Culture of Kolkata

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Kolkata has been a pioneering city in Indian renaissance. It has long been known for its literary, artistic and revolutionary heritage. As the former capital of India, and now known as the "Cultural Capital of India", not only Kolkata, but Bengal was the birthplace of modern Indian literary, artistic and scholastic thought. Bengalees tend to have a special appreciation for art and literature; its tradition of welcoming new talent has made it a "city of furious creative energy".[1]

Paras in Kolkata signify a neighbourhood with a strong sense of community, and are usually sharply defined on the basis of loyalties (like which households contribute economically to which public or "barowari" puja). Paras culture typically segregate Kolkata communities on the basis of origin (West Bengal origin "ghotis" versus East Bengal origin "bangals" – there are paras which have names like "prothom bangal para" (first bangal para)), occupation and socio-economic status (paras have names like "kumorpara" (potter para)), and sometimes even politics and religion.

Typically, every para has its own community club, with a club room ("club ghar"), and often a playing field. People of a para habitually indulge in adda or leisurely chat in "rock"s or "rowacks" (porches) and teashops in the evenings after work. North Kolkata paras typically have more street life at late nights with respect to South Kolkata paras. Sports (cricket, football, badminton) and indoor games (carrom) tournaments are regularly organised on an inter-para basis.

The para culture is fast waning, for good or bad, with the rise of apartment complexes, and the rise of the cosmopolitan nature of Kolkata.

An adda involves an informal discussion usually involving friends talking over a bhaar (cup) of tea on current issues. An adda may be viewed as a form of intellectual exchange among members of the same socio-economic strata. It is most popular among the youths belonging to the so-called "middle-class intelligentsia".


Graffiti was used not for vandalism, or counterculture art, but mainly for political propaganda. Walls were "captured" for fixed numbers of years, and graffiti over-painting was tantamount to political transgression. Generations of political graffiti artists have been at work on Kolkata's walls, producing slander, witty banter and limericks, caricatures and propaganda. However, such acts being clear cases of defacing private property, the Calcutta High Court ruled to ban political graffiti from private properties without express consent of the property owner. Graffiti lives on in "club" walls, unclaimed property walls, and the occasional flouting of the order. Graffiti artists have become a part of Kolkata's heritage. Many house owners now welcome them to paint on their walls so that these are not captured by political parties. Social messages like AIDS awareness, environmental issues etc., are now getting more popularity.

Traffic and commuter culture[edit]

Calcuttans are aggressive commuters, but with a sense of humour. The local and suburban rails and buses, as well as the underground Kolkata Metro railway are usually packed during office hours. The practice of "reserving" public seats by daily passengers is widespread. Share taxis are a common occurrence for travel to and from railway stations and such. The practice of car pools is also growing after the construction of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass and the emergence of the CBD in Bidhan Nagar.

Another phenomenon of Kolkata traffic is the Auto-rikshaws. Auto-rikshaws or autos as they are acronymed are small contraptions on the roads. They have three wheels, and are extremely agile. The regulation is three passengers at back, one in front along with the driver. This regulation is disregarded with impunity and often six or more people get in. Autos ply on fixed routes and the fare ranges from Rs.4 to Rs.15, depending on the distance covered.


While Mumbai is the capital of commercial cinemas in India, Kolkata is the house of art-films. Stalwarts like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen are the pride of Kolkata. The biggest event of Indian cinema was the release of Pather Panchali in 1955 made by Satyajit Ray based on a novel of Bibhutibhusan Banerjee. This film connected Indian film to the rest of the world. The movie was acclaimed throughout the world specially in the Western world as a symbol of undying human spirit. Presently, Aparna Sen, Budhdhadeb Dasgupta, Gautam Ghose, Rituparno Ghosh are bearing the mantle of the great tradition. Kolkata Film Festival, held annually across several cinema theatres in the city serves to the taste of Kolkata people for cinema from all over the world. Nandan is a popular cinema complex in the premiers of Rabindra Sadan, maintained by the state government. This theatre complex holds regular shows of national and international cinema.

In 1897, films were shown for the first time in Calcutta. Couple of years later, Hiralal Sen from north Calcutta started making films at the Classic Theatres. In 1901, Hiralal Sen set up Royal Bioscope, produced scenes and dance sequences from popular Bengali plays. The first Bengali movie was "Billwamangal" in 1919 which happened to be a silent movie. The first Bengali talkie, Dena Paona was released in 1931, directed by Premankur Atarthi and produced by New Theatres. The first popular hero in Bengali film was probably Pramathesh Barua, who was a director himself too.

