Religious Unity: Kolkata Chinese Shows the Way

tara_kolkata

There are innumerable examples available around the world about the uniting factor of religion. In Kolkata Park street and other areas, Jewish schools admit thousands of Muslims and dispel the constructed myth that both religions are naturally averse to each other. In Karnatka a hindu temple is managed by Muslim, guarded by a Jain and funded by a Sikh. In Kerala villages Muslims donate jaggery, Christians give rice and Hindus make festive food during Onam. In line of these religious unity, Chinese Buddhists in Kolkata celebrate Kali pujo.

The Times of India writes (16 October 2009)

There is nothing different about the Kali idol. But one look at the `bhog’ – noodles, chopsuey, rice-and-vegetables dishes – and you Chinese Kali Temple. One look at the ‘bhog’ – noodles, chopsuey, rice-and-vegetables dishes – and you realize this isn’t just any Kali temple.

In the heart of Kolkata’s Tangra area — India’s own Chinatown — stands this unique symbol of cross-cultural assimilation. The `Chinese Kali Temple’ (so the marble plaque says) is not only a bridge between Chinese and Indian cultures, but also strengthens bonds within the Chinese community.

For most of the year, the ethnic Chinese and their Hindu neighbours rarely mingle. But on Kali Puja, most Chinese residents of Tangra take the day off and get together in front of the temple. On the average weekday, you would catch the Chinese residents pause, take off their shoes, and pray for a moment in front of the idol.

“Kali Puja is special for us. Our activities start early in the morning. Most of us have been given our responsibilities for the day. Some get the flowers, some fruits and sweets for the prasad and a few oversee the preparations. The pandit (a Bengali Brahmin) comes here every day for the morning and evening aarti,” says an enthusiastic Ison Chen. The 55-year-old has been selected by the community to be in-charge of the temple.

But how did the temple start off? The site is about 60 years old, says Ison. In those days, it was a couple of sindoor-smeared black stones under an old tree. Local people worshipped these stones. Seeing them, the Chinese started following suit.

“The story goes that a 10-year-old boy of the Chinese community was once very ill. Even doctors could not cure him. His parents had lost hope and lay him down near the tree and prayed for several nights at a stretch. A miracle happened. The boy got well, and the site became special for all of us. Most of us are Buddhists and some are Christians, but we are great fans of the Kali temple. We consider it an integral part of the community,” says Ison.

The granite walled temple was built 12 years ago. The two stones are still there. Two traditional Kali statues have since been installed. Every Chinese family in Tangra donated money to build the temple and the idols.

At least 2,000 members of the community gather here on Diwali night to witness the puja, participate in pushpanjali and partake of the prasad. While the mantras and the way in which the puja is conducted is completely Hindu, some typical Chinese traditions have crept in. “We light tall candles on Kali puja night. We also get special Chinese incense sticks and light them, so the aroma you get at the temple is different from what you get at other temples or pandals. It is typically Chinese,” says 70-year-old A K Chung, who owns a leather finishing unit.

Another quaint tradition is that of burning handmade paper to ward off evil spirits. Even the way in which the pranaam is done before the goddess is typically Chinese.

Women of the community are especially attached to the temple. “I had prayed to Goddess Kali for a son. On Diwali night, 10 years ago, I prayed for a bonny boy and the next day, Mark was born. So, this idol and the temple is of great importance to my family,” says Michelle Wong, who also has an eight-year-old daughter. The mother-daughter duo visit the temple every evening for prayers despite the fact that they are of Roman Catholic faith.

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1 Comment

  1. leon said,

    +00002009-11-10T21:21:01+00:00302009bUTCTue, 10 Nov 2009 21:21:01 +0000 2, 2008 at 7.27 p11

    nice post 🙂


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