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BENGAL The name "Bengal" (or Bangla) comes from Vanga or Banga, the name of the ancient deltaic kingdom. The state of over 100 million people is fructified by the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system, has a humid climate; an intense and vibrant cultural, literary, and educational life; and a dynamic financial hub, all centered around one of the world's largest and most vital cities, Kolkata. Bengali had developed a distinct body of literature by the eleventh century.

Early History

Bengal is mentioned in the Purāṇas and other ancient Sanskrit literature and was known to the Romans, mentioned in The Periplus of the Erythean Sea (first century a.d.) and in Ptolemy's Geography the following century. According to the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya, Magadha was one of sixteen major states (mahajanapadas, "great tribal regions") in North India between about 770 and 450 b.c.; Anga, in the northwest of Bengal, was the easternmost of these. With its capital at Rajagriha (later Pataliputra), Magadha became prosperous due to its fertile land, the timber and elephants from its forests, and control of the eastern Gangetic trade through its command of the River Ganges. Attacking the force to its east, Magadha incorporated Anga, thereby controlling the ports of Bengal and trade from the east coast.

References to Bengal, however, became more numerous after it became part of the first great empire of India, the Mauryan empire (c. 322–180 b.c.). The Mauryas supplanted the Nandas and built an empire that controlled much of India. Its founder was Chandragupta Maurya (reigned c. 321–297 b.c.), and the Mauryas built their capital at Pataliputra. Chandragupta controlled his empire with the assistance of his Brahman minister Kautilya, whose Artha Shāstra tells us a great deal about the period. Chandragupta Maurya also appears in Jain and Buddhist traditions and in the Greek account of Megasthenes. He brought Bengal firmly into the imperial orbit, as the province served as the main port for coastal and overseas trade. Chandragupta abdicated in favor of his son Bindusara (r. 298–273), but it was his grandson, Ashoka (r. 273–232), who was the most famous ruler of the dynasty. One of Ashoka's minor rock edicts was located north of Bengal's delta at Mahasthan.

Between the collapse of the Mauryas and the rise of the Guptan empire created by Chandragupta I (r. 320–c. a.d. 335), the history of Bengal remains hazy. Bengal was brought within the imperial Guptan order by its second emperor, Samudragupta (reigned c. 335–375), as the Guptas re-created much of the empire of the Mauryas in the North India. The Guptan period is considered the classical age of India, when a flourishing trade developed and Sanskrit literature reached its peak. Buddhism and Jainism coexisted with Hinduism, and all thrived. The dynasty came to an end in the middle of the sixth century, perhaps as a result of internal weaknesses and the Huna invasions, but the Guptan agrarian economy, religious tolerance, and a number of political units, of which Bengal was one, and Brahmanical social institutions continued much longer.

After the collapse of the Guptas, an independent kingdom arose in the south of Bengal in 507–508 called Vanga-Samatata, with the first king being Vainyagupta. In northern Bengal another kingdom was based at Gaur. The first king was Shashanka (c. 600) and he fought against Harsha Vardhana, who came to power in 606. After Shashanka's death sometime before 637, the kingdom's history becomes obscure once again until the first Pala became king of Gaur. The eighteen kings of the Pala dynasty controlled much of the eastern Gangetic plain as one of three major kingdoms controlling India. The Rashtrakutas were in the Deccan and the Pratiharas were in western India. The area was rich, as land was cleared for rice cultivation and settlement. As settlement expanded, priests were recruited into the Brahman caste and the grants of land to them were recorded on copper plates. The origin of the dynasty was unusual because the first king, Gopala (r. 750–770), was elected as the monarch. Legend states that he was given a club by the goddess Chanda, a consort of Shiva, and he used this to kill a female demon that had killed off previous kings. The capital of the early Palas was at Pataliputra. Gopala's son Dharmapala (r. 770–810) claimed legitimacy, stating that his father's election had ended a period of anarchy, and he made the Pala kingdom a powerful one in North India, dominating eastern India. The third Pala king, Devapala (r. 810–850), extended the Pala domain; gold was panned in the eastern rivers, and the Palas benefited from the trade with Assam, Burma, and Southeast Asia, receving an embassy from Sumatra. He moved the capital to Monghyr. After Devapala, the kingdom came under increasing attack. The Buddhist universities of Nalanda in south Bihar and Vikramasila at Patharghata, Bihar, where the famous Buddhist monk Atisha (c. 981–1054) taught, were patronized by the Palas.

