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.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 CE, and the city of Kolkata, then 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 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 CPI(M)-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.
During the period of the Vedic age Bengal was called Vanga and is said to have been inhabited by several groups of people belonging to various races. During the Mahabharatha period this area was divided into small kingdoms and principalities ruled by chieftains. The Aryans inhabited Bengal during the post Vedic period. Many dynasties exercised their control over Bengal. The Palas, Pundras, the Sen etc were a few whose rule was noteworthy. The Palas ruled for more than four hundred years. Owing to its favourable location this region had trade with Cambodia, Burma, Sri Lanka, the Deccan and the Persian Gulf. The Navigable parts of Ganga made it favourable for internal trade and communication. They had contacts till Taxila. In about the 3rd century the Mauryan and the Guptas established their rule. The Palas established their strong rule from about 800AD till the 11th century after which the Senas ruled. The economy, arts and culture of this region developed under the rule of the Hindu dynasties. In the beginning of the 13th century Bengal became a part of the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughals. The influence of the Muslims led to conversions besides development of art and culture and cottage industries that produced items such as Muslin which were in great demand around the world.
The proximity to the sea also resulted in the influence with the foreigners -- the Portuguese in the early 16th century, the Dutch in about 1632, the French influence between 1673-1676, the Danish in 1676 and British in 1690. The increased influence of the British resulted in conflicts with the Nawab. The diplomatic efforts with a series of conspiracies resulted in the ultimate capture of power in Bengal by the British. The battle of Plassey (1757) and the battle of Buxar (1764) sealed the fate of the Mughal rule. The British later brought forth the Dual system of administration In 1905 the English partitioned Bengal on the basis of religion. Calcutta remained the Capital of the British empire in India till 1911. After that the capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. In 1947 when India became independent Bengal was partitioned between India and Pakistan. India's share came to be known as West Bengal and Pakistan's share was called East Pakistan. Later, the state of Cooch Behar, French enclave of Chandranagore and some parts of Bihar were added to West Bengal. Bengal represents the land that possess a distinct culture with its indigenous art and crafts and make it an important part of the Indian Union.
In their racial composition, the inhabitants of West Bengal present a prolific inter mixture of five separate racial strains. The oldest stratum of the population is Proto-Australian in origin. The element called Nishadic is found preponderantly among the tribals in the plateau fringe and beyond into Chhotanagpur and central India. They are long headed, dark skinned, broad-nosed and short in stature. Variously labeled as Negritos and Negroids, their physical features are evident among the lowest castes of Bengal, mainly the peasants.The next wave of immigration was by a long-headed race with a taller structure, sharp nose and prominent chin, known as Dravidians. This race is believed to have come from the northern Mediterranean littoral, shortly in their wake came the round headed Sumerians, also called Armenoids, from western area, via, Persia.The next considerable racial element to come into the western part of Bengal is the round headed Alpine or Indo-Aryan race with its fair skin, oval face, prominent nose and long body. The fifth racial strain, the Mongoloid is represented in the population of the Darjeeling district of northern West Bengal, which is of the Tibetan type. Undoubtedly Mongoloid features show unimistakable traces among Hindu as well as Muslim rural people of north Bengal districts the Koches and Rajbanis of the Dooars plains shows additional traces of mixture with the eastern Mongoloids of the Burmese type.The five main racial strains are inextricably intermixed, and it is practically impossible to find a pure racial type in the population. On the whole it may be said that the main elements of the Bengali race are the long headed matrilineal Mediterranean type which brings our Dravidian affinity and the round headed Mediterranean type who associates with the people of upper India. As regards the so-called lower castes of the state, these elements are of much lesser importance. The predominant element here being the proto-Australoid in varying proportions.
In the whole of the rural West Bengal and in the most of the municipal areas the primary education is free and compulsory. Free supply of text books have been under taken. Girls education up to standard VIII has been made free in rural and urban areas, including Calcutta.
The common Bengali dress is the dhoti and a stitched upper garment - a shirt, a Punjabi Kurta or a half-sleeved vest. The urban population has started favouring pyjama and trousers for convenience and economy. The western style of dress is being adopted by the more affluent as a status symbol replacing the achakan-pyjama and the Shamla Pugree, there is a general absence of any kind of headdresses, Muslims cover there head during prayer and religious ceremonies. The women invariably wear the waist to ankle length sari in a graceful style. The upper part is covered by different styles of blouses.
