European Kabiyaal who established image of Goddess Kali
Ami jamini tumi shoshi hey --- that super romantic Manna Dey number, with Antony kabiyaal Uttam Kumar singing away in glory. Who can ever forget that black and white movie that celebrated life and times of Antony Firingi, the passionate European kabiyal who made a mark in the arena of Kobigaan! Yes, he not just learnt the language of Bengal, he also was drawn to the culture and religion of the land, so much so, that he even learnt the art of Kabigaan from Bhola Moira. But what many of us probably are not aware is that in real life, he was a Portuguese sahib, who fell in love with this land and also with the widow he would marry later. No wonder, as a sign of respect to this iconic Bengal lover, the famous Siddheshwari Kali temple of Bowbazar was named as Firingi Kalibari.
Devotees in front of the temple
Originally a Shiva temple, Antony Firingi established the idol of Siddheswari Kali inside the temple. Antony came to Kolkata from Farashdanga (the old name of Chandannagar) and was called by the locals as Hensman Antony. He married a Hindu widow and Hinduism had a strong influence on him which led him to pen down numerous devotional songs on Goddess Kali in the early 19th-century. Back then, this was a phenomenal thing to happen. A sahib, a Christian European, breaking all barriers and shackles of religion and worshipping a Hindu Goddess and practicing Hindu rituals. Some historians say that the origin of the nomenclature of the Firingi Kali Bari lies in its strong association with Europeans.
Firingi kali bari
Even today, irrespective of religion, caste and creed, everyone comes to this temple in search of blessings and peace. It is located at 244, BB Ganguly street at Bowbazar surrounded by the old-world charm of North Kolkata. The daily chores are performed today by the Bandopadhyay family. The modest structure of the temple lies over the main road. The name of the temple is carved in metal and the outside walls are made of marble. You can go to the main sanctum of the temple with the help of three entrances. The main deity of Siddheshwari Kali standing over Shiva in her majestic powerful look is eulogized with great devotion. Many believe that Siddheshwari Kali grants ‘siddhi’ or salvation to the people and has the capacity to fulfil all wishes. The locals and outsiders worship the goddess with great reverence. You will also find other goddesses like Sitala and Manasa residing inside the temple.
Although the sanctum sanctorum of Firingi Kali Bari is small, a sense of tranquillity and peace prevails within its four walls. There are various stalls outside the temple selling items required for performing puja. The temple is open to devotees for all the seven days of the week from 6 am to 8pm. Many devotees come to the temple on Tuesdays and Saturdays – that are considered as auspicious days of worship in Hinduism. Even on New Moon days, the temple remains crowded.
The age old bells in front of the temple
This is also the spot where the Portugese kabiyal entertained audience with his mellifluous voice belting out Bhaktigeeti, submitting himself to the Goddess. Not just for Shakti worship, this temple still seems to have the haunting presence of the spirit of the European sahib, who had made Kolkata his home.