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West Bengal

“Banglar mati, banglar jol”…..West Bengal is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse states of India. The people of West Bengal inherit their identity and aspiration from the larger Indian mosaic. One can still recapture the colonial era in its relics which survived the state’s progressive development. The land of West Bengal has in it intricately woven stories of many bright mornings and dark nights; stories of many civilisations have left their footprints here. Awash in the memory of that rich history and heritage West Bengal boasts of different ethnicities, cultures, religions, people and languages which add to this beautiful landscape. And that is why Deshbandhu Chittaranjan once said – “There is an eternal truth in the soil of Bengal. ….It is that eternal truth that has been expressed through innumerable changes, evolution and revolutions in Bengal. It is that truth which has proclaimed itself in literature, philosophy, poetry, war, revolution, religion and karma, in ignorance, in unrighteousness, in freedom and in subjection. That is Bengal’s life – Bengal’s soil and Bengal’s water are the external forms of that life.”
West Bengal
West Bengal, State of India, located in the eastern part of the country. It is bounded to the north by the state of Sikkim and the country of Bhutan, to the northeast by the state of Assam, to the east by the country of Bangladesh, to the south by the Bay of Bengal, to the southwest by the state of Odisha, to the west by the states of Jharkhand and Bihar, and to the northwest by the country of Nepal.
West Bengal has a peculiar configuration; its breadth varies from 200 miles (320 km) at one point to hardly 10 miles (16 km) at another. Its roughly 1,350-mile (2,200-km) frontier with Bangladesh, neither natural nor well defined, is of strategic importance. Although in area West Bengal ranks as one of the smaller states of India, it is one of the largest in population. The capital is Kolkata (Calcutta). Area 34,267 square miles (88,752 square km). Pop. (2011) 91,347,736.

Districts of West Bengal
There are 19 districts in West Bengal, namely:
Bankura, Bardhaman, Birbhum, Cooch, Behar, Darjeeling, District East Midnapore. Hooghly. Howrah. Jalpaiguri. Kolkata, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, District North 24 Parganas, North Dinajpur, Purulia South 24 Parganas, Dakshin Dinajpur & West Midnapore.

History
The name of Bengal, or Bangla, is derived from the ancient kingdom of Vanga, or Banga. References to it occur in early Sanskrit literature, but its early history is obscure until the 3rd century bce, when it formed part of the extensive Mauryan empire inherited by the emperor Ashoka. With the decline of Mauryan power, anarchy once more supervened. In the 4th century ce the region was absorbed into the Gupta empire of Samudra Gupta. Later it came under control of the Pala dynasty. From the beginning of the 13th century to the mid-18th century, when the British gained ascendancy, Bengal was under Muslim rule - at times under governors acknowledging the suzerainty of the Delhi sultanate but mainly under independent rulers.
In 1757 British forces under Robert Clive defeated those of the nawab (ruler) of Bengal, Siraj al-Dawlah, in the Battle of Plassey near present-day Palashi. In 1765 the nominal Mughal emperor of northern India, Shah ʿAlam II, granted to the British East India Company the diwani of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa (now Odisha) - that is, the right to collect and administer the revenues of those areas. By the Regulating Act of 1773, Warren Hastings became the first British governor-general of Bengal. The British-controlled government, centred at Calcutta (now Kolkata), was declared to be supreme: essentially, the governor-general of Bengal was the chief executive of British India. Thus, the Bengal Presidency, as the province was known, had powers of superintendence over the other British presidencies, those of Madras (now Chennai) and Bombay (now Mumbai).
Britain was not, however, the only European presence in Bengal. The town of Hugli, north of Calcutta, was the location of a Portuguese factory (trading post) until 1632; Hugli-Chinsura (Chunchura), the next town south, was the Dutch post until 1825; the next town, Shrirampur (Serampore), was the Danish post until 1845; and Chandernagore (Chandannagar) remained in French hands until 1949.
From 1834 Bengal’s governor-general bore the title “governor-general of India,” but in 1854 the post was relieved of the direct administration of Bengal, which was placed under a lieutenant governor. Thenceforward, the government of British India became distinct from that of Bengal. In 1874 Assam was transferred from the charge of the lieutenant governor and placed under a separate chief commissioner. In 1905 the British determined that Bengal had become too unwieldy a charge for a single administration, and, in spite of violent Hindu protests, it was partitioned into two provinces, each under its own lieutenant governor: one comprised western Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa; the other included eastern Bengal and Assam. In 1911, because of continued opposition to partition, Bengal was reunited under one governor, Bihar and Orissa under a lieutenant governor, and Assam once more under a chief commissioner. At the same time, Delhi became the capital of India in place of Calcutta.
Under the Government of India Act (1935), Bengal was constituted an autonomous province in 1937. That remained the situation until the Indian subcontinent was partitioned into the two dominions of Pakistan and India after the British withdrawal in 1947. The eastern sector of Bengal, largely Muslim, became East Pakistan (later Bangladesh); the western sector became India’s West Bengal state. The partition of Bengal left West Bengal with ill-defined boundaries and a constant inflow of non-Muslim, mostly Hindu, refugees from East Pakistan. More than seven million refugees entered the already densely populated state after 1947, and their rehabilitation placed an immense burden on the administration.
In 1950 the princely state of Cooch Behar (Koch Bihar) was integrated with West Bengal. After the linguistic and political reorganization of Indian states in 1956, West Bengal gained some 3,140 square miles (8,130 square km) from Bihar. The additional territory provided a link between the previously separated northern and southern parts of the state.

