Kolkata is the capital of West Bengal, and one of the busiest cities of eastern India, located on the eastern bank of the Hooghly river. Owing to its favourable trading and strategic military location, Kolkata is an important port city which acts as the primary commercial and financial hub of eastern India. Present-day Kolkata emerged from the unification of three existing villages—Kalikata, a fishing village, Sutanuti, a riverside weavers' village, and Gobindapur. These villages belonged to the Mughal empire, and the estate was held by the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family, who were landowners (zamindar) under the jagirdari system that gave them autonomous rights of taxation and governance. The East India Company arrived in the 1690s, trying to consolidate trade in Bengal, and by 1698 the rights of this estate were handed to the Company with the help of Job Charnock. In 1772, Calcutta was announced as the capital of British India.
The etymology of Kolkata might have been derived from Kalikshetra, literally translating to “Ground of (the goddess) Kali”. However, it might also refer to the location of the original settlement on the bank of a canal (khal in Bangla). Alternatively, it might refer to lime (kali in Bangla) and burnt shell (kata in Bangla), since the area was noted for the manufacture of shell lime. In 2001 the government of West Bengal officially changed the name of the city to Kolkata.
East India Company defeated the Nawabs in the battle of Plassey in 1757 and by 1793 took complete control over the province. Throughout the late 18th and 19th century, the city was a centre of the East India Company's trade. As the city developed, its architecture evolved into a distinctive gothic, neoclassical façade that has stood the test of time. With a thriving mercantile economy, the city saw the emergence of an upper-caste, upper-class Anglophile, urbane, moneyed babu class, and in the 19th century Bengal Renaissance, ushered in a new era of modernity among citizens. At the turn of the century, the city became a hotbed for nationalist aspirations, and gave rise to freedom fighters such as Binay, Badal, Dinesh and the fierce Netaji Shubhas Chandra Bose. Post-Independence, it saw several socio-political upheavals, such as the student-led Naxal movement in the 1970s, the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, and the election of the Left Front (dominated by CPIM or Communist Party of India-Marxist) who governed the state until 2011, when the All-India Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee formed the government.
Kolkata is the seventh-most populous city in India. The popular means of transportation are buses, ferries, the subway (the first subway system of India started here in 1986), and the iconic yellow taxis. It is home to the engineering marvel Howrah Bridge and has been hailed as the ‘cultural capital’ of India. Iconic structures like Victoria Memorial, Shaheed Minar, Writers’ Building adorn the city. Kolkata is famous for its architecture, with remnants of gothic, colonial architecture in Central and North Kolkata to Art-Deco styled bungalows in its southern counterparts of Ballygunge and Bhawanipore. Several noted artists like the great Jamini Roy, writers like Mahashweta Devi, Shakti Chattopadhyay, stellar musicians like Roshan Ara Begum, have emerged from Kolkata, the most venerated being the polymath Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. It also gave birth to the ‘Indian New Wave’, a cinema movement heralded by the likes of Academy Award recipient Satyajit Ray. It is also known for its open-air book market in College Street and its educational institutes, of which Presidency College (now University) is famous for its alumni of Nobel laureates—Amartya Sen and Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee. Kolkata also has multiple sports clubs associated with it, including the cricket team Kolkata Knight Riders and the football club ATK. Kolkata is host to diverse festivals including Durga Puja, Kali Puja, and Christmas. It is noted for its thriving food culture, with the famous Kathi Roll, Indian Chinese, Kolkata Biriyani, and Mishti Doi originating here. Those with sweet teeth throng to centuries-old iconic sweet shops like K.C. Das. Cultural festivals such as the International Kolkata Book Fair and the Kolkata International Film Festival are some of the biggest ones in the country. With its adda and para culture, Kolkata famously thrives in community and spreads an acute interest in culture and politics.