Bengal (/bɛnˈɡɔːl/ ben-GAWL;[1][2] Bengali: বাংলা/বঙ্গ, romanizedBānglā/Bôngô, pronounced [ˈbɔŋgo] (listen)) is a historical geographical, ethnolinguistic and cultural term referring to the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. The region of Bengal proper is divided between modern-day Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. The Indian states of Assam and Tripura have a sizeable Bengali population. A large Bengali diaspora exists across the world. Bengali is the sixth-most spoken language in the world.

Bengal
The Bengali-speaking zone

Various Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Austric and other peoples inhabited the region since antiquity. The ancient Vanga Kingdom is widely regarded as the namesake of the Bengal region.[3] The Bengali calendar dates back to the reign of Shashanka in the 4th century. The Pala Empire was founded in Bengal during the 8th century. The Sena dynasty and Deva dynasty ruled between the 11th and 13th centuries. By the 14th century, Bengal was absorbed by Muslim conquests in the Indian subcontinent. An independent Bengal Sultanate was formed and became the eastern frontier of the Islamic world.[4][5][6] During this period, Bengal's rule and influence spread to Assam, Arakan, Tripura, Bihar, and Orissa.[7][8] Mughal Bengal later emerged as a prosperous part of the Mughal Empire.

The last independent Nawab of Bengal was defeated in 1757 at the Battle of Plassey by the British Empire's East India Company. The company's Bengal Presidency grew into the largest administrative unit of British India with Calcutta as the capital of India. At its peak, the presidency stretched from Burma, Penang, Singapore and Malacca in the east to The Punjab and Ceded and Conquered Provinces in the west. Bengal was gradually re-organized by the early 20th century. As a result of the first partition of Bengal, a short-lived province called Eastern Bengal and Assam existed between 1905 and 1911 with its capital in the former Mughal capital Dhaka. Following the Sylhet referendum and votes by the Bengal Legislative Council and Bengal Legislative Assembly, the region was again divided along religious lines in 1947.

Bengali culture, particularly its literature, music, art and cinema, are well known in South Asia and beyond. The region is also notable for its economic and social scientists, which includes several Nobel laureates. Once home to the city with the highest per capita income level in British India,[9][10] the region is today a leader in South Asia in terms of gender parity, the gender pay gap and other indices of human development.

Etymology

The name of Bengal is derived from the ancient kingdom of Banga (pronounced Bôngô),[11][12] the earliest records of which date back to the Mahabharata epic in the first millennium BCE.[12] The reference to 'Vangalam' is present in an inscription in the Vrihadeshwara temple at Tanjore, which is one of the oldest references to Bengal.[13] The term Vangaladesa is used to describe the region in 11th-century South Indian records.[14][15][16] The modern term Bangla is prominent from the 14th century, which saw the establishment of the Sultanate of Bengal, whose first ruler Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah was known as the Shah of Bangala.[17] The Portuguese referred to the region as Bengala in the Age of Discovery.[18]

History

Antiquity

 
Art of the Pala period from Dinajpur, 11th century. Ancient Bengal was reputed for its war elephants
 
Punch-marked coin of the Vanga Kingdom, 400-300 BCE

Neolithic sites have been found in several parts of the region.[19] In the second millennium BCE, rice-cultivating communities dotted the region. By the eleventh century BCE, people in Bengal lived in systematically aligned homes, produced copper objects, and crafted black and red pottery. Remnants of Copper Age settlements are located in the region.[20] At the advent of the Iron Age, people in Bengal adopted iron-based weapons, tools and irrigation equipment.[21] From 600 BCE, the second wave of urbanisation engulfed the north Indian subcontinent as part of the Northern Black Polished Ware culture. Cities in Mahasthangarh, Chandraketugarh and Wari-Bateshwar emerged. The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers were natural arteries for communication and transportation.[22] Estuaries on the Bay of Bengal allowed for maritime trade with distand lands in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.[22]

The ancient geopolitical divisions of Bengal included Varendra, Suhma, Anga, Vanga, Samatata and Harikela. These regions were often independent or under the rule of larger empires. The Mahasthan Brahmi Inscription indicates that Bengal was ruled by the Mauryan Empire in the 3rd century BCE.[23] The inscription was an administrative order instructing relief for a distressed segment of the population.[23] Punch-marked coins found in the region indicate that coins were used as currency during the Iron Age.[24][25] The namesake of Bengal is the ancient Vanga Kingdom which was reputed as a naval power with overseas colonies. A prince from Bengal named Vijaya founded the first kingdom in Sri Lanka. The two most prominent pan-Indian empires of this period included the Mauryans and the Gupta Empire. The region was a center of artistic, political, social, spiritual and scientific thinking, including the invention of chess, Indian numerals, and the concept of zero.[26]

The region was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Gangaridai.[27] The Greek ambassador Megasthenes chronicled its military strength and dominance of the Ganges delta. The invasion army of Alexander the Great was deterred by the accounts of Gangaridai's power in 325 BCE, including a cavalry of war elephants. Later Roman accounts noted maritime trade routes with Bengal. 1st century Roman coins with images of Hercules were found in the region and point to trade links with Roman Egypt through the Red Sea.[28] The Wari-Bateshwar ruins are believed to be the emporium (trading center) of Sounagoura mentioned by Roman geographer Claudius Ptolemy.[29][30] A Roman amphora was found in Purba Medinipur district of West Bengal which was made in Aelana (present-day Aqaba, Jordan) between the 4th and 7th centuries AD.[31]

The first unified Bengali polity can be traced to the reign of Shashanka. The origins of the Bengali calendar can be traced to his reign. Shashanka founded the Gauda Kingdom. After Shashanka's death, Bengal experienced a period of civil war known as Matsyanyayam.[32] The ancient city of Gauda later gave birth to the Pala Empire. The first Pala emperor Gopala I was chosen by an assembly of chieftains in Gauda. The Pala kingdom grew into one of the largest empires in the Indian subcontinent. The Pala period saw advances in linguistics, sculpture, painting, and education. The empire achieved its greatest territorial extent under Dharmapala and Devapala. The Palas vied for control of Kannauj with the rival Gurjara-Pratihara and Rashtrakuta dynasties. Pala influence also extended to Tibet and Sumatra due to the travels and preachings of Atisa. The university of Nalanda was established by the Palas. They also built the Somapura Mahavihara, which was the largest monastic institution in the subcontinent. The rule of the Palas eventually disintegrated. The Chandra dynasty ruled southeastern Bengal and Arakan. The Varman dynasty ruled parts of northeastern Bengal and Assam. The Sena dynasty emerged as the main successor of the Palas by the 11th century. The Senas were a resurgent Hindu dynasty which ruled much of Bengal. The smaller Deva dynasty also ruled parts of the region. Ancient Chinese visitors like Xuanzang provided elaborate accounts of Bengal's cities and monastic institutions.[33]

Muslim trade with Bengal flourished after the fall of the Sasanian Empire and the Arab takeover of Persian trade routes. Much of this trade occurred with southeastern Bengal in areas east of the Meghna River. Bengal was probably used as a transit route to China by the earliest Muslims. Abbasid coins have been discovered in the archaeological ruins of Paharpur and Mainamati.[34] A collection of Sasanian, Umayyad and Abbasid coins are preserved in the Bangladesh National Museum.[35]