The commercial Bengali cinema industry, known as "Tollywood", is based in Tollygunge locality of the city. Several film studios are located here. Though the popularity of the commercial Bengali cinemas has dwindled in the urban area, they continue to be popular in the rural West Bengal. The golden age of commercial Bengali cinema is said to be 1950–1970 and involved actors such as Kanan Devi first female national superstar of India, Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chatterjee, Utpal Dutta, Suchitra Sen, Chobi Biswas, Sabitri Chottopadhya, Pahari Sanyal, Bikash Roy. Suchitra Sen received best actress award in Moscow Film Festival for her role in Saat Paake Badha co-starring Soumitra Chatterjee.


Rabindranath Tagore in Kolkata, First Asian Nobel-Laurete (probably taken in 1915, the year he was knighted by Lord Hardinge).

Bengali prose became modern courtesy of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The doyens of nineteenth century Bengali literature like Rabindranath Tagore, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Kazi Nazrul Islam were from Kolkata. As the then cultural capital of India, Kolkata-based literature affected and shaped the thought and culture of many Indians. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay was an author whose speciality was exploring complex human psychology, especially that of female mind. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay was one of the earliest Bengali novelists and is popularly known as the author of India's first national song, "Bande Mātarom" (pronounced in Hindi "Vande Mātāram"). Tarashankar Bandopadhyay was another famous novelist whose works feature a realistic picture of the many-coloured fabric of life in rural Bengal. The Kolkata littérateurs still borrow a lot from Tagore. In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, a new breed of Bengali writers and poets came into being in Kolkata exemplified by Jibanananda Das, Sukanta Bhattacharya, Bishnu Dey, Premendra Mitra, Buddhadeb Guha etc. They wanted to break free from the traditional mysticism and surrealism of Tagore style and present various concepts such as modernism, post-modernism, cubism through their writings. Satyajit Ray was also a writer, especially for children. Other literary figures include Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Manik Bandopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, Shankha Ghosh, Amitav Ghosh, Nirad Chaudhuri, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Mahasweta Devi, Joy Goswami, Mani Shankar Mukherjee, etc.

The most important counter-cultural activity in post-Independence West Bengal has been the Hungryalist Movement, known also as Hungry Generation spearheaded by the two outsider brothers Samir Roychoudhury and Malay Roy Choudhury, who are today cultural cult-figures among Bengali Intellectual diaspora.

Kolkata's proud presentation of the new forms of Prakalpana fiction and Sarbangin poetry, contrived by Vattacharja Chandan and projected by Prakalpana Movement, appears to be the only ongoing Indian avant garde literary movement that has been buzzing globally for over four decades.[2]

The Calcutta Book Fair is an annual fair showcasing books published by the regional, national and international publishers. Started in 1976, the book fair projects every year a particular country as the theme of the year. It is the largest non trade book fair in the world . There is a separate area dedicated for the little magazines.

Dramas and theatres[edit]

The tradition of Jatra is still observed in West Bengal. Jatras are folk-theatres with epic four-hour-long plays featuring loud music, harsh lighting and dramatic props played on giant outdoor stages. Group theatre activists By "KHOLAHAWA" junior Artist Sudipta Saha & director sumit kumar Dey

The city has a long tradition of commercial theatres and group theatres. As opposed to commercial theatres, group theatres usually do not have any profit making agenda. Group theatre activists use the proscenium stage to portray some social message.[3][4] The commercial theatres of the city, however, has been declining in popularity since the 1980s, and only a handful of commercial theatre productions are made, as of 2009.[3][5]

Notable group theatres include the Little Theatre Group, Gandharba, Calcutta Theatre, Nandikar, Bahurupee etc. and movements like the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA).[6] Famous drama and theatrics personalities include Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay, Utpal Dutta, Rudraprasad Sengupta and Shambhu Mitra.

Music and dance[edit]

The Mohiniyattam is being performed to commemorate of 150th birth anniversary of Tagore. It was an Indo-Bangladesh joint celebration in 2011.

