Largest city :
904/km² (2,341/sq mi)
West Bengal is a state in eastern India. With Bangladesh, which lies on its eastern border, the state forms the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal. To its northeast lie the states of Assam and Sikkim and the country Bhutan, and to its southwest, the state of Orissa. To the west it borders the state of Jharkhand and Bihar, and to the northwest, Nepal. West Bengal is the nation's fourth most populous. It is also the seventh-most populous sub-national entity in the world, 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.
The region that is now West Bengal was a part of a number of empires and kingdoms during the past two millennia. The British East India Company cemented their hold on the region following the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the city of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, served for many years as the capital of British India. A hotbed of the Indian independence movement through the early 20th century, Bengal was divided in 1947 into two separate entities, West Bengal - a state of India, and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) belonging to the new nation of Pakistan.
Following India's independence in 1947, West Bengal's economic and political theatres were dominated for many decades by intellectual Marxism, Naxalite movements and trade unionism. From late 1990s, economic rejuvenation led to a spurt in the state's economic and industrial growth. An agriculture-dependent state, West Bengal occupies only 2.7% of the India's land area, though it supports over 7.8% of Indian population, and is the most densely populated state in India. West Bengal has been ruled by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front for three decades, making it the world's longest-running democratically-elected communist government. Many notable poets, writers, artists and performers are native to West Bengal.
History of Bengal
Stone age tools dating back 20,000 years have been excavated in the state. The region was a part of the Vanga Kingdom, one of ancient kingdoms of Epic India. The kingdom of Magadha was formed in 7th century BC, consisting of the Bihar and Bengal regions. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Mahavira and the Buddha, and consisted of several Janapadas, or Vedic realms/kingdoms. Several Vedic realms were present in Bengal region, including Vanga, Rarh, Suhma and Pundra. During the rule of Maurya dynasty, the Magadha Empire extended over nearly all of South Asia, including Afghanistan and parts of Persia under Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BC.
Remnants of civilisation in the greater Bengal region date back 4,000 years, when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic peoples. 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. 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 Mahavira and the Buddha, and consisted of several Janapadas. During the rule of Maurya dynasty, the Magadha Empire extended over nearly all of South Asia, including parts of Persia and Afghanistan under Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BCE. One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BCE.
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. After a period of anarchy, the Buddhist Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years, 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. 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. 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. 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 suffered from the Great Bengal famine in 1943 that claimed 3 million lives.
Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. Armed attempts against the British Raj from Bengal reached a climax when Subhash Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army from Southeast Asia against the British. 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). In 1955, the former French enclave of Chandannagar, which had passed into Indian control after 1950, was integrated into West Bengal; portions of Bihar were subsequently merged with West Bengal.
Rise of insurgency during the 1960-70s caused a tremendous loss for the sates develoment. During 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 CPI(M) has governed for the subsequent 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. As of 2007, armed activists have been organising minor terrorist attacks in some parts of the state, while clashes with the administration are taking place at several sensitive places on the issue of industrial land acquisition.
Flora and fauna
Sal trees in Arabari forest, in West Midnapur. Joint Forest Management maintains the forest. Owing to the varying altitude from the Himalayas to the coastal plains, the flora and fauna of the state is diverse. Forests make up 14% of the geographical area of West Bengal, which is lower than the national average of 23%. Protected forests cover 4% of the state area. Part of the world's largest mangrove forest Sundarbans is located in southern West Bengal.
From a phytogeographic viewpoint, the southern part of West Bengal can be divided into two regions: the Gangetic plain and the littoral mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. The alluvial soil of the Gangetic plain compounded with favorable rainfall make this region especially fertile. Much of the vegetation of the western part of the state shares floristic similarities with the plants of the Chota Nagpur plateau in the adjoining state of Jharkhand. The predominant commercial tree species is Shorea robusta, commonly known as Sal. The coastal region of Purba Medinipur exhibits coastal vegetation; the predominant tree is the Casuarina. The most valuable tree from the Sundarbans is the ubiquitous sundri (Heritiera fomes) from which the forest gets its name. Vegetation in northern West Bengal is dictated by elevation and precipitation. For example, the foothills of the Himalayas, the Dooars, are densely wooded with Sal and other trees of the tropical evergreen type. Above 1000 m, the forest type changes to subtropical. In Darjeeling, which is above 1500 m, common trees typifying the temperate forest are oaks, conifers, and rhododendrons.