Sultanate period

 
Coin featuring a horseman issued by the Delhi Sultanate celebrating the Muslim conquest of Lakhnauti
 
Chinese manuscript showing an African giraffe gifted to China by the Sultan of Bengal on 20 September 1414
 
The Bengal Sultanate was an empire with widespread maritime and mercantile links

In 1204, the Ghurid general Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji began the Islamic conquest of Bengal.[36] The fall of Lakhnauti was recounted by historians circa 1243. Lakhnauti was the capital of the Sena dynasty. According to historical accounts, Ghurid cavalry swept across the Gangetic plains towards Bengal. They entered the Bengali capital disguised as horse traders. Once inside the royal compound, Bakhtiyar and his horsemen swiftly overpowered the guards of the Sena king who had just sat down to eat a meal. The king then hastily fled to the forest with his followers.[37] The overthrow of the Sena king has been described as a coup d’état, which "inaugurated an era, lasting over five centuries, during which most of Bengal was dominated by rulers professing the Islamic faith. In itself this was not exceptional, since from about this time until the eighteenth century, Muslim sovereigns ruled over most of the Indian subcontinent. What was exceptional, however, was that among India’s interior provinces only in Bengal—a region approximately the size of England and Scotland combined—did a majority of the indigenous population adopt the religion of the ruling class, Islam".[37] Bengal became a province of the Delhi Sultanate. A coin featuring a horseman was issued to celebrate the Muslim conquest of Lakhnauti with inscriptions in Sanskrit and Arabic. An abortive Islamic invasion of Tibet was also mounted by Bakhtiyar. Bengal was under the formal rule of the Delhi Sultanate for approximately 150 years. Delhi struggled to consolidate control over Bengal. Rebel governors often sought to assert autonomy or independence. Sultan Iltutmish re-established control over Bengal in 1225 after suppressing the rebels. Due to the considerable overland distance, Delhi's authority in Bengal was relatively weak. It was left to local governors to expand territory and bring new areas under Muslim rule, such as through the Conquest of Sylhet in 1303.

In 1338, new rebellions sprung up in Bengal's three main towns. Governors in Lakhnauti, Satgaon and Sonargaon declared independence from Delhi. This allowed the ruler of Sonargaon, Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah, to annex Chittagong to the Islamic administration. By 1352, the ruler of Satgaon, Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah, unified the region into an independent state. Ilyas Shah established his capital in Pandua.[38] The new breakaway state emerged as the Bengal Sultanate, which developed into a territorial, mercantile and maritime empire. At the time, the Islamic world stretched from Muslim Spain in the west to Bengal in the east.

The initial raids of Ilyas Shah saw the first Muslim army enter Nepal and stretched from Varanasi in the west to Orissa in the south to Assam in the east.[39] The Delhi army continued to fend off the new Bengali army. The Bengal-Delhi War ended in 1359 when Delhi recognized the independence of Bengal. Ilyas Shah's son Sikandar Shah defeated Delhi Sultan Firuz Shah Tughluq during the Siege of Ekdala Fort. A subsequent peace treaty recognized Bengal's independence and Sikandar Shah was gifted a golden crown by the Sultan of Delhi.[40] The ruler of Arakan sought refuge in Bengal during the reign of Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah. Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah later helped the Arakanese king to regain control of his throne in exchange for becoming a tributary state of the Bengal Sultanate. Bengali influence in Arakan persisted for 300 years.[41] Bengal also helped the king of Tripura to regain control of his throne in exchange for becoming a tributary state. The ruler of the Jaunpur Sultanate also sought refuge in Bengal.[42] The vassal states of Bengal included Arakan, Tripura, Chandradwip and Pratapgarh. At its peak, the Bengal Sultanate's territory included parts of Arakan, Assam, Bihar, Orissa, and Tripura.[7] The Bengal Sultanate experienced its greatest military success under Alauddin Hussain Shah, who was proclaimed as the conqueror of Assam after his forces led by Shah Ismail Ghazi overthrew the Khen dynasty and annexed large parts of Assam. In maritime trade, the Bengal Sultanate benefited from Indian Ocean trade networks and emerged as a hub of re-exports. A giraffe was brought by African envoys from Malindi to Bengal's court and was later gifted to Imperial China. Ship-owing merchants acted as envoys of the Sultan while travelling to different regions in Asia and Africa. Many rich Bengali merchants lived in Malacca.[43] Bengali ships transported embassies from Brunei, Aceh and Malacca to China. Bengal and the Maldives had a vast trade in shell currency.[44] The Sultan of Bengal donated funds to build schools in the Hejaz region of Arabia.[45]

The five dynastic periods of the Bengal Sultanate spanned from the Ilyas Shahi dynasty, to a period of rule by Bengali converts, to the Hussain Shahi dynasty, to a period of rule by Abyssinian usurpers; an interruption by the Suri dynasty; and ended with the Karrani dynasty. The Battle of Raj Mahal and the capture of Daud Khan Karrani marked the end of the Bengal Sultanate during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar. In the late 16th-century, a confederation called the Baro-Bhuyan resisted Mughal invasions in eastern Bengal. The Baro-Bhuyan included twelve Muslim and Hindu leaders of the Zamindars of Bengal. They were led by Isa Khan, a former prime minister of the Bengal Sultanate. By the 17th century, the Mughals were able to fully absorb the region to their empire.

Mughal period

 
Mughal painting showing Emperor Akbar offering prayers after the conquest of Bengal
 
Art of the Sundarbans showing a Ghazi riding a Bengal tiger
 
Art of Murshidabad. An ivory elephant tusk crafted into a model of the Royal Peacock Barge of the Nawab of Bengal

Mughal Bengal had the richest elite and was the wealthiest region in the subcontinent. Bengal's trade and wealth impressed the Mughals so much that it was described as the Paradise of the Nations by the Mughal Emperors.[46] A new provincial capital was built in Dhaka. Members of the imperial family were appointed to positions in Mughal Bengal, including the position of governor (subedar). Dhaka became a center of palace intrigue and politics. Some of the most prominent governors included Rajput general Man Singh I, Emperor Shah Jahan's son Prince Shah Shuja, Emperor Aurangzeb's son and later Mughal emperor Azam Shah, and the influential aristocrat Shaista Khan. During the tenure of Shaista Khan, the Portuguese and Arakanese were expelled from the port of Chittagong in 1666. Bengal became the eastern frontier of the Mughal administration. By the 18th century, Bengal became home to a semi-independent aristocracy led by the Nawabs of Bengal.[47] Bengal premier Murshid Quli Khan managed to curtail the influence of the governor due to his rivalry with Prince Azam Shah. Khan controlled Bengal's finances since he was in charge of the treasury. He shifted the provincial capital from Dhaka to Murshidabad.

In 1717, the Mughal court in Delhi recognized the hereditary monarchy of the Nawab of Bengal. The ruler was officially titled as the "Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa", as the Nawab ruled over the three regions in the eastern subcontinent. The Nawabs began issuing their own coins but continued to pledge nominal allegiance to the Mughal emperor. The wealth of Bengal was vital for the Mughal court because Delhi received its biggest share of revenue from the Nawab's court. The Nawabs presided over a period of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity, including an era of growing organization in textiles, banking, a military-industrial complex, the production of fine quality handicrafts, and other trades. A process of proto-industrialisation was underway. Under the Nawabs, the streets of Bengali cities were filled with brokers, workers, peons, naibs, wakils, and ordinary traders.[48] The Nawab's state was a major exporter of Bengal muslin, silk, gunpowder and saltpetre. The Nawabs also permitted European trading companies to operate in Bengal, including the British East India Company, the French East India Company, the Danish East India Company, the Austrian East India Company, the Ostend Company, and the Dutch East India Company. The Nawabs were also suspicious of the growing influence of these companies.

