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Total population
c. 300 million[1][2]
Bengali and Bengali dialects
18px Islam – Bangladesh 89.8%, West Bengal 27.01%[3]
Om.svg Hinduism – West Bengal 70.53%, Bangladesh 8.3%
Dharma Wheel.svg Buddhism, Bahá'í Faith, Christianity, Atheism and others – 1%[4][5]
Related ethnic groups
Assamese people, Sinhalese people, Other Indo-Aryan peoples, Dravidians[6] and Tibeto-Burman peoples

Bengalis (বাঙালি Bangali) are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group native to the region of Bengal. They speak the Bengali language. Today, they are natively concentrated in Bangladesh and in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam's Barak Valley. In India, there are also a number of Bengali communities scattered across Assam, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and other Indian states. In addition, there is a significant Bengali diaspora beyond South Asia, numbering in the millions, a majority of whom are living as foreign workers. Some of the largest established Bengali communities are in Pakistan, the Middle East, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Italy, Canada, United Kingdom and United States. Dhaka and Kolkata are two of the largest mega-cities of the world, and inhabited mostly by the Bengalis.


Ancient history

Remnants of civilisation in the greater Bengal region date back 4,000 years,[7][8] when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austroasiatic peoples. The origin of the word Bangla ~ Bengal is unknown, though it is believed to be derived from the Dravidian-speaking tribe Bang that settled in the area around the year 1000 BCE.[9]

After the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the kingdoms of Anga, Vanga and Magadha were formed in and around Bengal and were first described in the Atharvaveda around 1000 BCE. From the 6th century BCE, Magadha expanded to include most of the Bihar and Bengal regions. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Buddha and was one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas. Under the Maurya Empire founded by Chandragupta Maurya, Magadha extended over nearly all of South Asia, including parts of Balochistan and Afghanistan, reaching its greatest extent under the Buddhist emperor Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BCE.[10] One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land ruled by the king Xandrammes named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BCE. The word is speculated to have come from Gangahrd (Land with the Ganges in its heart) in reference to an area in Bengal.[11] Later from the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire.

Middle Ages

One of the first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, reigning around the early 7th century.[12] After a period of anarchy, Gopala came to power in 750. He founded the Bengali Buddhist Pala Empire which ruled the region for four hundred years, and expanded across much of Southern Asia, from Assam in the northeast, to Kabul in the west, to Andhra Pradesh in the south. Atisha was a renowned Bengali Buddhist teacher who was instrumental in revival of Buddhism in Tibet and also held the position of Abbot at the Vikramshila university. Tilopa was also from Bengal region.

The Pala dynasty was later followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena Empire. Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Sufi missionaries. Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region.[13] Bakhtiar Khilji, an Turkic people general of the Slave dynasty of Delhi Sultanate, defeated Lakshman Sen of the Sena dynasty and conquered large parts of Bengal. Consequently, the region was ruled by dynasties of sultans and feudal lords under the Delhi Sultanate for the next few hundred years. Islam was introduced to the Sylhet region by the Muslim saint Shah Jalal in the early 14th century. Mughal general Man Singh conquered parts of Bengal including Dhaka during the time of Emperor Akbar. Few Rajput tribes from his army permanently settled around Dhaka and surrounding lands. Later on, in the early 17th century, Islam Khan conquered all of Bengal. However, administration by governors appointed by the court of the Mughal Empire gave way to semi-independence of the area under the Nawabs of Murshidabad, who nominally respected the sovereignty of the Mughals in Delhi. After the weakening of the Mughal Empire with the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, Bengal was ruled independently by the Nawabs until 1757, when the region was annexed by the East India Company after the Battle of Plassey.

