Chinese New Year Celebrations
~ Calcutta (Kolkata) ~
Join me on a Chinese New Year Tour on 10 Feb. For details mail at email@example.com
The Chinese settlement of Calcutta dates back to to 1780s when a trader named Tong Achew set up his sugar factory near present day Budge-Budge. The place today is known as Achipur, after Tong Achew. The Chinese soon deserted Achipur and headed for Calcutta (Kolkata), where they are presently settled in Tangra & Tiretta Bazar regions.
The Calcutta Chinese community celebrates the Chinese New Year in traditional way complete with dragon & lion dances at Tangra & Tiretta Bazar. The celebration starts several days before the new years day with stage shows set up at both Tiretta Bazar & Tangra. On the day of the Chinese New Year dragon & lion dances are held on the streets of Tiretta Bazar & Tangra.
On the Sunday after the Chinese New Year the entire Chinese community of Calcutta converges at Achipur (near Budge – Budge) to pay tribute to Tong Achew, the first Chinese settler of India.
The celebration in Calcutta (Kolkata) starts about a week before the new years day. Giant stages are set up at both Tangra & Tiretta Bazar. In Tiretta Bazar a huge stage is set up at Chattawalla Guli, the venue of famous chinese breakfast. Dragon & lion dances and various cultural programes are performed on the stage.
Dances are also held on the street accompanied by loud firecrackers. No Chinese festival is complete with Chinese food. Makeshift food stalls sell mouth watering sausages, dim sums and noodles.
On the morning of the Chinese New Year the Chinese of Calcutta assembles in the Chinese Temples of Tiretta Bazar and Tangra. Candles are lit and soon the lion and dragon dance starts in the temple compound or in front of it.
The dancers soon make their way outside the temple making their way through the winding lanes of Calcutta’s China Town, accompanied by beating of drums and cymbles and not to mention the loud firecrackers.
The dancers make their way to different Chinese business establishment, shops, eateries and even some house hold. The lion heads out for the the piece of lettuce suspended high above. The two dancers, managing the lion, after some efforts finally get hold of the piece of lettuce containing money wrapped in red paper, decorated with Chinese calligraphy.
The entire Tiretta Bazar area comes alive as difference groups of dancers through the winding lanes going as far away as Bow Barracks. Occasionally the long dragon, managed by six dancers, can be seen making its way through the lanes and by – lanes of Tiretta Bazar.
The situation is similar in Tangra.
- The photos are shot at Tiretta Bazar (2010 & 11) and Achipur (2010)
- The Chinese New Year 2012 is scheduled on 23 Jan and is the “Year of Dragon.”
Reference from my Website & Blog:
- Photos of Chinese New Year, Calcutta & Achipur
- Travelogue on Achipur
- Chinese Temples of Tirett Bazar
- Chinese New Year, Achipur
List of my Blog entries on Calcutta (Kolkata)
Chinese Temple of Old Chinatown
~ Tiretta Bazar, Calcutta (Kolkata) ~
The Chinese settlement of Calcutta dates back to the late 18th century when a Chinese trader, Tong Achew settled near present day Budge Budge.
The then Governor General of India Warren Hastings offered Achew land and he set up a sugar mill complete with a sugar plantation. Achew soon brought a band of Chinese workers for his sugar project. But Achew died soon after & his mill was soon abandoned. The Chinese also deserted the place, which later came to be known as Achipur, after Achew.
The Chinese moved to the centre of Calcutta, where they settled in Tiretta Bazar. A market place designed by the disposed Italian architect and town planner Edward Tiretta. It was at this very place Calcutta’s (Kolkata’s) first China Town came up.
Later on a large section of Calcutta (Kolkata) Chinese moved to the Eastern part of Calcutta (Kolkata) in Tangra, to form the New China Town.
In spite of all odds Tiretta Bazar has a significant Chinese population and still has a feel of China Town. The Chinese breakfast is still available for the early-birds in the Chatawala Guli. But the star attraction of Tiretta Bazar are the six Chinese Temples (or Churches, as the Chinese calls it) hidden in the remotest o lanes of China Town.
The map (not to scale) above shows the approximate location of the six Chinese Temples of Tiretta Bazar including the site of the Chinese breakfast of Chatawalla Guli.