Later, the exploits of the powerful king Ramapala (1077–1120) led to a revival of Pala power. His relations with his tributary rajas were detailed in Sandhyakaranandin's Sanskrit kavya (lyric) Ramacharita, although the central event of his reign was a revolt by the Kaivartas. Pala authority was maintained by the assertion that the king was an incarnation of Shiva or Vishnu or received instructions directly from the god. The Palas made alliances with the kings to the north and also ensured a modicum of peace through sponsorship of Buddhist as well as Hindu temples. This was a policy that the more orthodox Hindu Senas maintained after they defeated the Palas around 1155.

The first king of the Sena dynasty was Viyayasena (1095–1158), and the Senas extended their power before all of North India was swept up by the invading Turks, Afghans, and an assortment of mercenary soldiers from the whole region, including India, who had superior central Asian horses and Asian military tactics emphasizing speed, after Muhammad Ghuri captured Kanauj in 1192. The Khiljis defeated the Senas, and Bengal was captured in 1199. The Senas fled east and continued to rule in eastern Bengal until 1245, when they too fell to the forces of Islam.

Islam spread into Bengal and developed its own syncretist pattern. Bengali Muslims were cut off from direct access to Islamic tradition as it developed in Arabic and Persian literature because of their lack of knowledge of Arabic or Persian; therefore, they remained steeped in local traditions, and Islam in Bengal was a fusion of the two. During the five dynsties of the Delhi Sultanate, established by Qutuddin Aibak (d. 1210) in 1206 and overthrown three centuries later by Babur (1483–1530) in 1526, control of Bengal was only sporadically maintained. It was in the Mughal period that Bengal became a part of an empire for the third time in history. Sher Shah Suri (1472–1545) of Bihar captured Bengal, and he and his successors ruled Bengal until Akbar (r. 1556–1605) invaded Bengal in 1575 and brought it into the orbit of the Mughal empire. Bengal became ruled by Mughal governors when Murshidkuli Khan became the nawāb of Murshidabad (r. 1717–1727), instituting a period of autonomy. He was followed by Sujauddin Mohammed Khan (r. 1727–1739), Sarfraz Khan (r. 1739–1740), Alivardi Khan (r. 1740–1756), and Siraj-ud-Dawla (r. 1756–1757), the last independent ruler of Bengal.

British Rule

The agent of the British East India Company, Job Charnock (1631–1693), was assigned to Kasimbazar, the site of the company's factory (trading post). The Portuguese had posts at Chittagong and Saptagram since 1517 (the post on the Hughli established in 1580 was destroyed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1632), the Dutch at Chinsura since 1653 (until 1825 when it was exchanged with the British for Bencoleen in Sumatra), and the French at Chandanagore in 1673 (it changed hands a number of times between the French and the British before it was returned to the French in 1815, who maintained possession until 1952), the Danish at Serampore since 1699 (it remained in Danish hands until 1845). In 1686 Charnock was posted to Hughli but came into conflict with the nawāb of Bengal. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707) awarded the company a tract of land to the south, about 100 miles (161 km) upriver from the coast, and there Charnock founded the city of Calcutta, perhaps named after Kālī-ghat (the steps of the goddess Kālī). It was located at the highest point at which the river was navigable to oceangoing ships. Fort William was built on the spot, and by the end of the sixteenth century Calcutta had just over a thousand English residents. In 1707 the East India Company declared Bengal a separate presidency, accountable to the company directors in London. Calcutta, however, was subject to the predations of the Mughal governors of Bengal, and so in 1717 the Calcutta Council sent a successful embassy to the Mughal emperor in Delhi to establish their rights and for permission to buy property. The result was that the growth of British trade in Bengal and the growth of Calcutta was spectacular, with the British and rich Indians living in the north of the town and poorer elements in the south. By 1756 some fifty ships visited Calcutta and trade was worth 1 million pounds annually. The city was, however, in a precarious military position. Fort William was by no means impregnable. In 1741 the Marathas launched an expedition into Orissa (a sub-province of Bengal), and they were threatening Calcutta the following year. The British responded by digging the "Maratha ditch" around the city as a defensive measure.

