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History of West Bengal

The exact origin of the word �bangla� or Bengal� is yet to be known, though it is believed to have been derived from the Dravidian speaking tribe �Banga�. During the Vedic age Bengal was known as Vanga and was the habitat of people belonging to different races. Remnants of the Bengal region date back to 4000 years ago, when the region was occupied by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic people. Bengal was one of the four main kingdoms of India during the time of Buddha. From the 3rd to the 6th centuries, it served the kingdom of Magadha. The first recorded independent kind of Bengal was Shashanka.  

After this period the Buddhist Pala dynasty ruled the region for over four hundred years. Then there was a short reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty. It is during this time that the economy, art and culture of the region developed. The Pundras were among the few other noteworthy rulers. One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BC. Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Sufi missionaries.  In the 13th century West Bengal became a part of the Delhi Sultanate. The administration of governors appointed by the Mughal Empire paved the path for semi-independence of the region under the Nawabs of Murshidabad. 

The navigable path of the Ganga made it possible for foreign trade and communication. Due to its favorable location this region had trade with Cambodia, Burma, Sri Lanka, the Deccan and the Persian Gulf. European traders arrived later in the 15th century and their influence grew till the British East India Company gained taxation rights in the Bengal Province, leading to the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the Battle of Buxar in 1764. The diplomatic effects and a series of conspiracies lead to the total capture of the Bengal region by the British. Other foreign traders in the Bengal historic and economic map included the Portuguese in the early 16th century, the Dutch in about 1632, the French influence between 1673 and 1676, the Danish in 1676 and British in 1690.  

The Bengal Presidency established by 1765, 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 disastrous Bengal Famine claimed millions of life in the year 1770. The Bengal Renaissance and Brahmo Samaj socio-cultural reform movements had great impact on the cultural and economic life of Bengal. In 1905, the British partitioned Bengal on the basis of religion, dividing it into two zones. The British then named Calcutta, now known as Kolkata, the capital of the British Empire 1772 and remained so till 1911.  

This move to shift the capital was carried out without consulting Indian opinion, without any consideration of Indian feelings. The Indians saw it as yet another attack on their culture and the identity of the people, especially in Bengal, which was the centre of nationalist feeling. Bengal erupted in huge demonstrations and protests, demanding that every Bengali holding any kind of office under government auspices should resign at once. After the capital was shifted to Kolkata, Bengal again suffered from a famine known as the Great Bengal Famine. This time the famine claimed over three million lives. 

By the middle of 1905, it became clear that the partition was going through in spite of the growing protest movement, so the protestors enlarged their activities, calling for a boycott of all British goods and the purchase of only the things that were swadeshi- Indian-made. The British retaliated by taking severe measures, but their drastic actions failed to check the nationalist movement. 

Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement. Many revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. Armed attempts against the British Raj from Bengal reached a climax when Subhash Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army against the British. After independence, Bengal was divided between India and Pakistan. The part that belonged to India came to be known as West Bengal and the part the belonged to Pakistan was called East Pakistan. In 1955, the former French enclave of Chandannagar, which had passed into Indian control after 1950 and Cooch Behar were added into West Bengal; portions of Bihar were subsequently merged with West Bengal.



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