Bengalis (singular Bengali Bengali: বাঙ্গালী/বাঙালি [baŋgali, baŋali] (listen)), also rendered as Bangalee or the Bengali people, are an Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the Bengal region of South Asia. The current population is divided between the independent country Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and parts of Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur. Most of them speak Bengali, a language from the Indo-Aryan language family.
|c. 285 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Bengali and its dialects|
|Related ethnic groups|
Bengalis are the third-largest ethnic group in the world, after the Han Chinese and Arabs. Thus, they are the largest ethnic group within the Indo-Europeans and the largest ethnic group in South Asia. Apart from Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Manipur, and Assam's Barak Valley, Bengali-majority populations also reside in India's union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, with significant populations in the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Mizoram, Nagaland and Uttarakhand as well as Nepal's Province No. 1. The global Bengali diaspora (Bangladeshi Bengalis and Indian Bengalis) have well-established communities in the Middle East, Pakistan, Myanmar, the United Kingdom, the United States, Malaysia, Italy, Singapore, Maldives, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
Bengalis are a diverse group in terms of religious affiliations and practices. Today, approximately 67% are adherents of Islam with a large Hindu minority and sizable communities of Christians and Buddhists. Bengali Muslims, who live mainly in Bangladesh, primarily belong to the Sunni denomination. Bengali Hindus, who live primarily in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam's Barak Valley, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, generally follow Shaktism or Vaishnavism, in addition to worshipping regional deities. There also exist small numbers of Bengali Christians, a large number of whom are descendants of Portuguese voyagers, as well as Bengali Buddhists, the bulk of whom belong to the Bengali-speaking Baruas in Chittagong and Rakhine (who should not be confused with other Buddhists of Bangladesh that belong to different ethnic groups).
Like every large culture group in history, Bengalis have greatly influenced and contributed to diverse fields, notably the arts and architecture, language, folklore, literature, politics, military, business, science and technology.
The term Bengali is generally used to refer to someone whose linguistic, cultural or ancestral origins are from Bengal. The Indo-Aryan Bengalis are ethnically differentiated from the non-Indo-Aryan tribes inhabiting Bengal. Their ethnonym, Bangali, along with the native name of the language and region Bangla, are both derived from Bangālah, the Persian word for the region. Prior to Muslim expansion, there was no unitary territory by this name as the region was instead divided into numerous geopolitical divisions. The most prominent of these were Vaṅga (from which Bangālah is thought to ultimately derive from) in the south, Rāṛha in the west, Puṇḍravardhana and Varendra in the north, and Samataṭa and Harikela in the east. In ancient times, the people of this region identified themselves with respect to these divisions. Vedic texts such as the Mahābhārata makes mention of the Puṇḍra people.
The historic land of Vaṅga (bôngô in Bengali), situated in present-day Barisal, is considered by early historians of the Abrahamic and Dharmic traditions to have originated from a man who had settled in the area though it is often dismissed as legend. Early Abrahamic genealogists had suggested that this man was Bang, a son of Hind who was the son of Ham (son of Noah). In contrast, the Mahabharata, Puranas and the Harivamsha state that Vaṅga was the founder of the Vaṅga Kingdom and one of the adopted sons of King Vali. The land of Vaṅga later came to be known as Vaṅgāla (Bôngal) and its earliest reference is in the Nesari plates (805 CE) of Govinda III which speak of Dharmapāla as its king. The records of Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty, who invaded Bengal in the 11th century, speak of Govindachandra as the ruler of Vaṅgāladeśa (a Sanskrit cognate to the word Bangladesh, which was historically a synonymous endonym of Bengal). 16th-century historian Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak mentions in his ʿAin-i-Akbarī that the addition of the suffix "al" came from the fact that the ancient rajahs of the land raised mounds of earth 10 feet high and 20 in breadth in lowlands at the foot of the hills which were called "al". This is also mentioned in Ghulam Husain Salim's Riyāz us-Salāṭīn.
In 1352 CE, a Muslim nobleman by the name of Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah united the region into a single political entity known as the Bengal Sultanate. Proclaiming himself as Shāh-i-Bangālīyān, it was in this period that the Bengali language also gained state patronage and corroborated literary development. Thus, Ilyas Shah had effectively formalised the socio-linguistic identity of the region's inhabitants as Bengali, by state, culture and language.
Archaeologists have discovered remnants of a 4,000-year-old Chalcolithic civilisation in the greater Bengal region, and believe the finds are one of the earliest signs of settlement in the region. However, evidence of much older Palaeolithic human habitations were found in the form of a stone implement and a hand axe in Rangamati and Feni districts of Bangladesh.