People
The majority of West Bengal’s people live in rural villages. Of those living in urban areas, more than half reside in greater Kolkata.
People of West Bengal
Of the different religions, Hinduism claims the adherence of more than three-fourths of the population. Most of the remainder is Muslim. Throughout the state, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, and Sikhs constitute small minority communities.
Bengali, the main language of the state, is spoken by much of the population. Other languages include Hindi, Santali, Urdu (primarily the language of Muslims), and Nepali (spoken largely in the area of Darjiling). A small number of people speak Kurukh, the language of the Oraon indigenous group. English, together with Bengali, is the language of administration, and English and Hindi serve as lingua francas at the national level.

Economy

Agriculture
Agriculture dominates both the landscape and the economy of West Bengal. Its proportion of agricultural land is among the highest of all the Indian states. Rice, which requires extensive irrigation, is the leading crop in nearly every area. Indeed, despite its relatively small size, West Bengal produces a significant percentage of India’s rice harvest. Other major crops are sugarcane and oilseeds. Jute is especially prominent along the border with Bangladesh and south of the Ganges River. Mangoes, jackfruit, and bananas are widely produced in the southern and central portions of the state. Wheat and potatoes are produced as winter crops throughout the south. The northern areas around Darjiling and Jalpaiguri have long been known for their production of high-quality tea. The Darjiling region also produces oranges, apples, pineapples, ginger, and cardamom.

Industry
The state’s most important industrial belt is a corridor extending for a distance north and south of Kolkata, along the Hugli River. Another significant industrial region is located along the Damodar River. There are steel plants at Durgapur and Burnpur and a locomotive plant at Chittaranjan. Haldia, the terminus of an oil pipeline from Assam and the site of a large oil refinery, also has a petrochemical industry. Other important manufactures include ships, automobiles, chemicals and fertilizers, wagons, electronics, paper, jute, and cotton textiles. The state has a large number of small-scale and cottage industries as well. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the only mineral resources of West Bengal that sustained nationally significant exploitation were coal and clay for brickmaking.

Services
The service sector has accounted for an increasing proportion of the state’s economy. Trade, finance, insurance, and related activities have grown significantly, and tourism has become increasingly important. Also experiencing growth has been the information technology sector. Kolkata is the financial centre for both the state and eastern India.

Transportation
Local river transportation was augmented by steam navigation in the 19th century—first introduced between Kolkata, Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh), and Guwahati (Assam). The division of Bengal in 1947 and the ongoing deterioration of river channels have disrupted river transport. Nevertheless, Kolkata and its sister port of Haldia, farther south, still handle international trade. West Bengal saw the inauguration of the railway system in eastern India in 1854, and local railway headquarters are now located in the state. Kolkata was the first Indian city to open an underground railway system. National highways link West Bengal with the rest of India, while state highways provide internal connections. There is an international airport at Kolkata as well as several smaller airfields within the state.

Education
West Bengal has more than 10 degree-granting universities, as well as engineering and medical colleges and many technical institutes. The University of Calcutta (1857) and Jadavpur (1955) and Rabindra Bharati (1962) universities are all located in Kolkata. The science laboratories of the University of Calcutta, the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, and the Bose Institute have made notable contributions to science. The Asiatic Society of Bengal, a scholarly organization founded in 1784, is headquartered in Kolkata. Vishva-Bharati University, in Shantiniketan (now part of Bolpur), is a world-famous centre for the study of Indology and international cultural relations.
The state has a central library, together with a number of district, area, and rural libraries. More than 5,000 adult education centres aid in literacy training. The state’s literacy rate, which exceeded 75 percent in the early 21st century, is one of the highest in India, and the disparity in the rate between men and women is lower than the national average.

