From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Map of the Bengal region: West Bengal and Bangladesh
Largest city Dhaka
23.42° N 90.22° E
Main language Bengali
Area 232,752 km² 
Population (2001) 209,468,404[1][2]
Density 951.3/km²[1][2]
Infant mortality rate 55.91 per 1000 live births[3][4]
Websites and

Bengal (Bengali: বঙ্গ Bôngo, বাংলা Bangla, বঙ্গদেশ Bôngodesh or বাংলাদেশ Bangladesh), is a historical and geographical region in the northeast of South Asia. Today it is mainly divided between the independent nation of Bangladesh (East Bengal), and the Indian federal republic's constitutive state of West Bengal, although some regions of the previous kingdoms of Bengal (during local monarchial regimes and British rule) are now part of the neighboring Indian states of Bihar, Tripura and Orissa. The majority of Bengal is inhabited by Bengali people who speak the Bengali language.

The region of Bengal is one of the most densely populated regions on earth, with population density exceeding 900/km². Most of the Bengal region lies in the low-lying GangesBrahmaputra River Delta or Ganges Delta, the world's largest delta. In the southern part of the delta lies Sundarbans— world's largest mangrove forest and home to the famed Bengal tiger. Though the population of the region is mostly rural and agrararian, two megacities — Kolkata (previously Calcutta) and Dhaka are located in Bengal. The Bengal region is notable for its contribution to the socio-cultural uplift of Indian society in the form of Bengal Renaissance, and revolutionary activities during the Indian independence movement.


[edit] Etymology and ethnology

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 BCE.[5]

Other accounts speculate that the name is derived from Vanga(bôngo), which came from the Austric word "Bonga" meaning the Sun-god. The word Vanga 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 "Vangala"(bôngal) has been traced in the Nesari plates (805 AD) of Rashtrakuta Govinda III which speak of Dharmapala as the king of Vangala.[citation needed]

The Proto-Australoids were one of the the earliest inhabitants of Bengal.[6] Dravidians migrated to Bengal from Southern India, while Tibeto-Burman peoples migrated from the Himalayas,[6] followed by the Indo-Aryans from north-western India. The modern Bengali people are a blend of these peoples as well as Pathans, Iranians, Arabs and Turks who migrated to the region in the late Middle Ages while spreading Islam.

[edit] History

Main article: History of Bengal
Robert Clive, of British East India Company, after winning the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
Robert Clive, of British East India Company, after winning the
Battle of Plassey in 1757.
The Bengal Presidency at its greatest extent in 1858
The Bengal Presidency at its greatest extent in 1858
Map of the Bengal province, 1893
Map of the Bengal province, 1893

Remnants of human settlement in the Bengal region date back 4,000 years,[7][8] when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic peoples. After the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the kingdom of Magadha was formed in 7th century BCE, consisting of the Bihar and Bengal regions. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Buddha and consisted of several Janapadas.[6] One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BCE, speculated to be an area in Bengal.[9] From the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE, 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.[10] After a period of anarchy, the native Buddhist Pala Empire ruled the region for four hundred years, and expanded across the northern Indian subcontinent into Afghanistan during the reigns of Dharmapala and Devapala. The Pala dynasty was followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty. Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Sufi missionaries. Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region.[11] Bakhtiar Khilji, a Turkic general of the Slave dynasty of Delhi Sultanate, 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 Delhi Sultanate for the next few hundred years. In the sixteenth century, Mughal general Islam Khan conquered Bengal. However, administration by governors appointed by the court of the Mughal Empire gave way to semi-independence of the area under the Nawabs of Murshidabad, who nominally respected the sovereignty of the Mughals in Delhi.

European traders arrived late in the fifteenth century. Their 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.[12] The Bengal Presidency was established by 1765, 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.[13] 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.[14] Between 1905 and 1911, an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones.[15]

Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups were dominant. Armed attempts against to overthrow the British Raj reached a climax when Subhash Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army against the British. Bengal was also central in the rising political awareness of the Muslim population — Muslim League was established in Dhaka in 1906. In spite of a last ditch effort to form a United Bengal,[16] when India gained independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines.[17] 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 was bloody, with widespread religious riots in Bengal.[17][18]

The post-partition political history of East and West Bengal diverged for the most part. Starting from the Language Movement of 1952.[19], political dissent against West Pakistani domination grew steadily. Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, emerged as the political voice of the Bengali-speaking population of East Pakistan by 1960s.[20] In 1971, the crisis deepened when Rahman was arrested and a a sustained military assault was launched on East Pakistan.[21] 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 Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.[22] 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.[23] 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 CPI(M) has governed for the last three decades.[24] 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 in 2000.

[edit] Geography

See also: Geography of West Bengal
The Bengal Tiger
The Bengal Tiger

Most of the Bengal region in the low-lying GangesBrahmaputra 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 232752  sq km — West Bengal is 88,752 sq km and Bangladesh 144,000 sq km.