On 20 June 1756, Siraj-ud-Dawla (1733–1757), nawāb of Bengal, attacked Calcutta from Murshidabad with an army of some 50,000 troops and captured it. His biggest grievance against the company was their misuse of trading privileges, which deprived him of much-needed revenue, but he also resented the fortifying of Fort William without his permission or even knowledge, for giving sanctuary to a trader who owed the nawāb tax money, and for expelling one of his officials. The British also did not acknowledge his accession to the throne of Bengal, and ignored his notes to the company, or answered them in an offensive manner. After the capture of the fort, it was reported by one of the survivors, John Zephaniah Holwell, in his A Genuine Narrative of the Deplorable Deaths of the English Gentlemen and others who were suffocated in the Black Hole, published in London in 1758, that 145 men and women had been imprisoned in the airless fort dungeon. The following morning they were released, but only twenty-three staggered out. The rest had suffocated or died of wounds or shock. The incident of the Black Hole of Calcutta, however much it was exaggerated, inflamed the British, entered their vocabulary, and started a series of events that led to a fundamental change in Bengal and the rest of India as the British sought their revenge. Geopolitics also played a part, as the Seven Years' War had broken out between the British and the French, and Siraj formed an alliance with the French.

Robert Clive (1725–1774), who had first arrived in Madras in 1743, had been lieutenant-governor of Fort St. George at Madras since 1753. With 900 Europeans and 1,500 sepoys, he arrived in Calcutta in December 1756 and the next month recaptured Fort William. He attacked the French first before moving north against the nawāb, as removal of the French was one of the aims of the attack in Bengal. French posts at Chandanagore and Hughli were captured. Clive had allied with the Hindu banker Jagat Seth, a supporter of Mir Jaffir, who was jealous of his great-nephew Siraj and wished to replace him as nawāb, and Clive moved on Murshidabad with their support. On 23 June 1757, Clive's vastly outmanned 800 European troops and 2,000 sepoys defeated Siraj's rump army as Mir Jaffir and many others were paid off by Seth and Clive; three-quarters of Siraj's army refused or had been paid not to fight. After the victory, Clive escorted Mir Jaffir to the throne at Murshidabad, and Siraj was murdered on 2 July on orders from Miran, one of Mir Jaffir's sons. In 1760 Mir Jaffir was succeeded by his sonin-law Mir Kasim, who handed over to the British the districts of Chittagong, Midnapore, and Burdwan. He attempted, however, to recover Bengal from the British by enlisting the military assistance of the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II and nawāb Shuja ud-Dawla of Oudh. The allies were defeated by East India Company forces under Hector Munro (1726–1805) at the Battle of Buxar in 1764.

Clive became known as "Clive of India," one of the founders of the British Empire in India. He reaped a personal fortune of £234,000, was made a mānsabdār, and the recipient of £30,000 of the rent of the Twenty-four Parganas of Bengal. The British were also allowed to establish a mint in Bengal. The British Company had now become the most powerful force in Bengal, and the state was denuded of its wealth by Company merchants who spread out from Calcutta, which, henceforth, enjoyed great wealth and prosperity, especially after 1765 when, on 12 August, the Mughal shah Alam granted to the East India Company the divāni, the right to collect and administer the revenue of the state (which incorporated Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa) in exchange for an annual payment of 2,600,000 rupees. The wealth of the province fell into the clutches of the British and their Indian business partners. Clive in 1765 reported that Bengal had become the "scene of anarchy, confusion, bribery, corruption, and extortion" and that fortunes were being acquired in a rapacious manner, with little money actually ending up in the company coffers. In 1769 the monsoon rains failed, and famine struck the following year, killing a quarter of the peasant population.

What prompted the British government to interfere in this state of affairs was the East India Company's failure to pay its annual tax of £400,000, while many of the company's officials were returning to England with fortunes. In 1772 Warren Hastings (1732–1818) was appointed governor of Fort William. He redesigned the revenue system in Bengal so that revenue flowed directly to Calcutta, and an attempt was made to cut out the middlemen. The nawāb lost half his stipend and all his power, and payment to the Mughal emperor ceased. Hastings made the company profitable again, and the British govenment lent the company one and a half million pounds but passed the Regulating Act of 1773 and Pitt's India Act of 1784 which, among other things, brought the presidencies of Madras and Bombay under the control of Calcutta. Bengal was now the capital of British India and under the control of a governor-general. Charles Cornwallis (1738–1805, governor-general 1786–1793), introduced the Permanent Zamindari Settlement in his Cornwallis Code of Forty-Eight Regulations, or the Cornwallis Code, of 1793. It fundamentally changed the relationship between the peasant tiller and the zamindar by introducing the concept of private property in landowner relationships and creating a class of landowners that would be the backbone of the British Raj and a middle-class Hindu professional class. These were the bhadralok (respectable people). The zamindars often became bankrupt, and a great deal of land was transferred from Muslim to Hindu hands. Cornwallis also introduced British circuit courts to replace faujdari courts, introducing the principles of British law into Bengal.