Artefacts suggest that the Wari-Bateshwar civilisation, which flourished in present-day Narsingdi, date as far back as 1100 BC. Not far from the rivers, the port city was believed to have been engaged in foreign trade with Ancient Rome, Southeast Asia and other regions. The people of this civilisation live in bricked homes, walked on wide roads, used silver coins and iron weaponry among many other things. It is thought to be the oldest city in Bengal and in the eastern part of the subcontinent as a whole.
It is thought that a man named Vanga settled in the area around 1000 BCE founding the Vanga Kingdom in southern Bengal. The Atharvaveda and the Hindu epic Mahabharata mentions this kingdom, along with the Pundra Kingdom in northern Bengal. The spread of Mauryan territory and promotion of Buddhism by its emperor Ashoka cultivated a growing Buddhist society among the people of present-day Bengal from the 2nd century BCE. Mauryan monuments as far as the Great Stupa of Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh mentioned the people of this region as adherents of Buddhism. The Buddhists of the Bengal region built and used dozens of monasteries, and were recognised for their religious commitments as far as Nagarjunakonda in South India.
One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land ruled by the king Xandrammes named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BCE. The word is speculated to have come from Gangahrd ('Land with the Ganges in its heart') in reference to an area in Bengal. Later from the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire.
One of the first recorded independent kings of Bengal was Shashanka, reigning around the early 7th century, who is generally thought to have originated from Magadha, Bihar, just west of Bengal. After a period of anarchy, a native ruler called Gopala came into power in 750 CE. He originated from Varendra in northern Bengal, and founded the Buddhist Pala Empire. Atiśa, a renowned Buddhist teacher from eastern Bengal, was instrumental in the revival of Buddhism in Tibet and also held the position of Abbot at the Vikramashila monastery in Bihar.
The Pala Empire enjoyed relations with the Srivijaya Empire, the Tibetan Empire, and the Arab Abbasid Caliphate. Islam first appeared in Bengal during Pala rule, as a result of increased trade between Bengal and the Middle East. The people of Samatata, in southeastern Bengal, during the 10th century were of various religious backgrounds. Tilopa was a prominent Hindu priest from modern-day Chittagong, though Samatata was ruled by the Buddhist Chandra dynasty. During this time, the Arab geographer Al-Masudi and author of The Meadows of Gold, travelled to the region where he noticed a Muslim community of inhabitants residing in the region. In addition to trade, Islam was also being introduced to the people of Bengal through the migration of Sufi missionaries prior to conquest. The earliest known Sufi missionaries were Syed Shah Surkhul Antia and his students, most notably Shah Sultan Rumi, in the 11th century. Rumi settled in present-day Netrokona, Mymensingh where he influenced the local ruler and population to embrace Islam.
The Pala dynasty was later followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena Empire. Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region. Bakhtiyar Khalji, a Turkic general, defeated Lakshman Sen of the Sena dynasty and conquered large parts of Bengal. Consequently, the region was ruled by dynasties of sultans and feudal lords under the Bengal Sultanate for the next few hundred years. Many of the people of Bengal began accepting Islam through the influx of missionaries following the initial conquest. Sultan Balkhi and Shah Makhdum Rupos settled in the present-day Rajshahi Division in northern Bengal, preaching to the communities there. A community of 13 Muslim families headed by Burhanuddin also existed in the northeastern Hindu city of Srihatta (Sylhet), claiming their descendants to have arrived from Chittagong. By 1303, hundreds of Sufi preachers led by Shah Jalal, who some biographers claim was a Turkistan-born Bengali, aided the Muslim rulers in Bengal to conquer Sylhet, turning the town into Jalal's headquarters for religious activities. Following the conquest, Jalal disseminated his followers across different parts of Bengal to spread Islam, and became a household name among Bengali Muslims.
The establishment of a single united Bengal Sultanate in 1352 by Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah finally gave rise to a "Bengali" socio-linguistic identity. The Ilyas Shahi dynasty acknowledged Muslim scholarship, and this transcended ethnic background. Usman Serajuddin, also known as Akhi Siraj Bengali, was a native of Gaur in western Bengal and became the Sultanate's court scholar during Ilyas Shah's reign. Alongside Persian and Arabic, the sovereign Sunni Muslim nation-state also enabled the language of the Bengali people to gain patronage and support, contrary to previous states which exclusively favoured Sanskrit, Pali and Persian. The born-Hindu Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah funded the construction of Islamic institutions as far as Mecca and Madina in the Middle East. The people of Arabia came to know these institutions as al-Madaris al-Bangaliyyah (Bengali madrasas).
