West Bengal: History and Culture

Overview, Kolkata

Right now famous for its election stories though, West Bengal’s history of cultural and intellectual regime dates back to good old times immemorial. Being it getting back to the Stone Age whose evidences have been found to being highly recognized for being a “Rich Land with freedom fighters and intellectuals”, Bengal has seen it all over all this years.

Being the fourth most populous state in the city , situated along the Bay of Bengal- West Bengal forms a major part of the Eastern part of India.With Bhutan,Bangladesh and Nepal as its borders; Bengal definitely makes up for an interesting tourist destination. Kolkata,being its capital, is already a metropolitan city whose history of being a presidency city goes to the olden times.The Rarh Region,The Deltas of Ganga,Darjeeling are its trademark beauty.

Bengal has gifted the country with legendary reformers.Raja Ram Mohan Roy has voiced aganist Sati . Ishwar Chandra and Swami Vivekananda made untoucability and caste-based discrimination under control. The state has also been home to several teachers.There are well-established government and private agencies also working hand in hand. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in the year 1948 and the Ramkrishnna Mission was founded in 1897.


In the Picture: Howrah Bridge, Kolkata

History of the Place(Early Period)

  • Evidence has proved that the region existed in Stone Age also which is a recent known thing to scholars otherwise it was mostly believed according to Mahabharata that Bengal’s origin begin after being  part of the Vanga Kingdom.
  • One of the first mentions of the place in a foreign reference was by Ancient Greeks around 100 BCE.
  • Around 543 BCE; according to Sri Lanka’s chronicles, Bengal has a history of conquering Lanka and naming it as the “Sinhala Kingdom”  by the Vanga Kingdom Prince.
  • All this while Bengal has started with trade relations with its neighbouring regions also. The Magadha Kingdom was a 7th century formation. Initially it was an amalgamation of both Bengal and Bihar and was also one of the very major kingdoms of India.
  • It also happens to be one very important region during the evolution of Buddhism and Jainism in India. It aslo has several janapadas.
  • Ashoka was a very famous ruler during whose reign the Magadha Empire extended till the South Asian regions. In fact; between 3rd to 6th centuries CE,the same kingdom served for Gupta Empire also.
  • After the end of Gupta Empire- Samatata, and Gauda emerged.
  • One of the very famous empires- The Pala Empire emerged during this period from here
  • To be very exact with present day recordings-the 1ST recorded autonomous Bengal King was Shashank(ruling somewhere around early 7th century). He is believed to be aganist the growth of Buddhism and he replaced few such Buddhist associated places with Hindu deities.
  • Then around 1021 and 1023, Chola  dynasty’s “Rajendra Chola I” did few invasions in Bengal
  • After trading began with the Caliphate of Abbasid, Islam also began to be introduced in the State. This was also the time when Muhammad Khilji’s invasion expanded and Delhi Sultanate got estblished which eventually led the building og madrasa,mosques and khangahs
  • But with Islamic rulers’ Bengal also emergd as a major trading part to the world during this time around 1352. It got very famous,especially in the European regions.They also refer it as one of the richest trading place.
  • But,Later in 1576, the same area immersed in the Mughal Empire.

History of the Place(Modern Period)

  • This 15th-16th century time is the actual era when Muslim conquests spread over for quiet sometimes. It was only for a passage of some rough twenty years that one Bengal Sultanate was interrupted by Raja Ganesha,a Hindu ruler.
  • Islam Khan, a Mughal general, conquered Bengal in the 16th century. This was also the time when semi-independent kingdoms like that of Murshidabad had no problem in administering to the Mughals indirectly.
  • Pratapaditya of  Jessore District and Bardhman’s Sitaram Ray were two major examples of establishment of few Hindu regions in the area.
  • But we all know how Mughal Empire met its destined declined aftr Auragzeb’s death.
  • This was the time when from a complete autonomous kingdom ; Bengal became semi-indpendent and then slowly began the time of Industrial Revolution. One dynasty that flourished during this time was the “Koch dynasty” that somewhat supressed the remaining Mughals also and then slowly and steadily Bengal enter its colonial time

Colonial Period

  • A lot of European traders had already started paving their ways in, in the late 15th century.
  • A very historical battle was on the grounds of Plassey in the year 1757, where the British East India Company deafeated the last Nawab and conquered the place.
  • Then it made the then Mughal Emperor sign a treaty that allowed the company to collect taxes from the native people there in 1765.
  • This led to conflict which turned to Battle of Buxar in the year 1764. Then the company established the state as the “Bengal Presidency” .
  • The Britishers made the living conditions of  normal people very difficult there for the way it imposed tax policies and eventually Bengal Famine of 1770 also took place.
  • Calcutta(Now Kolkata) soon became territorial head of Britishers in 1773.         

In the Picture : Kolkata as the First Capital of British India

  • Indian rebellion somewhat started in the year 1857, at the most basic level but failed and the authority transfer went to the British Crown and looked after by the Viceroy of India.
  • Then came the period of socio-cultural changes also when the Brahmo Samaj and The Bengal Renaissance evolved.
  • In 1943, Bengal suffered another famine which wiped out more than one-third of the population during the World War.
  • This was the same time when revolutionary Bengalis came up to fight for India’s journey to complete independence. Subhash Chandra Bose, emerged as one of the greatest leaders of this time and led the Indian National Army aganist the Britishers. This completely shook the British and they suppressed them soonafter.