The economy of Bengal was also transformed, most notably with the creation of the jute industry, the destruction of its homespun cotton industry because of imports from England, and as the center of the opium trade with China. The tea industry of Assam also contributed to the prosperity of Calcutta. Bengal's incorporation into the global economy was also accelerated with the Charter Act of 1833, which abolished the East India Company's monopoly of trade. During this period the Marwaris, from the Bania or Vaisya caste, prospered in Calcutta and began their eventual rise to wealth and prominence in twentieth-century India.

From its center in Bengal, the company expanded its influence up the Ganges as the activities of the "man on the spot" and the pressures of the "turbulent frontier" induced the British to continually expand its empire in India. Its wars in the Carnatic and Mysore and against the Marathas and later in the Punjab against the Sikhs, and in Afghanistan, were all directed from Calcutta. Assam was incorporated into Bengal in 1826, and three wars were fought against the Burmese until that area was incorporated in 1886; the British also expanded their influence and territories in Southeast Asia, directing their activities from Bengal. Until 1935 Burma was governed from Calcutta. Bengal became the axis of a rampant British Empire in Asia.

Bengali Intellectualism

Bengal also became the leading intellectual center of British India and the heart of its educational activities until the capital was moved to Delhi in 1911. The British established a number of educational institutions that transformed the intellectual climate of India. At the request of a number of Muslims, Warren Hastings arranged for the creation of the Muhammadan Madrasa in 1782 and encouraged the creation of the Bengal Asiatic Society founded by the jurist Sir William Jones (1746–1794), the first of the great Orientalist scholars who translated the laws of Manu and other Sanskrit works into English and helped to spread Indian learning in Europe. The missionary William Carey (1761–1834) preached Christianity in Bengali and other indigenous languages, and his Serampur printing press helped to lay the foundations of Bengali literature. Fort William College was founded in 1800 and it encouraged science, literature, and Oriental languages. This began the start of a number of schools and colleges in Bengal. Hindu College, founded in 1817, was the citadel of English education in Bengal. Its most famous lecturer was the Anglo-Indian Louis Henry Vivian Derozio (1809–1831) whose patriotic poem, "My Native Land," was an inspiration to a generation of young Bengalis. Calcutta University was founded in 1857. The result of this introduction of Western learning and science, along with the encouragement of Indian learning in Sanskrit, Persian, and contemporary indigenous languages, led to the worldwide dissemination of Buddhist and Hindu scriptures. It also created a remarkable multilingual intellectual class that was versed in both Indian and Western learning. The launch of such newspapers as Sambad Kaumudi (1821), Parthenon (1830), and Reformer (1833) began Bengal's vigorous journalistic tradition.

Ram Mohan Roy (1772–1833) is known as the father of the Hindu renaissance, or the father of modern India. He was born to a prosperous Brahman family at Radhanagar in west Bengal. Educated at home, he learned Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit, and then English, Latin, and Greek. His studies of Muslim, Christian, and Hindu religious books led him to become a renowned critic of superstitious and idolatrous religious practices. From 1804 until 1814 he served the East India Company, retiring to Calcutta in 1815, after which he increasingly established himself as the leading Bengali intellectual, meeting weekly at his home with other members of the Bengali bhadralok in their Amitya Sabha (Friendly Society). He attained a new appreciation of Hinduism through his studies of the Upanishads, and he achieved fame through his efforts to revitalize Hinduism by being the first upper caste Hindu to advocate social reform. He wrote extensively and founded the Brahmo Samaj (Society of Brahma) in 1828; the organization was to have a significant effect in Bengal and throughout India. Roy died in England and he was buried in Bristol. He died as a Hindu but he insisted that no religious ceremony be conducted at his funeral. As a person who was educated in Western thought and who remained a Hindu while critical of many Hindu caste and social and religious practices, he was the model for many future Indian modernists.

