The prodigious Indian land is an intersection of a beautiful variety of cultures, traditions and religions. An indigenous God/Goddess is worshiped in almost every quarter of the country.
Make a trip to the West, where the Maharashtra capital boasts of its imposing Siddhivinayak Temple during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. Move upward on the map and check-in at the national capital where one can witness unparalleled Eid-Ul-Fitr celebrations at the Jama Masjid. Tick mark Delhi and take a U-turn South where the unconvincing sight of hundreds of pilgrims at the Tirupathi Temple will leave you in awe. And last but not the least, travel to Kolkata in the East where the country’s biggest festival is celebrated at its largest abode of worship.
The Mecca Of Cricket in India
While most of you may have assumed the festival is Durga Puja, Kolkata, in all its grandeur, celebrates a festival even bigger than that. The former British capital has its own Mecca where India’s biggest festival, that of cricket, is celebrated. Eden Gardens, located in the heart of the city, is popularly known as the Mecca of Cricket where 66,000 wholehearted pilgrims, of different fates, come together in unison to worship the game of willow and cherry, which is symbolic of our green land.
Much like how sacraments are sold outside Temples and Mosques, the thoroughfare leading to Eden Gardens is dotted with several hawkers selling flags, caps, and jerseys. That is their income, generated from fidelity, that towards the ‘holy square’. While the temples resound to the chants of the mantras, the stadium reverberates to the shouts of India and KKR.
The spectators, like wayfarers, proudly donning their nationality in blue and regionality in purple, can be seen in large numbers, walking towards the match which is the festival, to the stadium which is the place of worship. You know there is something empyrean about the place where an uncertain “No-hit” Sharma’s name flashes as The “Ro-Hit Sharma”.
Eden Gardens is much more than a cricketing arena. Nestling adjacent to an oriental pagoda, it is a place of hope, of a resurrection, of an identity, of answered prayers. Eden Gardens is an inspiration, an imagination.
Every competition at the majestic Edens is launched after a welcome note by the TV commentator to “the best and most iconic stadium in India”. But, have you ever wondered what is it that makes Eden Gardens iconic? How does it claim to have the best cricket atmosphere in India? What gives it an extra edge over other familiar stadiums like the Wankhede, HPCA, Chinnaswamy and Chepauk? Let us discover.
Most iconic stadium in India, and rightly so
It was in the crisp fall of 1864 when the trailblazers of Calcutta Cricket Club first glued wickets on what is now a sacred pitch. Many autumn leaves have shed since then, witnessing records, both created and broken, and history recorded. It has a story for every cricket lover. Whether it is for the legends that walked out proudly on this pitch to play or the die-hard fans that are in a perpetual love-hate relationship with every ball, this particular ground seems to introduce that extra bit of adrenaline. The hush before the maiden ball is bowled, followed by the roar of the outcome, has all the aura of a magical atmosphere.
Being the oldest cricket stadium in India, the fortress has witnessed many hallmark moments in cricket. It invokes bittersweet memories from the World Cup Finals of 1987, World Cup Semi Finals of 1996, the Hero Cup, and the recently concluded India vs Pakistan T20 World Cup match and the Finals of the same marquee tournament. Not to forget, very recently, it made history again by hosting the country’s first pink ball match.
From ex-players to the current ones, Eden Gardens has awarded a match-winning prize to many. According to former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, “Edens is only second-best to the iconic Lord’s Cricket Stadium in London.” He was reminiscent of his first Test Century here in 1978.
The sacred plot of land has also showered immense love on Harbhajan Singh, who glorified it for his as well as India’s first test hat-trick here against Australia, which put a stop to their, Australia’s, 16 Test wins. Back in 2011 when certain unavoidable circumstances deprived Eden Gardens of hosting a World Cup encounter; the spinner expressed despondency. “Bahot yaadein hai Eden k saath, it has been very lucky for me and not playing here during the World Cup is a huge disappointment”
This was the same Test in which VVS Laxman struck a brilliant 281 to seal the deal against the World Champions. “There are certain grounds where you know you can do nothing wrong. For me, Eden Gardens is the one,” he once said, echoing the sentiments of many other cricketers too. And how can one forget the love story between Mohammed Azharuddin and the Edens? The star batsman produced a 110 on his debut against England here in 1985. Laxman and Azhar, both have five centuries each at the lucky venue.
The love saga between cricketers and the venue continues to grow till date. From Rohit Sharma’s exceptional 264 at a time when his cricket career looked debatable, to the not-so-famous Carlos Brathwaite’s flabbergasting four sixes in the last 12 balls of the ICC world T20 2016, this hallowed ground has resurrected careers; it has given recognition to players. A place which manufactures icons has to be iconic.
Electrifying atmosphere created by the crowd
However, it can be rightly argued that it is not just a historic stadium that makes it iconic. The crowd at Eden Gardens makes a lot of difference. For the visiting team, the partisan nature of the spectators can be very intimidating. Although the seating capacity has been largely reduced from 90,000 to 66,000, the roar is no softer, the craze is no lesser. You can, for real, feel the slogan of the Knight Riders, “One team, one pledge” when the side is playing home.
It does not matter if the opposition has Sachin Tendulkar as their mentor or Virat Kohli as their captain, during the IPL; it is all about strong support for home team Kolkata. And more so, when Team India is playing here. The indescribable feeling of singing the Indian National Anthem at a full-house is once in a lifetime experience. You know you are at Eden Gardens when India need 20 off the last over to win the game, and the crowd is still hopeful of a win, it is still brimming with enthusiasm.There is nothing like a “loss” in their dictionary. It is either a win or just a bad day.
Few may still ask how the crowd support is different in Eden from the other stadiums. If you may permit a little gloating, former Bangalorean legend EAS Prasanna has the answer for you. “Honestly, we don't get so much recognition anywhere as we get in Kolkata. In Bangalore, I keep telling them if at all we have to cultivate the culture, you have to cultivate the culture of Bengalis. The warmth and the likeness the Kolkatans exhibit is beyond me." The sports culture in Kolkata, spanning across hundreds of years, is what is conspicuously absent elsewhere in India.
It is said that a cricketer’s cricketing education is not complete till he has played in front of a packed Eden Gardens. Homogeneously, a fan’s love for cricket is not satiated till he has watched a live game at the Eden Gardens.
There is something interestingly romantic about these 22 yards. Be it the adoration for the game from the spectators, or the love-affair between the players and this charmed pitch. Once you have watched a match here, you want to keep coming back again. Cricket being the religion and Eden being Mecca, the twinge of separation between the two cannot be withstood for long. So, see you soon then, at the India-New Zealand test match, at God’s Garden, Eden Gardens.