CALCUTTA, THE CAPITAL OF INDIA
Calcutta is a modern city compared with the rest of India. It has been built around old Fort William, which was the headquarters of the East India Company 200 years ago, and is situated upon the bank of the River Hoogly, one of the many mouths of the Ganges, about ninety miles from the Bay of Bengal. The current is so swift and the channel changes so frequently that the river cannot be navigated at night, nor without a pilot. The native pilots are remarkably skillful navigators, and seem to know by instinct how the shoals shift. For several miles below the city the banks of the river are lined with factories of all kinds, which have added great wealth to the empire. Old Fort William disappeared many years ago, and a new fort was erected a mile or two farther down the river, where it could command the approaches to the city, but that also is now old-fashioned, and could not do much execution if Calcutta were attacked. The fortifications near the mouth of the river are supposed to be quite formidable, but Calcutta is not a citadel, and in case of war must be defended by battle ships and other floating fortresses. It is one of the cities of India which shows a rapid growth of population, the gain during ten years having been 187,178, making the total population, by the census of 1901, 1,026,987.
The city takes its name from a village which stood in the neighborhood at the time the East India Company located there. It was famous for a temple erected in honor of Kali, the fearful wife of the god Siva, the most cruel, vindictive and relentless of all the heathen deities. The temple still stands, being more than 400 years old, and “Kali, the Black One,” still sits upon her altar, hideous in appearance, gorgon-headed, wearing a necklace of human skulls and dripping with fresh blood from the morning sacrifice of sheep and goats. She brings pestilence, famine, war and sorrows and suffering of all kinds, and can only be propitiated by the sacrifice of life. Formerly nothing but human blood would satisfy her, and thousands, some claim tens of thousands, of victims have been slain before her image in that ancient temple. Human offerings were forbidden by the English many years ago, but it is believed that they are occasionally made even now when famine and plague are afflicting the people. During the late famine it is suspected that an appeal for mercy was sealed with the sacrifice of infants. Residents of the neighborhood assert that human heads, dripping with blood and decorated with flowers, have been seen in the temple occasionally since 1870. It is the only notable temple in Calcutta, and is visited by tourists, but they are allowed to go only so far and no farther, for fear that Kali might be provoked by the intrusion. It is a ghastly, filthy, repulsive place, and was formerly the southern headquarters of that organized caste of religious assassins known as Thugs.