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Kolkata (Calcutta)

One of the largest cities in India, Kolkata has a population of 4,580,544 (2001 census) in the city proper, and a metropolitan area population of 14,681,589. It is the capital of the State of West Bengal.

Kolkata on the map


Calcutta was founded as a trading post by the British East India Company in 1690. As the Company's profits grew, so, too, did Calcutta. Fort William was completed in 1702, and the city became the headquarters of the Bengal Presidency several years later. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the city served as the center of the East India Company's opium trade.

In 1756, after protests against the militarization of Bengal by the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-Ud-Daulah, went unheeded, he attacked and captured Fort William. The fort and city were recaptured by a force of Company sepoys and British troops under Robert Clive the following year.

Calcutta became the capital of British India in 1773. From the 1850's on, the British invested heavily in the city's infrastructure, and by 1900 Calcutta ranked second only to London as the largest city in the British Empire. That growth was stymied, however, after the British government moved the capital to New Delhi in 1912.

Calcutta's fortunes continued to decline during and after World War II. Its port was bombed by the Japanese twice during the war, and massive diversion of food stocks to feed Allied troops led to millions of starvation deaths in 1943. In 1946, demands for the creation of a Muslim state led to massive violence that left more than 2,000 dead. The city lost hundreds of thousands of citizens following the partition of India in 1947, with huge numbers of Muslims moving to East Pakistan and equally huge numbers of Hindus fleeing to other parts of India.

Although Calcutta saw some very tough times through the 1950's, 60's, and 70's, major government projects have made inroads into the city's pollution, overcrowding, and traffic problems. The city's name was officially changed to Kolkata in 2001.


The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) is responsible for civic maintenance and infrastructure within the city limits. The city is divided into 141 administrative wards, each of which elects a councillor to KMC. The wards are grouped into 15 boroughs, each of which has a committee consisting of councillors elected from the respective borough wards.

Calcutta elects 3 representatives to the National Assembly, and 21 to the state Legislative Assembly.


Calcutta is a major commercial and military port, and is the only city in the region with an international airport -- Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. Information technology has become a major part of the city's economy, along with the manufacture of goods ranging from electronics to jute.


Institutions of higher education in Calcutta include: the University of Calcutta (founded in 1857), Bengal Engineering and Science University, West Bengal University of Technology, Jadavpur University, Rabindra Bharati University, Bangla Academy (a center of Bengali literature), Calcutta Medical College, Presidency College, St. Xavier's College, and Women's Teachers Training College.

The Asiatic Society, founded by Sir William Jones in 1784, is still a famous center of Indology, literature, and scientific research. Its library contains about 20,000 volumes, including about 8,000 rare Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, and Hindi manuscripts.

Bangiya Sahitya Parishad is a library that preserves ancient manuscripts of Bengali writings.

The National Library of India is India's leading public library. The second largest library in Asia, it houses more than 1 million books and 5 million manuscripts.

Other major educational and research institutions in Calcutta include: Bose Institute, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences at Calcutta, Government College of Arts and Crafts, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Indian Institute of Management, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Indian Statistical Institute, Marine Engineering and Research Institute, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, and West Bengal National University of Juridicial Sciences.

Sites of Interest

Academy of Fine Arts, established in 1933, is where the city's cultural intellectuals meet. Art galleries feature exhibitions by contemporary artists throughout the year. The Rabindra Gallery contains personal belongings, manuscripts and paintings by Rabindranath Tagore.

Academy of Indian Coins and History, established in 1997, is a voluntary organization dealing in ancient Indian coins and history.

Birla Industrial and Technological Museum, established in 1966, houses a permanent exhibition of industrial and technological progress in India.

Birla Planetarium exhibits the universe and the solar system. Regular astronomical shows are presented with commentaries in different languages.

Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, located in nearby Barrakpore, holds a library and museum dedicated to the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

Gurusaday Museum contains a small but rich collection of the folk arts and crafts of Bengal.

Indian Museum, located in Chowringhee, houses vast collections of Indian natural history and Indian art. Established in 1814, it is the oldest museum in Asia, and the largest in India.

Jorasanko Thakurbari was the birth place of National Poet Rabindranath Tagore. The family home is now the premises of Rabindra Bharati University, as well as a museum of Tagore memorabilia.

Maidan is a large open field in the heart of the city where several sporting events and public meetings are held.

Nehru Children Museum houses a collection of puppets depicting the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as well as collections of toys and dolls and a huge library for children.

Rabindra Bharati Museum contains vestiges of the Bengal Renaissance of the nineteenth century.

Saheed Minar is a granite column that stands 152 feet (46 meters) high. It was erected in 1828 to commemorate the victory of the British Army under David Octerloni over the Nepal Army in 1814. Previously known as Octerloni Monument, it was rechristed as the Saheed Minar to commemorate the Indian freedom fighters in 1969.

The Victoria Memorial is an impressive building of white marble that houses a picture gallery and a historical museum. Built between 1906 and 1921, the memorial was commissioned by Lord Curzon, who felt that Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Empress of India, deserved a suitable monument to her memory.

Victoria Memorial

See Also

East India Company
New Delhi
World War II
University of Calcutta
Mahatma Gandhi
Queen Victoria

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The Robinson Library >> India >> Local History and Description

This page was last updated on August 24, 2018.