Like many others, I too had passed by the Myanmar (Burma) Buddhist Temple on Eden Hospital Road (now Dr. Lalit Banerjee Sarani) in Calcutta (Kolkata) many times without being aware of it, until the evening the white sign with red and green letters caught my eye. A Burmese Buddhist Temple in Calcutta is not all that unusual. Burma, or Myanmar as she is now known, was once part of the British Indian Empire. Many Indians, especially Bengalis were settled in Burma and had to leave their homes and return to India during the turbulent years of the Independence struggle. There was a small but significant Burmese presence in Calcutta (Kolkata) as well of which few vestiges still remain.
The Myanmar (Burma) Buddhist Temple is devoid of any external architectural significance; just another decaying building in a mostly decaying neighbourhood with masses of unruly electrical wiring hanging from every conceivable place. That’s because this was not really a purpose built temple, unlike the Chinese Temples of Tiretta Bazar, nearby. The building was purchased from an Indian in 1928 by a Burmese national, U San Min, for the sum of Rs. 47,000. U San Min named it the “Burma Buddhist Dharmasala, Calcutta”. The first presiding monk was Rev. U Nandawuntha. In 1932, U San Min handed over the temple to the monks and ever since the Burmese have been electing monks who are sent over to Calcutta to take charge of the temple. The ground floor of the building on 10 A, Eden Hospital Road is leased out to shops. The first floor functions as a guest house for visitors from Myanmar. The temple is located on the second floor. The gate on the ground floor is almost always locked. I had arranged for permission to visit and photograph the temple through the help of my friend Shabnam and her family. As I walked up the stairs, I felt like I had passed through some kind of portal, and entered a different world. The signs on the walls were all in Burmese! The only sign I could read said “Please remove your shoe”.