Kolkata Chinese Make Pilgrimage to Bandel Marian Shrine

Section of Chinese pilgrims at prayer in Bandel

BANDEL, (C.M. Paul) – The Chinese community of Kolkata made their annual pilgrimage to the historic Marian shrine of Bandel (estd 1599), Sunday 29 January 2012. The pilgrimage also marked the Chinese new year – the year of the dragon – (22 January 2012). More than 100 Chinese, entire families of pilgrims, particularly from Auxilium Parish Tangra (Kolkata) and its substation Dhapa Chinese chapel of Mary Immaculate, arrived in a bus and several cars.

Some of the families included grand parents who follow Buddhism, parents and children who belong to various Christian denominations.
After a two hour drive from Tengra, the pilgrims arrived in Bandel on the banks of the Hooghly River for the 11’o clock Eucharist.

After purchasing red and white votive candles (some of the white candles matched a person’s height), the pilgrims climbed 114 steps to the balcony to light the candles and pray at the feet of the miraculous statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which dates back to 16th century Portuguese period.

Section of Chinese pilgrims from Dhapa at Bandel

After the Eucharist, the pilgrims shared lunch in the sprawling Fatima garden adjacent to the shrine, before making their return trip to Kolkata.

Historical Background of Chinese in Kolkata
The first person of Chinese origin to arrive in Calcutta was Yang Tai Chow who arrived in 1778. He worked in a sugar mill with the eventual goal of saving enough monies to start a tea trade.

Many of the earliest immigrants worked on the Kidderpore docks. A police report in 1788 mentions a sizeable Chinese population settled in the vicinity of Bow Bazaar Street. Kolkata is the only city in Indiato have a Chinatown, the only other Chinatown to exist in Mumbai has practically disappeared.

During the time of  Warren Hastings, the first governor-general of British India (1773-1785), a businessman by the name of Tong Achi established a sugar mill, along with a sugar plantation at Achipur, 33 km from Calcutta, on the banks of the Hooghly River near Budge Budge.  A temple and the grave of Tong Achi still remain and are visited by many Chinese who come from the city during the Chinese New Year.

Pilgrims lighting votive candles at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the balcony at Bandel

The Chinese today work as tannery-owners, sauce manufacturers, shoeshop owners, beauticians, dry-cleaners and restaurateurs. Among services, teaching and dentistry are traditional occupation. Many of the shoe shops liningBentick Street, near Dharmatolla, are owned and operated by Chinese.

Most of the tanneries in Dhapa area of Tengra have been converted into fine eateries. Fusion of Chinese (especially Hakka) and Indian culinary traditions have given rise to a widely available form, Indian Chinese cuisine.

There is one Chinese newspaper published in the city, The Overseas Chinese Commerce in India but its sales have dwindled to less than 200 copies sold.

At one time, 90% of the students of the Grace Ling Liang English School Tengra and Sacred Heart Chinese School Western Street were ethnic Chinese. Today one may find an insignificant percentage of Chinese students in the above two schools. Three other Chinese schools namely Pie Mei School in Dhapa, Me Kong School inTemple Street, and Cheng Kuo School in Tiretti Bazzar were closed down over a decade ago.

Many of the younger Chinese of Calcutta are Christians while the older generation Buddhists. It is estimated that the Chinese population in Kolkata number less than 2,000.

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