Knowledge Corner

West Bengal is a state in eastern India and is the nation’sfourth-most populous state, with over 91 million inhabitants. Spread over 34,267 sq mi (88,750 km2), it is bordered by the countries of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, and the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim andAssam. The state capital is Kolkata (Calcutta), one of the largest cities in India. Together with the neighbouring nation of Bangladesh, it makes up the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal.

Ancient Bengal was the site of several major janapadas (kingdoms). It was also part of large empires such as theMaurya Empire (second century BC) and Gupta Empire (fourth century AD); and part of the regional Buddhist Pala Empire (8th to 11th century) and Sena dynasty (11th–12th century). From the 13th century onward, the region was controlled by the Bengal Sultanate, Hindu kings and Baro-Bhuyan landlords under the suzerainty of the Mughal Empire, until the British East India company took control of the region from the Mughals in the late 18th century. The company consolidated their hold on the region following the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and Battle of Buxar in 1764 and by 1793 took complete control of the region. Kolkata (or Calcutta) served for many years as the capital ofBritish controlled territories in India. The early and prolonged exposure to British administration resulted in the expansion of Western education, culminating in development of science, institutional education, and social reforms in the region, including what became known as the Bengali renaissance. A hotbed of the Indian independence movement through the early 20th century, Bengal was divided during India’s independence in 1947 along religious lines into two separate entities: West Bengal—a predominantly Hindu state of India and Muslim-majority East Bengal—a part of the newly created Dominion of Pakistan. East Bengal later became the independent nation ofBangladesh in 1971.

A major agricultural producer, West Bengal is the sixth-largest contributor to India’s net domestic product. Noted for its political activism, the state was ruled by democratically elected communist governments for 34 years from 1977. It is noted for its cultural activities and the presence of cultural and educational institutions; the state capital Kolkata is known as the “cultural capital of India”. The state’s cultural heritage, besides varied folk traditions, ranges from stalwarts in literature including Nobel-laureate Rabindranath Tagore to scores of musicians, film-makers and artists. West Bengal is also distinct from most other Indian states in its appreciation and practice of playingAssociation football besides cricket, the national favourite sport.

History

The origin of the name Bengal (known as Bangla and Bongo in Bengali language) is unknown. One theory suggests that the word derives from “Bang,” a Dravidian tribe that settled the region around 1000 BC. The word might have been derived from the ancient kingdom of Vanga (or Banga). Although some early Sanskrit literature mentions the name, the region’s early history is obscure.

Stone Age tools dating back 20,000 years have been excavated in the state, showing human occupation 8,000 years earlier than scholars had thought based on prior evidence. The region was a part of the Vanga Kingdom, according to the Indian epic Mahabharata. Several Vedic realms were present in Bengal region, including Vanga,Rarh, Pundravardhana and the Suhma Kingdom.

One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is a mention by the Ancient Greeks around 100 BC of a land namedGangaridai, which was located at the mouths of the Ganges. Bengal had overseas trade relations withSuvarnabhumi (Burma, Lower Thailand, Lower Malay Peninsula, and the Sumatra). According to the Sri Lankan chronicle Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya, a Vanga Kingdom prince, conquered Lanka (modern-day Sri Lanka) and gave the name Sinhala Kingdom to the country.

Era of the janapadas

The kingdom of Magadha was formed in 7th century BCE, consisting of the regions now comprising Bihar andBengal. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of the lives of Mahavira, founder of Jainism, andGautama Buddha, founder of Buddhism. It consisted of several janapadas or kingdoms. Under Ashoka, theMaurya Empire of Magadha in the 3rd century BCE extended over nearly all of South Asia, including Afghanistanand parts of Balochistan. From the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire.

Later rulers

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. Shashanka is often recorded in Buddhist annals as an intolerant Hindu ruler who is noted for his persecution of the Buddhists. Shashanka murdered Rajyavardhana, the Buddhist King of Thanesar, and is noted for destroying the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, and replacing Buddha statues with Shiva lingams. After a period of anarchy, the Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years starting from the eighth century. It was followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty.