Rabindra Sangeet, Rabindra Nritya Natya (songs and song-dance sequences composed by Tagore) and Nazrul Geeti (songs by Kazi Nazrul Islam) are integral part of Kolkata as well as Bengali life. Songs by other poets like Dwijendralal Roy, Atulprasad are also famous. Kolkata is also a noted place for the cultivation of Indian classical music and dances. Bengali Musicians like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, Ali Akbar Khan, Ananda Shankar were from Kolkata. The era after the independence saw the development of Adhunik (modern) songs. The songs of Bengali commercial movies are also extremely popular.

Musicians and singers include Kishore Kumar, RD Burman, Anup Ghoshal, Hemanta Mukherjee, Manna Dey, Sandhya Mukherjee, Shyamal Mitra, Ruma Guha Thakurta , Indrani Sen . From the early 1990s, there has been an emergence and popularisation of new genres of music, including fusions of Baul and Jazz by several Bangla bands, as well as the emergence of what has been called Jeebonmukhi Gaan (a modern genre based on realism) by artists like Kabir Suman, Anjan Dutt, Nachiketa and bands like Bhoomi, Chandrabindoo, Cactus, Lakkhichhara, Fossils, Single Units and Insomnia. Kolkata also has a strong musical 'counterculture' in the form of original English Rock music, which has talented bands like Cassini's Division, Skinny Alley, Insomnia, The Supersonics and Crystal Grass.Kolkata also has a strong stage performer voice artist Prasanta Gangopadhyay


Key elements of Kolkata's cuisine include rice and macher jhol (fish curry), with 'chutney' or 'mishti doi' as dessert. Bengal's vast repertoire of fish-based dishes include various eelish(hilsa) preparations (a favourite among Bengalis) like eelish shorshe bata, eelish bhap and eelish-er paturi . Street foods like rolls (mutton roll, egg roll, chicken roll, and sometimes in the Park Circus region – beef roll) and phuchka are very popular. Phuchka (called golgappa in North India, and panipuri in West India) is a deep-fried whole-wheat hollow crispy ball which is filled with spicy potato filling and spicy, herbed tamarind water when serving. Common accompaniments to Phuchka are things dishes like Churmur, Ghugni. A Bengali meal is incomplete without sweets. Popular sweets include Roshogolla, mishti doi (sweet curd), langcha, Kheerkadam, sandesh, rajbhog, Kamalabhog, etc.

One common feature of Kolkata cuisine today originates from Tibetan regions – momo and thuppa. The Elgin Road offshoots have a lot of outlets specialising in the delicious steamed dumplings (pork, chicken, vegetarian) called momos – typically served with a clear stalk soup and often served with spicy chutneys. Thuppa is a common accompaniment – a clear soup with noodles, vegetables and other herbs. Due to the high popularity, momos are now available all over the city, and are even served as street food at some places.

Architecture and art[edit]

An exhibition of painting and sculpture is going on at the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata.

Kolkata has many buildings adorned with Indo-Islamic and Indo-Saracenic architectural motifs. Several well-maintained major buildings from the colonial period have been declared "heritage structures";[7] however, others are in various stages of decay.[8][9] Established in 1814 as the nation's oldest museum, the Indian Museum houses large collections that showcase Indian natural history and Indian art.[10] Marble Palace is a classic example of a European mansion that was built in the city. The Victoria Memorial, a place of interest in Kolkata, has a museum documenting the city's history.

Kalighat painting originated in the 19th century Kolkata, in the vicinity of Kalighat Kali Temple of Kalighat. Initially sold as items of souvenir taken by the visitors to the Kali temple, the paintings over a period of time developed as a distinct school of Indian painting. From the depiction of Hindu gods, goddesses, and other mythological characters, the Kalighat paintings developed to reflect a variety of themes including quotidian life.[11] The Academy of Fine Arts and other art galleries hold regular art exhibitions. The Government College of Art and Craft, founded in 1864, has been the cradle as well as workplace of eminent artists including Abanindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, and Nandalal Bose.[12] The art college was the birthplace of Bengal school of art that arose as an avant garde and nationalist movement reacting against the prevalent academic art styles.[13][14][15]


