Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Jaiden. Jaiden Wonders, “What is the capital of India?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Jaiden!
Have you ever dreamed of visiting some of the faraway, exotic places of Southeast Asia? Places like Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka bring to mind interesting cultures full of traditions and delicious foods.
If you were visiting these places by boat, you could sail across the Bay of Bengal and up the Hooghly River to a city in the far eastern part of India where East meets West in a unique combination of cultures. Your destination? Kolkata!
If you've never heard of Kolkata, perhaps you'll recognize the other name it was known by for hundreds of years: Calcutta. Because India was controlled by Great Britain for many years, many cities were known by Anglicized names chosen by the British.
After India gained its independence in 1947, many areas of the country eventually renamed cities, streets, and other things with names in native languages. Reasons varied, but in many cases name changes represented a purposeful departure from colonial influences of the past.
For example, in the native Bengali language, Kolkata has always been known as Kolkata. The British called the city Calcutta, but the government of the Indian state of West Bengal officially changed the name of its capital city to Kolkata in 2001.
The name Calcutta can still be found in many places, however. Kolkata residents still get their electricity from The Calcutta Electric Supply Corp., and students still attend Calcutta University. Also, Broadway fans will forever remember the classic production of "Oh! Calcutta!"
The modern city of Kolkata is one of India's largest cities. Home to nearly five million people (over 14 million people in the greater metropolitan area), Kolkata enjoys a subtropical climate with warm weather year-round. During the monsoon season (June through September), the city receives the majority of its 64 inches of annual rainfall. Over 80% of its residents are Hindus.
The city remains a mystery to many. There aren't many places like Kolkata, where you can find such a unique mixture of East and West.
In many ways, modern Kolkata is a city of remarkable contrasts. As the capital of British India, it bears the marks of lasting British influence. Western architecture makes parts of the city resemble a capital city you might find in Europe.
The skyline includes both skyscrapers and multistory apartment buildings. At the same time, the city suffers from a severe housing shortage. About a third of the city's population lives in one of hundreds of urban settlements called bastis, which consist mainly of a group of small, dilapidated, unventilated huts that offer few sanitary facilities or open spaces.
Despite nearly overwhelming social, political, and economic problems, Kolkata thrives and its citizens tend to exhibit a joy for life that is expressed in a hunger for art and culture. Concerts, art exhibitions, and book fairs regularly draw large crowds.
Some would consider Kolkata to be the most important center of culture in all of India. In fact, Kolkata is widely considered to be the birthplace of Indian nationalism and the hub of modern Indian literary and artistic thought.
In stark contrast to the city's lively focus on the arts and culture, millions of its residents live in abject poverty in some of the worst living conditions you could imagine. The plight of these people has led many groups to focus on caring for the underprivileged of Kolkata.
Perhaps the most famous of these groups is the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, which was founded in 1948 by Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work caring for the sick and elderly in the poorest parts of Kolkata.