There were many other great figures of the Bengali intellectual tradition who flourished in this maelstrom of ideas from East and West. They included Aksayakumar Datta (1820–1883), who was a student of science and had pictures of Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton in his rooms. A social scientist, he was also renowned for his Bengali prose. He was a proponent of education and industrialization and a harsh critic of the treatment by British indigo planters of their indigenous workers. Iswarchandra Vidyasagar (1820–1891), the son of a rural Brahman Sanskritist, was a "people's hero" who was educated and later taught at Sanskrit College, becoming principal. He also taught at Fort William College. He advocated the reform of the educational system, for without reform there could be no social progress. He supported the propagation of Bengali literature in the Bengali language and traditional subjects such as history, mathematics, and natural philosophy. The riches of Bengali culture would be informed with Western learning. Among his many books were a history of Bengal and books for children. He devoted a great deal of his energies toward the establishment of vernacular schools and social reform, including the advancement of women. Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay (1827–1894) was the son of a Brahman Sanskritist but he was educated at Hindu College, became a teacher, and was the first Indian to rise through the ranks to become inspector of schools in the Department of Education. He was a sociologist who decried the loss of tradition in India, especially among the Western-educated, and sought to rationally defend the virtues of traditional Hindu culture and Hindu social organization. He was also a journalist, a novelist, and a writer of children's textbooks. Romesh Chander Dutt (1848–1909) assessed the impact of British rule on India, and his studies showed how British capitalism disrupted the Indian economy. Michael Madhu Sudan Dutt (1824–1873) was a poet and dramatist who introduced the Bengali sonnet (amitraksar). He is considered the first great poet of modern Bengali literature.

Bankinchandra Chatterjee (1838–1894), a Brahman and one of the first graduates of Calcutta University, was a government official from 1858 until his retirement in 1891, but he was also a journalist and novelist whose novel Durgeshnandini established the Bengali novel. His Hindu heroes roused the nationalist spirit in India, and Hinduism and nationalism became linked in the eyes of many Hindus. His patriotism was expressed in the song Bande Mataram, with the words "Hail to thee, Mother," which appeared in the novel Anandamath (1882); the song became the hymn of the Indian nationalist movement after the poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) composed a musical accompaniment.

Tagore, hailed as a poet, is one of Bengal's and India's greatest cultural and intellectual figures. He was mostly educated at home in Calcutta by his wealthy father in Sanskrit, English, the sciences, and ancient Hindu religious texts. He also spent a year in 1878–1879 at University College in England. A precocious talent, he published his first poem in 1874. He also developed a talent in music, and his songs became very popular. He managed the family estate in Jessore for ten years, and this was his most creative period. In 1901 he opened a school at Santiniketan and moved there. In 1903 his collected poems were published in thirteen volumes. He also wrote short stories and novels. He translated Gitanjali (song offerings) of lyrical and devotional poems into English and in 1912 took them to England, where he became lionized by the English literati class. The following year he received the Nobel Prize for literature. In 1915 he was awarded a knighthood. By the end of his life he had written over 1,000 poems, 2,000 songs, and a host of short stories, plays, dance dramas, essays, literary criticism, novels, pieces of translation, and a book of early reminiscences (1917). His musical compositions became known as "Rabindra Sangeet." He was also a humanist, believing in the importance of education, and a nationalist whose writings on economics stated that economic and social progress could only come through rural rehabilitation.

Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghosh; 1872–1950) was first an activist on behalf of India's independence and an early advocate of noncooperation before he became renowned as a Hindu spiritual leader. In 1902 he started an organization along with Margaret Elizabeth Noble, known as Sister Nivedita (1867–1911), to generate anti-British literature. For a time he served as principal of Bengal National College (Javadpur University). He advocated the boycott of British trade, and the substitution of British courts and institutions by indigenous ones. His slogan became "no control, no cooperation." The Bengali newspaper Jugantar, with which he became closely associated, was dubbed seditious by the government, and by 1910 the British were describing him as the most dangerous man they knew. He was, along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856–1920), one of the "extremists" of the Indian national movement. He not only demanded independence for India, he also advocated a spiritual and moral regeneration of the individual. He was imprisoned for a year as he was found guilty of conspiracy. In March 1910 he left Bengal for the French enclave of Pondicherry, where he set up an ashram and devoted himself to yoga, writing, and his devotees, and to the conception of a world society and the unity of humankind. In 1926 he went into seclusion, but his ashram became a large center, attracting devotees from around the world.