Sea Ip Church
Located on the Indian Exchange Place (Extension) and at the corner of Kolkata Improvement Trust the Sea Ip Church is the most accessible of the six Chinese Temples of Tiretta Bazar and the only one located on the main road.
Built in 1905 the Sea Ip Church is located at the centre of a truck yard and is perennially ssurround by trucks. In spite of all the chaos the temple with with red sloped roof topped with inverted porcelain fishes is bound to attract once attention.
The temple is located on the first floor of the two storied building and is dedicated to the Kwan Yin, the Goddess of war, mercy and love.
The temple also houses a set of weapons, wall & roof hanging and numerous images & statues of Chinese Gods & Goddesses.
Toong On Church
Located just off the Indian Exchange Place (Extension) and dwarfed by the towering Kolkata Telephone Kendra the beautiful two storied building once housed the Toong On Church in its first floor, while the ground floor was occupied by the famous Nanking Restaurant. Nanking Restaurant established in 1924, is considered as the oldest Chinese Restaurant in Calcutta (Kolkata).
In 1980s the Nanking Restaurant along with the Toong On Church closed its door to public due to property dispute, which continues to this day. The court order has kept the building under lock & key.
The Toong On Church today operates at Bow Street in Bou Bazar but the Nanking remains closed depriving the Calcuttans of the taste of the finest authentic Chinese food of the city.
The photo shows the Nanking & Toong On building shot from a under construction multi storied opposite it.
In July 2012 the case was settled and the building was handed over to the temple trust. For details also see: Toong On Church, Rebirth of A Chinese Temple
Gee Hing Church
Gee Hing Church is located at the entry of Blackburn Lane from the India Exchange Place Extension. Located above the Chen’s Carpenterey Shop, this Chinese Temple is also very difficult to find. Also the Gee Hing Church remains closed for most of the day making it difficult to get inside.
Originally built in 1888 it was shifted to the present location of 13 Blackburn Lane in 1920. The Gee Hing Church house a framed painting of Kwan Kun, the Chinese God of the Sea. Its quiet likely that the ancient Calcutta Chinese, who reached Calcutta after a rough sea ride, worshiped the God of Sea.
The two roomed Gee Hing Church comes with the Gee Hing Club. Both the rooms are decorated with beautiful wood curved furnitures. Sadly every thing is in a run down state.
The photo shows the decorated main alter of Gee Hing Church, with beautiful metal and wood work complete with Chinese inscriptions contains the framed photo of Kwan Kun, the Chinese God of Sea.
Sea Voi Yune Leong Futh Church
Sea Voi Leong Futh Church is located in the Blackburn Lane. Built in 1908 it is the smallest but most elegant of the six Chinese Temples of Tiretta Bazar.
Although Chinese refer to Lord Buddha as Futh but the alter houses the twin Idols of some ancient Chinese Gods. The temple also houses a set of weapons, wall & roof hanging and numerous images & statues of Chinese Gods & Goddesses.
The photo shows the main alter where candles are lit by devotees.
Choonghee Dong Thien Haue Church
Built in 1859 the Choonghee Dong Thien Haue Church located at the crossing of Bamzen & Blackburn Lane. Choonghee Dong Thien Haue Church is located on the first floor of a shaby building and is extremely difficult to find.
It houses the idol of Kwan Kun, the Chinese God of the Sea. Its quiet likely that the ancient Calcutta Chinese, who reached Calcutta after a rough sea ride, worshiped the God of Sea.
The Chonghee Dong Thien Haue Church has two rooms housing several idols and artifacts, but sadly it is not well maintained. The beautiful Islamic styled mosaic floor has almosrt faded away.
The photos shows the entrance and themain hall of Chonghee Dong Thien Haue Church.
Nam Soon Church
Built in 1820 the Nam Soon Church is the oldest of the six Chinese Temples of Tiretta Bazar. Located at the end of Damzen Lane it is difficult to spot. The Nam Soon Church is also the most spacious of the Chinese Temples and contains a large courtyard.
It is hard to believe how the narrow, winding Damzen Lane opens up into a huge courtyard housing the Nam Soon Church. The Chinese temple acts as an “Oasis of Peace” in the most chaotic areas of Calcutta (Kolkata).