The Bengali is predominantly a rice eater. All but the very devout Hindus eat fish as a principal item of their food. He has a sweet tooth and everyone who can afford them enjoys sweet meats made with milk casein (chhan) of which a large variety have been evolved. Another essential item is dal (pulses) which supplements their protein requirements. A large assortment of vegetables and seasonal fruits completes the dietary. Bengalis prefer to other beverages, the habit of taking sweetened tea has a spread to there remotest villages. Chewing of pan laced with lime, Kattha and arecanut is universal., so is the smoking of tobacco, either plain in the form of bidi or mixed with treacle and spices for the hookah. Cigarette smoking has been spreading to rural areas but is still something of a symbol . Drinking of palm juice today and home made alcoholic brews is largely confined to industrial labour and the tribal population.
Places of Interest - South Park Street Cemetry | BBD Bagh (Dalhousie Square) | Howrah Bridge | Academy of Fine Arts | Science City | Fort William | Birla Mandir | Calcutta High Court | Dhakuria Lake | Eden Gardens Stadium | Marble Palace | Nalban Boating Complex | Raj Bhawan | Saheed Minar | Salt Lake Stadium | Victoria Memorial | Vidyasagar Setu | Writers' Building | Kumartuli | Ochlerlony Monument | Nirmal Hriday | Metro Railway | Shantiniketan
The majority of the state's population is grouped under the generic denomination of Hindu. There is a sizeable Muslim minority. The other minority communities are Christians, Buddhist, Sikhs and Jains. The term Hindu covers a number of religious sect ranging from monotheists to polytheists in various degrees. The religious sect with the largest following is Vaishnavism, mainly of the Chaitanya cult. Of the minor Bhakti cult sects the most interesting is the Sahajiya sect, which does not recognise difference of caste and community and the convention of social life. The next in order are the Shaktas and Saivas. Ritual Brahmanism derived from the Vedic Aryan cult is practised by a fraction of the Brahmin caste. Popular Hinduism in Bengal is an amalgam of pre-Aryan sects. These influences are evident not only among the Hindu Community but among the Muslims and Christians in a considerable degree. The Bhakti cult of which Vaishnavism is a refinement, has been an ancient feature of the religious thought of Bengal and is perhaps the strongest element in the spiritual beliefs of the people irrespective of community. Social behaviour of this plural structure of Hinduism is traditionally controlled by the caste system with a clear cut division between the entire Hindu community and the other communities. Bengal was the home of numerous castes and sub-castes which did not confirm to the Varna classification but which were arranged according to the hereditary occupations.The highest in the traditional caste hierarchy are the Brahmins, who claim descent from pure Aryan stock. In fact they have had the monopoly of the priestly occupation and almost the sole guardianship of Sanskritic learning, particularly the sacred scriptures, until the reform movement of the nineteenth century when other castes admitted themselves to the study of the scriptures in the original Sanskrit and in Bengali translations. The next in order of the precedence are the Vaidyas supposed to have evolved from inter caste unions of Brahmins and the immediately lower castes who hereditarily practised the science and art of Hindu medicine. Backed by their learning in Sanskrit they recently laid claim to the status of Brahmins. The third in order are the Kayasthas the most numerous among the higher castes who lightly claim to be of the Kshatriya descent. That the Kayastha caste is fairly ancient, can be proved by references in the later Puranas and Samhitas and by their geographical distribution from Bengal to Punjab. Their traditional occupation was white collar activity - clerks, book keepers, scribers for the ruling authority and the like. The Bengal Brahmins and Kayasthas are not admitted to marriage relationship with their counterpart in other regions. In certain late Puranas which seem to have originated in Bengal the Kayasthas are classed as Sat-Sudras or good Sudras.
Art & Culture of Bengal
Where the mind is without fear
And the head is held. Into that world of freedom…
Yes, it is a world beyond the boundaries. Where there’s a sea of knowledge, culture and arts. And it would take us a lifetime to take you on that journey.
But in the spirit of a true Bengali, we offer you a helping hand into this amazing world.
The state is well-known for its superb arts ad crafts made of silk, ivory, shola, conchshell, dhokra and beautiful clay models. Also worth-mentioning are Baluchari saris and the famous woollen carpets, blankets as well as knitted garments.
Vishnupur is famous for conchshell products as well as for Baluchari saris. Malda and Murshidabad take pride in silk materials while the latter can also boast of producing exquisite ivory items.
