Choong Ye Thong, Chinese Church (Temple), Calcutta (Kolkata)
Choong Ye Tong, Chinese Church (Temple)
Meredith Street, Calcutta (Kolkata)
Also see: My blog post on Calcutta (Kolkata) Chinatown
I was welcomed into a small courtyard, with walls lined with sepia tinted photographs bound in ornate frames. Flights of stairs led me to the the second floor housing a small hermitage housing beautiful images of unknown Gods and Goddess. Yes this is the Choong Ye Tong, Chinese Church (Temple), one of the seven Chinese Temples of Central Calcutta.
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.
Today 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.
In Meredith Street, a short distance from Tiretta Bazar, is another Chinese Temple. Known as the Choonge Ye Tong Church it is located behind the Hindustan Building. The white coloured building with red coloured window sunshades creates a striking contrast amongst the hustle and bustle of one of the most chaotic areas of the city.
But Calcutta (Kolkata) is home to many such fine buildings but the plaque above the arch entrance sets the building apart. It reads Choong Ye Tong Church along with beautifully engraved Chinese calligraphy.
The Chinese Temple is run by the Choong Ye Thong club, which was established in 1860s by Hsieh Qui Chong. Even today the club owns a lot of property in Titetta Bazar (Old Chinatown) and also in Tangra (New Chinatown). Their properties include the Tian Hau Temple and the funeral Parlour in Tiretta Bazar. The Choonge Ye Thong Church initially started in early 1900s and shifted to the present location in 1935.
A walk through the arched entrance leads to a small courtyard. Straight ahead on the wall hangs the national flags of Indian and Taiwan and just below them are the portraits of M K Gandi and Sun Yat Sen, the respective Fathers of the Nation.
The side walls are filled with sepia tinted photographs bound in ornate frames, containing the portrait of Choong Ye Tong club president and group photos of its members. Sadly all the titles are in Chinese and it was not possible for me to find how far the photographs date back to.
The first floor opens into a open verandah lined with rooms, said to contain a library with amazing collection of Chinese Text. Sadly during my visit the room was locked.
The start attraction of the Choonge Ye Tong lies in its second and final floor, where it houses a small shrine dedicated to Chines Gods and Goddess.
A walk past the caretakers office leads to a small chapel housing idols of two Chinese deities, placed in glass cases. According to the caretaker one of the idols represent the Chinese version of Goddess Lakshmi. A large table, placed in front of the the idols occupy much of the room and used by devotees for placing their offering. It always contains a large assortments of fruits and vegetables.
A large assortment of chandeliers hung from the roof just at the entrance of the chapel and golden Chinese calligraphy in red background adds to the grandeur of the small but elegant shrine. A statue of two horses and a man stands in one corner of the courtyard.
According to the caretaker the Choonge Ye Thong Chinese Temple does not have regular service but remains open during the 7 am – 11 am every day. During festivals like Chinese New Year a large number of local Chinese assemble in the Temple.
Choonge Ye Thong Church is a perfect hideaway for people wanting to escape the chaotic existence of the city outside.