The Mughal Empire conquered Bengal in the 16th century, ending the independent Sultanate of Bengal and defeating Bengal's rebellion Baro-Bhuiyan chieftains. Mughal general Man Singh conquered parts of Bengal including Dhaka during the time of Emperor Akbar and a few Rajput tribes from his army permanently settled around Dhaka and surrounding lands, integrating into Bengali society. Akbar's preaching of the syncretic Din-i Ilahi, was described as a blasphemy by the Qadi of Bengal, which caused huge controversies in South Asia. In the 16th century, many Ulama of the Bengali Muslim intelligentsia migrated to other parts of the subcontinent as teachers and instructors of Islamic knowledge such as Ali Sher Bengali to Ahmedabad, Usman Bengali to Sambhal and Yusuf Bengali to Burhanpur.
By the early 17th century, Islam Khan I had conquered all of Bengal and was integrated into a province known as the Bengal Subah. It was the largest subdivision of the Mughal Empire, as it also encompassed parts of Bihar and Odisha, between the 16th and 18th centuries. Described by some as the "Paradise of Nations" and the "Golden Age of Bengal", Bengalis enjoyed some of the highest living standards and real wages in the world at the time. Singlehandedly accounting for 40% of Dutch imports outside the European continent, eastern Bengal was globally prominent in industries such as textile manufacturing and shipbuilding, and was a major exporter of silk and cotton textiles, steel, saltpeter, and agricultural and industrial produce in the world.
Mughal Bengal eventually became a quasi-independent monarchy state ruled by the Nawabs of Bengal in 1717. Already observing the proto-industrialization, it made direct significant contribution to the first Industrial Revolution (substantially textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution).
Bengal became the basis of the Anglo-Mughal War. After the weakening of the Mughal Empire with the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, Bengal was ruled independently by three dynasties of Nawabs until 1757, when the region was annexed by the East India Company after the Battle of Plassey.
In Bengal, effective political and military power was transferred from the Afshar regime to the British East India Company around 1757–65. 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. Great Bengal famines struck several times during colonial rule, notably the Great Bengal famine of 1770 and Bengal famine of 1943, each killing millions of Bengalis.
Under British rule, Bengal experienced deindustrialisation. Discontent with the situation, numerous rebellions and revolts were attempted by the Bengali people. The Indian Rebellion of 1857 was initiated on the outskirts of Calcutta, and spread to Dhaka, Jalpaiguri and Agartala, in solidarity with revolts in North India. Havildar Rajab Ali commanded the rebels in Chittagong as far as Sylhet and Manipur. The failure of the rebellion led to the abolishment of the Mughal court completely and direct rule by the British Raj.
Many Bengali laborers were taken as coolies to the British colonies in the Caribbean during the 1830s. Workers from Bengal were chosen because they could easily assimilate to the climate of British Guyana, which was similar to that of Bengal.
Swami Vivekananda is considered a key figure in the introduction of Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and America, and is credited with raising interfaith awareness, and bringing Hinduism to the status of a world religion during the 1800s. On the other hand, Ram Mohan Roy led a socio-Hindu reformist movement known as Brahmoism which called for the abolishment of sati (widow sacrifice), child marriage, polytheism and idol worship. In 1804, he wrote the Persian book Tuḥfat al-Muwaḥḥidīn (A Gift to the Monotheists) and spent the next two decades attacking the Kulin Brahmin bastions of Bengal.
Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. Many of the early proponents of the independence struggle, and subsequent leaders in the movement were Bengalis such as Shamsher Gazi, Abu Torab, Hada Miah and Mada Miah, the Pagal Panthis led by Karim Shah and Tipu Shah, Haji Shariatullah and Dudu Miyan of the Faraizi movement, Titumir, Ali Muhammad Shibli, Alimuddin Ahmad, Prafulla Chaki, Surendranath Banerjee, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Bagha Jatin, Khudiram Bose, Sarojini Naidu, Aurobindo Ghosh, Rashbehari Bose, and Sachindranath Sanyal.
Leaders such as Subhas Chandra Bose did not subscribe to the view that non-violent civil disobedience was the best way to achieve independence, and were instrumental in armed resistance against the British. Bose was the co-founder and leader of the Japanese-aligned Indian National Army (distinct from the army of British India) that challenged British forces in several parts of India. He was also the head of state of a parallel regime, the Azad Hind. A number of Bengalis died during the independence movement and many were imprisoned in the notorious Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands.
Partitions of Bengal
The first partition in 1905 divided the Bengal region in British India into two provinces for administrative and development purposes. However, the partition stoked Hindu nationalism. This in turn led to the formation of the All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906 to represent the growing aspirations of the Muslim population. The partition was annulled in 1912 after protests by the Indian National Congress and Hindu Mahasabha.
