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|Main language||Bengali (Bangla)|
|Infant mortality rate||55.91 per 1000 live births|
|Websites||westbengal.gov.in and bangladesh.gov.bd|
Bengal (Bengali: বাংলা Bangla (help·info), Bengali: বঙ্গ Bôngo) is a historical and geographical region in the east region of the Indian Subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. Today, it is mainly divided between the country of Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal in India, although some regions of the previous kingdoms of Bengal (during local monarchical regimes and British rule) are now part of the neighbouring Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Tripura and Odisha. The majority of Bengal is inhabited by Bengali people (বাঙালি Bangali) who speak the Bengali language (বাংলা Bangla).
The region of Bengal is one of the most densely populated regions on Earth, with a population density exceeding 900/km². Most of the Bengal region lies in the low-lying Ganges–Brahmaputra River Delta or Ganges Delta, the world's largest delta. In the southern part of the delta lies the Sundarbans—the world's largest mangrove forest and home of the Bengal tiger. In the coastal southeast lies Cox's Bazar, the world's longest beach with a length of 120 km (75 mi). Though the population of the region is mostly rural and agrarian, two megacities, Kolkata (previously Calcutta) and Dhaka (previously Dacca); are located in Bengal. The Bengal region is renowned for its rich literary and cultural heritage; as well as its immense political and intellectual contribution to South Asian history, through the Bengal Renaissance, revolutionary activities; the Indian independence movement; the Bengali Language Movement, and the liberation of Bangladesh.
The exact origin of the word Bangla or Bengal is unknown, though it is believed to be derived from the Dravidian-speaking tribe Bang that settled in the area around the year 1000 BC.
Other accounts speculate that the name is derived from Banga (বঙ্গ bôngo), which came from the Austric word "Bonga" meaning the Sun-god. The word Banga and other words speculated to refer to Bengal (such as Anga) can be found in ancient Indian texts including the Vedas, Jaina texts, the Mahabharata and Puranas. The earliest reference to "Bangala" (বঙ্গাল bôngal) has been traced in the Nesari plates (805 AD) of Rashtrakuta Govinda III which speak of Dharmapala as the king of Vangala.
Some accounts claim that the word may derive from bhang, a preparation of cannabis which is used in some religious ceremonies in Bengal. Dravidians migrated to Bengal from the south, while Tibeto-Burman peoples migrated from the Himalayas, followed by the Indo-Aryans from north-western India. The modern Bengali people are a blend of these people. Smaller numbers of Pathans, Persians, Arabs and Turks also migrated to the region in the late Middle Ages while spreading Islam.
Remnants of Copper Age settlements in the Bengal region date back 4,300 years. After the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the kingdoms of Anga, Vanga and Magadha were formed by the 10th century BC, located in the Bihar and Bengal regions. Magadha was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Buddha and consisted of several Janapadas. One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BC, located in an area in Bengal. From the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire.
The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, reigning around early 7th century. After a period of anarchy, the native Buddhist Pala Empire ruled the region for four hundred years, and expanded across much of the Indian subcontinent into Afghanistan during the reigns of Dharmapala and Devapala. The Pala dynasty was followed by the reign of the Hindu Saiva Sena dynasty. Islam made its first appearance in Bengal during the 12th century when Sufi missionaries arrived. Later, occasional Muslim raiders reinforced the process of conversion by building mosques, madrassas and Sufi Khanqah. Beginning in 1202 a military commander from the Delhi Sultanate, Bakhtiar Khilji, overran Bihar and Bengal as far east as Rangpur, Bogra and the Brahmaputra River. Although he failed to bring Bengal under his control, the expedition managed to defeat Lakshman Sen and his two sons moved to a place then called Vikramapur (present-day Munshiganj District), where their diminished dominion lasted until the late 13th century.
