The article in Trip Advisor about the Kalighat Temple is quite accurate. I thought I would add some color based on my visit. First and foremost, if you are a Westerner (e.g., European/American), this temple can be rough on the psyche. The temple and the area immediately surrounding it are about poverty, poverty and more poverty. That, in and of itself can either be fascinating or depressing depending on your own curiosity and interest in cultures very different from the Western world. Personally, I found it fascinating and would highly recommend visiting this temple if you are a curious person.
The temple really consists of 4 areas. First, as you near the temple, there are hundreds of street stalls selling just about every trinket imaginable. In particular, there are many stands with religious trinkets and, of course, food stands. Sitting/laying in the streets are the old, infirm and lots of garbage giving the street a generally depressed appearance. Yes, the article is correct that you will be accosted immediately by dozens of “priests” wanting to latch on to give you a tour. I turned the first 6 or 8 of them away but eventually a fellow with quite excellent English and who wasn’t pushy caught my fancy and I took instructions from him wandering around the place. He was well worth the 500 rupees I gave him.
The next three areas are a sort of “three rings” immediately around the temple. The outermost ring has even more tiny stalls selling things but these are abutted directly to the temple walls. They are dark and exotic looking and it was going through this section that I shoved my hand into my pocket and kept it wrapped around my wallet and passport. My guide suggested that pick pockets are known to frequent this area.
The next ring is, more or less, the courtyard of the temple. Believers are lined up 4 abreast in long, long lines waiting their turns to get into the inner most portion of the temple. By the way, when you enter this “middle ring”, some will tell you to remove your shoes but it isn’t necessary in this courtyard. Shoe removal is only required in the temple proper. I am glad. The floor looked filthy and totally unhealthy.
I did not go into the inner most section for a couple of reasons. First, the line was really long. Second I didn’t want to walk around there barefoot for any reason and third, and most importantly, when I witnessed the beheading of a goat in the sacrifice corner of the middle ring, I was done. It was a classic case of being afraid to watch and afraid to look away.
My “priest” guide explained that devout families bring in sacrificial goats (and there were a lot of them tied up waiting their turns in the slaughter area). The goats are prepared by pouring water over their heads and necks while worshippers pray at the chopping block. A fellow off to the side begins a steady drumbeat notifying everyone of what was happening. The children, worshippers (and me!) close to the block moved back so as not to get splashed with blood. A burly guy then maneuvers the goat’s head into what looks like a large, upright, wooden tuning fork. Once the neck is trapped in the “u” of the fork a metal rod is inserted thorough a slot to hold the head in place. Then a second guy emerges with a sharp scimitar and “whack!” The deed is done. The guide said the body will be prepared and cooked in the temple for a feast later in the day. As for me, I headed to the exit!
Two final words: Be aware that the most moving and emotional place I ever visited in my life is next door to the Kalighat Temple. That is Mother Teresa’s home for the dying. See my separate review of that house which is not to be missed. The second word is that if you can look past the sheer madness of Khaligat, you will be richly rewarded with a look into another time that really speaks to a unique way of life that will certainly become extinct some day. Yes, it has been going on for 500 years but the pressure for the world to modernize will someday take its toll on this fascinating religious and historical place.
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