Kolkata is not all about the British era. It has some important and beautiful Hindu flavor as well. We are curious about a couple of temples that are a bit far away, but we go nevertheless. By the time we catch a taxi it is lunch rush hour, so we take about 1 hour to arrive, seeing on the way another section of the city very different than what we have seen so far and more similar to other Indian cities with narrow busy streets, old buildings and many colors.
Our first visit is to Belur Math (no photos allowed). This temple is dedicated to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, an Indian sage who believed in the union of all religions and who is widely worshipped in India. The complex is divided in different sections with well-manicured gardens. The main building is sand color, with intricate sculptures, yet restrained in its overall look. It is said it encompasses a mixture of different styles and this makes it quite unique from other cult places in the country. The inside is an oasis of quiet and peace that makes you forget shortly you are in India. Some monks completely dressed in orange robes are cleaning the premises, putting fresh flowers on the idols or taking care of the gardens.
The next temple we want to visit is at the other side of the river, a bit further North, so we take a boat that is leaving that same instant. We sit down on the floor with many other passengers who might be wondering what that foreigner couple is doing there.
The river looks calm and some fishermen are working. We also notice some plastics here and there, and many flower offerings floating on the surface of the water. The sun is now setting behind Belur Math, big, round and orange, and for a couple of minutes all the buildings below it turn bright and colorful.
As we approach, the Kalighat Temple stands prominently and it is easy to find. Kali is Shiva’s wife, depicted as the most terrifying goddess of Hinduism, thus black and scary. This is probably the most worshipped temple in Kolkata and some say it is what might have given the city its name. We have to leave our shoes outside and walk on the cold stone pavement to the entrance. While Carlos is preparing his tripod, a couple of teenagers start a conversation with us. They tell us different details about the temple and about themselves. We can tell they are proud of being Hindu and act as our private guides, explaining several facts about the temple.
There is a long line of people that leads to one door. We patiently queue and when we are “inside” we discover it is just to pick some flowers as an offering for the idol. We have to deny taking flowers while looking quite stupid after all the wait. The truth is that the idol is on one side of the external ring of the building and all the devotees either sit in a long row just in front of the Kali, or stand around, all this being outside.
A lot of chanting is done, tikkas are placed on each other’s fronts, offerings come and go.
We observe all the frantic and passionate praying from a distance, where a family who can speak good English is curious about us. They are celebrating their young son’s birthday and asking Kali for her blessing. We talk about our trip, about India and Hinduism while the kid looks at us shy and with eyes wide open at the same time. We might have well stayed there for two hours, so it is time to leave. The day has been long, but the experience well worth it.