The people of Kolkata are famous for being sports lovers. Cricket and football can easily be called the life blood of the city. The home town of Eden Gardens (headquarters of CAB), the city can boast of an impartial crowd of cricket lovers who cheer for good cricket even when their side is losing. Eden Gardens is one of the biggest stadiums in the country in terms of capacity and witnessed its first test match from 5 to 8 January 1934.[16] Over a football match between archrivals Mohun bagan and East Bengal, the city can get divided. Traditionally, prices of fish soar and drop based on the performances of these two football teams. If Mohun Bagan wins, fans eat prawn to celebrate, whereas hilsa (ilish) is eaten to celebrate an East Bengal victory. Even the football world cup is closely followed in the city with quite a sizeable sports loving population supporting either Brazil or Argentina. One gets to see fans cheering for their favourite teams with all the fervour. Sourav Ganguly, former captain of the Indian Cricket team is from Kolkata.

Kolkata houses the oldest golf club in Asia , The Royal Calcutta Golf Club , besides there is Tollygunge Golf Club . There us Calcutta Turf Club , The Calcutta Race Course . Rowing competitions and trainings are held by The Bengal Rowing Society , the oldest in the Country.


Kolkata is a city of exhibitions and fairs. The International History & Heritage Exhibition organised by Sabarna Sangrahashala annually in February is an important event where the rich cultural heritage of the land is reflected.[17] Apart from the history and heritage of India, the exhibition through displays of rarest artifacts and documents portrays the history, traditions and culture of other nations too. The exhibition attracts visitors from all over the world.[18]


The males usually wear western garments like pants and shirts, rather than the traditional dhoti and kurtas. Females are usually seen in the traditional sarees and salwar kameez. Females are also gradually taking up more and more Western wear, with jeans and skirts predominating in the college campuses, as well as in the streets. English is becoming more and more popular as a conversational language for teenagers.


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    Cited by: Heierstad G (2003). "Nandikar: Staging Globalisation in Kolkata and Abroad" (PDF). University of Oslo, Norway. p. 102. Archived from the original (PDF Format) on 12 May 2006. Retrieved 26 April 2006.
  2. ^ Songs of kobisena in Version 90 by Steve LeBlanc, PMS Cafe Press, Alston, MS, USA,
  3. ^ a b Bhattacharya, Malini (2005). "Culture". In Bagchi, Jasodhara (ed.). The changing status of women in West Bengal, 1970–2000: the challenge ahead. New Delhi: Sage Publications. pp. 99–100. ISBN 9780761932420. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  4. ^ Zarilli, Phillip; McConachie, Bruce; Williams, Gary Jay; Sorgenfrei, Carol Fisher (2010) [2006]. Williams, Gary Jay (ed.). Theatre Histories: An Introduction. Abingdon, UK: Rotledge. pp. 429–430. ISBN 9780415462235. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  5. ^ De, Hemchhaya (31 May 2009). "Chowringhee revisited". The Telegraph. Kolkata. Retrieved 9 March 2012. ...most people say that Bengali commercial theatre died in the 1980s...
  6. ^ Ghosh, Parimal (2012). "Rise and fall of Calcutta's group theatre: the end of a political dream" (PDF). Economic & Political Weekly. Economic and Political Weekly. 47 (10): 36–42. ISSN 0012-9976. Retrieved 9 March 2012.[dead link]
  7. ^ "Graded list of heritage buildings" (PDF). Kolkata Municipal Corporation. 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  8. ^ Mukherjee Pandey, Jhimli (4 September 2011). "Heritage buildings need restoration, not mere repairs". Times of India. New Delhi. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  9. ^ "Out of elite list, cradle of Bengal Renaissance falling apart". Times of India. New Delhi. TNN. 26 June 2011. Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  10. ^ Mandal, Caesar (14 August 2010). "Gardeners to guard museum?". Times of India. New Delhi. Archived from the original on 7 July 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  11. ^ Chaitanya, Krishna (1994). A history of Indian painting: the modern period. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications. pp. 112–118. ISBN 9788170173106.
  12. ^ "A journey through 145 years". Government College of Art and Craft. Archived from the original on 20 February 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  13. ^ Mitter, Partha (1994). "How the past was salvaged by Swadeshi artists". Art and nationalism in colonial India, 1850–1922: occidental orientations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 267–306. ISBN 9780521443548. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
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  18. ^ Bangiya Sabarna Katha Kalishetra Kalikatah by Bhabani Roy Choudhury, Manna Publication. ISBN 81-87648-36-8