Kolkata after Independence

After India’s independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned. What we know today as West Bengal is basically the  The western province that got partitoned as an Indian state . Cooch Behar which was once a princely state merged with West Bengal in 1950.Few parts of Bihar were also  merged with West Bengal. The eastern province became East Pakistan in 1956, that later came to be known as Bangladesh in 1971, as complete independent country. This was also the time when the refugee issues came up like blazing fire and even till today continues to effect a lot of inter-country relationships. 

A photograph of the engine and several cars of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway with people in either side of it

Socio-Economic Structure

  • From the 1970″s time till more than decade; a lot of naxalism happened to have begun follwoed by strikes,violent group movements. It also created a lot of havoc and economic downfall and de-industrialisation.In 1999, UNESCO designated “The Darjeeling Railways” as one World Heritage.
  • Reasons for Infrastructure strain also goes to Bangladeshi refugee influx.The major political shift happened when the INC was defeated by the Left Communist Party here that ruled for about three decades from 1977
  •  Then came the period of economic liberalisation in the 1990’s when Bengal showed some signs of economic recovery. IT Services and Information Technology also started taking over from this time
  • Some armed activities also took palce for quiet sometimes. Matter  industrial land acquisition has also been of concern followed by the same reason why Left Front government in the 2011 assembly election lost. One major development from the past time is that there is comparitively lesser strikes/bandhs in the region now.
  • Lets talk about the economy in the state here
  • In terms of GSDP, it ranks 6th in number.
  • The leading economic sector in West Bengal is Agriculture. The state’s principal food crop is Rice. Other loved crops apart from Rice aresugarcane,jute,potato and wheat .
  • How can we forget Tea ? One very special thing of the North Bengal here which is exported all over the world. Darjeeling is the prime living example of this.
  • A number of steel plants can be found in the Durgapur-Asansol region.Equipment, cables, steel, leather, textiles, jewellery, engineering products, electronics, electrical , frigates, automobiles, railway coaches and wagons are important manufacturing industries.
  • A number of industries in the areas of chemcials, fertilisers, tea, sugar are also establsihed in Durgapur. Haldia Port is one mineral-rich highland here.

Culture of The State

https://www.youngisthan.in/lifestyle/bengali-culture-treasure/72130Bengal has been very much of a culturally-loved place. Its cultural and literary advances have surpassed all the states in the country since a very long time. Being it music,dance,folk literature- the origin can be found as early as the  10th and 11th centuries; Mangal Kavya, Dakshinaranjan Mitra,ShreeKrishna Kirtan are few of the famous names for their masterpeice of work in literature and verses.In the 19th and 20th centuries, Bengali literature was modernised in the by writer like Bankim Chandra in the 19th and 20th century. Blank verse was introduced by a drama pioneer -Madhusudan Dutt.

How can we miss the very own Nobel Prize recipient – Rabindranath Tagore who won everyone’s heart with his works in music and literature.Even the National Anthem of our country is bestowed by him . Contemporary social practices in Bengal were brought to light by works of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhay.One of the leading names of Modern Bengali fiction’s notable character is Manik Bandyopadhyay.

Music and Dance


A sect of mystic ministrels, “baul” has been quiet famous here.is quiet famous here. Gombhira and Bhawaiya are other music forms here that has traditionally been there for quiet sometimes now. A genre of devotional songs, praising the Hindu goddess is the Shayama Songs.  In dedication to God Krishna is the Kirtan practised here.The heritage of North Indian Classical Music exists till today .Rabindranath Tagore and Nazur are quiet prominent names behind Rabindra sangeet  . New genre of music also started emerging from the 1990’s. One famous masked dance from this region is the Chhau Dance. Ektara, is a famous instrument used here during singing folk music. The tribal dance traditions has also left quiet some ipact on the evolved dance forms here .

Fine arts

Panchura Temple made from terracott

One of the older examples of the terracotta arts of India is the “Panchchura Temple in Bishnupur”. One very prominent example is also the Kalighat Paintings. At the same time , Bengal has been part of the Modern fine arts also. The Bengal School of Art was started by Abanindranath Tagore(also called the Father of Modern Art).  Important groups such as the Society of Contemporary Artists and Calcutta Groups were formed in Bengal after Independence that did take forward the art of the state.

  • There are 10 degree-granting universities in West Bengal.Technical institutes, Engineering and Medical Colleges are also quiet present .
  • Jadavpur University established in 1957, Calcutta University in 1857 and Rabindra Bharati Institute in 1962 are few famous universities located in Kolkata. Notable contributions has been made by the laboratories of “The Indian Cultivation of Science”, “The University of Calcutta” and “The Asiatic Society of Bengal”.
  • A scholarly organization founded in 1784 is “The Asiatic Society of Bengal” headquartered in Kolkata.A world-famous centre for the study of Indology and international cultural relations is the Vishwa Bharti University,Shanti Niketan.
  •  With a number of district, area, public library and rural libraries – the state has always been ahead of its time. In terms of literacy training, there are about five thousand adult education centres. Its literacy rate, has been one among the highest in India, and the gender disparity has been among the lowest in the country.
The most famous festival celebrated here is Durga Puja which is the love of the Bengali soil. You can see women getting dressed up in White and red saree and roaming the streets merrily in the month of October . A very famous tradition during this time is the “Sindoor Khela”. Mahalaya is also one very famous thing celebrated at the advent of this festival. Other festivals like Chhat Puja,Poela Boisakh is also widely celebrated in the State.
If you want to experience a blend of cultural heritage and a spectrum of mesmerising festivals, then surely “West Bengal” is the destination.

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