Ben: কলকাতা kalakātā

‘Kali Area/Ghat’ [Calcutta,Kalikata, Kalkata] City/Capital, West Bengal 

Kolkata, one of the four original Indian ‘metros’, is now only the seventh largest city in India.

It is the capital West Bengal and was the capital of British India until 1911.

It was founded by Job Charnock in 1690. He was an agent for the East India Company and this site was to become its most important trading post and city.

Modern Kolkata sits on the site of three historic villages: Kalikata/Kalkata, Sutanuti and Gobindapur which were granted under licence to the East India Company.

There has been more than a little confusion about the origin of the name. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. From Ben: kali(cuna),  ‘unslaked lime’, ‘shell-lime; and kata, ‘cut’, ‘burn’. This suggests workshops or kilns or shell-lime manufacture, a product used for lime wash on buildings.
  2. From Ara: qali , ‘stupid’,  ‘foolish’ and qutta, ‘bandits’, ‘robbers’. “The east bank of the lower Hooghly river was notorious as the hide-out of pirates, dacoits, assassins and micreants of all types fleeing from the law.” (K. Sukumar Sen) 
  3. From Kali, the mother goddess; and Ben:  ghata, ‘riverbank’, ‘quay’ or kṣētra, ‘area’, ‘place’.
  4. From Golgotha, ‘place of skulls’ (after Jesus’ place of crucifixion). The suggestion is that British sailors named Kolkata after the skull garlands associated with Kali worship. 
  5. Kol-ka-hata. From Kol, tribal group; and Ben:  hātā, ‘limits’, ‘area’.
  6. From Ben:  khāla, ‘canal’, ‘channel’, ‘strait’; and kādā: ‘mud’, ‘slime’. This suggests the original village was situated  on the bank of a canal or narrow watercourse.                                                                                                                            

Video: The many names of Kolkata


For related place names see Indian Place names and West Bengal place names.