Under Mughal rule, Bengal was a center of the worldwide muslin and silk trades. During the Mughal era, the most important center of cotton production was Bengal, particularly around its capital city of Dhaka, leading to muslin being called "daka" in distant markets such as Central Asia.[49] Domestically, much of India depended on Bengali products such as rice, silks and cotton textiles. Overseas, Europeans depended on Bengali products such as cotton textiles, silks and opium; Bengal accounted for 40% of Dutch imports from Asia, for example, including more than 50% of textiles and around 80% of silks.[50] From Bengal, saltpetre was also shipped to Europe, opium was sold in Indonesia, raw silk was exported to Japan and the Netherlands, cotton and silk textiles were exported to Europe, Indonesia, and Japan,[51] cotton cloth was exported to the Americas and the Indian Ocean.[52] Bengal also had a large shipbuilding industry. In terms of shipbuilding tonnage during the 16th–18th centuries, economic historian Indrajit Ray estimates the annual output of Bengal at 223,250 tons, compared with 23,061 tons produced in nineteen colonies in North America from 1769 to 1771.[53]

Since the 16th century, European traders traversed the sea routes to Bengal, following the Portuguese conquests of Malacca and Goa. The Portuguese established a settlement in Chittagong with permission from the Bengal Sultanate in 1528, but were later expelled by the Mughals in 1666. In the 18th-century, the Mughal Court rapidly disintegrated due to Nader Shah's invasion and internal rebellions, allowing European colonial powers to set up trading posts across the territory. The British East India Company eventually emerged as the foremost military power in the region; and defeated the last independent Nawab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.[47]

Colonial era (1757–1947)

 
The Battle of Plassey in 1757 ushered British rule
 
The Bengal Presidency at its greatest extent between 1858 and 1867

In Bengal effective political and military power was transferred from the old regime to the British East India Company around 1757–65.[54]Company rule in India began under the Bengal Presidency. Calcutta was named the capital of British India in 1772. The presidency was run by a military-civil administration, including the Bengal Army, and had the world's sixth earliest railway network. The Governor of Bengal was concurrently the Viceroy of India for many years. Great Bengal famines struck several times during colonial rule (notably the Great Bengal famine of 1770 and Bengal famine of 1943).[55][56] Under British rule, Bengal experienced the deindustrialisation of its pre-colonial economy.[57]

Company policies led to the deindustrialisation of Bengal's textile industry.[58] The capital amassed by the East India Company in Bengal was invested in the emerging Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, in industries such as textile manufacturing.[57][59] Economic mismanagement, alongside drought and a smallpox epidemic, directly led to the Great Bengal famine of 1770, which is estimated to have caused the deaths of between 1 million and 10 million people.[60][61][62][63]

In 1862, the Bengal Legislative Council was set up as the first modern legislature in India. Elected representation was gradually introduced during the early 20th century, including with the Morley-Minto reforms and the system of dyarchy. In 1937, the council became the upper chamber of the Bengali legislature while the Bengal Legislative Assembly was created. Between 1937 and 1947, the chief executive of the government was the Prime Minister of Bengal.

The Bengal Presidency was the largest administrative unit in the British Empire. At its height, it covered large parts of present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia, and Singapore. In 1830, the British Straits Settlements on the coast of the Malacca Straits was made a residency of Bengal. The area included the erstwhile Prince of Wales Island, Province Wellesley, Malacca and Singapore.[64] In 1867, Penang, Singapore and Malacca were separated from Bengal into the Straits Settlements.[64] British Burma became a province of India and a later a Crown Colony in itself. Western areas, including the Ceded and Conquered Provinces and The Punjab, were further reorganized. Northeastern areas became Colonial Assam.

In 1876, about 200,000 people were killed in Bengal by the Great Backerganj Cyclone of 1876 in the Barisal region.[65] About 50 million were killed in Bengal due to massive plague outbreaks and famines which happened in 1895 to 1920, mostly in western Bengal.[66]

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 was initiated on the outskirts of Calcutta, and spread to Dhaka, Chittagong, Jalpaiguri, Sylhet and Agartala, in solidarity with revolts in North India. The failure of the rebellion led to the abolition of the Company Rule in India and establishment of direct rule over India by the British, commonly referred to as the British Raj. The late 19th and early 20th century Bengal Renaissance had a great impact on the cultural and economic life of Bengal and started a great advance in the literature and science of Bengal. Between 1905 and 1911, an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two: Bengal proper and the short-lived province of Eastern Bengal and Assam where the All India Muslim League was founded.[67] In 1911, the Bengali poet and polymath Rabindranath Tagore became Asia's first Nobel laureate when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups were dominant. Armed attempts to overthrow the British Raj began with the rebellion of Titumir, and reached a climax when Subhas Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army against the British. Bengal was also central in the rising political awareness of the Muslim population—the All-India Muslim League was established in Dhaka in 1906. The Muslim homeland movement pushed for a sovereign state in eastern India with the Lahore Resolution in 1943. Hindu nationalism was also strong in Bengal, which was home to groups like the Hindu Mahasabha. In spite of a last-ditch effort by politicians Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Sarat Chandra Bose to form a United Bengal,[68] when India gained independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines.[69] The western joined India (and was named West Bengal) while the eastern part joined Pakistan as a province called East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan, giving rise to Bangladesh in 1971). The circumstances of partition were bloody, with widespread religious riots in Bengal.[69][70]

Partition of Bengal (1947)

 
The Kotwali Gate marks the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh on the Chapai Nawabganj-Malda side

On 27 April 1947, the last Prime Minister of Bengal Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy held a press conference in New Delhi where he outlined his vision for an independent Bengal. Suhrawardy said "Let us pause for a moment to consider what Bengal can be if it remains united. It will be a great country, indeed the richest and the most prosperous in India capable of giving to its people a high standard of living, where a great people will be able to rise to the fullest height of their stature, a land that will truly be plentiful. It will be rich in agriculture, rich in industry and commerce and in course of time it will be one of the powerful and progressive states of the world. If Bengal remains united this will be no dream, no fantasy".[71] On 2 June 1947, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee told the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom that there was a "distinct possibility Bengal might decide against partition and against joining either Hindustan or Pakistan".[72]

On 3 June 1947, the Mountbatten Plan outlined the partition of British India. On 20 June, the Bengal Legislative Assembly met to decide on the partition of Bengal. At the preliminary joint meeting, it was decided (120 votes to 90) that if the province remained united, it should join the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. At a separate meeting of legislators from West Bengal, it was decided (58 votes to 21) that the province should be partitioned and West Bengal should join the Constituent Assembly of India. At another meeting of legislators from East Bengal, it was decided (106 votes to 35) that the province should not be partitioned and (107 votes to 34) that East Bengal should join the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan if Bengal was partitioned.[73] On 6 July, the Sylhet district of Assam voted in a referendum to join East Bengal.