The Rise of Nationalism

In 1885 the Indian National Congress was founded in Bombay, and Womesh Chandra Bonnerji (1844–1906) of Calcutta became its first president, a role he performed again in 1892. A member of the wealthy bhadralok class, like so many of the modern intellectual and political leaders of modern Bengal, he was educated at one of the Inns of Court in London (Middle Temple) and established himself as a successful and exceedingly prosperous lawyer who maintained a lavish lifestyle. He was the first Indian to be appointed standing counsel to the government. In 1886 he became president of the Law Faculty at Calcutta University in 1886. He was a "moderate" who believed that personal relationships could overcome barriers of race, class, and caste. He moved to England in 1902 and practiced before the Privy Council. He also advised the Standing Committee on India in the British Parliament.

In 1905 Bengal was partitioned, as it was felt by the governor-general, Lord George Curzon (1859–1925, viceroy 1899–1905), that the province had become too large to administer under a single administration, especially due to poor communication facilities in east Bengal. Accordingly, Bengal was split into two provinces: Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa in the west, with the capital remaining at Calcutta; and eastern Bengal and Assam, mostly a Muslim province, in the east, with the capital at Dacca. This was a turning point in India's history, as the Hindu commercial classes who dominated Bengal regarded this as an attempt to destroy the growing nationalist movement in Bengal and in India. It smacked of British divide et impera policies, an attempt to make Hindus a minority in the province, and an attack on the unity of Bengali language and culture. Opposition to the partition was manifested in mass demonstations in Calcutta, agitation in the rural areas to rouse the peasants, and a swadeshi (self-rule) movement whereby imported goods from Britain were boycotted in favor of indigenous products. The effect was to mobilize Indians in opposition to the British and to transform the incipient nationalist movement from a middle-class debating society into a national movement against the British. Along with the Amritsar Massacre of 13 April 1919, when General Reginal Dyer marched fifty troops into Jallianwala Bagh (Park) and ordered them to open fire on unarmed civilians, killing 379 and wounding 1,200 (according to official figures), it included the development of a terrorist movement that led to assassinations and bomb attacks on British officials. Kudiram Bose (1889–1908) attempted to assassinate a magistrate, but he murdered two British women instead. He was hanged by the British but he is not forgotten in Bengal.

Bengal became the leading center of opposition to British rule in India. Rashbehari Ghosh (1845–1901) and Surendranath Banerjea (1848–1925) led the early nationalist movement. Banerjea founded the Indian Association in 1876 and became the first political prisoner of British India. Tagore and Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) were also critical of British rule and respected nationalists. Tagore returned his knighthood in protest of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 1919 (also known as the Amritsar Massacre). Visva Bharati, Tagore's school at Santiniketan, became a nationalist symbol. Vivekananda's speech about Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 helped bring public attention in the West to the Indian situation; his Ramakrishna Mission, which he established in 1898, became an important educational center. Bipin Chandra Pal (1858–1932) believed in armed struggle against the British.

Bengal saw the organization of the first all-India Muslim political party with the foundation of the All-India Muslim League on 30 December 1906 at Dacca. This came about as a response to the creation of the All-India National Congress in 1885, and as a result of the efforts of nawāb Viqar ul-Mulk (1841–1917), who had been attempting for the previous five years to create a political organization for Muslims to press the views of the Muslims with the British administration, especially as plans for constitutional development were in place. The move was encouraged by the viceroy, Lord Minto (1845–1914, viceroy 1905–1910), who envisaged a moderate Muslim party led by Muslim grandees as a counterbalance to the increasingly radical Congress.

In 1911 the partition of Bengal was reversed, and at the same time, the capital of British India was moved from Calcutta to Delhi. This shifted the center of national politics from Bengal to Delhi, and Bengal began to lose some of its political importance. In the Government of India Act of 1919, Bengal received a legislative council, and the leading Congress figure in the province became Deshbandhu (Friend of the Country) Chittaranjan Das (1870–1925), a lawyer who had served as the mayor of Calcutta in 1924 and 1925. He resigned as Congress president to establish the Swaraj Party in December 1922 with Motilal Nehru (1861–1931). The Swaraj Party was opposed to Mahatma M. K. Gandhi's noncooperation tactics and was designed to acquire the legislative power given by the Government of India Act of 1919 and at the same time to fight for Dominion status for India within the Legislative Councils of India.

