Kolkata culture

Kolkata culture

Kolkata has long been known for its literary, artistic and revolutionary heritage. As the former capital of India, Kolkata was the birthplace of modern Indian literary, artistic and scholastic thought. Kolkatans 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". cite book
author =Sinha P | year = 1990 | title = "Kolkata — The Living City. Volume 1: The Past
chapter = Kolkata and the Currents of History | editor = Chaudhuri S. (ed.) | publisher = Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Cited by: cite web
author =Heierstad G | publisher=University of Oslo, Norway| url=http://folk.uio.no/gheierst/nandikar.pdf | title=Nandikar: Staging Globalisation in Kolkata and Abroad | pages=102 |year=2003| format= PDF Format | accessdate=2006-04-26

Para, Adda, and "club" culture

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 organized 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 Kolktata'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

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.2.50 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. Stallwarts 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 theater 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 legendary actors such as 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.


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 specialty 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-colored fabric of life in rural Bengal. The Kolkata literateurs still borrow a lot from Tagore. In the 1940s, 1950s and 1950s, 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 prominent 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 Roychoudhury, who are today cultural cult-figures

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. There is a separate area dedicated for the little magazines.

Dramas and theatres

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.The city has a long tradition of theaters and Group Theatres, producing groups like the Little Theatre Group, Gandharba, Calcutta Theatre, Nandikar, Bahurupee etc. and movements like the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). Famous drama and theatrics personalities include Ajitesh Bondhopadhya, Utpal Dutta, Rudraprasad Sengupta and Shambhu Mitra.

Music and dance

Rabindra Sangeet, Rabindra Nritya Natya (songs and song-dance sequences composed by Tagore) and (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. World famous musicians like Nikhil Banerjee, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan 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. Legendary musicians and singers include Hemanta Mukherjee, Manna Dey, Sandhya Mukherjee, Shyamal Mitra, Ruma Guha Thakurta. 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 Dutta, Nachiketa and bands like Bhommi, Chandrabindoo, Cactus, Lakkhichhara, Fossils and Rikterskale. 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.


Key elements of Kolkata's cuisine include rice and "macher jhol" (fish curry), with Rasgulla as dessert. Bengal's vast repertoire of fish-based dishes include various hilsa preparations (a favourite among Bengalis). Street foods like roll and phuchka are very popular. A Bengali meal is incomplete without sweets. Popular sweets include rossogollas, mishti doi (sweet curd), langcha, kheerkadam, sandesh, rajbhog, kamala bhog, etc.


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 Salwars. Females are also gradually taking up more and more Western-wear, with jeans and skirts predominating in the college campuses.



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