The English barrister Cyril Radcliffe was instructed to draw the borders of Pakistan and India. The Radcliffe Line created the boundary between the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan, which later became the Bangladesh-India border. The Radcliffe Line awarded two-thirds of Bengal as the eastern wing of Pakistan, although the historic Bengali capitals of Gaur, Pandua, Murshidabad and Calcutta fell on the Indian side close to the border with Pakistan. Dhaka's status as a capital was also restored.

Geography

Most of the Bengal region lies in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, but there are highlands in its north, northeast and southeast. The Ganges Delta arises from the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers and their respective tributaries. The total area of Bengal is 232,752  km2—West Bengal is 88,752 km2 (34,267 sq mi) and Bangladesh 147,570 km2 (56,977 sq mi).

The flat and fertile Bangladesh Plain dominates the geography of Bangladesh. The Chittagong Hill Tracts and Sylhet region are home to most of the mountains in Bangladesh. Most parts of Bangladesh are within 10 metres (33 feet) above the sea level, and it is believed that about 10% of the land would be flooded if the sea level were to rise by 1 metre (3.3 feet).[74] Because of this low elevation, much of this region is exceptionally vulnerable to seasonal flooding due to monsoons. The highest point in Bangladesh is in Mowdok range at 1,052 metres (3,451 feet).[75] A major part of the coastline comprises a marshy jungle, the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world and home to diverse flora and fauna, including the royal Bengal tiger. In 1997, this region was declared endangered.[76]

West Bengal is on the eastern bottleneck of India, stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. The state has a total area of 88,752 km2 (34,267 sq mi).[77] The Darjeeling Himalayan hill region in the northern extreme of the state belongs to the eastern Himalaya. This region contains Sandakfu (3,636 m (11,929 ft))—the highest peak of the state.[78] The narrow Terai region separates this region from the plains, which in turn transitions into the Ganges delta towards the south. The Rarh region intervenes between the Ganges delta in the east and the western plateau and high lands. A small coastal region is on the extreme south, while the Sundarbans mangrove forests form a remarkable geographical landmark at the Ganges delta.

At least nine districts in West Bengal and 42 districts in Bangladesh have arsenic levels in groundwater above the World Health Organization maximum permissible limit of 50 µg/L or 50 parts per billion and the untreated water is unfit for human consumption.[79] The water causes arsenicosis, skin cancer and various other complications in the body.

Historical, political and cultural geography

Geographic distinctions

North Bengal

 
View of the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region and Kangchenjunga from the plains of north Bengal

North Bengal is a term used for the north-western part of Bangladesh and northern part of West Bengal. The Bangladeshi part comprises Rajshahi Division and Rangpur Division. Generally, it is the area lying west of Jamuna River and north of Padma River, and includes the Barind Tract. Politically, West Bengal's part comprises Jalpaiguri Division (Alipurduar, Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Malda) together and Bihar's parts include Kishanganj district. Darjeeling Hills are also part of North Bengal. Although only people of Jaipaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar identifies themselves as North Bengali. North Bengal is divided into Terai and Dooars regions. North Bengal is also noted for its rich cultural heritage, including two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Aside from the Bengali majority, North Bengal is home to many other communities including Nepalis, Santhal people, Lepchas and Rajbongshis.

Northeast Bengal

 
Madhabkunda waterfall in Moulvibazar, Sylhet. Waterfalls are a common sight in the highlands of eastern Bangladesh

Northeast Bengal[80] refers to the Sylhet region, comprising Sylhet Division of Bangladesh and the Karimganj district in the Indian state of Assam. The region is noted for its distinctive fertile highland terrain, extensive tea plantations, rainforests and wetlands. The Surma and Barak river are the geographic markers of the area. The city of Sylhet is its largest urban center, and the region is known for its unique regional language known as Sylheti. The ancient name of the region is Srihatta.[81] The region was ruled by the Kamarupa and Harikela kingdoms as well as the Bengal Sultanate. It later became a district of the Mughal Empire. Alongside the predominant Bengali population resides a small Bishnupriya Manipuri, Khasia and other tribal minorities.[81]

The region is the crossroads of Bengal and northeast India.

Central Bengal

Central Bengal refers to the Dhaka Division of Bangladesh. It includes the elevated Madhupur tract with a large Sal tree forest. The Padma River cuts through the southern part of the region, separating the greater Faridpur region. In the north lies the greater Mymensingh and Tangail regions.

South Bengal

South Bengal covers the southwestern Bangladesh and the southern part of the Indian state of West Bengal.The Bangladeshi part includes Khulna Division, Barisal Division and the proposed Faridpur Division[82] The Indian part of South Bengal includes 12 districts: Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan, East Midnapur, West Midnapur, Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum, Nadia, South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas.[83][84][85]

The Sundarbans, a major biodiversity hotspot, is located in South Bengal. Bangladesh hosts 60% of the forest, with the remainder in India.

Southeast Bengal

 
Cox's Bazar has the longest uninterrupted sea beach in the world

Southeast Bengal[86][87][88] refers to the hilly and coastal Bengali-speaking areas of Chittagong Division in southeastern Bangladesh. Southeast Bengal is noted for its thalassocratic and seafaring heritage. The area was dominated by the Bengali Harikela and Samatata kingdoms in antiquity. It was known to Arab traders as Harkand in the 9th century.[89] During the medieval period, the region was ruled by the Sultanate of Bengal, the Kingdom of Tripura, the Kingdom of Mrauk U, the Portuguese Empire and the Mughal Empire, prior to the advent of British rule. The Chittagonian language, a sister of Bengali is prevalent in coastal areas of southeast Bengal. Along with its Bengali population, it is also home to Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups, including the Chakma, Marma, Tanchangya and Bawm peoples.

Southeast Bengal is considered a bridge to Southeast Asia and the northern parts of Arakan are also historically considered to be a part of it.[90]

Places of interest

There are four World Heritage Sites in the region, including the Sundarbans, the Somapura Mahavihara, the Mosque City of Bagerhat and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Other prominent places include the Bishnupur, Bankura temple city, the Adina Mosque, the Caravanserai Mosque, numerous zamindar palaces (like Ahsan Manzil and Cooch Behar Palace), the Lalbagh Fort, the Great Caravanserai ruins, the Shaista Khan Caravanserai ruins, the Kolkata Victoria Memorial, the Dhaka Parliament Building, archaeologically excavated ancient fort cities in Mahasthangarh, Mainamati, Chandraketugarh and Wari-Bateshwar, the Jaldapara National Park, the Lawachara National Park, the Teknaf Game Reserve and the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Cox's Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh is home to the longest natural sea beach in the world with an unbroken length of 120 km (75 mi). It is also a growing surfing destination.[91] St. Martin's Island, off the coast of Chittagong Division, is home to the sole coral reef in Bengal.

Other regions

 
Today, Standard Bengali is still spoken in areas beside Bengal proper, including the Barak Valley, Tripura and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Bengal was a regional power of the Indian subcontinent. The administrative jurisdiction of Bengal historically extended beyond the territory of Bengal proper. In the 9th century, the Pala Empire of Bengal ruled large parts of northern India. The Bengal Sultanate controlled Bengal, Assam, Arakan, Bihar and Orissa at different periods in history. In Mughal Bengal, the Nawab of Bengal had a jurisdiction covering Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Bengal's administrative jurisdiction reached its greatest extent under the British Empire, when the Bengal Presidency extended from the Straits of Malacca in the east to the Khyber Pass in the west. In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, administrative reorganization drastically reduced the territory of Bengal.

