Bengal

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
Save to active project

Bengal

Bengal (bĕng-gôl´, bĕn–), region, 77,442 sq mi (200,575 sq km), E India and Bangladesh, on the Bay of Bengal. The inland section is mountainous, with peaks up to 12,000 ft (3,660 m) high in the northwest, but most of Bengal is the fertile land of the Ganges-Brahmaputra alluvial plains and delta. Along the coast are richly timbered jungles, swamps, and islands. The heavy monsoon rainfall and predominantly warm weather make possible two harvests a year. The population, which speaks mainly Bengali, is ethnically quite homogeneous but is almost equally divided between Muslims and Hindus.

In the 3d cent. BC, Bengal belonged to the empire of Asoka. It became a political entity in the 8th cent. AD under the Buddhist Pala kings. In the 11th cent. the Hindu Sena dynasty arose from the remnants of the Pala empire. Bengal was conquered (c.1200) by Muslims of Turkic and Pashtun descent. When the Portuguese began their trading activities (late 15th cent.), Bengal was a part of the Muslim Mughal empire. The British East India Company established its first settlement in 1642 and extended its occupation by conquering the native princes and expelling the Dutch and French. Muslim control of Bengal ended with the defeat of Siraj-ud-Daula by British forces under Robert Clive at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.

Under British control, Bengal was a presidency of India. At various times the neighboring provinces of Assam, Bihar, and Orissa were administered under the Bengal presidency. In 1905 Bengal was split into the provinces of Bengal (W) and East Bengal and Assam (E). Bengal was reestablished as a single province in 1912, but two non-Bengali-speaking provinces, Bihar and Orissa in the west and Assam in the east, were split off. When India was partitioned in 1947, the province was divided along the line approximately separating the two main concentrations of the religious communities.

East Bengal, overwhelmingly Muslim in population, became East Pakistan in 1947 and the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971. West Bengal (2001 provisional pop. 80,221,171), 33,928 sq mi (87,874 sq km), with its capital at Kolkata (Calcutta), became a state of India. It is bordered by Bangladesh and the Indian state of Assam on the east; Nepal, Bhutan, and the state of Sikkim on the north; the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Odisha (Orissa) on the west; and the Bay of Bengal on the south. A highly industrialized region, it has jute mills, steel-fabricating plants, and chemical industries, all mainly centered in the Hugliside industrial complex. Coal is mined and petroleum is refined.

In 1950, West Bengal absorbed the state of Cooch Behar. In the 1970s disputes between Hindus and Muslims, further complicated by droves of refugees from Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) and agitation by Maoist groups called Naxalites, created political instability. The 1980s saw an uprising by Gurkhas in the Darjeeling area, which became a semiautonomous district; some Gurkhas have continued to demand a separate state. Maoist rebels experienced a resurgence in the state in late 2008 and seized control of the region around Lalgarh, where farmers opposed the building of a steel plant; paramilitary forces moved in June, 2009, to regain control of the area. West Bengal is governed by a chief minister and cabinet responsible to a bicameral legislature with one elected house and by a governor appointed by the president of India. Famous Bengalis include poet and Nobel laureate Sir Rabindranath Tagore and filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Bengal
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?