We left Sikkim, drove to Bagdogra and flew to Kolkata, the capital of W. Bengal. We wanted to spend a few days in this historic city.


There is still a lot of architecture like the building on the right or the view from our hotel window above or the facades below that reminds one of British colonial influence. It was the capital under British rule until 1911 (called by them Calcutta).


The name means the land of the goddess Kali (in at least one interpretation, there are others). More on Kali later.





Like with many other colonial names the British couldn’t pronounce, it always was ‘Kolkata’ in native Bengali.


In 2001 that pronunciation was adopted universally.


Kolkata with its 15 million people has its share of poverty.


People living like this can be seen in many areas of the city.






The flower market supplies the many flowers needed for honoring deities at the many temples and shrines.





This is a typical street market.



In the Botanical Gardens, Yvonne and our local guide are strolling under the 200-year old Great Banyan tree. With its (claimed) 2880 aerial roots it looks more like a forest than an individual tree. The tree occupies some 4 acres and may well be the largest banyan tree in existence.






The Shree Radha Krishna Mandir (temple) is one of many Hindu temples built by the Birla family. It was completed in 1996.



The Victoria Memorial Hall built in 1921 is now a museum.


We met and talked to this family visiting the Victoria Memorial. They were from Chennai (formerly Madras). Note the shaved heads of some of the women.




At Belur Math on the Hooghly (Ganges) River, is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission which was founded by Swami Vivekananda, a chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.


The temple architecture of the Ramakrishna temple on the left fuses Hindu, Christian, and Islamic motifs as a symbol of all religions. It was built in 1938.


Kolkata is the center for the Kali cult. Kali, which means black, is the consort of Shiva.


Kali helped destroy the self-multiplying demon Raktabija by sucking blood from his body and putting the many Raktabija duplicates in her gaping mouth.


Here she is stepping on the corpses, among which is her consort Shiva.


On the right is a picture of Kali standing on Shiva.


As a sign of her shock and shame at having disrespected her husband, she’s sticking out her tongue.


Kali is considered to be the goddess of time and change and is associated with eternal energy.







The Dakshineswar Kali temple was built in 1855 and is a very popular pilgrimage site.


On the right is another picture of Kali (standing on Shiva) with the temple in the background.


This picture is also used for the background of this web page.








The temple is so popular and the lines so long that we passed on waiting in line - especially as it was 100 F.


The people didn’t seem to mind the heat and the waiting time.




In one side altar niche in the large temple complex, we found this group.


The presiding deity of the temple is Bhavatarini (in the center, back) who is an aspect of Kali.


The deity on the left of the picture is Jagannath, the lord of the universe. We’ll meet him later in the state of Orissa.



The Indian museum in Kolkata was a special destination for us.


It has a large collection of very early Buddhist art. On the left and below are fine examples of Gandharan (Hellenistic influenced Buddhist art) dating from the beginning of the common era.


We visited the archeological remains of early monasteries in the old Gandharan part of Pakistan on our “Silk Road from Beijing to Islamabad” trip in 2008 - and found there that the major treasures were in Kolkata. We have sought out Gandharan art in Paris and London as well.


Apollo or Buddha?




Very special for us was seeing for the first time Buddhist iconography dating from before the common era.


As the original Buddhist teaching denied any deities and the existence of a human soul, there was no point to pray to the Buddha (485-405 BCE) once he was dead. Accordingly, the iconography (until the beginning of the common era and the emergence of Mahayana Buddhism) didn’t depict any images of the Buddha. His devotees congregate around an empty chair on the left and below. The Buddha himself was only represented symbolically by the Dharma wheel (representing his teachings), the Bodhi tree (representing his enlightenment) or his footprints.


These panels were found at the Bharhut stupa in Madhya Pradesh (a state in central India) which was probably established by King Ashoka in the 3rd c. BCE with additions from the 2nd c. BCE.




On the left and below are more examples of the “empty chair” representation in early (Theravada) Buddhism.


The Bodhi tree (where he attained enlightenment) and the dharma wheel (which represents his teachings) are references to him.








The Shree Sheetalnathji temple is a Jain temple and dates from 1910. It’s located within beautiful gardens. The Jain religion was founded in the 6th C BCE and is based on a doctrine of non-violence towards all living beings.


Around the 6th C BCE was a global explosion of human creativity: examples are classical Greece, Buddha, Confucius, Dao, Jainism and Zoroastrianism.




Locals relaxing under a banyan tree.


Vendor selling tools and pigments for temporary tattoos.




Devotees on the River Hooghly (the name of the river delta of the Ganges river).


These colorful scenes from Hindu mythology are found everywhere, especially along the Hooghly (name of the Ganges delta).












These colorful sculptures aren’t made for eternity. They end up pretty soon on trash heaps.


They’re made from straw models and covered with mud and then painted. There is a large quarter consisting only of fabrication facilities for these statues.






All these ladies need is a paint job.




We found this accomplished artist working on a female figure for a private client (it’s the client’s grandmother). He worked from the photographic images on his right and asked us to comment. Yvonne freely gave advice.


We think he was really good.