Several regions bordering Bengal proper continue to have high levels of Bengali influence. The Indian state of Tripura has a Bengali majority population. Bengali influence is also prevalent in the Indian regions of Assam, Meghalaya, Bihar and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; as well as in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

Arakan

 
Bengal and Arakan in 1638.

Arakan (now Rakhine State, Myanmar) has historically been under strong Bengali influence. Since antiquity, Bengal has influenced the culture of Arakan. The ancient Bengali script was used in Arakan.[92] An Arakanese inscription recorded the reign of the Bengali Candra dynasty. Paul Wheatley described the "Indianization" of Arakan.[93] The early population of Arakan was a mix of Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman peoples.

According to Pamela Gutman, "Arakan was ruled by kings who adopted Indian titles and traditions to suit their own environment. Indian Brahmins conducted royal ceremonies, Buddhist monks spread their teachings, traders came and went and artists and architects used Indian models for inspiration. In the later period, there was also influence from the Islamic courts of Bengal and Delhi".[94] Arakan emerged as a vassal state of the Bengal Sultanate.[95] It later became an independent kingdom. The royal court and culture of the Kingdom of Mrauk U was heavily influenced by Bengal. Bengali Muslims served in the royal court as ministers and military commanders.[95] Bengali Hindus and Bengali Buddhists served as priests. Some of the most important poets of medieval Bengali literature lived in Arakan, including Alaol and Daulat Qazi.[96] In 1660, Prince Shah Shuja, the governor of Mughal Bengal and a pretender of the Peacock Throne of India, was forced to seek asylum in Arakan.[97][98] Bengali influence in the Arakanese royal court persisted until Burmese annexation in the 18th-century.

The modern-day Rohingya population is a legacy of Bengal's influence on Arakan.[99][96] The Rohingya genocide resulted in the displacement of over a million people between 2016 and 2017, with many being uprooted from their homes in Rakhine State.

Assam

The Indian state of Assam shares many cultural similarities with Bengal. The Assamese language uses the same script as the Bengali language. The Barak Valley has a Bengali-speaking majority population. During the Partition of India, Assam was also partitioned along with Bengal. The Sylhet Division joined East Bengal in Pakistan, with the exception of Karimganj which joined Indian Assam. Previously, East Bengal and Assam were part of a single province called Eastern Bengal and Assam between 1905 and 1912 under the British Raj.[100]

Assam and Bengal were often part of the same kingdoms, including Kamarupa, Gauda and Kamata. Large parts of Assam were annexed by Alauddin Hussain Shah during the Bengal Sultanate.[101] Assam was one of the few regions in the subcontinent to successfully resist Mughal expansion and never fell completely under Mughal rule. However, the Bhuiyan federation led by Isa Khan, which resisted Mughal expansion in eastern Bengal, had considerable territory, power and influence in Assam. During the early 20th century, politics in Assam was strongly influenced by Bengalis in Sylhet.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Bengali is the most spoken language among the population of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a strategically important archipelago which is controlled by India as a federal territory. The islands were once used as a British penal colony. During World War II, the islands were seized by the Japanese and controlled by the Provisional Government of Free India. Anti-British leader Subhash Chandra Bose visited and renamed the islands. Between 1949 and 1971, the Indian government resettled many Bengali Hindus in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.[102]

Bihar

 
Bengal in 1880, including Bihar, Orissa and Assam.

In antiquity, Bihar and Bengal were often part of the same kingdoms. The ancient region of Magadha covered both Bihar and Bengal. Magadha was the birthplace or bastion of several pan-Indian empires, including the Mauryan Empire, the Gupta Empire and the Pala Empire. Bengal, Bihar and Orissa together formed a single province under the Mughal Empire. The Nawab of Bengal was styled as the Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.[103] Whenever Bengali rulers faced distress within Bengal proper, Bihar would provide a safe haven. For example, when faced with British supremacy in Murshidabad, the nominal puppet nawab Mir Qasim moved to Patna.[104]

Chittagong Hill Tracts

The Chittagong Hill Tracts is the southeastern frontier of Bangladesh. Its indigenous population includes Tibeto-Burman ethnicities, including the Chakma people, Bawm people and Mro people among others. The region was historically ruled by tribal chieftains of the Chakma Circle and Bohmong Circle. In 1713, the Chakma Raja signed a treaty with Mughal Bengal after obtaining permission from Emperor Farrukhsiyar for trade with the plains of Chittagong.[105][106] Like the kings of Arakan, the Chakma Circle began to fashion themselves using Mughal nomenclatures and titles. They initially resisted the Permanent Settlement and the activities of the East India Company.[106] The tribal royal families of the region came under heavy Bengali influence. The Chakma queen Benita Roy was a friend of Rabindranath Tagore. The region was governed by the Chittagong Hill Tracts manual under colonial rule. The manual was significantly amended after the end of British rule; and the region became fully integrated with Bangladesh.[107]

Meghalaya

The Indian state of Meghalaya historically came under the influence of Shah Jalal, a Muslim missionary and conqueror from Sylhet. During British rule, the city of Shillong was the summer capital of Eastern Bengal and Assam (modern Bangladesh and Northeast India). Shillong boasted the highest per capita income in British India.[9][10] The city continues to have a sizeable Bengali population; while visitors from Bangladesh frequent the state often.

Odisha

Odisha, previously known as Orissa, has a significant Bengali minority. Historically, the region has faced invasions from Bengal, including an invasion by Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah.[108] Parts of the region were ruled by the Bengal Sultanate and Mughal Bengal. The Nawab of Bengal was styled as the "Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa" because the Nawab was granted jurisdiction over Orissa by the Mughal Emperor.[103]

Tripura

The princely state of Tripura was ruled by the Manikya dynasty until the 1949 Tripura Merger Agreement. Tripura was historically a vassal state of Bengal. In 1464, the Sultan of Bengal helped Ratna Manikya I assume the throne of the ancient Twipra Kingdom.[109][verification needed][110][111] Today, the Indian state of Tripura has a Bengali-majority population. Modern Tripura is a gateway for trade and transport links between Bangladesh and Northeast India.[112][113] In Bengali culture, the celebrated singer S. D. Burman was a member of the Tripura royal family.

Flora and fauna

 
A 2015 census of Sundarbans Bengal tigers found 106 in Bangladesh and 76 in West Bengal.[114]

The flat Bengal Plain, which covers most of Bangladesh and West Bengal, is one of the most fertile areas on Earth, with lush vegetation and farmland dominating its landscape. Bengali villages are buried among groves of mango, jackfruit, betel nut and date palm. Rice, jute, mustard and sugarcane plantations are a common sight. Water bodies and wetlands provide a habitat for many aquatic plants in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta. The northern part of the region features Himalayan foothills (Dooars) with densely wooded Sal and other tropical evergreen trees. Above an elevation of 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), the forest becomes predominantly subtropical, with a predominance of temperate-forest trees such as oaks, conifers and rhododendrons. Sal woodland is also found across central Bangladesh, particularly in the Bhawal National Park. The Lawachara National Park is a rainforest in northeastern Bangladesh. The Chittagong Hill Tracts in southeastern Bangladesh is noted for its high degree of biodiversity.