The breakdown of Hindu-Muslim unity in India drove the Muslim League to adopt the Lahore Resolution in 1943, calling the creation of "independent states" in eastern and northwestern British India. The resolution paved the way for the Partition of British India based on the Radcliffe Line in 1947, despite attempts to form a United Bengal state that was opposed by many people.
Bangladesh Liberation War
The rise of self-determination and Bengali nationalism movements in East Bengal, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Eventually, Pakistanis wishing to integrate Bengal further into Pakistan and wishing to get rid of Hindu Bengalis launched Operation Searchlight. Eventually, it turned from the killings of Hindus to Bengalis in general. This eventually culminated in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War against the Pakistani military junta. Upwards of an estimated 300,000 to 3,000,000 people died in the conflict, particularly as a result of the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. The war caused millions of East Bengali refugees to take shelter in neighboring India, especially the Indian state of West Bengal, with Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal, becoming the capital-in-exile of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh. The Mukti Bahini guerrilla forces waged a nine-month war against the Pakistani military. The conflict ended after the Indian Armed Forces intervened on the side of Bangladeshi forces in the final two weeks of the war, which ended with the Surrender of Pakistan and the liberation of Dhaka on 16 December 1971. Thus, the newly independent People's Republic of Bangladesh was born from what was previously the East Pakistan province of Pakistan.
Bengalis constitute the largest ethnic group in Bangladesh, at approximately 98% of the nation's inhabitants. The Census of India does not recognise racial or ethnic groups within India, the CIA Factbook estimated that there are 100 million Bengalis in India constituting 7% of the country's total population. In addition to West Bengal, Bengalis form the demographic majority in Assam's Barak Valley and Lower region as well as parts of Manipur. The state of Tripura as well as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands union territory, which lies in the Bay of Bengal, are also home to a Bengali-majority population, most of whom are descendants of Hindus from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) that migrated there following the 1947 Partition of India.: 3–4  Bengali migration to the latter archipelago was also boosted by subsequent state-funded Colonisation Schemes by the Government of India.
Bengali ethnic descent and emigrant communities are found primarily in other parts of the subcontinent, the Middle East and the Western World. Substantial populations descended from Bengali immigrants exist in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Kingdom where they form established communities of over 1 million people. The majority of the overseas Bengali diaspora are Muslims as the act of seafaring was traditionally prohibited in Hinduism; a taboo known as kala pani (black/dirty water).
The introduction of Islam to the Bengali people has generated a connection to the Arabian Peninsula, as Muslims are required to visit the land once in their lifetime to complete the Hajj pilgrimage. Several Bengali sultans funded Islamic institutions in the Hejaz, which popularly became known by the Arabs as Bangali Madaris. It is unknown when Bengalis began settling in Arab lands though an early example is that of Haji Shariatullah's teacher Mawlana Murad, who was permanently residing in the city of Mecca in the early 1800s. Notable people of Bengali-origin that live in the Middle East include Zohurul Hoque, a translator of the Qur'an who lives in Oman, as well as the family of Princess Sarvath al-Hassan, who is the wife of Jordanian prince Hassan bin Talal.
Earliest records of Bengalis in the European continent date back to the reign of King George III of England during the 16th century. One such example is I'tisam-ud-Din, a Bengali Muslim cleric from Nadia in western Bengal, who arrived to Europe in 1765 with his servant Muhammad Muqim as a diplomat for the Mughal Empire. Another example during this period is of James Achilles Kirkpatrick's hookah-bardar (hookah servant/preparer) who was said to have robbed and cheated Kirkpatrick, making his way to England and stylising himself as the Prince of Sylhet. The man, presumably from Sylhet in eastern Bengal, was waited upon by the Prime Minister of Great Britain William Pitt the Younger, and then dined with the Duke of York before presenting himself in front of the King. Today, the British Bangladeshis are a naturalised community in the United Kingdom, running 90% of all South Asian cuisine restaurants and having established numerous ethnic enclaves across the country – most prominent of which is Banglatown in East London.
An important and unifying characteristic of Bengalis is that most of them use Bengali as their native tongue, believed to belong to the Indo-Iranian language family. With about 226 million native and about 300 million total speakers worldwide, Bengali is one of the most spoken languages, ranked sixth in the world, and is also used a lingua franca among other ethnic groups and tribes living within and around the Bengal region. Bengali is generally written using the Bengali script and evolved circa 1000–1200 CE from Magadhi Prakrit, thus bearing similarities to ancient languages such as Pali. Its closest modern relatives may include other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages such as Assamese, Odia and the Bihari languages. Though Bengali may have a historic legacy of borrowing vocabulary from languages such as Persian and Sanskrit, modern borrowings primarily come from the English language.