It house the idol of Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of war, mercy and love.. The temple also houses a set of weapons, wall & roof hanging and numerous images & statues of Chinese Gods & Goddesses.
The photo shows the spacious interior of Nam Soon Church with a beautiful roof hanging. At the far end the alter at the centre house the idol of Kwan Yin. The two alters on the side houses the idols of Kwan In’s war companions.
Jaywalkers Guide to Calcutta by Soumitra Das
Related links from my website:
- Words of appreciation from the best selling author Amitav Ghosh
List of my Blog entries on Calcutta (Kolkata)
~ Birth Place of Calcutta Chinatown ~
In the late 18th century a Chinese tea trader by the name of Tong Achew landed on the banks of Hooghly, somewhere near present day Budge – Budge, never to return again. The then Governor General Warren Hasting granted land to Achew to set up a sugar cane plantation and sugar factory. According to records to British East India Company “Achew was granted 650 bighas of land about 6 miles south of Budge – Budge for an annual rent of Rs 45.”
After acquiring the land Achew set up a sugar – cane plantation along with a sugar mill. He brought in a band of Chinese workers to work in his plantation and factory and thus forming the first Chinese settlement in India. But Achew died soon after and his sugar factory was abandoned. His workers left for the city of Calcutta, where their descendents still continue to live.
The place came to be known as Achipur after Tong Achew. Sadly today apart from a Chinese Temple and Achew’s horse – shoe – shaped grave Achipur has no Chinese connection. But once every year, on the Sunday after Chinese New Year, the sleepy hamlet of Achipur comes alive with the beating of Chinese drums. Possible every Chinese of Calcutta make a pilgrimage to Achipur to pay tribute to the man, who started the first Chinese settlement in India more than 230 years ago.
Located 33 km from Calcutta, Achipur can be best reached by route No. 77 bus from Esplanade. Get down at Boro Shiv Tala and walk for 10 minutes to China-man-tala, housing the Chinese temple.
As you enter the Temple you will be surrounded by hordes of Chinese offering prayers to the Chinese Deities. Candles and incense sticks are lit and the table in front of the alter is laid with an most amazing spread, ranging from whole roosted pig to chicken, from bottles of wines to heaps of fruits from exotic spices to expensive nuts. Sadly the mouth watering food is for personal consumption, so it is best to carry your own food.
The temple houses the male & female deity of Khuda & Khudi. Although distinctively Chinese in appearance their head gears are predominantly Islamic. Although legends says that the Temple was established by Achew himself, but historians doubt about its authenticity. It is quite likely that the Temple was established at a later date but the idols of Khuda & Khudi are quiet likely to be brought in by Achew himself.
The low ceiling of the temple has remarkable wood work and so does the pillars. The walls are filled in with excellent Chinese calligraphy. Apart from the main alter there are several prayer halls, which are lit up with candles, during the New Year celebration. Also Chinese fortune tellers make a brief business by predicting your fortune for only a couple of rupees.
Bidding farewell to the Temple head for Achew’s grave. The Horse – shoe – shaped red coloured grave overlooks the Hooghly. Here also the Chinese pays tribute by lighting candles incense sticks, to the man who started it all. It is also a place to enjoy the breeze and a senior Chinese can well narrate you the good old days of Chinese New Year celebration in Calcutta.
Even during the 1950s the Hooghly was navigable and whole vessels were chattered to bring the Chinese to Achipur. The decks consisted of food & gambling stalls and money flowed freely. The Chinese New Year in Achipur was celebrated with Dragon & Lion Dance complete with beating of hundreds of drums.
The river have long silted up, the Indian Government has imposed ban on gambling and the young Chinese are leaving Calcutta for greener pastures. Today the Dragon & Lion Dance have long stopped and the beating of drums can hardly be heard.
So if you want to experience the last of the dying culture of the Chinese of Calcutta it is best to visit Achipur on the Sunday after the Chinese New Year, which can double up as a winter Sunday picnic.
Related links from my website:
- Article on Achipur
- Photos of Chinese New Year Celebration (Achipur & Tiretta Bazar)
- Chinese Temples of Tiretta Bazar, Calcutta (Kolkata)
List of my Blog entry on West Bengal