The Kali Temple, located on the banks of the Adi Ganga, a canal connected to River Hooghly, in the densely populated Kalighat area in South Calcutta, is probably the most prominent temple in Calcutta and one of the holiest spots for the Hindus. According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Kalika or Kali, one of the principal female Goddesses in Hinduism, is known to be an incarnation of Shakti, the primordial cosmic energy, representing the eternal potent force that is thought to move through the entire universe.
According to mythology, unable to tolerate the insulting remarks about her husband by her father, King Daksha, Sati sacrificed her life. On hearing the news, Lord Shiva blinded in rage, arrived at the site, and picking up the body of his beloved wife, started the Tandava Nritya, the dance of destruction. During that time, requested by the gods to save the world from imminent destruction, Lord Krishna used his weapon, the Sudarshan Chakra, a sharp moving wheel, to dismember the body of Sati into 51 pieces, which fell in different places of the Subcontinent. Those 51 places are revered by the Hindus as Shakti Peeths, where the manifestation of Shakti or the Primordial Mother and Bhairava or Lord Shiva is worshipped with great respect. In the Kalighat Temple of Kali, Shakti is known as Dakshina Kali and the Bhairava as Nakuleshwar Mahadev. The Temple is regarded as one among the Shakti Peeths, as it is believed that the right toe of Dakshyani Sati fell here.
The origin of the Kalighat Kali Temple is shrouded in a web of myths. It is said that Raja Basanta Ray, one of the famous Baro-Bhuyans, warrior chief and landlord of Jessore, now in Bangladesh and the uncle of famous Protapaditya, built the first Temple on the bank of Adi Ganga, consisting of a Natmandir, a hall attached to the Garbha Griha or inner sanctum in the southern wing, along with a Shiva's temple in the northeast wing. .Although the present temple is only about 200 years old, it is strangely referred to in the Manasa Bhasan composed in the 15th century, and Chandi Mangal penned by Kavi Kankan Mukunda Das in the 17th century.
However, it is popularly believed that the original temple was a simple and small hut, and the present temple was built by the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family of Barisha in 1809, on the bank of Adi Ganga. It is believed that the fossil of Sati’s toe was discovered by Padmabati Devi, the mother of Laksmikanta Roy Choudhury, in a lake near the present temple, known as Kalikakunda, which made the Kalighat Temple one of the 51 Shakti Peeths. Apart from constructing the temple, Sabarna Roy Choudury family also gifted 595 bighas of land to the Temple deity for the daily worship and continuous smooth running of the temple.
The Kalighat Temple, dedicated to Kalika or Kali, is otherwise an undecorated simple structure, built in the typical style of Bengal architecture, a structural emulation of the mud and thatch-roofed huts of villages. This hut-like design is the most common design of the temples in Bengal. The four-sided building of the main temple is topped with a truncated dome. A smaller identically-shaped projection caps this domed structure.
The two roofs bear a total of eight separate faces, and each sloping side of the roof is referred to as a Chala in the Bengali language. Both the roofs are painted with shiny, metallic silver colour and are further decorated with bright and prominent bands of red, yellow, green, and blue where they join the building at the cornice. All the roofs of the building, the lower roofs, along with the uppermost, are crowned by three spires with the tallest central spire bearing a triangular pennant flag.
Said to be based on the idol of Mata Bhuvaneshwari, the Kuladevi of Sabarna Roy Choudhury family, the present idol in the temple made of touchstone was created by two saints, Atmaram Brahmachari and Brahmananda Giri. However, the idol of Kali in this temple is not like the traditional image of the goddess, as only the half bust idol of the Goddess is visible with her three big eyes, a long protruding golden tongue, and four hands made of gold is visible. Here again, the hands and the tongue of the idol, all her jewellery, and the statue of Lord Shiva beneath her feet were added gradually over the years.
Nevertheless, considered as one of the Holiest of the Holies in terms of Hindu Shakti Pilgrimage Centres, the Kalighat Kali temple is highly revered alike by locals and Hindus all over India, and attracts a huge number of pilgrims every day from all parts of the country and even abroad.