The littoral Sundarbans in the southwestern part of Bengal is the largest mangrove forest in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The region has over 89 species of mammals, 628 species of birds and numerous species of fish. For Bangladesh, the water lily, the oriental magpie-robin, the hilsa and mango tree are national symbols. For West Bengal, the white-throated kingfisher, the chatim tree and the night-flowering jasmine are state symbols. The Bengal tiger is the national animal of Bangladesh and India. The fishing cat is the state animal of West Bengal.

Politics

Today, the region of Bengal proper is divided between the sovereign state of the People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal.[115] The Bengali-speaking Barak Valley forms part of the Indian state of Assam. The Indian state of Tripura has a Bengali-speaking majority and was formerly the princely state of Hill Tipperah. In the Bay of Bengal, St. Martin's Island is governed by Bangladesh; while the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has a plurality of Bengali speakers and is governed by India's federal government as a union territory.

Bangladeshi Republic

 
Bangabhaban (the House of Bengal) is the presidential palace of Bangladesh

The state of Bangladesh is a parliamentary republic based on the Westminster system, with a written constitution and a President elected by parliament for mostly ceremonial purposes. The government is headed by a Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President from among the popularly elected 300 Members of Parliament in the Jatiyo Sangshad, the national parliament. The Prime Minister is traditionally the leader of the single largest party in the Jatiyo Sangshad. Under the constitution, while recognising Islam as the country's established religion, the constitution grants freedom of religion to non-Muslims.

Between 1975 and 1990, Bangladesh had a presidential system of government. Since the 1990s, it was administered by non-political technocratic caretaker governments on four occasions, the last being under military-backed emergency rule in 2007 and 2008. The Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are the two largest political parties in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a member of the UN, WTO, IMF, the World Bank, ADB, OIC, IDB, SAARC, BIMSTEC and the IMCTC. Bangladesh has achieved significant strides in human development compared to its neighbours.

Indian Bengal

West Bengal is a constituent state of the Republic of India, with local executives and assemblies- features shared with other states in the Indian federal system. The president of India appoints a governor as the ceremonial representative of the union government. The governor appoints the chief minister on the nomination of the legislative assembly. The chief minister is the traditionally the leader of the party or coalition with most seats in the assembly. President's rule is often imposed in Indian states as a direct intervention of the union government led by the prime minister of India.

Each state has popularly elected members in the Indian lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha. Each state nominates members to the Indian upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha.

The state legislative assemblies also play a key role in electing the ceremonial president of India. The former president of India, Pranab Mukherjee, was a native of West Bengal and a leader of the Indian National Congress.

The two major political forces in the Bengali-speaking zone of India are the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress being minor players.

Crossborder relations

 
A meeting between the naval commanders of India and Bangladesh

India and Bangladesh are the world's second and eighth most populous countries respectively. Bangladesh-India relations began on a high note in 1971 when India played a major role in the liberation of Bangladesh, with the Indian Bengali populace and media providing overwhelming support to the independence movement in the former East Pakistan. The two countries had a twenty five-year friendship treaty between 1972 and 1996. However, differences over river sharing, border security and access to trade have long plagued the relationship. In more recent years, a consensus has evolved in both countries on the importance of developing good relations, as well as a strategic partnership in South Asia and beyond. Commercial, cultural and defence co-operation have expanded since 2010, when Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina and Manmohan Singh pledged to reinvigorate ties.

The Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi operates a Deputy High Commission in Kolkata and a consular office in Agartala. India has a High Commission in Dhaka with consulates in Chittagong and Rajshahi. Frequent international air, bus and rail services connect major cities in Bangladesh and Indian Bengal, particularly the three largest cities- Dhaka, Kolkata and Chittagong. Undocumented immigration of Bangladeshi workers is a controversial issue championed by right-wing nationalist parties in India but finds little sympathy in West Bengal.[116] India has since fenced the border which has been criticised by Bangladesh.[117]

Economy

 
Elephant being loaded onto a ship, 1858
 
Calcutta Port, 1903
 
The 42 is the tallest building in the region as of 2022
 
Chittagong has the busiest port on the Bay of Bengal

The Ganges Delta provided advantages of fertile soil, ample water, and an abundance of fish, wildlife, and fruit.[118] Living standards for Bengal's elite were relatively better than other parts of the Indian subcontinent.[118] Between 400 and 1200, Bengal had a well-developed economy in terms of land ownership, agriculture, livestock, shipping, trade, commerce, taxation, and banking.[119] The apparent vibrancy of the Bengal economy in the beginning of the 15th century is attributed to the end of tribute payments to the Delhi Sultanate, which ceased after the creation of the Bengal Sultanate and stopped the outflow of wealth. Ma Huan's travelogue recorded a booming shipbuilding industry and significant international trade in Bengal.

In 1338, Ibn Battuta noticed that the silver taka was the most popular currency in the region instead of the Islamic dinar.[120] In 1415, members of Admiral Zheng He's entourage also noticed the dominance of the taka. The currency was the most important symbol of sovereignty for the Sultan of Bengal. The Sultanate of Bengal established an estimated 27 mints in provincial capitals across the kingdom.[121][122] These provincial capitals were known as Mint Towns.[123] These Mint Towns formed an integral aspect of governance and administration in Bengal.

The taka continued to be issued in Mughal Bengal, which inherited the sultanate's legacy. As Bengal became more prosperous and integrated into the world economy under Mughal rule, the taka replaced shell currency in rural areas and became the standardized legal tender. It was also used in commerce with the Dutch East India Company, the French East India Company, the Danish East India Company and the British East India Company. Under Mughal rule, Bengal was the center of the worldwide muslin trade. The muslin trade in Bengal was patronized by the Mughal imperial court. Muslin from Bengal was worn by aristocratic ladies in courts as far away as Europe, Persia and Central Asia. The treasury of the Nawab of Bengal was the biggest source of revenue for the imperial Mughal court in Delhi. Bengal had a large shipbuilding industry. The shipbuilding output of Bengal during the 16th and 17th centuries stood at 223,250 tons annually, which was higher than the volume of shipbuilding in the nineteen colonies of North America between 1769 and 1771.[53]

Historically, Bengal has been the industrial leader of the subcontinent. Mughal Bengal saw the emergence of a proto-industrial economy backed up by textiles and gunpowder. The organized early modern economy flourished till the beginning of British rule in the mid 18th-century, when the region underwent radical and revolutionary changes in government, trade, and regulation. The British displaced the indigenous ruling class and transferred much of the region's wealth back to the colonial metropole in Britain. In the 19th century, the British began investing in railways and limited industrialization. However, the Bengali economy was dominated by trade in raw materials during much of the colonial period, particularly the jute trade.[124]

The partition of India changed the economic geography of the region. Calcutta in West Bengal inherited a thriving industrial base from the colonial period, particularly in terms of jute processing. East Pakistan soon developed its industrial base, including the world's largest jute mill. In 1972, the newly independent government of Bangladesh nationalized 580 industrial plants. These industries were later privatized in the late 1970s as Bangladesh moved towards a market-oriented economy. Liberal reforms in 1991 paved the way for a major expansion of Bangladesh's private sector industry, including in telecoms, natural gas, textiles, pharmaceuticals, ceramics, steel and shipbuilding. In 2022, Bangladesh was the second largest economy in South Asia after India.[125][126]