During the 14th century, the former kingdom became known as the Sultanate of Bengal, ruled intermittently with the Sultanate of Delhi as well as powerful Hindu states and land-lords-Baro-Bhuyans. The Hindu Deva Kingdom ruled over eastern Bengal after the collapse Sena Empire. The Sultanate of Bengal was interrupted by an uprising by the Hindus under Raja Ganesha. The Ganesha dynasty began in 1414, but his successors converted to Islam. Bengal came once more under the control of Delhi as the Mughals conquered it in 1576. There were several independent Hindu states established in Bengal during the Mughal period like those of Maharaja Pratap Aditya of Jessore and Raja Sitaram Ray of Burdwan. These kingdoms contributed a lot to the economic and cultural landscape of Bengal. Extensive land reclamations in forested and marshy areas were carried out and trade as well as commerce were highly encouraged. These kingdoms also helped introduce new music, painting, dancing and sculpture into Bengali art-forms as well as many temples were constructed during this period. Militarily, they served as bulwarks against Portuguese and Burmese attacks. Koch Bihar Kingdom in the northern Bengal, flourished during the period of 16th and the 17th centuries as well as weathered the Mughals and survived till the advent of the British.
In 1534, the ethnic Afghan Pashtun Sher Shah Suri, or Farid Khan — a man of incredible military and political skill — succeeded in defeating the superior forces of the Mughals under Humayun at Chausa (1539) and Kannauj (1540). Sher Shah fought back and captured both Delhi and Agra and established a kingdom stretching far into Punjab. Sher Shah's administrative skill showed in his public works, including the Grand Trunk Road connecting Sonargaon in Bengal with Peshawar in the Hindu Kush. Sher Shah's rule ended with his death in 1545, although even in those five years his reign would have a powerful influence on Indian society, politics, and economics.
Shah Suri's successors lacked his administrative skill, and quarreled over the domains of his empire. Humayun, who then ruled a rump Mughal state, saw an opportunity and in 1554 seized Lahore and Delhi. When Humayun died in Jan.1556, Hemu, also called Hem Chandra Vikramaditya, the then Hindu Prime Minister-cum- Chief of Army, of the Sur dynasty had already won Bengal in the battle at Chapperghatta, killing Muhammad Shah the then ruler of Bengal. This was Hemu's 20th continuous win in North India. Knowing of Humanyun's death, Hemu rushed to Delhi to win Agra and later on Delhi and established 'Hindu Raj' in North India on 6th Oct. 1556, after 300 years of Muslim rule, leaving Bengal to his Governor Shahbaz Khan. Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors, who defeated the Karani rulers of Bengal in 1576. Bengal became a Mughal subah and ruled through subahdars (governors). Akbar exercised progressive rule and oversaw a period of prosperity (through trade and development) in Bengal and northern India.
Bengal's trade and wealth impressed the Mughals that they called the region the "Paradise of the Nations". Administration by governors appointed by the court of the Mughal Empire court (1575–1717) gave way to four decades of semi-independence under the Nawabs of Murshidabad, who respected the nominal sovereignty of the Mughals in Delhi. The Nawabs granted permission to the French East India Company to establish a trading post at Chandernagore in 1673, and the British East India Company at Calcutta in 1690. The most notable among them is Murshid Quli Khan, who was succeeded by Alivardi Khan. Around the early 1700s, the Maratha Empire led expeditions in Bengal. The leader of the expedition was Maratha Maharaja Raghuji of Nagpur. Raghoji was able to annex Odisha and parts of Bengal permanently as he successfully exploited the chaotic conditions prevailing in the region after the death of their Governor Murshid Quli Khan in 1727. The expeditions resulted in Bengal becoming a tributary region of the Marathas.