West Bengal has 3.26% of its geographical area under protected areas comprising 15 wildlife sanctuaries and 5 national parks Extant wildlife include Indian rhino, Deer, leopard, jaguar, indian elephant, tiger and crocodiles, as well as many birds. Migratory birds come to the state during the winter The high-altitude forests of Singalila National Park shelter barking deer, red panda, takin,serow, chinkara, pangolin, minivet and kalij pheasants. The Sundarbans are noted for a reserve project conserving the endangered Bengal tiger, although the forest hosts many other endangered species, such as the Gangetic dolphin. river terrapin and estuarine crocodile. The mangrove forest also acts as a natural fish nursery, supporting coastal fishes along the Bay of Bengal. Recognizing its special conservation value, Sundarban area has been declared as a Biosphere Reserve.
The Sundarbans are noted for a reserve project conserving Bengal tigers. There are five national parks in the state — Sundarbans National Park, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Gorumara National Park, Neora Valley National Park and Singalila National Park. Wildlife includes the Indian rhinoceros, Indian elephants, deer, bison, leopards, gaur, and crocodiles. The state is also rich in bird life. Migratory birds come to the state during the winter. The high altitude forests like Singalila National Park shelter barking deer, red panda, chinkara, takin, serow, pangolin, minivet and Kalij pheasants. In addition to the Bengal tiger, the Sundarbans host many other endangered species like the Ganges River Dolphin, river terrapin, estuarine crocodile etc. The mangrove forest also acts as a natural fish nursery, supporting coastal fishes along the Bay of Bengal.
Seventy-two percent of the state's population lives in villages.The vast majority of the 80,221,171 people of West Bengal are Bengalis. Bihari minority is scattered throughout the state and communites of Sherpas and ethnic Tibetans can be found in regions bordering Sikkim. People of Nepalese origin called Gurkha, a Martial Race, have a large population in Darjeeling district. West Bengal is also home to indigenous tribal Adivasis such as Santals, Kol and Toto tribe.
The official language is Bengali. Hindi and English are also used commonly. Nepali is spoken primarily in the Darjeeling district. Hinduism is the principal religion — 72.5% of the population are Hindus. Muslims comprise 25%; Sikhism and other religions make up the remainder. West Bengal has a population density of 904 inhabitants per square kilometre (2,341.3/sq mi) making it the most densely populated state in India. The state contributes 7.81% of India's population. The state's 1991–2001 growth rate of 17.84% is lower than the national rate of 21.34%. The gender ratio is 934 females per 1000 males.
The literacy rate is 69.22%. The life expectancy in the state is 63.4 years, marginally lower than the national value of 64.8 years. About 72% of people live in rural areas. The proportion of people living below the poverty line in 1999–2000 was 31.85%. Scheduled Castes and Tribes form 28.6% and 5.8% of the population respectively in rural areas, and 19.9% and 1.5% respectively in urban areas.
The crime rate in the state in 2004 was 82.6 per 100,000, which was half of the national average. This is the fourth-lowest crime rate among the 32 states and union territories of India. However, the state reported the highest rate of Special and Local Laws (SLL) crimes. In reported crimes against women, the state showed a crime rate of 7.1 compared to the national rate of 14.1. West Bengal was the first Indian state to constitute a Human Rights Commission of its own.
Baul singers at Basanta-Utsab, Shantiniketan
A Murti (representation) of Durga, shown riding her lion and attacking the demon Mahishasura.Main article: Culture of West Bengal
The Bangla language boasts a rich literary heritage, shared with neighboring Bangladesh. West Bengal has a long tradition in folk literature, evidenced by the Charyapada, Mangalkavya, Shreekrishna Kirtana, Thakurmar Jhuli, and stories related to Gopal Bhar. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, Bengali literature was modernized in the works of authors such as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay.