The region is one of the largest rice producing areas in the world, with West Bengal being India's largest rice producer and Bangladesh being the world's fourth largest rice producer.[127] Three Bengali economists have been Nobel laureates, including Amartya Sen and Abhijit Banerjee who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics and Muhammad Yunus who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Stock markets

Ports and harbours

Chambers of commerce

Intra-Bengal trade

Bangladesh and India are the largest trading partners in South Asia, with two-way trade valued at an estimated US$16 billion.[128] Most of this trade relationship is centered on some of the world's busiest land ports on the Bangladesh-India border. The Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal Initiative seeks to boost trade through a Regional Motor Vehicles Agreement.[129]

Demographics

The Bengal region is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. With a population of 300 million, Bengalis are the third largest ethnic group in the world after the Han Chinese and Arabs.[note 1] According to provisional results of 2011 Bangladesh census, the population of Bangladesh was 149,772,364;[130] however, CIA's The World Factbook gives 163,654,860 as its population in a July 2013 estimate. According to the provisional results of the 2011 Indian national census, West Bengal has a population of 91,347,736.[131] "So, the Bengal region, as of 2011, has at least 241.1 million people. This figures give a population density of 1003.9/km2; making it among the most densely populated areas in the world.[132][133]

Language in Bengal

  Bengali (93%)
  Others (7%)

Bengali is the main language spoken in Bengal. Many phonological, lexical, and structural differences from the standard variety occur in peripheral varieties of Bengali across the region. Other regional languages closely related to Bengali include Sylheti, Chittagonian, Chakma, Rangpuri/Rajbangshi, Hajong, Rohingya, and Tangchangya.[134]

English is often used for official work alongside Bengali. Other major Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Assamese, and Nepali are also familiar to Bengalis.[citation needed]

Bengal region religious diversity as per 2011 census[135][136][137]
Religion Population
Muslims ( ) 160,049,043
Hindus ( ) 77,116,197
Christians ( ) 1,257,708
Buddhists ( ) 1,181,533
Others 1,515,619
Total 241,120,100

In addition, several minority ethnolinguistic groups are native to the region. These include speakers of other Indo-Aryan languages (e.g., Bishnupriya Manipuri, Oraon Sadri, various Bihari languages), Tibeto-Burman languages (e.g., A'Tong, Chak, Koch, Garo, Megam, Meitei (officially called "Manipuri"), Mizo, Mru, Pangkhua, Rakhine/Marma, Kok Borok, Riang, Tippera, Usoi, various Chin languages), Austroasiatic languages (e.g., Khasi, Koda, Mundari, Pnar, Santali, War), and Dravidian languages (e.g., Kurukh, Sauria Paharia).[134]

Life expectancy is around 72.49 years for Bangladesh[138] and 70.2 for West Bengal.[139][140] In terms of literacy, West Bengal leads with 77% literacy rate,[132] in Bangladesh the rate is approximately 72.9%.[141][note 2] The level of poverty in West Bengal is at 19.98%, while in Bangladesh it stands at 12.9%[142][143][144]

West Bengal has one of the lowest total fertility rates in India. West Bengal's TFR of 1.6 roughly equals that of Canada.[145]

About 20,000 people live on chars. Chars are temporary islands formed by the deposition of sediments eroded off the banks of the Ganges in West Bengal, which often disappear in the monsoon season. They are made of very fertile soil. The inhabitants of the chars are not recognised by the Government of West Bengal on the grounds that it is not known whether they are Indians or Bangladeshis. Consequently, no identification documents are issued to char-dwellers who cannot benefit from health care, barely survive because of very poor sanitation and are prevented from emigrating to the mainland to find jobs when they have turned 14. On a particular char, it was reported that 13% of women died at childbirth.[146]

Major cities

Culture

Language

The Bengali language developed between the 7th and 10th centuries from Apabhraṃśa and Magadhi Prakrit.[147] It is written using the indigenous Bengali alphabet, a descendant of the ancient Brahmi script. Bengali is the 5th most spoken language in the world. It is an eastern Indo-Aryan language and one of the easternmost branches of the Indo-European language family. It is part of the Bengali-Assamese languages. Bengali has greatly influenced other languages in the region, including Odia, Assamese, Chakma, Nepali and Rohingya. It is the sole state language of Bangladesh and the second most spoken language in India.[148] It is also the seventh most spoken language by total number of speakers in the world.

Bengali binds together a culturally diverse region and is an important contributor to regional identity. The 1952 Bengali Language Movement in East Pakistan is commemorated by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day, as part of global efforts to preserve linguistic identity.

Currency

 
A silver coin with Proto-Bengali script, 9th century

In both Bangladesh and West Bengal, currency is commonly denominated as taka. The Bangladesh taka is an official standard bearer of this tradition, while the Indian rupee is also written as taka in Bengali script on all of its banknotes. The history of the taka dates back centuries. Bengal was home one of the world's earliest coin currencies in the first millennium BCE. Under the Delhi Sultanate, the taka was introduced by Muhammad bin Tughluq in 1329. Bengal became the stronghold of the taka. The silver currency was the most important symbol of sovereignty of the Sultanate of Bengal. It was traded on the Silk Road and replicated in Nepal and China's Tibetan protectorate. The Pakistani rupee was scripted in Bengali as taka on its banknotes until Bangladesh's creation in 1971.

Literature

Bengali literature
বাংলা সাহিত্য
  
Bengali literature
By category
Bengali language
Bengali language authors
Chronological listAlphabetic List
Bengali writers
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Forms
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Institutions and awards
Literary Institutions
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Related Portals
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Bangladesh Portal
 
Rabindranath Tagore, known as the Bengali Shakespeare, being hosted at the Parliament of Iran in the 1930s

Bengali literature has a rich heritage. It has a history stretching back to the 3rd century BCE, when the main language was Sanskrit written in the brahmi script. The Bengali language and script evolved c. 1000 CE from Magadhi Prakrit. Bengal has a long tradition in folk literature, evidenced by the Chôrjapôdô, Mangalkavya, Shreekrishna Kirtana, Maimansingha Gitika or Thakurmar Jhuli. Bengali literature in the medieval age was often either religious (e.g. Chandidas), or adaptations from other languages (e.g. Alaol). During the Bengal Renaissance of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Bengali literature was modernised through the works of authors such as Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Satyendranath Dutta and Jibanananda Das. In the 20th century, prominent modern Bengali writers included Syed Mujtaba Ali, Jasimuddin, Manik Bandopadhyay, Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Buddhadeb Bose, Sunil Gangopadhyay and Humayun Ahmed.

Prominent contemporary Bengali writers in English include Amitav Ghosh, Tahmima Anam, Jhumpa Lahiri and Zia Haider Rahman among others.

Personification

The Bangamata is a female personification of Bengal which was created during the Bengali Renaissance and later adopted by the Bengali nationalists.[149] Hindu nationalists adopted a modified Bharat Mata as a national personification of India.[150] The Mother Bengal represents not only biological motherness but its attributed characteristics as well – protection, never ending love, consolation, care, the beginning and the end of life. In Amar Sonar Bangla, the national anthem of Bangladesh, Rabindranath Tagore has used the word "Maa" (Mother) numerous times to refer to the motherland i.e. Bengal.

