Kalighat Temple

Kolkata (Calcutta)

KOLKATA, INDIA - 2015/04/17: On the evening of Chaitra Sankranti the last day of Bengali calendar resident of Kalighat dress up like Hindu deities popularly known as Sang (Pantomime ) for a procession in the surrounding of Kalighat Temple. (Photo by Saikat Paul/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

LightRocket via Getty Images

This ancient Kali temple is Kolkata’s holiest spot for Hindus, and possibly the source of the city’s name. Today’s version is the 1809 rebuild, with floral- and peacock-motif tiles that look more Victorian than Indian. More interesting than the architecture are the jostling pilgrim queues that snake into the main hall to fling hibiscus flowers at a crowned, three-eyed Kali image with a gold-plated tongue. Behind the bell pavilion, goats are ritually beheaded on auspicious days to honour the goddess.

East of the temple is a pea-green ‘holy pond’, and by the sanctuary's north perimeter, a ‘tree of fertility’. Unless you're using their services to queue-jump into the central shrine hall, a donation of ₹50 is sufficient for any impromptu temple guide. Donating ₹51 is even better – giving a sum ending in one is considered lucky and implies that you are familiar with local customs.