Food of West Bengal
Food of West Bengal
Among all East Indian food, Bengali food is known all over for its varied taste and flavor. The cuisine contains sweets as well as other meal accompanying dishes. The sweets made from milk and curds, namely, rasogolla, sondesh, malai somsom, chana mukhi, and raj bhog are especially famous all over India. Above all, the fish preparation of Bengal is a culinary delight for the non-vegetarian food lovers. Fish of different varieties are prepared mostly with mustard oil and mustard seeds. Fish items are sometimes marinated in spices and sometimes cooked with curd. The ilcha macher jhol is an all-time favorite. Misti doi or sweet curd is another delicacy worth savoring. The Bengali is predominantly a rice eater. All but the very devout Hindus eat fish as a principal item of their food. Bengalis prefer to other beverages, the habit of taking sweetened tea has a spread to their remotest villages. Chewing of pan laced with lime, Kattha and arecanut is universal. Drinking of palm juice today and home made alcoholic brews is largely confined to industrial labour and the tribal population.

Arts & Culture of West Bengal
Art Of West Bengal
The attire of the Bengalis is very much Indian in origin. The main dress for the male is a cotton dhoti and silk or muslin kurta with a long cloth that is placed on the shoulder and neck. The women wear cotton saris especially known as Bangla tanter saree that is worn in a unique way, where the pallav of the saree comes from the backside of the wearer. The ethnicity of the state is diversified. The majority of the people are Bengalis. Some of the tribal groups like the Santhals and Oraon live in the remote plains whereas, the Lepchas and Bhotias live in the Himalayan regions of the state. Eighty-five percent of the population speaks Bengali whereas the remaining speaks Hindi, Urdu and other tribal languages.
Culture of West Bengal
Though the music of the state is not very old, it has gained a lot more maturity in its journey to perfection in the last 200 years. However, in the long run, Bengali music, especially Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrul Geeti and baul songs have successfully made their mark in the world of Indian music.

Festivals of West Bengal
Durga Puja West Bengal
Besides the other festivals of the Hindu solar calendar, Durga Puja is the one that gains the ultimate importance and attention in West Bengal. Durga Puja is an extravaganza of almost seven days, but, the preparation starts months before the actual event. New clothes are an integral part of Puja for every Bengali. Besides Durga Puja; Saraswati Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Kali Puja and Janmashtami are some other festivals that are given special attention in Bengal. The art and craft of West Bengal is known world over. Decent with the touch of minute observation, Bengali art and craft are unique. The leather products of Bengal are very famous all over the country.

Tourist Attractions
Dakshineswar temple in West Bengal
West Bengal is one of the first destinations in a tourist’s itinerary visiting the eastern part of the country. Calcutta (Kolkata), the capital of the state, is the proud intellectual capital of the country. The city has made outstanding contribution to the country in the fields of art, science, medicine, social reform and literature. The city retains some of the most striking colonial buildings of the country. It used to be the capital of the British East India Company and the evidence of the British colonization continues in the city even today. The Victoria Memorial is a majestic house constructed in the memory of Queen Victoria. This building houses a number of rare specimens of the historical preserves of the land. Moreover, the manuscripts, the paintings and the sculptures here are outstanding. Howrah Bridge is yet another landmark that denotes this city of joy. This hanging bridge is an architectural marvel of the country. The second largest planetarium in Asia, the Birla Planetarium, is another site that attracts attention of all, regardless of their age.
howrah bridge
The Botanical Garden with its 250-year-old banyan tree (Ficus bengalhensis) is another, attraction of the city. The Dakshineshwar Temple is an important pilgrimage center that attracts a number of tourists as well as pilgrims from all over the country. It is said that Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the spiritual guru of Swami Vivekananda, used to worship Goddess Kali in this place. The recently built Vidyasagar Setu, another architectural marvel, connects both the banks of the Hooghly River. Thakur Bari, the residence of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, is another site that receives a herd of visitors every year. Moreover, the Metro Railway, National Library, Shaheed Minar, Eden Garden, Fort William, Rat Park and Marble Palace are some of the other sites of the city that are worth visiting.
Shantiniketan, Tagore’s university township, is a must on any itinerary that plots Bengal as a stopover. Just two and a half hours away by rail from Calcutta, this town in the Birbhum district is rich in culture and art. At Tagore’s residence in the Uttarayan complex, one could visit the museum and his various homes. From Shantiniketan, you could also take a stopover at Bakreswar, where ancient Kali and Shiva temples rise into the azure sky. The hot springs are famous for curing many chronic diseases. For witnessing the sheer magnificence of the mountains, untouched and unspoiled, one should visit the hill station of Darjeeling, located 7,000 feet above sea level. Darjeeling is famous for its flavored tea all over the world. The brew is often compared to champagne and the tea gardens that dot the slopes are witness to this gigantic industry. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is a paradise for trekkers. West Bengal has lot more to offer as a tourist destination.-- Digha, Siliguri, Gaur, Pandua, Murshidabad, Bishnupur, Haldia and the Sunderban Tiger Reserve are some of the few places of West Bengal that need to be mentioned here.

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