The Temple of Kalighat

The Temple of Kalighat

Hundreds, of years ago, when there was no sign of the city of Calcutta, on the quiet bank of the Bhagirathi (another name for the Ganga), a poor Brahmin named Atma Ram used to sit and meditate every evening. Behind him was a dense forest. Darkness engulfed the area soon after sunset.

One evening, after his meditation, when Atma Ram stooped to wash his face in the river, he saw a luminous ray emanating from a certain point under the water. He remembered the spot and, early next morning, went there to have a closer look at it.

The water was as transparent as glass and in the light of the early dawn, the Brahmin could see a bright piece of stone lying on the river-bed. He picked it up and saw that it was shaped like a beautiful, graceful toe.

The toe-shaped stone could not be of much worth but, as Atma Ram held it in his hand, he felt great joy in his heart. He put it carefully in a safe place inside the forest and remained gazing at it for a long time, admiring it and feeling attracted towards it more and more.

Then, when after a day’s wandering and work, Atma Ram went to bed, he dreamt a wonderful dream. He saw Sati, the consort of Shiva, dying of shock when her father, King Daksha, abused her husband; he saw the grief-stricken Shiva begin his aimless journey with the dead body of Sati on his shoulders; and finally, Vishnu cutting the dead body into pieces with his Sudarsana Chakra. Atma Ram also saw a toe of Sad fall into the Bhagirathi. He realised then that what he had picked up from the river-bed was the same toe, now transformed into stone.

Atma Ram probably erected a small hut in the forest and worshipped the toe there. In course of time, the devotee must have felt the urge to give a more concrete form to the goddess. However, we do not know for certain when a full-fledged idol of Kali was installed there and when the first temple was built.

It is said that a pious landlord, Santosh Roy Chowdhury, who lived in the latter half of the 18th century, was sailing by the forest. It was evening. Suddenly, he heard someone blowing a conch-shell inside the forest. He saw the image of Kali being worshipped by a hermit. Roy Chowdhury was a person gifted with mystic insight and he instantly felt the presence of the Divine Mother in the image.

Soon he returned with men and money. He began to build a temple which was completed by his successors in the first half of the 19th century.

The deity became more and more widely known. As time went by, more and more people came to worship her and many settled down there. The forest gradually disappeared. The place became known as Kalighat. It was recognised as one of the foremost seats of the Mother Goddess.

Many people think that the name of the city of Calcutta was derived from the world Kalighat.

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