Various forms of the language are in use today and provide an important force for Bengali cohesion. These distinct forms can be sorted into three categories. The first is Classical Bengali (সাধু ভাষা Śadhu Bhaśa), which was a historical form restricted to literary usage up until the late British period. The second is Standard Bengali (চলিত ভাষা Čôlitô Bhaśa or শুদ্ধ ভাষা Śuddho Bhaśa), which is the modern literary form, and is based upon the dialects of the divided Nadia region (partitioned between Nadia and Kushtia). It is used today in writing and in formal speaking, for example, prepared speeches, some radio broadcasts, and non-entertainment content. The third and largest category by speakers would be Colloquial Bengali (আঞ্চলিক ভাষা Añčôlik Bhaśa or কথ্য ভাষা Kôththô Bhaśa). These refer to informal spoken language that varies by dialect from region to region.
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Bengali people may be broadly classified into sub-groups predominantly based on dialect but also other aspects of culture:
- Bangals: This is a term used predominantly in Indian West Bengal to refer to East Bengalis – i.e. Bangladeshis as well as those whose ancestors originate from Eastern Bengal. The East Bengali dialects are known as Bangali. This group constitutes the majority of ethnic Bengalis. They originate from the mainland Bangladeshi regions of Dhaka, Mymensingh, Comilla and Barisal as well as Bengali-speaking areas in Lower Assam and Tripura.
- Among Bangals, there are four subgroups that maintain distinct identities in addition to having a (Eastern) Bengali identity. Chittagonians are natives of the Chittagong region (Chittagong District and Cox's Bazar District) of Bangladesh and speak Chittagonian. The people of Cox's Bazar are closely related to the Rohingyas of the Rakhine State in Myanmar. Sylhetis originate from the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh and the Barak Valley in India, and they speak Sylheti. Noakhailla speakers can be found in greater Noakhali region and southern Tripura. The Puran Dhakaiyas are a small urban community residing in Old Dhaka that noticeably differ from the rest of the people of Dhaka Division by language and culture.
- Ghotis: This is the term favoured by the natives of West Bengal to distinguish themselves from other Bengalis.
- The region of North Bengal, which hosts Varendri and Rangpuri speakers, is divided between both West Bengal and Bangladesh, and they are normally categorised into the former two main groups depending on which side of the border they reside in even though they are culturally similar to each other regardless of international borders. The categorisation of North Bengalis into Ghoti or Bangal is contested. Rangpuri speakers can also be found in parts of Lower Assam, and the Shershahabadia community extend into Bihar.
Bengalis Hindus are socially stratified into four castes, called chôturbôrṇô. The caste system derived from Hindu system of bôrṇô (type, order, colour or class) and jāti (clan, tribe, community or sub-community), which divides people into four colours: White, Red, Yellow and Black. White people are Brahmôṇ, who are destined to be priests, teachers and preachers; Red people are Kkhôtriyô, who are destined to be kings, governors, warriors and soldiers; Yellow people are Bôiśśô, who are born to be cattle herders, ploughmen, artisans and merchants; and Black people are Shūdrô, who are born to be labourers and servants to the people of twice-born caste. People from all caste denominations exist among Bengali Hindus. Ram Mohan Roy, who was born Hindu, founded the Brahmo Samaj which attempted to abolish the practices of casteism, sati and child marriage among Hindus.
The largest religions practiced in Bengal are Islam and Hinduism. Among all Bengalis, more than two-thirds are Muslims. The vast majority follow the Sunni denomination though there are also a small minority of Shias. The Bengali Muslims form a 90.4% majority in Bangladesh, and a 30% minority among the ethnic Bengalis in whole India. In West Bengal, Bengali Muslims form a 66.88% majority in Murshidabad district, the former seat of the Shia Nawabs of Bengal, a 51.27% majority in Malda, which contains the erstwhile capitals of the Sunni Bengal Sultanate, and they also number over 5,487,759 in the 24 Parganas.
Just less than a third of all Bengalis are Hindus (predominantly, the Shaktas and Vaishnavists), and as per as 2011 census report, they form a 70.54% majority in West Bengal, 50% plurality in Southern Assam's Barak Valley region, 60% majority in the India's North Eastern state of Tripura, 30% plurality in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 9% significance population in India's Eastern state of Jharkhand and an 8.54% minority in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, Hindus are mostly concentrated in Sylhet Division where they constitute 17.8% of the population, and are mostly populated in Chittagong Division where they number over 3 million. Hindus form a 56.41% majority in Dacope Upazila, a 51.69% majority in Kotalipara Upazila and a 51.22% majority in Sullah Upazila. In terms of population, Bangladesh is the third largest Hindu populated country of the world, just after India and Nepal. The total Hindu population in Bangladesh exceeds the population of many Muslim majority countries like Yemen, Jordan, Tajikistan, Syria, Tunisia, Oman, and others. Also the total Hindu population in Bangladesh is roughly equal to the total population of Greece and Belgium. Bengali Hindus also worship regional deities.