The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bangla folk music, which has also been influenced by regional music traditions. Other folk music forms include Gombhira and Bhawaiya. Folk music in West Bengal is often accompanied by the ektara, a one-stringed instrument. West Bengal also has an heritage in North Indian classical music. From the early 1990s, there has been an emergence and popularisation of new genres of music, including fusions of Baul and Jazz by several Bangla bands, as well as the emergence of what has been called Jeebonmukhi Gaan (a modern genre based on realism) by artists like Anjan Dutta, Nachiketa and bands like Chandrabindoo, Cactus. Bengali dance forms draw from folk traditions, especially those of the tribal groups, as well as the broader Indian dance traditions. Chau dance of Purulia is a rare form of mask dance.
Mainstream Hindi films are popular, as are films from the Bengali cinema industry, dubbed "Tollywood". Tollygunj in Kolkata is the location of Bengali movie studios and the name "Tollywood" (similar as Hollywood, USA) is derived from that name. The Bengali film industry is also known for art films. Its long tradition of filmmaking has produced acclaimed directors like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak. Contemporary directors include Buddhadev Dasgupta, Goutam Ghose, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh.
Bengal had been the harbinger of modernism in fine arts.Abanindranath Tagore, called the father of Modern Indian Art had started the Bengal School of Art which was to create styles of art outside the European realist tradition which was taught in art colleges under the colonial administration of the British Government. The movement had many adherents like Gaganendranath Tagore, Ramkinkar Baij, Jamini Roy and Rabindranath Tagore. After Indian Independence, important groups like the Calcutta Group and the Society of Contemporary Artists were formed in Bengal which dominated the art scene in India.
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". Meat production has increased significantly in recent years.Bengalis make distinctive sweetmeats from milk products, including Rôshogolla, Chômchôm, Kalojam and several kinds of Pithe. Bengal's vast repertoire of fish-based dishes includes hilsa preparations, a favorite among Bengalis. Popular street food includes Beguni, Kati roll, and phuchka. Panta bhat (rice soaked overnight in water) is a traditional dish consumed in rural areas.
Bengali women commonly wear the shari and the salwar kameez, often distinctly designed according to local cultural customs. In urban areas, many women and men wear Western 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. Durga Puja in October is the most popular festival in the West Bengal. Pohela Baishakh (the Bengali New Year), Rathayatra, Dolyatra or Basanta-Utsab, Nobanno, Poush parbon (festival of Poush), kalipuja, saraswatipuja, laxmipuja, Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha are other major festivals. Buddha Purnima, which marks the birth of Gautama Buddha, is one of the most important Buddhist festivals while Christmas, called Bôrodin (Great day) in Bangla is celebrated by the minority Christian population. West Bengal has been home to several famous religious teachers, including Sri Chaitanya, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Paramahansa Yogananda.
Cricket and football are the two most popular sports in the state. Kolkata is one of the major centers for football in India and houses top national clubs such as East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting Club. However in the last few years these clubs have faced steep competition from Goan clubs and have considerably receded in the background. Cricket is also popular and is played throughout the state. Indian sports such as Kho Kho and Kabaddi are also played.Besides, Polo and Golf are the two games being played in Kolkata from the city's long past. In fact, The Calcutta Polo Club is now considered as the oldest polo club of the world, and the Royal Calcutta Golf Club is the oldest of its kind outside Great Britain.
West Bengal has several large stadiums —The Eden Gardens is one of only two 100,000-seat cricket amphitheaters in the world. Salt Lake Stadium — a multi-use stadium — is the world's third highest-capacity football stadium. Calcutta Cricket and Football Club is the second-oldest cricket club in the world. National and international sports events are also held in Durgapur, Siliguri and Kharagpur. Notable sports persons from West Bengal include former Indian national cricket captain Sourav Ganguly, Olympic tennis bronze medallist Leander Paes, chess grand master Dibyendu Barua. There are many other important sports personality also, who include Dola Banerjee (archery), Mantu Ghosh (table tennis), etc.