Art

 
Bangladeshi paintings on sale at an art gallery in Dhaka

The Pala-Sena School of Art developed in Bengal between the 8th and 12th centuries and is considered a high point of classical Asian art.[151][152] It included sculptures and paintings.[153]

Islamic Bengal was noted for its production of the finest cotton fabrics and saris, notably the Jamdani, which received warrants from the Mughal court.[154] The Bengal School of painting flourished in Kolkata and Shantiniketan in the British Raj during the early 20th century. Its practitioners were among the harbingers of modern painting in India.[155] Zainul Abedin was the pioneer of modern Bangladeshi art. The country has a thriving and internationally acclaimed contemporary art scene.[156]

Architecture

Classical Bengali architecture features terracotta buildings. Ancient Bengali kingdoms laid the foundations of the region's architectural heritage through the construction of monasteries and temples (for example, the Somapura Mahavihara). During the sultanate period, a distinct and glorious Islamic style of architecture developed the region.[157] Most Islamic buildings were small and highly artistic terracotta mosques with multiple domes and no minarets. Bengal was also home to the largest mosque in South Asia at Adina. Bengali vernacular architecture is credited for inspiring the popularity of the bungalow.[158]

The Bengal region also has a rich heritage of Indo-Saracenic architecture, including numerous zamindar palaces and mansions. The most prominent example of this style is the Victoria Memorial, Kolkata.

In the 1950s, Muzharul Islam pioneered the modernist terracotta style of architecture in South Asia. This was followed by the design of the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban by the renowned American architect Louis Kahn in the 1960s, which was based on the aesthetic heritage of Bengali architecture and geography.[159][160]

Sciences

 
Bose Corporation was founded by the Bengali-American engineer Amar Bose
 
A sculpture of the Bengali-American engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan at Sears Tower in the United States

The Gupta dynasty, which is believed to have originated in North Bengal, pioneered the invention of chess, the concept of zero, the theory of Earth orbiting the Sun, the study of solar and lunar eclipses and the flourishing of Sanskrit literature and drama.[26][161] Bengal was the leader of scientific endeavours in the subcontinent during the British Raj. The educational reforms during this period gave birth to many distinguished scientists in the region. Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics, made very significant contributions to plant science, and laid the foundations of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent.[162] IEEE named him one of the fathers of radio science.[163] He was the first person from the Indian subcontinent to receive a US patent, in 1904. In 1924–25, while researching at the University of Dhaka, Prof Satyendra Nath Bose well known for his works in quantum mechanics, provided the foundation for Bose–Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose–Einstein condensate.[164][165][166] Meghnad Saha was the first scientist to relate a star's spectrum to its temperature, developing thermal ionization equations (notably the Saha ionization equation) that have been foundational in the fields of astrophysics and astrochemistry.[167] Amal Kumar Raychaudhuri was a physicist, known for his research in general relativity and cosmology. His most significant contribution is the eponymous Raychaudhuri equation, which demonstrates that singularities arise inevitably in general relativity and is a key ingredient in the proofs of the Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems.[168] In the United States, the Bangladeshi-American engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan emerged as the "father of tubular designs" in skyscraper construction. Ashoke Sen is an Indian theoretical physicist whose main area of work is string theory. He was among the first recipients of the Fundamental Physics Prize "for opening the path to the realisation that all string theories are different limits of the same underlying theory".[169]

Music

 
A Baul musician. The Baul ballads of Bengal are classified by UNESCO as humanity's intangible cultural heritage

The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bengali folk music.[170] The 19th century mystic poet Lalon Shah is the most celebrated practitioner of the tradition.[171] Other folk music forms include Gombhira, Bhatiali and Bhawaiya. Hason Raja is a renowned folk poet of the Sylhet region. Folk music in Bengal is often accompanied by the ektara, a one-stringed instrument. Other instruments include the dotara, dhol, flute, and tabla. The region also has a rich heritage in North Indian classical music.

Cuisine

Bengali cuisine is the only traditionally developed multi-course tradition from the Indian subcontinent. Rice and fish are traditional favourite foods, leading to a saying that "fish and rice make a Bengali".[172] Bengal's vast repertoire of fish-based dishes includes Hilsa preparations, a favourite among Bengalis. Bengalis make distinctive sweetmeats from milk products, including Rôshogolla, Chômchôm, and several kinds of Pithe. The old city of Dhaka is noted for its distinct Indo-Islamic cuisine, including biryani, bakarkhani and kebab dishes.

Boats

 
18th century painting of a budgerow

There are 150 types of Bengali country boats plying the 700 rivers of the Bengal delta, the vast floodplain and many oxbow lakes. They vary in design and size. The boats include the dinghy and sampan among others. Country boats are a central element of Bengali culture and have inspired generations of artists and poets, including the ivory artisans of the Mughal era. The country has a long shipbuilding tradition, dating back many centuries. Wooden boats are made of timber such as Jarul (dipterocarpus turbinatus), sal (shorea robusta), sundari (heritiera fomes), and Burma teak (tectons grandis). Medieval Bengal was shipbuilding hub for the Mughal and Ottoman navies.[173][174] The British Royal Navy later utilised Bengali shipyards in the 19th century, including for the Battle of Trafalgar.

Attire

 
A bride in a Bangladeshi wedding

Bengali women commonly wear the shaŗi and the salwar kameez, often distinctly designed according to local cultural customs. In urban areas, many women and men wear Western-style attire. Among men, European dressing has greater acceptance. Men also wear traditional costumes such as the kurta with dhoti or pyjama, often on religious occasions. The lungi, a kind of long skirt, is widely worn by Bangladeshi men.[citation needed]

Festivals

For Bengali Hindus, the major religious festivals include Durga Puja, Janmashtami and Rath Yatra. For Bengali Muslims, the major religious festivals are Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Milad un Nabi, Muharram, and Shab-e-Barat. In honour of Bengali Buddhists and Bengali Christians, both Buddha's Birthday and Christmas are public holidays in the region. The Bengali New Year is the main secular festival of Bengali culture celebrated by people regardless of religious and social backgrounds. Other Bengali festivals include the first day of spring and the Nabanna harvest festival in autumn.

Media

Bangladesh has a diverse, outspoken and privately owned press, with the largest circulated Bengali language newspapers in the world. English-language titles are popular in the urban readership.[175] West Bengal had 559 published newspapers in 2005,[176] of which 430 were in Bengali.[176] Bengali cinema is divided between the media hubs of Dhaka and Kolkata.

Sports

Cricket and football are popular sports in the Bengal region. Local games include sports such as Kho Kho and Kabaddi, the latter being the national sport of Bangladesh. An Indo-Bangladesh Bengali Games has been organised among the athletes of the Bengali speaking areas of the two countries.[177]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Roughly 163 million in Bangladesh and 100 million in the Republic of India (CIA Factbook 2014 estimates, numbers subject to rapid population growth); about 3 million Bangladeshis in the Middle East, 1 million Bengalis in Pakistan, 0.4 million British Bangladeshi.
  2. ^ CRI do not give a breakdown by gender or state the age bracket for the data

References

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  1. ^ "Bengal". The Chambers Dictionary (9th ed.). Chambers. 2003. ISBN 0-550-10105-5.
  2. ^ "Oxford Dictionaries". Archived from the original on 29 August 2017. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  3. ^ "Vanga | ancient kingdom, India | Britannica".
  4. ^ "The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760".
  5. ^ "Welcome to Encyclopaedia Iranica".
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