Portuguese traders arrived late in the fifteenth century, once Vasco da Gama reached India by sea in 1498. European influence grew until the British East India Company gained taxation rights in Bengal subah, or province, following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, when Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab, was defeated by the British. The Bengal Presidency was established by 1766, eventually including all British territories north of the Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh), from the mouths of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra to the Himalayas and the Punjab. The Bengal famine of 1770 claimed millions of lives. Calcutta was named the capital of British India in 1772. The Bengal Renaissance and Brahmo Samaj socio-cultural reform movements had great impact on the cultural and economic life of Bengal. The failed Indian rebellion of 1857 started near Calcutta and resulted in transfer of authority to the British Crown, administered by the Viceroy of India. Between 1905 and 1911, an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones. As a direct consequence of this failed attempt to partition Bengal, the British moved the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi.
Bengal has played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups were dominant. Armed attempts to overthrow the British Raj 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 Muslim League was established in Dhaka in 1906. In spite of a last-ditch effort to form a United Bengal, when India gained independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines. The western part went to 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.
The area of Bengal expanded somewhat around this time. First, most of the Sylhet area joined East Bengal from Assam, and then Puruliya was transferred to West Bengal from Bihar. The post-partition political history of East and West Bengal diverged for the most part. Starting from the Bengali Language Movement of 1952, political dissent against West Pakistani domination grew steadily. The Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, emerged as the political voice of the Bengali-speaking population of East Pakistan by 1960s. In 1971, the crisis deepened when Rahman was arrested and a sustained military assault was launched on East Pakistan. Most of the Awami League leaders fled and set up a government-in-exile in West Bengal. The guerrilla Mukti Bahini and Bengali regulars eventually received support from the Indian Armed Forces in December 1971, resulting in a decisive victory over Pakistan on 16 December in the Bangladesh Liberation War or Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The post independence history of Bangladesh was strife with conflict, with a long history of political assassinations and coups before parliamentary democracy was established in 1991. Since then, the political environment has been relatively stable.
West Bengal, the western part of Bengal, became a state in India. In the 1960s and 1970s, severe power shortages, strikes and a violent Marxist-Naxalite movement damaged much of the state's infrastructure, leading to a period of economic stagnation. The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 resulted in the influx of millions of refugees to West Bengal, causing significant strains on its infrastructure. West Bengal politics underwent a major change when the Left Front won the 1977 assembly election, defeating the incumbent Indian National Congress. The Left Front, led by Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) governed the state for over three decades. The state's economic recovery gathered momentum after economic reforms in India were introduced in the mid-1990s by the central government, aided by election of a new reformist Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in 2000. In the West Bengal state assembly election, 2011,in West Bengal, CPI(M) alliance with 62 seats suffered a setback after 34 years of continuous rule, losing to Trinamool Congress led alliance's 226 seats. Its Chief Minister candidate who was also an incumbent Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also lost from his Jadavpur assembly constituency.
Most of the Bengal region is in the low-lying Ganges–Brahmaputra River Delta or Ganges Delta. 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).
Most parts of Bangladesh are within 10 meters (33 ft) 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 ft). 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 ft) in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to the southeast of the country. 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.
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). 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. 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 (micro gram per litre) or 50 parts per billion and the untreated water is unfit for human consumption. The water causes arsenicosis, skin cancer and various other complications in the body. Arsenic is four times as poisonous as mercury.
The following are the largest cities in Bengal (in terms of population):
|List of major cities in Bengal|
|Source: World Gazetteer 2012|
|This is a list of each city's urban populations and does not indicate total district populations|
About 252 million people live in Bengal, around 64% of them in Bangladesh and the remainder in West Bengal. The population density in the area is more than 900/km²; making it among the most densely populated areas in the world.
Bengali is the main language spoken in Bengal. English is often used for official work. There are small minorities who speak Hindi, Urdu, Chakma. There are several tribal languages including Santhali.
69.6% of the total Bengali population is Muslim, and 28.5% is Hindu. Life expectancy is around 63 years, and are almost same for the men and women. In terms of literacy, West Bengal leads with 69.22% literacy rate, in Bangladesh the rate is approximately 53.5%. The level of poverty and illiteracy is high, the proportion of people living below the poverty line is more than 30%.
