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Map of the Bengal region
|• Total||232,752 km2 (89,866 sq mi)|
|• Density||1,100/km2 (2,700/sq mi)|
Bengal // (Bengali: বাংলা Bangla (help·info) or বঙ্গ Bongo/Bônggô) is a geographical and ethno-linguistic region in South Asia. It lies in the north-eastern region at the apex of the Bay of Bengal and is dominated by the fertile Ganges delta. The region was politically divided in the 1947 Partition of Bengal based on religion: predominantly Hindu West Bengal became a province (now a state) of India, and predominantly Muslim East Bengal (now Bangladesh) became a province of Pakistan. Some regions of the historical kingdoms of Bengal are now part of the neighbouring Indian states of Assam, Tripura, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Odisha. The Bengali people (বাঙালি Bangali), who speak the Bengali language (বাংলা Bangla), natively inhabit the region.
Bengal is one of the most densely populated regions on Earth, with an estimated population of more than 250 million people and a population density exceeding 900 people per square kilometre. Most of the Bengal region lies in the low-lying Ganges Delta, the world's largest river 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). While most of region is rural and agrarian, it includes two megacities: Kolkata (previously Calcutta) and Dhaka (previously Dacca).
The Bengal region has a rich literary and cultural heritage and immensely influenced South Asian history through the Bengal Renaissance during the 19th and early 20th centuries and the Bengali Language Movement in the mid-20th century. The Bengal was the seat of western science education and a major industrial hub in pre and post independent India and reshaped the modern Indian culture and the Bengali people made important contributions to the revolutionary movement for Indian independence and the overall Indian independence movement, and successfully prosecuted the Bangladesh Liberation War.
The exact origin of the word বাংলা Bangla (Bengali) and বঙ্গ Bongo (Bengal) is unknown, though the word is believed to be derived from the Dravidian-speaking tribe called Bang that settled in the area around the year 1000 BC. It could also be derived from the word Vanga, which was a kingdom in the Bengal region during the times of Mahabharata as mentioned in Sanskrit literature.
Remnants of Copper Age settlements in the Bengal region date back 4,300 years. After the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the kingdoms of Anga, Bongo, 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.
Two kingdoms – Vanga or Samatata and Gauda – are mentioned in some texts to have appeared after the end of Gupta Empire, although details of their ruling time are uncertain. The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka who reigned in the early 7th century. After a period of anarchy,:36 the native Buddhist Pala Empire ruled the region for four hundred years, and expanded across a large part of South Asia during the reigns of Dharmapala and Devapala.:36–55 Bengal was invaded by a Hindu Emperor Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty for a short period in the 11th century. The Pala dynasty was followed by the reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty. Islam started to appear in Bengal during the late 11th Century, in the form of Sufism. 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, who moved to Bikramapur (present-day Munshiganj District), from where they ruled over a smaller area until the late 13th century.
From the 13th century onward, several Islamic dynasties ruled parts of Bengal, often known collectively as the Sultanate of Bengal.:323–327 Some rulers such as the land-lords-Baro-Bhuyans, the Deva Kingdom, and Raja Ganesha ruled parts of the region intermittently. Bengal came once more under the direct control of Delhi when the Mughals conquered it in 1576. It became a Mughal subah and was ruled by subahdars (governors). Akbar exercised progressive rule and oversaw a period of prosperity (through trade and development) in Bengal and northern India. 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.
Bengal's trade and wealth impressed the Mughals so much that emperor Aurangzeb called the region the Paradise of the Nations. Afghans under Sher Shah Suri and his descendants ruled Bengal from 1540 to 1560. Hindu king Hem Chandra Vikramaditya (Hemu) defeated and killed Bengal ruler Muhammed Shah in 1556 and appointed Shahbaaz Khan as his governor. 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.
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 annexe 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. 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.
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.
In East Pakistan, 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 the 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 independent nation of Bangladesh was established. However, the nation of Bangladesh, since its creation, suffered from continuous political instability and prolonged martial and autocratic rules.
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.
1776 map of Bengal and Bihar by James Rennell
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 metres (33 feet) above the sea level, and it is believed that about 10% of the land would be flooded if the sea level were to rise by 1 metre (3.3 feet). Because of this low elevation, much of this region is exceptionally vulnerable to seasonal flooding due to monsoons. The highest point in Bangladesh is in Mowdok range at 1,052 metres (3,451 feet) 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):
|Rank||City||Country||Population||Area (in km2)|
|Source: World Gazetteer 2012|
According to provisional results of 2011 Bangladesh census, population of Bangladesh was 142,319,000, however, CIA's The World Factbook gives 163,654,860 as its population in a July 2013 estimate. According to the provisional results of the 2011 Indian national census, West Bengal has a population of 91,347,736. So, the Bengal region, as of 2011, has at least 233 million people. This figures give a population density of 1003.9/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 alongside Bengali. There are small minorities who speak Chakma and Nepali. Other notable minor spoken languages are Santhali, Hindi and Urdu.
Life expectancy is around 70.36 years for Bangladesh and 63.4 for West Bengal. In terms of literacy, West Bengal leads with 77% literacy rate, in Bangladesh the rate is approximately 59.82%. 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 localised 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. It is also known as the cultural capital of India.
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 organisations has contributed to the development of the economy of Bangladesh. Together, such organisations had about 5 million members by the late 1990s.
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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 Chôrjapôdô, Mangalkavya, Shreekrishna Kirtana, Maimansingha Gitika or Thakurmar Jhuli. Bengali literature in the medieval age was often either religious (e.g. Chandidas), or adaptations from other languages (e.g. Alaol). During the Bengal Renaissance of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Bengali literature was modernised through the works of authors such as Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Kazi Nazrul Islam.
The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bengali 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 favourite 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 favourite 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 with dhoti 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 Bengali), 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).
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 Bengali. 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 Bengali Games has been organised among the athletes of the Bengali speaking areas of the two countries.
Geographic, cultural, historic, and commercial ties are growing, and both countries recognise 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 (Moitri Express), 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.
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.
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.
Bengal [...] was rich in the production and export of grain, salt, fruit, liquors and wines, precious metals and ornaments besides the output of its handlooms in silk and cotton. Europe referred to Bengal as the richest country to trade with.
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Geo Links for Bengal
Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at University of Texas at Austin Libraries