In the Government of India Act of 1935, Bengal was designated an autonomous province. After the general elections of 1937, an elected ministry assumed office on 1 April 1937, although the governor retained a considerable amount of authority, both formal and informal. Due to the preponderance of Muslims in eastern Bengal, Muslims could dominate the elected government. Between 1937 and 1943, A. K. Fazlul Haq (1873–1962), the Sher-i-Bangla (Lion of Bengal), the leader of the Krishak Praja Party, headed a coalition government. Four of the six Muslims in his ministry were from the Muslim League. They included Khwaja Nazimuddin (1894–1964), Nawab Habibullah (1895–1958), and H. S. Suhrawardy (1892–1963) who were powerful politicians in their own right and who helped to bring Muslim politics in Bengal under the sway of the League. After the Simla Conference of July 1945, the League acquired increasing support in Bengal as it became increasingly difficult for Fazlul Haq, or any other political leader, to maintain viable cross-communal political alliances.

During World War II, Calcutta had become the headquarters of Southeast Asia Command, and the Japanese bombed the city several times. The renowned Howrah Bridge was built in 1943, the same year that a terrible famine hit Bengal, when over 2 million people died of starvation. Haq was dismissed by the governor in 1943 and a Muslim League ministry under Nazimuddin was in office until March 1945, when Suhrawardy headed the government. During his ministry the All-India Muslim League called for a Direct Action Day on 16 August 1946. This was aimed at demonstrating the League's authority and to remind the British government that it could only be ignored at the risk of civil war; it unleashed a carnage of communal rioting in Calcutta that left several thousand people dead. The 1946 elections proved to be a great victory for the Muslim League, which won 95 percent of the urban Muslim vote and 84 percent of the rural Muslim vote and was calling for partition of India and of Bengal as well. Many Muslims in east Bengal supported the partition of Bengal, but Suhrawardy, whose support came from Calcutta, opposed it. He worked with the most important Bengali Congress leader Sarat Chandra Bose (1889–1950), who formed his own Socialist Republican Party in 1946, for an independent Bengal separate from both India and Pakistan, but this was opposed by Congress leaders. Accordingly, Bengal was partitioned when India became independent on 15 August 1947. The history of Bengal since the coming of the British had seen increasing communal feeling and increasing communal antagonism. Most importantly, class antagonism between Muslim cultivators and Hindu landlords became seen not as class conflict but as communal conflict. Bengal was split into East Bengal and West Bengal in 1947 as a result of Muslim identity gaining more prominence than class identity.

One of Bengal's most popular leaders, revered in Bengal as a national leader, was Sarat Chandra Bose's charismatic younger brother, Subhash Chandra Bose (1897–1945). He was born in Cuttack and studied at Calcutta and at Cambridge in England. He joined the Indian Civil Service but resigned and returned to India in 1921. He was imprisoned for several years for his opposition to the British. A leading member of the Indian National Congress, he was elected president of the Congress in 1938 and again in 1939, but he was hounded out of office because he came into conflict with Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948), as for Bose ahimsa (nonviolence), the leitmotiv of Gandhi's political philosophy, was merely a tactic. He organized his own Forward Bloc in 1939. In 1940 he was placed under house arrest in Calcutta. He escaped in 1941 and made his way to Germany, met Adolf Hitler, and then was sent to Japan in 1943. In Singapore he became leader of the Azad Hind Fauj, Indian National Army, made up of freed Indian prisoners-of-war, and on 21 October 1943 the head of a provisional government, at which time he declared war against the British. His army marched on India through Burma to the cry of "Chalo Delhi!" (Let's Go to Delhi!), but they were defeated in 1944. On 18 August 1945, he disappeared as result, it is believed, of a plane crash. His body has never been found. For many Bengalis he is more beloved than Gandhi.

After Independence

After India became independent on 15 August 1947, the first chief minister of West Bengal was Dr. Prafulla Chandra Ghosh (1891–1983), but he resigned in January 1948. The greatest problem for the province was the communal violence that broke out between Hindus and Muslims as the state was broken into two, with the eastern part of the province becoming East Pakistan with its capital at Dacca. There was large-scale migration, riots, and lawlessness. Though it was quickly brought under control, the human tragedy has never been forgotten. With the Constitution of India taking effect on 26 January 1950, West Bengal received a governor, appointed by the central government, who is advised by the chief minister and his Cabinet, who are members of the Vidhan Sabha, the unicameral state legislature. Calcutta maintains its municipal corporation.