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 chars are not recognised by the Government of West Bengal on the grounds that it is not known whether they are Bengalis or Bangladeshi refugees. Consequently, no identification documents are issued to char-dwellers who cannot benefit from health care, barely survive due to 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.
Agriculture is the leading occupation in the region. Rice is the staple food crop. Other food crops are pulses, potato, maize, and oil seeds. Jute is the principal cash crop. Tea is also produced commercially; the region is well known for Darjeeling and other high-quality teas.
Historically, Europe once regarded Bengal as "the richest country to trade with".
The service sector is the largest contributor to the gross domestic product of West Bengal, contributing 51% of the state domestic product compared to 27% from agriculture and 22% from industry. State industries are localized in the Kolkata region and the mineral-rich western highlands. Durgapur–Asansol colliery belt is home to a number of major steel plants. As of 2003–2004[update] West Bengal had the third-largest economy in India, with a net state domestic product of US$ 21.5 billion. During 2001–2002, the state's average SDP was more than 7.8%—outperforming the National GDP Growth. The state has promoted foreign direct investment, which has mostly occurred in the software and electronics fields; Kolkata is becoming a major hub for the information technology (IT) industry. Owing to the boom in Kolkata's and the overall state's economy, West Bengal as of 2005[update] had the third-fastest-growing economy in India.
Since 1990, Bangladesh has achieved an average annual growth rate of 5% according to the World Bank, despite the hurdles. The middle class and the consumer industry have seen some growth. Bangladesh has seen a sharp increase in foreign direct investment. A number of multinational corporations, including Unocal Corporation and Tata, have made major investments, the natural gas sector being a priority. In December 2005, the Central Bank of Bangladesh projected GDP growth around 6.5%. Although two-thirds of Bangladeshis are farmers, more than three quarters of Bangladesh’s export earnings come from the garment industry, which began attracting foreign investors in the 1980s due to cheap labour and low conversion cost. In 2002, the industry exported US$5 billion worth of products. The industry now employs more than 3 million workers, 90% of whom are women. A large part of foreign currency earnings also comes from the remittances sent by expatriates living in other countries.
The provision of microcredit by Grameen Bank (founded by Muhammad Yunus) and by other similar organizations has contributed to the development of the economy of Bangladesh. Together, such organizations had about 5 million members by late 1990s.
|Part of a series on the|
Legend of Gazi
The common Bengali language and culture anchors the shared tradition of two parts of politically divided Bengal. Bengal has a long tradition in folk literature, evidenced by the Charyapada, 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 modernized through the works of authors such as Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Kazi Nazrul Islam.
The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bangla folk music. The scholar saint Sri Anirvan loved Baul music, and in fact described himself as a simple Baul. Other folk music forms include Gombhira, Bhatiali and Bhawaiya. 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 an active heritage in North Indian classical music.
Bengal had also been the harbinger of modernism in Indian arts. Abanindranath Tagore, one of the important 18th century artist from Bengal is often referred to as the father of Indian modern art. He had established the first non-British art academy in India known as the Kalabhavan within the premises of Santiniketan. Santiniketan in course of time had produced many important Indian artists like Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Benode Bihari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baij. In the post-independence era, Bengal had produced important artists like Somenath Hore, Meera Mukherjee and Ganesh Pyne.
Rice and fish are traditional favorite foods, leading to a saying that in Bengali, mach ar bhaath bangali baanaay, that translates as "fish and rice make a Bengali". Bengal's vast repertoire of fish-based dishes includes Hilsa preparations, a favorite among Bengalis. Bengalis make distinctive sweetmeats from milk products, including Rôshogolla, Chômchôm, and several kinds of Pithe.
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/panjabi with dhoti/dhuti or pyjama, often on religious occasions. The lungi, a kind of long skirt, is widely worn by Bangladeshi men.
The greatest religious festivals are the two Eids (Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha) for the Muslims, and the autumnal Durga Puja for Hindus. Christmas (called Bôŗodin (Great day) in Bangla), Buddha Purnima are other major religious festivals. Other festivities include Pohela Baishakh (the Bengali New Year), Basanta-Utsab, Nobanno, and Poush parbon (festival of Poush).
