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The word Kolkata derives from the Bengali term Kolikata [ˈkolikat̪a] (Bengali: কলিকাতা), the name of one of three villages that predated the arrival of the British, in the area where the city eventually was to be established; the other two villages were Sutanuti and Govindapur.

There are several explanations about the etymology of this name: The term Kolikata is thought to be a variation of Kalikkhetro (Bengali: কালীক্ষেত্র), meaning "Field of [the goddess] Kali". Alternatively, the name may have been derived from the Bengali term kilkila (Bengali: কিলকিলা ), or "flat area". The name may have its origin in the words khal (Bengali: খাল) meaning "canal", followed by kaṭa [ˈkata] (Bengali: কাটা), which may mean "dug". According to another theory, the area specialised in the production of quicklime or koli chun [ˈkolitun'] (Bengali: কলি চুন) and coir or kata [ˈkat̪a] (Bengali: কাতা); hence, it was called Kolikata [ˈkolikata'] (Bengali: কলিকাতা) While the city's name has always been pronounced Kolkata [ˈkolkata'] (Bengali: কলকাতা) or Kolikata [ˈkolikata'] (Bengali: কলিকাতা) in Bengali, the anglicised form Calcutta was the official name until 2001, when it was changed to Kolkata in order to match Bengali pronunciation.

  • The discovery and archaeological study of Chandraketugarh, 35 kilometres (22 mi) north of Kolkata, provide evidence that the region in which the city stands has been inhabited for over two millennia.Kolkata's recorded history began in 1690 with the arrival of the English East India Company, which was consolidating its trade business in Bengal. Job Charnock, an administrator who worked for the Company, is traditionally credited as the founder of the city;in response to a public petition, the Calcutta High Court ruled in 2003 that the city does not have a founder.The area occupied by the present-day city encompassed three villages: Kalikata, Gobindapur, and Sutanuti. Kalikata was a fishing village; Sutanuti was a riverside weavers' village. They were part of an estate belonging to the Mughal emperor; the jagirdari (a land grant bestowed by a king on his noblemen) taxation rights to the villages were held by the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family of landowners, or zamindars. These rights were transferred to the East India Company in 1698.

    In 1712, the British completed the construction of Fort William, located on the east bank of the Hooghly River.Facing frequent skirmishes with French forces, the British began to upgrade their fortifications in 1756. The Nawab of Bengal,Siraj ud-Daulah, protested the militarisation. His warning went unheeded, and the Nawab attacked; he captured Fort William and instigated the gruesome killings of British prisoners of war in the Black Hole of Calcutta.A force of Company soldiers (sepoys) and British troops led by Robert Clive recaptured the city the following year.Declared a presidency city, Calcutta became the headquarters of the Bengal Presidency. Calcutta was named the capital of East India Company controlled territories of India in 1772;beginning in 1864, the hill station of Shimla served as administrative capital during summers.In the early 19th century, the marshes surrounding the city were drained; the government area was laid out along the banks of the Hooghly River. Richard Wellesley, Governor-General of India between 1797 and 1805, was largely responsible for the development of the city and its public architecture.Throughout the late 18th and 19th century,the city was a centre of the East India Company's opium trade.

    By the 1850s, Kolkata had two areas: White Town, which was primarily British and centred around Chowringhee; and Black Town, mainly Indian and centred around North Calcutta.The city underwent rapid industrial growth starting in the early 1850s, especially in the textile and jute industries; this encouraged British companies to massively invest in infrastructure projects, which included telegraph connections and Howrah railway station. The coalescence of British and Indian culture resulted in the emergence of a new babu class of urbane Indians, whose members were often bureaucrats, professionals, newspaper readers, and Anglophiles; they usually belonged to upper-caste Hindu communities.In the 19th century, the Bengal Renaissance brought about an increased sociocultural sophistication among city denizens. In 1883, Kolkata was host to the first national conference of the Indian National Association, the first avowed nationalist organisation in India.Gradually, Calcutta became a centre for revolutionary organisations associated with the Indian independence movement. The temporary 1905 partition of Bengal along communal lines resulted in widespread public agitation and a boycott of British goods by the Swadeshi movement.These activities, along with the administratively disadvantageous location of Calcutta on the eastern fringes of India, prompted the British to move the capital to New Delhi in 1911. Rashtraguru Surendranath Banerjee organized a national conference at 1883. This was the first political party in India in Nineteenth century. In 1905 Kolkata protested the partition of division of Bengal and boycotted all the British Goods.Gradually Kolkata became an important hub for Indian Independence Movement, especially the revolutionary parties. The city and its port were bombed several times by the Japanese between 1942 and 1944, during World War II.Coinciding with the war, millions starved to death during the Bengal famine of 1943 due to a combination of military, administrative, and natural factors.Demands for the creation of a Muslim state led in 1946 to an episode of communal violence that killed over 4,000.The partition of India led to further clashes and a demographic shift—many Muslims left for East Pakistan, while hundreds of thousands of Hindus fled into the city.