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).[25] 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.[26] 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.[27]

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 mi²).[28] 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.[29] 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.

[edit] Demographics

Main article: Bengali people
Dhaka is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world
Dhaka is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world

About 210 million people live in Bengal, around 60% of them in Bangladesh and the remainder in West Bengal.[1][30] The population density in the area is more than 900/km²; making it among the most densely populated areas in the world.[1][2]

Bengali is the main language spoken in Bengal. English is often used for official work. There are small minorities who speak Urdu, Hindi, Chakma, and several other tribal languages. Nepali is spoken primarily by the Gorkhas of Darjeeling district of West Bengal.

Two major religions practiced in Bengal are Islam and Hinduism. In Bangladesh 88% of the population is Muslim (US State Department est. 2005) and 11% are Hindus (US State Dept. 2005). In West Bengal, Hindus are the majority with 72.5% of the population while Muslims comprise 25%, and other religions make up the remainder.[31] Other religious groups include Buddhists, Christians, and Animists. About 2% of the population is tribal.[32]

Life expectancy is around 63 years, and are almost same for the men and women.[33][34] In terms of literacy, West Bengal leads with 69.22% literacy rate,[1] in Bangladesh the rate is approximately 41%.[35] The level of poverty is high, the proportion of people living below the poverty line is more than 30%.[36] [32]

[edit] Economy

Worker in a paddy, a common scene all over Bengal
Worker in a paddy, a common scene all over Bengal

Agriculture is the leading occupation in the region. Rice is the staple food crop. Other food crops are pulses, vegetables, potato, maize, oil seeds etc. Jute is the principal cash crop. Tea is also produced commercially; the region is well known for Darjeeling and other high quality teas. 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.[37] 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.[38] West Bengal has the third largest economy (2003–2004) in India, with a net state domestic product of US$ 21.5 billion.[37] During 2001–2002, the state's average SDP was more than 7.8% — outperforming the National GDP Growth.[39] The state has promoted foreign direct investment, which has mostly come in the software and electronics fields;[40] 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 is now the third fastest growing economy in the country.[41]

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%.[42] Although two-thirds of Bangladeshis are farmers, more than three quarters of Bangladesh’s export earnings come from the garment industry,[43] 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.[44] The industry now employs more than 3 million workers, 90% of whom are women.[45] A large part of foreign currency earnings also comes from the remittances sent by expatriates living in other countries.

One significant contributor to the development of the economy of Bangladesh has been the widespread propagation of microcredit by Grameen Bank and other similar orgamizations. Together, these organizations had about 5 million members by late 1990s.[46]

[edit] Culture

Baul singers at Basanta-Utsab, Shantiniketan
Baul singers at Basanta-Utsab, Shantiniketan
Pohela Baishakh celebration in Dhaka
Pohela Baishakh celebration in Dhaka
Bride and groom wearing traditional Bengali wedding costumes
Bride and groom wearing traditional Bengali wedding costumes

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 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam.

The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bangla folk music.[47] 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.