For clay model items, Krishnanagar is the place. The hilly areas of the State specialise in blankets and woollen knitted garments and ‘tanka’ paintings (scrolls), decorative kukris and copper plates studded with stones with engravings of replicas of deities.
The immortal inheritance of Indian Culture has moulded its artists of the people, joyful exciting, intricate in imagination intuitively creating, but each with its individuality of his own. This is the expression that found incarnation in the traditional masters of arts and artifacts of West Bengal. Here cheek by jowl are stacked the wonderful worlds of our weavers, potters, metal-wrights, shell-artists, carvers in wood, bone or stone. And these amazing variety of creation, the aesthetic, varied, living pulsating life are expressed in vibrant collections of colour, hue, tone, shape and size.
Festivals of Bengal
There’s a popular Bengali saying: ‘Baro Mase Tero Parban’: it literally means thirteen festivals in twelve months but signifies the umpteen number of fairs and festivals that take place.The calendar is often likened to a splendid pageantry of fairs and festivals. A veritable feast for the senses and the mind.Come autumn, the air is rent with the sound of drums, the season of festivals. The Durga Puja, followed by Id and then, Dewali, the Festival of Lights.In November-December Rasajatra is celebrated. Navanna, the harvest festival is celebrated in this month.Come winter, it is time to celebrate Christmas. And the Ganga Sagar Mela drawing lakhs of devotees from all parts of India. Winter is also the season of cultural events like the Poush Mela in Santiniketan and Joydev Mela, the festival of wandering minstrels at Kenduli.In January-February Saraswati Puja (Goddess of Learning) is celebrated in almost all Bengalee home.With the advent of spring, comes Holi, the festival of colours. So does Shivaratri; to celebrate the occasion, fairs at Jalpesh in Jalpaiguri and Tarakeswar in Hooghly takes place. In April the most important festival is Charak; the fair at Tarakeswar attracts large number of devotees.Poila Baishakh the Bengali New Year is celebrated in April. Another important event in the month of May is Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s Birthday.In June-July, there is Rathajatra, the most famous in the State being the one held at Mahesh, a suburb of Kolkata.For the city of Kolkata, winter is one continuous stream of fairs – industrial, art, textiles, leather. Then, there are Book Fairs, Classical music, dance and drama festivals, Film festivals. The list goes on.In short, there’s never a dull moment for the tourist. A moveable feast for the senses and the mind.
Gangasagar Mela :
The largest fair of the State, Gangasagar Mela is a three-day event held in mid-January, on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, at Sagar Dwip. Lakhs of pilgrims come for a holy dip at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal.
Kenduli Mela :
on the occasion of Makar Sankranti (mid-January) another fair is held at Kenduli in the district of Birbhum. The Mela draws the largest number of Bauls, the wandering minstrels of Bengal.
Jalpesh Mela :
On the occasion of Sivaratri (February - March), a month-long fair is held at Jalpesh near Mainaguri in the district of Jalpaiguri. The fair centres round the age-old Siva temple dedicated to Lord Jalpeswara.
Vasanta Utsav :
With the onset of spring, Holi is celebrated all throughout India. At Santiniketan in the district of Birbhum, it is Vasanta Utsav (March). Students of the Visva Bharati University welcome the season of colours through songs and dances, throwing abir and spraying liquid dyes at each other.
Naba Barsho :
The Bengali year starts from the first Baisakh (mid-April). It is an occasion for celebration to the Bengalees in general and tradesmen in particular. New clothes, fresh flowers, offerings at temples, people visiting decorated shops mark the day.
Rathayatra (June-July) at Mahesh near Serampore is a week-long festival. People throng to have a share in pulling the long ropes attached to the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra on the journey from the temple and back.
All over the Western part of the state, a festival is held in the honour of the serpent-deity Manasa on the last day of the Bengali month Sravana (mid-August). But the most spectacular is the one held at Vishnupur in the district of Bankura, with its shows of live snakes on open platforms.
Bera Utsav :
Every year on the last Thursday of the Bengali month of Bhadra mid-September), Bera Utsav is held at Lalbagh on the river Bhagirathi near the palace of the Nawabs. Fireworks of various size and colour add to the gaiety of the festival.