Other religious groups include Buddhists (comprising around 1% of the population in Bangladesh) and Bengali Christians. A large number of the Bengali Christians are descendants of Portuguese voyagers. The bulk of Bengali Buddhists belong to the Bengali-speaking Baruas who reside in Chittagong and Rakhine.
Bengalis commemorate the Islamic holidays or Hindu festivals depending on their religion. People are dressed in their new traditional clothing. During the major Islamic holidays Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, charity is distributed. Children are given clothes or money. Relatives, friends, and neighbors visit and exchange food and sweets.
Significant cultural events or celebrations are also celebrated by the community annually. Pohela Boishakh is a celebration of the new year and arrival of summer in the Bengali calendar and is celebrated in April. It features a funfair, music and dance displays on stages, with people dressed in colourful traditional clothes, parading through the streets. Festivals like Pahela Falgun (spring) are also celebrated regardless of their faith. The Bengalis of Dhaka celebrate Shakrain, an annual kite festival. The Nabanna is a Bengali celebration akin to the harvest festivals in the Western world.
Fashion and arts
Visual art and architecture
The recorded history of art in Bengal can be traced to the 3rd century BCE, when terracotta sculptures were made in the region. The architecture of the Bengal Sultanate saw a distinct style of domed mosques with complex niche pillars that had no minarets. Ivory, pottery and brass were also widely used in Bengali art.
Attire and clothing
Bengali attire is shares similarities with North Indian attire. In rural areas, older women wear the shari while the younger generation wear the selwar kamiz, both with simple designs. In urban areas, the selwar kamiz is more popular, and has distinct fashionable designs. Traditionally Bengali men wore the jama, though the costumes such as the panjabi with selwar or pyjama have become more popular within the past three centuries. The popularity of the fotua, a shorter upper garment, is undeniable among Bengalis in casual environments. The lungi and gamcha are a common combination for rural Bengali men. Islamic clothing is also very common in the region. During special occasions, Bengali women commonly wear either sharis, selwar kamizes or abayas, covering their hair with hijab or orna; and men wear a panjabi, also covering their hair with a tupi, toqi, pagri or rumal.
Mughal Bengal's most celebrated artistic tradition was the weaving of Jamdani motifs on fine muslin, which is now classified by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. Jamdani motifs were similar to Iranian textile art (buta motifs) and Western textile art (paisley). The Jamdani weavers in Dhaka received imperial patronage.
Bengal has an extremely rich heritage of performing arts dating back to antiquity. It includes narrative forms, songs and dances, performance with scroll paintings, puppet theatre and the processional forms like the Jatra and cinema. Performing of plays and Jatras were mentioned in Charyapada, written in between the 8th and 12th centuries. Chhau dance is a unique martial, tribal and folk art of Bengal. Wearing an earthy and theatrical Chhau mask, the dance is performed to highlight the folklore and episodes from Shaktism, Ramayana – Mahabharata and other abstract themes. In 2010 the Chhau dance was inscribed in the UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Bengali film is a glorious part of the history of world cinema. Hiralal Sen, who is considered a stalwart of Victorian era cinema, sowed the first seeds of Bengali cinema. In 1898, Sen founded the first film production company, named Royal Bioscope Company in Bengal, and possibly the first in India. Along with Nemai Ghosh, Tapan Sinha and others, the golden age of Bengali cinema begins with the hands of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Rittwik Ghatak. Chinnamul was recognized as the first neo-realist film in India that deals with the partition of India. Ray's first cinema Pather Panchali (1955) achieved the highest-ranking Indian film on any Sight & Sound poll at number 6 in the 1992 Critics' Poll. It also topped the British Film Institute's user poll of Top 10 Indian Films of all time in 2002. In the same year, Titash Ekti Nadir Naam, directed by Ritwik Ghatak with the joint production of India and Bangladesh, got the honor of best Bangladeshi films in the audience and critics' polls conducted by the British Film Institute.
