Etymology of Kolkata

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This article describes several theories on Etymology of Kolkata, (erstwhile Calcutta in English) the capital of the Indian eastern state of West Bengal.

The rent-roll of Akbar, the sixteenth-century Mughal emperor, and the work of a Bengali poet, Bipradaas, of the late fifteenth century, both make mention of the city's early name's being Kolikata, from which Kolkata/Calcutta are said to derive.[1]

There is lot of discussion on how the city got its name. There are different views on the issue. The most popular and likely one is that the city got its name from its connection to the Hindu goddess Kali with the original name's being Kalikshetra, meaning the place of Kāli. Other more or less plausible theories abound, like:

  • The name derived from the location of the original settlement beside a khal ( which means canal in Bengali) according to another theory, britishers when they visited city, saw the goddess with a skull garland. This reminded them the place golgotha.. Which later became kolkotha.
  • According to another theory, the place was known for the manufacture of shell-lime.And the name derived from lime (kali) and burnt shell (kata).
  • the name may have been derived from the Bengali term kilkila ("flat area").[2]
  • An interesting anecdote exists on the nomenclature of Kolkata. According to it, a British merchant was traveling through the village, when he came upon a peasant stacking hay into the barn. Not knowing where he was, the merchant asked the peasant about that place. The peasant, unfortunately, did not understand English, and he guessed that the Sahib must be inquiring about the date the crop was harvested. In his own language, he replied "Kāl Kāʈa" which in Bengali language means "harvested yesterday" (Kal – Yesterday, Kāʈa – cut, which here means harvested). The merchant was happy in the knowledge that he had learned about the name of the place, and left the place. Following English transcription, "Kāl Kāʈa" became "Calcutta"[citation needed].

The area where the city is now located was originally inhabited by the people of three villages— Kalikata, Sutanuti and Gobindapur. However, the boundaries of the three villages gradually became less distinct, and before the battle of Plassey, the city could be divided into four different sub-areas – European Kolkata (Dihi Kolkata), a residential village with some sacred spots (Gobindapur), a traditional Indian market (Bazar Kalikata or Burrabazar) and a riverine mart concentrating on cloth trade (Sutanati).[3] After the battle of Plassey in 1757, the British started rebuilding the city with the notions of making it the capital for their Empire.

The Calcutta High Court recently ruled (16 May 2003)[4] that Job Charnock, the Englishman generally believed to be the founder of the Kolkata, is not the founder of the city and that hence Kolakta has no birthday. According to the Court, the city owes its genesis in the Maurya and Gupta period and it was an established trading post long before the Slave Dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughals, the Portuguese, the French or the British established a modern township there. References to the existence of an ancient riverine port (named Kalikata) exist in the travel journals of Chinese scholars and Persian merchants dating from centuries BCE[citation needed]. The Hindu epic Mahabharata, lists the King of “Vanga” (meaning Bengal), as having fought alongside the Kauravas in the great war.

In spite of the High Court ruling, the growth of the present city can be dated from 1690, when Job Charnock, an agent of the English East India Company chose the place for a trade settlement. In 1698, the East India Company bought three villages (Sutanuti, Kalikata and Gobindapur) from a local landlord family of Sabarna Roy Choudhury. The next year, the company began developing the city as a Presidency City. In 1727, as per the order of King George I, a civil court was set up in the city. The Calcutta Municipal corporation (recently renamed as Kolkata Municipal Corporation) was formed and the city had its first mayor.


  1. ^ Britannica entry
  2. ^ "Kolkata (Calcutta): History". Retrieved 2006-06-01. 
  3. ^ Mukerji, Dr.S.C. 1991. The Changing Face of Calcutta: An Architectural Approach. Government of West Bengal
  4. ^ Gupta, Subhrangshu (2003-05-17). "Job Charnock not Kolkata founder: HC Says city has no foundation day". The Tribune online edition. Retrieved 2006-12-17.