Durga Puja & Deepavali :
The largest Bengali festival is Durga Puja, held in the Bengali month of Aswin (October). Images of the ten-armed goddess are worshipped in ancient houses and at pandals, erected specially for the Puja. After the four-day ceremony, the images are immersed in the river. Durgapuja is the most important festival in the city of Calcutta. The festival that follows is Deepavali, the festival of lights,. The worship of goddess Kali is marked by display of fireworks and crackers.
Rash Mela :
On the occasion of Rashyatra (November), a fair is held at Cooch Behar in North Bengal. The month-long fair is one of the most important fairs in the area.
Jagaddhatri Puja :
Goddess Jagaddhatri is worshipped in the Bengali month of Kartick (November). At Chandannagar near Calcutta images of the goddess are tall, pandals spectacular and the illumination unique. In fact, the illumination part is the most attractive feature here.
Teesta Tea & Tourism Festival :
Held in a series at Darjeeling, the Dooars and in Sikkim, the Teesta Tea & Tourism Festival is celebrated with a view to promote tourism in this region as a composite tourist destination, with its bounties in tea, timber and tourism. The festival is held every year in November - December.
Poush Mela :
Between the 7th and 9th of Poush (end-December). Poush Mela is held at Santiniketan in the district of Birbhum. Of the many seasonal festivals celebrated at Santiniketan, this is perhaps the most important, with cultural programmes consisting of folk music & dance, folk theatre and Baul songs.
Vishnupur Festival :
In the temple town of Vishnupur a festival is organised every year between 27 and 31 December. Characterised by exhibition and sale of local handicrafts and performance of the rich musical tradition that Vishnupur boasts, this is an immensely popular festival.
The most important and the most popular of all Bengali festivals is the Durgapuja. It is celebrated throughout the state, but with great grandeur in Kolkata. There are some ancestral houses in Kolkata where Durgapuja is being observed over decades and even over centuries.The oldest of these is the one observed at Barisha in the heritage house of Sabarna Chowdhurys. Roy Lakshmikanta Majumdar of this family sold the three parganas of Kalikata, Sutanuti and Gobindapur to the East India Company in lieu of one thousand three hundred rupees only. The Puja here, almost 400 years old, is a unique blend of Shakta and Vaishnava faiths.Another very old Durgapuja is observed by the Duttas of Hathkhola. One section of this family celebrates Durgapuja at their house on Nimtolla Ghat street. The older Puja is observed at the house on Madanmohan Dutta Lane at Buro Shivtala.The present heirs of Chhatubabu and Latubabu observe Durgapujas in their ancestral house in North Kolkata. Ramdulal Dey, who founded the family, was known for his enormous donations for various noble causes.Debs, another ancient family of Kolkata hold two Durgapujas in their two houses, opposite each other. The older one is at the house of Gopimohan Deb and the other at the ancestral house of Rajkrishna Deb, both heir to Nabakrishna Deb, a luminary in the history of Bengal during the eighteenth century.Duttas of Thanthania belong to a very ancient family that dates back to the eleventh century. Their present abode Dwarika Bhavan was erected by Dwarikanath Dutta. He started Durgapuja in the family.Durgapuja in Chunders’ House was started in their Thakur Dalan in 1877 by Ganesh Chunder, after whose name there is an important road. His grandson Nirmal Chunder became an eminent politician in the pre-independence days.Durgapuja in the house of Mitras of Darjipara also bears a tradition. Off Chittaranjan Avenue, the house is behind Chhatubabu-Latubabus’ residence.Rani Rasmoni was a noble lady of rare courage and individuality in 19th Century Bengal. She spend quite a lot for stopping foreign steamers sailing on the Ganga in order to allow the local fishermen to fish in the Ganga. She built the Bhabatarini temple at Dakshineswar., now famous for its association with the great saint Sri Ramakrishna. In the ancestral house of Rani Rasmoni in Central Kolkata, Durgapura is celebrated on a grand scale.The images in all these houses have characteristics of their own. And the mode of worship as well as rituals attached with it vary from family to family.During Durgapuja, every locality in Kolkata has one or more puja. For the four or five festive days, pandals are erected, decorated and illuminated with great care and imagination. That the whole city looks like one great festival site is mostly due to these Puja pandals who vie with one another in every respect – from image making & decoration to illumination.Some such Pujas are conducted by local clubs like Ballygunge Samajsebi, Jodhpur Park Sarbojanin, Ekdalia Evergreen, Park Circus Maidan, Mohammad Ali Park, College Square, Baghbazar Sarbojanin, Kumartuli (the locality famous for making clay images of gods and goddesses), Rabindra Kanan, Simla Byayam Samiti, Durgabari and many many others over the length and breadth of Kolkata.During Durgapuja, West Bengal Tourism operates conducted tours to traditional pujas in heritage houses in the mornings and afternoons and to Puja Pandals through the night.River cruise by luxary vessel on the day of immersion of the images of godess Durga.