Bengali cuisine is the culinary style of the Bengali people. It has the only traditionally developed multi-course tradition from South Asia that is analogous in structure to the modern service à la russe style of French cuisine, with food served course-wise rather than all at once. The dishes of Bengal are often centuries old and reflect the rich history of trade in Bengal through spices, herbs, and foods. With an emphasis on fish and vegetables served with rice as a staple diet, Bengali cuisine is known for its subtle flavours, and its huge spread of confectioneries and milk-based desserts. One will find the following items in most dishes; mustard oil, fish, panch phoron, lamb, onion, rice, cardamom, yogurt and spices. The food is often served in plates which have a distinct flowery pattern often in blue or pink. Common beverages include shorbot, borhani, ghol, matha, lachhi, falooda, Rooh Afza, natural juices like Akher rosh, Khejur rosh, Aamrosh, Dudh cha, Taler rosh, Masala cha, as well as basil seed or tukma-based drinks.
East and West Bengali cuisines have many similarities, but also many unique traditions at the same time. These kitchens have been influenced by the history of the respective regions. The kitchens can be further divided into the urban and rural kitchens. Urban kitchens in eastern Bengal consist of native dishes with foreign Mughal influence, for example the Haji biryani and Chevron Biryani of Old Dhaka.
Bengali literature denotes the body of writings in the Bengali language, which has developed over the course of roughly 13 centuries. The earliest extant work in Bengali literature can be found within the Charyapada, a collection of Buddhist mystic hymns dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries. They were discovered in the Royal Court Library of Nepal by Hara Prasad Shastri in 1907. The timeline of Bengali literature is divided into three periods − ancient (650–1200), medieval (1200–1800) and modern (after 1800). Medieval Bengali literature consists of various poetic genres, including Islamic epics by the likes of Abdul Hakim and Syed Sultan, secular texts by Muslim poets like Alaol and Vaishnava texts by the followers of Krishna Chaitanya. Bengali writers began exploring different themes through narratives and epics such as religion, culture, cosmology, love and history. Royal courts such as that of the Bengal Sultanate and the Kingdom of Mrauk U gave patronage to numerous Bengali writers such as Shah Muhammad Saghir, Daulat Qazi and Dawlat Wazir Bahram Khan.
The Bengali Renaissance refers to a socio-religious reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, centered around the city of Calcutta and predominantly led by upper-caste Bengali Hindus under the patronage of the British Raj who had created a reformed religion known as the Brahmo Samaj. Historian Nitish Sengupta describes the Bengal renaissance as having begun with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775–1833) and ended with Asia's first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941).
Though the Bengal Renaissance was predominantly representative to the Hindu community due to their relationship with British colonisers, there were, nevertheless, examples of modern Muslim littérateurs in this period. Mir Mosharraf Hossain (1847–1911) was the first major writer in the modern era to emerge from the Bengali Muslim society, and one of the finest prose writers in the Bengali language. His magnum opus Bishad Shindhu is a popular classic among Bengali readership. Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899–1976), notable for his activism and anti-British literature, was described as the Rebel Poet and is now recognised as the National poet of Bangladesh. Begum Rokeya (1880–1932) was the leading female Bengali author of this period, best known for writing Sultana's Dream which was subsequently translated into numerous languages.
A marriage among Bengalis often consists of multiple events rather than just one wedding. Arranged marriages are arguably the most common form of marriage among Bengalis and are considered traditional in society. Marriage is seen as a union between two families rather than just two people, and they play a large part in developing and maintaining social ties between families and villages. The two families are facilitated by Ghotoks (mutual matchmakers), and the first event is known as the Paka Dekha/Dekhadekhi where all those involved are familiarised with each other over a meal at the bride's home. The first main event is the Paan-Chini/Chini-Paan, hosted by the bride's family. Gifts are received from the groom's family and the marriage date is fixed in this event. An adda takes place between the families as they consume a traditional Bengali banquet of food, paan, tea and mishti. The next event is the mehndi (henna) evening also known as the gaye holud (turmeric on the body). This is normally followed by the main event, the walima, hosting thousands of guests. An aqd (vow) takes place, where a contract of marriage (Kabin nama) and is signed. A qazi or imam is usually present here and would also recite the Qur'an and make dua for the couple. The groom is required to pay mohor (dowry) to the bride. The Phirajatra/Phirakhaowa consists of the return of the bride with her husband to her home, which then becomes referred to as Naiyor, and payesh and milk are served. Other post-marriage ceremonies include the Bou Bhat which takes place in the groom's home.
Arranged marriages are arguably the most common form of marriage among Bengalis and are considered traditional in society. Though polygamy is rarity among Bengalis today, it was historically prevalent among both Muslims and Hindus prior to British colonisation and was a sign of prosperity.
