The Kalighat Home of the Pure Heart is better described by its former name, “Kalighat Home for the Dying”. It is a hospice for the destitute, sick and dying in the Kalighat neighborhood of Kolkata, India. What’s so special about this nursing home? It was established by no less than Mother Theresa just two years after she founded the Missionaries of Charity also in Kolkata in 1950. The charitable hospice was established in 1952, on Mother Theresa’s 42nd birthday.
Kalighat neighborhood is one of the oldest neighborhoods in South Kolkata. It is in need of help since it is densely populated yet very vibrant. The most popular structure in the area is a temple dedicated to the god Kali, a deity that is local to this area. According to legends, the right toe of the goddess Dakshayani fell in this place. Dakshayani or Sati is the Hindu goddess of longevity and marital felicity. This makes the temple one of the 51 temples that house several fallen body parts of the goddess. These 51 temples in India are called Shakti Peethas.
According to legends, a number of devotees saw a light coming from the Bhagirathi river bed. They investigated the light source and discovered a piece of stone shaped like a human toe. They later consecrated this as Sati’s fallen toe.
The neighborhood is a popular place of pilgrimage for Shakta Hindu worshippers. Devotees believe that Kalika is the dynamic force that rules this area, while Nakulesh is the negative force.
The original Kalika Temple was just a small hut according to early 15th-century texts. Townsfolk believe that the old hut-temple was built by the king of Jessore, Bangladesh, Raja Basanta Roy. The temple that is now standing was constructed in 1809 by Sabarna Roy Choudhury family of Barishna. This family offered a huge tract of land to the temple deity so that as many people can continue to come and worship. In earlier times, the temple was much closer to the river so that traders conveniently stopped to pay patronage to the deity. Through the passing of time, however, the river has moved farther from the temple. The place of worship now stands on the banks of Adi Ganga, which is a small canal.
The locals here have unique ways of worship. For instance, the priests give the goddess a ceremonial bath on Snanyatra Day with their eyes covered with pieces of cloth. The temple is flocked by a huge crowd of devotees during Calcutta’s different festivals such as the Durga Puja, Kali Puja and Poila Boishakh.
Also found in the area is an incomplete image of Kalika. It seems as though the builders made only the face of the deity first. Added over the years were its hands and tongue made from silver and gold. There is also a Shiva statue and pieces of jewelry.
The history of this area is full of legends, religious significance and cultural implications. The popularity of this old neighborhood is perhaps why Mother Theresa built her free hospice for the suffering. The hospice is located not far from the Kali Temple. Kalighat is so significant that some scholars actually believe that it was from it that people derived the name “Calcutta”.