The Rise and Importance of Kolkata

The rise of Kolkata, previously Calcutta, began with the British India period.  Calcutta was the capital of British India from 1772 to 1931.  The Governor General of India, a person with great power and whose decisions controlled the lives of more people than any other leader of his time, was situated there.  Calcutta’s later economic and trade boom was an expected result of its political situation.

At the time, Bengal was among the most prosperous regions in India given its massive delta fed by Ganga and Brahmaputra. The Ganges Delta is the world’s largest, covering more than 100,000 square kilometers, and among the richest in alluvial silt. The delta alone is bigger than countries such as South Korea, Sri Lanka and Austria. The rich waters gave to abundant fishing. Apart from agriculture and fishing, Bengal was also a major textile producer – the biggest industry of that time [Industrial revolution primarily revolved around the textile production]. Long story short, Bengal was a major economic power.  However it lacked a major port, and Calcutta’s unique geological factors and location solved the problem, thereby becoming a major trade center.

A special feature of Kolkata’s regional location is that there is no other major urban centre within hundreds of kilometres. The other cities in the Eastern Region of India are provincial centres with small populations and limited economic and employment opportunities. The development of India’s coal and steel industries at some distance to the west of Kolkata has undoubtedly created other possible urban growth points, but on a such a small scale that they can hardly counter the overwhelming attraction of Kolkata within the Eastern Region. Kolkata’s importance as the economic centre of Eastern India is due to the concentration of industry, financial services and commercial activities within the city and in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area (CMA), that began with the East India Company.

In 1757, Bengal became the first major region to fall to the British.  The prosperity of Bengal helped the British take rest of India. In Calcutta they set their capital and ruled. Although Calcutta was setup after Surat, Madras and Bombay, Calcutta quickly grew due to be the most important city of British India due to the seat of the government and the prosperity of the surrounding region.

Apart from agriculture, Calcutta became the center of cotton, silk, jute, saltpetre [key ingredient of gunpowder], indigo [a major dye for cotton], opium and tea. Its contribution was not just in material but in ideas. Visionaries from Calcutta, such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, JC Bose, SN Bose brought the Bengali renaissance that also inspired the rest of India.




Dr. Nitai Kundu  “The case of Kolkata, India”
Viswanathan, Balaji “From Tryst to Tendulkar: The History of Independent India”
Bannerjee, P (1975) Kolkata and its Hinterland. Progressive Publishers, Kolkata

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