The contribution of Bengalis to modern science is pathbreaking in the world's context. Qazi Azizul Haque was an inventor who is credited for devising the mathematical basis behind a fingerprint classification system that continued to be used up until the 1990s for criminal investigations. Abdus Suttar Khan invented more than forty different alloys for commercial application in space shuttles, jet engines, train engines and industrial gas turbines. In 2006, Abul Hussam invented the Sono arsenic filter and subsequently became the recipient of the 2007 Grainger challenge Prize for Sustainability. Another biomedical scientist, Parvez Haris, was listed among the top 1% of 100,000 scientists in the world by Stanford University.
Fazlur Rahman Khan was a structural engineer responsible for making many important advancements in high rise designs. He was the designer of Willis Tower, the tallest building in the world until 1998. Khan's seminal work of developing tall building structural systems are still used today as the starting point when considering design options for tall buildings.
Jagadish Chandra Bose was a polymath: a physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist, and writer of science fiction who pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics, made significant contributions to plant science, and laid the foundations of experimental science in the subcontinent. He is considered one of the fathers of radio science, and is also considered the father of Bengali science fiction. He first practicalised the wireless radio transmission but Guglielmo Marconi got recognition for it due to European proximity. Bose also described for the first time that "plants can respond", by demonstrating with his crescograph and recording the impulse caused by bromination of plant tissue.
Satyendra Nath Bose was a physicist, specialising in mathematical physics. He is best known for his work on quantum mechanics in the early 1920s, providing the foundation for Bose–Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose–Einstein condensate. He is honoured as the namesake of the boson. He made first calculations to initiate Statistical Mechanics. He first hypothesised a physically tangible idea of photon. Bose's contemporary was Meghnad Saha, an astrophysicist and politician who contributed to the theorisation of thermal ionization. The Saha ionization equation, which was named after him, is used to describe chemical and physical conditions in stars. His work allowed astronomers to accurately relate the spectral classes of stars to their actual temperatures.
Sport and games
Lathi khela (stick-fighting) was historically a method of duelling as a way to protect or take land and others' possessions. The Zamindars of Bengal would hire lathials (trained stick-fighters) as a form of security and a means to forcefully collect tax from tenants. Nationwide lathi khela competitions used to take place annually in Kushtia up until 1989, though its practice is now diminishing and being restricted to certain festivals and celebrations. Chamdi is a variant of lathi khela popular in North Bengal. Kushti (wrestling) is also another popular fighting sport and it has developed regional forms such as boli khela, which was introduced in 1889 by Zamindar Qadir Bakhsh of Chittagong. A merchant known as Abdul Jabbar Saodagar adapted the sport in 1907 with the intention of cultivating a sport that would prepare Bengalis in fighting against British colonials. In 1972, a popular contact team sport called Kabadi was made the national sport of Bangladesh. It is a regulated version of the rural Hadudu sport which had no fixed rules. The Amateur Kabaddi Federation of Bangladesh was formed in 1973. Butthan, a 20th-century Bengali martial arts invented by Grandmaster Mak Yuree, is now practiced in different parts of the world under the International Butthan Federation.
The Nouka Baich is a Bengali boat racing competition which takes place during and after the rainy season when much of the land goes under water. The long canoes were referred to as khel nao (meaning playing boats) and the use of cymbals to accompany the singing was common. Different types of boats are used in different parts of Bengal. Horse racing was patronised most notably by the Dighapatia Rajas in Natore, and their Chalanbeel Horse Races have continued to take place annually for centuries.
The oldest native football clubs of Bengal was Mohun Bagan A.C., which was founded in 1889, and Mohammedan SC, founded in 1891. Mohun Bagan's first major victory was in 1911, when the team defeated an English club known as the Yorkshire Regiment to win the IFA Shield. Since then, more and more clubs emerged in West Bengal, such as Mohun Bagan's main rival SC East Bengal, a team of East Bengali Hindus who had migrated to West Bengal following the 1947 Partition of India. The rivalry also portrayed the societal problems at that time as many of the Mohun Bagan fans were Ghotis who hated the East Bengali immigrants, though Hindu. Mohammed Salim of Calcutta became the first South Asian to play for a European football club in 1936. In his two appearances for Celtic F.C., he played the entire matches barefoot and scored several goals. In 2015, Hamza Choudhury became the first Bengali to play in the Premier League and is predicted to be the first British Asian to play for the England national football team.
Bengalis are very competitive when it comes to board and home games such as Pachisi and its modern counterpart Ludo, as well as Latim, Carrom Board, Chor-Pulish, Kanamachi and Chess. Rani Hamid is one of the most successful chess players in the world, winning championships in Asia and Europe multiple times. Ramnath Biswas was a revolutionary soldier who embarked on three world tours on a bicycle in the 19th century.
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