Hills of Bengal
Most states in India are fortunate to have one hill resort. But West Bengal the gateway to the Eastern Himalaya, is surrounded by them.
The East Himalaya : simply out of this world A land of infinite charm with breath taking views of Kanchanjunga, bewildering variety of flora and fauna, colourful festivals, bush green tea gardens, inching adventure spots, laundry trekking rocks, perfect solitude. All this makes the East Himalayas your chosen destination.
The East Himalayas comprise the hill tracts of northern West Bengal, Sikkim and the broad green fields and virgin forests of the Dooars Valley. The topography of the land couldn't be more varied - from the highest mountain peaks to hills and fertile wide plains.
The People ...
The hill tracts are mainly inhabited by colourful Nepalese, Sikkimese, lamas of Bhutanese and Tibetan origin, while the rest of the region has a fair representation of Bengalees and people from other parts of India. Dooars is the home to the vanishing tribe of Totos, in addition to a number of other tribes. The people are friendly, warm and happy-go-lucky, with colourful cultures and social mores.
The Heritage Trail
The tour begins with the historical remains of the ancient capital Gaur and Pandua, off Malda, and goes on to Vishnupur, Bankura – a land of exquisite terracotta sculptures and silk.The tour moves on to Murshidabad, seat of the Nawabs of Bengal and the romantic Nadia district, steeped in culture and scholasticism, "mad in their love for God".Experience the world vision of poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore at Shantiniketan, and the crystallization of a universal religious testimony at Dakshineswar and Belur Math.The tour winds into Hooghly district, witness to Dutch, French, English and Portuguese forays into Bengal, and leads to Kolkata, a city that has witnessed three centuries of cultural mingling and is a rare beauty. Where the past stands hand-in-hand with the present.
Beaches of Bengal
Breathtaking Beaches premise the perfect escape to tranquility !!!
The coastal strip of West Bengal, extending from the Gangetic delta land to the border of Orissa, presents some beautiful options in sea resorts – Digha, Shankarpur, Junput, Bakkhali, Sagardwip. All of these offer wide, flat, hard beaches, a gently rolling sea, rows of casuarina forests and a pleasant, warm weather round the year.Down south from Kolkata, the coastal areas of West Bengal present eye-catching beautiful options: – Digha – Shankarpur – Junput – Bakkhali – Frazergunj and Sagardwip.
How to visit
Regular bus services from Kolkata to Digha. Local conveyance from Digha to Shankarpur. Kolkata to Diamond Harbour (by train/bus), from there to Namkhana by bus, ferry crossing, bus to Bakkhali. Kolkata to Kakdwip/Namkhana by bus, ferry crossing, bus to Sagar.
Where to stay :
Tourist Lodges/Cottages at Digha, Bakkhali & Diamond Harbour. Youth hostels at Digha & Sagardwip.
With the mild winter of the Gangetic West Bengal, the season is on the entire year round. However, the best time of the year is July to March.
The City of Joy
Kolkata : the human city
The Ganges (called the Hooghly in Kolkata) is still the inspiration, as it was to Job Charnok, East India Company agent, who reached the shores in August 1690 finally, to settle here.The City was founded 300 years ago out of 3 villages namely Sutanati, Gobindapur and Kolikata. Once the capital of British India, the capital of undevided Bengal and now the capital of West Bengal since Independence. Kolkata, on the east bank of river Hooghly, retains the aura of days long gone, weaving the past and the present, the intense and the funloving into a charming fabric.Home to five Nobel laureates – Ronald Ross, Sir C.V. Raman, Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen, Kolkata is the nerve centre of intellect and human values, where many modern movements began in art, cinema and theatre, science and industry. India’s quest for freedom began here.Kolkata is the gateway to Eastern India. A city with a rich heritage, bustling streets and bewildering variety of facets. From October to March, Kolkata wears a radiant look. Sunshine, mild winter, lights, colours, fairs, festivals, galas and excursions, the mood is infectious and spirit sweeping.