In the post-independence period, Bengal continues to be the center of enormous artistic and intellectual creativity. Among a long list of artists and thinkers, Satyajit Ray (1921–1992), the filmmaker, is one of the most renowned. His first film Pather Panchali (1955), the first in his "Apu Trilogy," established him as one of the world's great directors. The music for the film was composed by Ravi Shankar (b. 1920), the most renowned sitar player in the world and an ambassador of intercultural understanding. In 1998, Amartya Sen (b. 1933) received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on welfare economics, and he was the first Indian Master of Trinity College at Cambridge University (1998–2004). Mother Teresa, born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Albania in 1910, arrived in India in January 1929. Between 1931 and 1948 she taught at St. Mary's High School in Calcutta; she then left the convent to work among the poor of Calcutta. In 1950 she established the Missionaries of Charity, which became a worldwide organization. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, by which time she had become an Indian citizen. After her death in 1997 she was given a state funeral by the government of India.

Dr. Profulla Chandra Ghosh was replaced by Dr. Bidham Chandra Ray (1882–1962) in 1948; Ray remained the chief minister until his death. In 1956 Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964) reorganized the states along linguistic lines, and the princely state of Cooch Behar was incorporated into the state of Bengal, and just over 3,000 square miles (7,770 sq. km) was added from Bihar. Prafulla Chandra Sen (1897–1990) governed Bengal from 1962 until 1967. These administrations were all Congress ministries. During this period, leftist parties took advantage of the disaffection with Delhi and the poverty of the state and formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist) splitting off from the Communist Party of India that had been formed in 1920. In a United Front with other parties, it came to power in 1967 under Ajoy Kumar Mukherjee (1901–1986) of the Bangla Congress. This short-lived government was replaced by Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, the first chief minister, in a Progressive Democratic Front. In 1969 the United Front returned, and the government survived until 1971.

That same year, the war in East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh led to the flight of massive numbers of refugees to Bengal, causing enormous problems for the state in housing and feeding the homeless. Fort William became the headquarters for the Indian army during its war with Pakistan in East Pakistan. A Congress coalition ruled in Bengal in 1971, before Siddhartha Shankar Ray took over in 1972 and governed in a Congress ministry until 1977. During that time the Naxalite movement (named after Naxalbari) arose in opposition to the government. Naxalbari is in Darjeeling district in the northern part of Bengal and on 25 May 1967 the Naxalbari movement began when an adivasa (tribal) had been given land by the courts under the tenancy laws. He was attacked by local goondas (thugs) but the tribals responded by attacking landlords and seizing land. Great publicity was given to this "Naxalbari Uprising." The Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) was created in 1969 to continue the fight for the oppressed in a people's war and the movement spread to a number of other states as well. The Naxalites started a number of journals including the Bengali weekly, Deshabrati. The movement lost momentum but not before most of the leaders of the party and the movement were killed in clashes with the police. In the meantime, however, it gained large numbers of adherents from dissafected urban youth and led to demonstrations, instability, and lawlessness, which impelled a number of major companies and businesses to close down and move to other states. In 1977 Jyoti Basu (b. 1914) became Bengal's longest-serving chief minister in a Communist Party (Marxist) and Left Front coalition ministry. In 1999 the name of Calcutta was changed to Kolkata, and the name was accepted by the central government the following year. In November 2000 Jyoti Basu was replaced by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who maintained the coalition government.

Roger D. Long

See alsoAsiatic Societies of Bengal and Bombay ; Aurobindo, Sri ; Bose, Subhash Chandra ; Brahmo Samaj ; Clive, Robert ; Cornwallis, Lord ; Guptan Empire ; Hastings, Warren ; Mauryan Empire ; Roy, Ram Mohan ; Tagore, Rabindranath ; Tilak, Bal Gangadhar


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Chatterjee, Srilata. Congress Politics in Bengal, 1919–1939. London: Anthem Press, 2002.

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Thapar, Romila. Early India: From the Origins toA.D. 1300. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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Bengal Former province of India. It is now a region of the Indian subcontinent that includes West Bengal in India and East Bengal (now part of Bangladesh). Much of Bengal lies in the deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. Bengal was the richest region in the 16th-century Mogul Empire of Akbar I (the Great). Conquered by the British in 1757, it became the centre of British India, with Calcutta as the capital. It was made an autonomous region in 1937 and the present boundaries were fixed in 1947. Area: 200,575sq km (77,442sq mi).