Bengali cinema are made both in Kolkata and Dhaka. The Kolkata film industry is older and particularly well known for its art films. Its long tradition of film making has produced world famous directors like Satyajit Ray, while contemporary directors include Buddhadev Dasgupta and Aparna Sen. Dhaka also has a vibrant commercial industry and more recently has been home to critically acclaimed directors like Tareque Masud. Mainstream Hindi films of Bollywood are also quite popular in both West Bengal and Bangladesh. Around 200 dailies are published in Bangladesh, along with more than 1800 periodicals. West Bengal had 559 published newspapers in 2005, of which 430 were in Bangla. Cricket and football are popular sports in the Bengal region. Local games include sports such as Kho Kho and Kabaddi, the later being the national sport of Bangladesh. An Indo-Bangladesh Bangla Games has been organized among the athletes of the Bengali speaking areas of the two countries.
Geographic, cultural, historic, and commercial ties are growing, and both countries recognize the importance of good relations. During and immediately after Bangladesh's struggle for independence from Pakistan in 1971, India assisted refugees from East Pakistan, and intervened militarily to help bring about the independence of Bangladesh. The Indo-Bangladesh border length of 4,095 km (2,545 mi), West Bengal has a border length of 2,216 km (1,377 mi). Despite overlapping historic, geographic and cultural ties, the relation between West Bengal and Bangladesh is still well below the potential. The pan-Bengali sentiment among the people of the two parts of Bengal was at its height during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. While the government radio and national press in India might have backed the struggle out of strategic considerations, the Bengali broadcast and print media went out of its way to lend overwhelming support.
Frequent air services link Kolkata with Dhaka and Chittagong. A bus service between Kolkata and Dhaka is operational. The primary road link is the Jessore Road which crosses the border at Petrapole-Benapole about 175 km (109 mi) north-west of Kolkata. The Train service between Kolkata and Dhaka, which was stopped after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, was resumed in 2008.
Visa services are provided by Bangladesh's consulate at Kolkata's Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Road and India's high commissions in Dhaka, Chittagong and Rajshahi. India has a liberal visa policy and nearly 500,000 visas are issued every year to Bangladeshi students, tourists, health-tourists and others who visit West Bengal and often transit to other parts of India. People of West Bengal visit Bangladesh for limited numbers of tourism, pilgrimage, trade, expatriate assignments; there is significant potential for growth as Bangladesh's stability, economy, moderation in religion and tourist infrastructure improves. In addition West Bengal hosts the celebrated and controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen.
Undocumented immigration of Bangladeshi workers is a controversial issue championed by right-wing nationalist parties in India but finds little sympathy in West Bengal. India has fenced the border to control this flow but immigration is still continuing. A rallying cry for the right-wing Hindu parties in India is that the demographics changed such as in West Bengal's border district of Malda from Hindu-majority to Muslim-majority.
The official land border crossing at Petrapole-Benapole is the primary conduit for the over $1 billion trade between the two halves of Bengal. The volume of unofficial exports to Bangladesh from India is reportedly in the range of $350–500 million each year. Bangladesh argues that India needs to open up its border more to Bangladeshi exports. Other landports between the two Bengals are Changrabandha-Burimari and Balurghat-Hili.
Cultural exchanges between the two parts of Bengal have been somewhat (but not fully) impacted by ups and downs in India-Bangladesh relations and in the influence of extremist Islamist groups in Bangladesh. West Bengal singers and actors complained about being rejected visas in previous years. West Bengal television channels are widely watched in Bangladesh, while no Bangladeshi channels are present in West Bengal due to import policies. In foreign countries such as the U.S., Canada, Britain, and UAE, it is common for Bengalis from both sides to form joint cultural associations and friendships, although inter-marriage is not significant, especially across religious barriers.
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Geo Links for Bengal
Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at University of Texas at Austin Libraries