cultural capital of India in recent times, it still retains a strong tradition in cinema and theatre. Football or soccer is a passion for many Kolkatans with the national club Mohun Bagan and East Bengal being the best known teams. Kolkata has a world-class football stadium in Yuva Bharati Krirangan and a 100,000-capacity stadium, mostly used for cricket, called the Eden Gardens. The current, and most successful, cricket captain of India is a Kolkatan.

The two major railway stations of the city are at Howrah and Sealdah with the latter having a more local character. The city has an international airport at Dum Dum and it is called Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. Kolkata is the only city in India to have a tram network and underground metro railways.

The city High Court recently gave a ruling that Job Charnock is not the founder of the city and Kolkata has no birthday.

Calcutta is also a gambling term; see Calcutta (gambling).