Rice and fish are traditional favorite foods, leading to a saying that in Bengali, machhe bhate bangali, that translates as "fish and rice make a Bengali".[48] 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 panjabi with dhuti or pyjama, often on religious occasions. The lungi, a kind of long skirt, is widely worn by Bangladesh 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.[49] 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 acclaimed 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 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,[50] of which 430 were in Bangla.[50] 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. Recently, a Indo-Bangladesh Bangla Games was organized among the athletes of the Bengali speaking areas of the two countries.[51]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e Provisional Population Totals: West Bengal. Census of India, 2001. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved on August 26, 2006.
  2. ^ a b c World Bank Development Indicators Database, 2006.
  3. ^ West Bengal - Human development fact sheet (HTML version of PDF). United Nations Development Programme (2001). Retrieved on March 1, 2007.
  4. ^ The World Factbook - Bangladesh (HTML). CIA World Factbook (2001). Retrieved on March 1, 2007.
  5. ^ (1989) "Early History, 1000 B. C.-A. D. 1202", in James Heitzman and Robert L. Worden: Bangladesh: A country study. Library of Congress. 
  6. ^ a b c Sultana, Sabiha. Settlement in Bengal (Early Period). Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved on March 4, 2007.
  7. ^ History of Bangladesh. Bangladesh Student Association. Retrieved on October 26, 2006.
  8. ^ "4000-year old settlement unearthed in Bangladesh", Xinhua, 2006-March.
  9. ^ Chowdhury, AM. Gangaridai. Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved on September 8, 2006.
  10. ^ Shashanka. Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved on October 26, 2006.
  11. ^ Islam (in Bengal). Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved on October 26, 2006.
  12. ^ Sirajuddaula. Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved on October 26, 2006.
  13. ^ Fiske, John. The Famine of 1770 in Bengal. The Unseen World, and other essays. University of Adelaide Library Electronic Texts Collection. Retrieved on October 26, 2006.
  14. ^ (Baxter 1997, pp. 30-32)
  15. ^ (Baxter 1997, pp. 39-40)
  16. ^ Chitta Ranjan Misra. United Bengal Movement. Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved on February 6, 2007.
  17. ^ a b Harun-or-Rashid. Partition of Bengal, 1947. Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved on October 26, 2006.
  18. ^ Suranjan Das. Calcutta Riots (1946). Banglapedia. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved on February 6, 2007.
  19. ^ (Baxter 1997, pp. 62-63)
  20. ^ (Baxter 1997, pp. 78-79)
  21. ^ Salik, Siddiq (1978). Witness to Surrender. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-577264-4. 
  22. ^ Burke, S (1973). "The Postwar Diplomacy of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971". Asian Survey 13 (11): 1036-1049. 
  23. ^ (Bennett & Hindle 1996, pp. 63-70)
  24. ^ Biswas, Soutik. "Calcutta's colourless campaign", BBC, 2006-04-16. Retrieved on August 26, 2006.
  25. ^ Ali, A (1996). "Vulnerability of Bangladesh to climate change and sea level rise through tropical cyclones and storm surges". Water, Air, & Soil Pollution 92 (1-2): 171-179. 
  26. ^ Summit Elevations: Frequent Internet Errors. Retrieved 2006-04-13.
  27. ^ IUCN (1997). "Sundarban wildlife sanctuaries Bangladesh". World Heritage Nomination-IUCN Technical Evaluation. 
  28. ^ Statistical Facts about India. Retrieved on October 26, 2006.
  29. ^ National Himalayan Sandakphu-Gurdum Trekking Expedition: 2006. Youth Hostels Association of India: West Bengal State Branch. Retrieved on October 26, 2006.
  30. ^ Adjusted population, p.4, Population Census 2001, Preliminary Report. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (2001-08).
  31. ^ Data on Religion. Census of India (2001). Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved on August 26, 2006.
  32. ^ a b [May 2004] "Introduction and Human Development Indices for West Bengal", West Bengal Human Development Report 2004 (PDF), Development and Planning Department, Government of West Bengal, pp4–6. ISBN 81-7955-030-3. Retrieved on August 26, 2006. 
  33. ^ An Indian life: Life expectancy in our nation. India Together. Civil Society Information Exchange Pvt. Ltd. Retrieved on August 26, 2006.
  34. ^ World Health Report 2005. World Health Organization.
  35. ^ 2005 Human Development Report. UNDP.
  36. ^ Bangladesh Country Statistics, Unicef
  37. ^ a b The State Economy (PDF). Indian States Economy and Business: West Bengal 9. India Brand Equity Foundation, Confederation of Indian Industry. Retrieved on September 7, 2006.
  38. ^ Economy. West Bengal. Suni System (P) Ltd. Retrieved on September 7, 2006.
  39. ^ Basic Information. About West Bengal. West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation. Retrieved on September 7, 2006.
  40. ^ Dasgupta, 2002. Retrieved on April 11, 2006.
  41. ^ Consul General Henry V. Jardine to The Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, October 19, 2005. Retrieved on April 11, 2006.
  42. ^ Annual Report 2004-2005, Bangladesh Bank
  43. ^ Roland, B. "Bangladesh Garments Aim to Compete", BBC, 2005.
  44. ^ Rahman, S (2004). "Global Shift: Bangladesh Garment Industry in Perspective". Asian Affairs 26 (1). 
  45. ^ Begum, N (2001). "Enforcement of Safety Regulations in Garment sector in Bangladesh", Proc. Growth of Garment Industry in Bangladesh: Economic and Social dimension, 208-226. 
  46. ^ Schreiner, Mark (2003). "A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh,". Development Policy Review 21 (3): 357-382. 
  47. ^ The Bauls of Bengal. Folk Music. BengalOnline. Retrieved on October 26, 2006.
  48. ^ Gertjan de Graaf, Abdul Latif. Development of freshwater fish farming and poverty alleviation: A case study from Bangladesh. Aqua KE Government. Retrieved on October 22, 2006.
  49. ^ Durga Puja. Festivals of Bengal. West Bengal Tourism, Government of West Bengal. Retrieved on October 28, 2006.
  50. ^ a b General Review. Registrar of Newspapers for India. Retrieved on September 1, 2006.
  51. ^ Indo-Bangla games inaugurated. Zee News. Retrieved on September 2, 2007.

[edit] References

  • Baxter, C (1997), Bangladesh, From a Nation to a State, Westview Press, ISBN 185984121X
  • Bennett, A & J Hindle (1996), London Review of Books: An Anthology, Verso, ISBN 185984121X

[edit] External links


Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at University of Texas at Austin Libraries

Coordinates: 24°00′N, 88°00′E