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Map of the Bengal region: West Bengal and Bangladesh
23°25′N 90°13′E / 23.42, 90.22
|Infant mortality rate||55.91 per 1000 live births|
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 (previously East Bengal), 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 neighboring Indian states of Bihar, Tripura and Orissa. The majority of Bengal is inhabited by Bengali people (বাঙালি Bangali) who speak Bengali (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. 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 the Bengal Renaissance, and revolutionary activities during the Indian independence movement.
 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 BC.
Other accounts speculate that the name is derived from Vanga(বঙ্গ 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" (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.
The Proto-Australoids were one of the earliest inhabitants of 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. Pathans, Iranians, 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, when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic peoples. 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 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 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. 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. The most notable among them is Murshid Quli Khan, who was succeeded by Alivardi Khan.
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 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, 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 was bloody, with widespread religious riots in Bengal.
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. 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 CPI(M) has governed for the last 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 in 2000.
- See also: Geography of West Bengal
- See also: Geography of Bangladesh
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 232752 km²—West Bengal is 88,752 km² and Bangladesh 144,000 km².
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.
About 210 million people live in Bengal, around 60% 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, and several other tribal languages. Nepali is spoken primarily by the Gorkhas of Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
66% of the total Bengali population is Muslim, and 33% is Hindu. In Bangladesh 89.7% of the population is Muslim and 9.2% are Hindus (Bangladesh Census 2001). In West Bengal, Hindus are the majority with 72.5% of the population while Muslims comprise 25%, and other religions make up the remainder. Other religious groups include Buddhists, Christians, and Animists. About 2% of the population is tribal.
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 41%. The level of poverty is high, the proportion of people living below the poverty line is more than 30%.
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. 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. West Bengal has the third largest economy (2003–2004) 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 come 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 is now the third fastest growing economy in the country.
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.
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. 
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 and Kazi Nazrul Islam.
The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bangla folk music. The schlar 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 fine 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 Paine.
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 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. 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, 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.
 Intra-Bengal relations today
India is Bangladesh's most important neighbor. Geographic, cultural, historic, and commercial ties are strong, 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, intervened militarily to help bring about the independence of Bangladesh, and furnished relief and reconstruction aid. Of 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 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 north-west of Kolkata. The Train service between Kolkata and Dhaka, which was stopped after 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. West Bengalis 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 with merit 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. Bangladesh television channels are widely watched in West Bengal. West Bengal media have an audience in Bangladesh. In foreign countries such as the U.S., Canada, UK, 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.
 See also
- Bengali people
- Bangals and Ghotis
- List of Bengalis
- Bengali language
- Bengali cuisine
- Music of Bangladesh
- Music of Bengal
- Bengali cinema
- East Bengal
- West Bengal
- Bengal architecture
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 External links
- 24°00′N 88°00′E / 24, 88Coordinates: 24°00′N 88°00′E / 24, 88 Geo Links for Bengal
- Banglapedia- specialised site
- www.hostkingdom.net- List of rulers of Bengal
- WorldStatesmen- here India
Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at University of Texas at Austin Libraries
- India from The Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1923
- India 1760 from The Public Schools Historical Atlas edited by C. Colbeck. Longmans, Green, and Co. 1905
- India 1882 from A Dictionary Practical, Theoretical, and Historical of Commerce and Commercial Navigation by J.R. M'Culloch. Longmans, Green and Co. London, 1882
- India from The Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1923
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