Some areas of Bengal were invaded by Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty between 1021 and 1023. Islam made its first appearance in Bengal during the 12th century when Sufi missionaries arrived. Later, occasional Muslim raidersreinforced the process of conversion by building mosques, madrasas and khanqahs. Between 1202 and 1206, Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji, a military commander from the Delhi Sultanate, 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 defeated Lakshman Sen. His two sons moved to a place then called Vikramapur (present-day Munshiganj District), where their diminished dominion lasted until the late 13th century.

Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region. Consequently, the region was ruled by dynasties of Bengal Sultanate and feudal lords under the Delhi Sultanate for the next few hundred years. While the large population of eastern and central Bengal became Muslim during this period, Hinduism remained the dominant religion in southern Bengal due to the strong influence of folk Hindu culture and Vaishnavism. Smaller Hindu states, landlords, and Baro-Bhuyans also ruled in parts of Bengal. The Bengal Sultanate was interrupted for 20 years by an uprising by the Hindus under Raja Ganesha. 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. Several independent Hindu states were established in Bengal during the Mughal period, like those of Pratapaditya of Jessore District and Raja Sitaram Ray of Bardhaman. The Koch dynasty in northern Bengal flourished during the period of 16th and the 17th centuries; it weathered the Mughals and survived till the advent of the British colonial era.

Geography

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 square kilometres (34,267 sq mi).  The Darjeeling Himalayan hill region in the northern extreme of the state belongs to the eastern Himalaya. This region containsSandakfu (3,636 m or 11,929 ft)—the highest peak of the state. The narrow Terai region separates this region from the North Bengal 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 geographical landmark at the Ganges delta.

Demographics

According to the provisional results of the 2011 national census, West Bengal is the fourth most populous state in India with a population of 91,347,736 (7.55% of India’s population). Bengalis, consisting of Bengali Hindus, Bengali Muslims, Bengali Christians and a few Bengali Buddhists comprise the majority of the population. The Marwari and Bihari non-Bengali minorities are scattered throughout the state; various indigenous ethnic Buddhist communities such as the Sherpas, the Bhutias, the Lepchas, the Tamangs, the Yolmos and the ethnic Tibetans can be found in the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region. The Darjeeling district also has a large number of Nepali immigrant population, making Nepali a widely spoken language in this region. West Bengal is home to indigenous tribal Adivasis such as Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Bhumij, Lodha, Kol and Toto tribe. There are a small number of ethnic minorities primarily in the state capital, including Chinese, Tamils, Maharashtrians, Odias, Assamese, Malayalis, Gujaratis,Anglo-Indians, Armenians, Jews, Punjabis, and Parsis. India’s sole Chinatown is in eastern Kolkata.

The official language is Bengali and English.Nepali language also has an official status in the three subdivisions ofDarjeeling district. As of 2001, in decreasing order of number of speakers, the languages of the state are: Bengali, Hindi,Santali, Urdu and Nepali.

Skill Test

1. Which is the biggest museum of India that is located in Bengal?
2. Who founded the Indian National Army?
3. Which coalition power formed the government of Bengal in 1977?
4. Which is the state bird of West bengal?
5. Which state borders Bengal from the North?
6. Which is the capital of West Bengal?
7. Which is the city in Bengal which was a Danish colony before independence?
8. Where the Eden Gardens, largest stadium in India is located in Bengal?
9. Which is the World’s longest Railway Platform?
10. Who was the first Governor General of West Bengal?
11. How many districts are there in West Bengal?
12. Which is the oldest South Asian Christian Arts College that located in Bengal?
13. Who is the present Chief Minister of West Bengal?
14. Who was the first Chief Minister of West Bengal?
15. Who was the founder of the city of Calcutta?
16. Which country is the neighbour of West Bengal?
17. Name the water body that borders West Bengal on the south.
18. Which state produces the largest amount of rice in India?
19. Name the district of West Bengal where the Portuguese opened.
20. Where is the largest mangrove forest of the world located in Bengal?
21. Which place in Bengal is famous for coal mines?