Bengal Renaissance

Bengal Renaissance refers to a socio-religious reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the city of Kolkata by caste Hindus under the patronage of the British Raj and it created a reformed religion, which is called, Brahmo dharma. The Bengal renaissance can be said to have started with reformer and humanitarian Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775–1833), considered the "Father of the Bengal Renaissance", and ended with Asia's first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), although there have been many stalwarts thereafter embodying particular aspects of the unique intellectual and creative output.[14] Nineteenth century Bengal was a unique blend of religious and social reformers, scholars, literary giants, journalists, patriotic orators and scientists, all merging to form the image of a renaissance, and marked the transition from the 'medieval' to the 'modern'.[15]

Other figures have been considered to be part of the Renaissance. Swami Vivekananda is considered a key figure in the introduction of Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and America[16] and is credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a world religion during the 1800s.[17] Jagadish Chandra Bose was a Bengali polymath: a physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist, and writer of science fiction[18] who pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics, made significant contributions to plant science, and laid the foundations of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent.[19] He is considered one of the fathers of radio science,[20] and is also considered the father of Bengali science fiction. Satyendra Nath Bose was a Bengali physicist, specializing in mathematical physics. He is best known for his work on quantum mechanics in the early 1920s, providing the foundation for Bose–Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose–Einstein condensate. He is honoured as the namesake of the boson.

Independence movement

Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. Bengalis also played a notable role in the Indian independence movement. Many of the early proponents of the freedom struggle, and subsequent leaders in movement were Bengalis such as Chittaranjan Das, Khwaja Salimullah, Surendranath Banerjea, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Titumir (Sayyid Mir Nisar Ali), Prafulla Chaki, A. K. Fazlul Huq, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Bagha Jatin, Khudiram Bose, Surya Sen, Binoy-Badal-Dinesh, Sarojini Naidu, Aurobindo Ghosh, Rashbehari Bose, Sachindranath Sanyal.

Some of these leaders, such as Netaji, did not subscribe to the view that non-violent civil disobedience was the best way to achieve Indian Independence, and were instrumental in armed resistance against the British force. Netaji was the co-founder and leader of the Indian National Army (distinct from the army of British India) that challenged British forces in several parts of India. He was also the head of state of a parallel regime, the Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind, that was recognized and supported by the Axis powers. Bengal was also the fostering ground for several prominent revolutionary organisations, the most notable of which was Anushilan Samiti. A number of Bengalis died during the independence movement and many were imprisoned in Cellular Jail, the much notorious prison in Andaman.

Partitions of Bengal

Bangladesh Liberation War


Religions in Bengal Region
Religion Percent
Religions in Bangladesh[21]
Religion Percent
Religions in West Bengal[22]
Religion Percent
Main articles: Demographics of Bangladesh, Demographics of West Bengal, Demographics of Tripura, and Demographics of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The largest religions practiced in Bengal are Islam and Hinduism. In Bangladesh 89.9% of the population follow Islam (US State Department est. 2014) while 8.3% follow Hinduism. In West Bengal, Hindus are the majority with 70.53% of the population while Muslims comprise 27.01%. Other religious groups include Buddhists compromising around 1% of the population in Bangladesh and the others are Christians.[5]


Bengali cuisine

Bengali cuisine is the culinary style originating in Bengal, a region in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, which is now divided between Bangladesh and West Bengal . Other regions, such as Tripura, and the Barak Valley region of Assam (in India) also have large native Bengali populations and share this cuisine. With an emphasis on fish,vegetables and lentils served with rice as a staple diet, Bengali cuisine is known for its subtle flavours, and its huge spread of confectioneries and desserts. It also has the only traditionally developed multi-course tradition from the Indian subcontinent that is analogous in structure to the modern service à la russe style of French cuisine, with food served course- wise rather than all at once.


Main article: List of festivals in Bangladesh, List of festivals of West Bengal

West Bengal celebrates many holidays and festivals. The Bengali proverb "Baro Mase Tero Parbon" ("Thirteen festivals in twelve months") indicates the abundance of festivity in the state. In West Bengal throughout the year many festivals are celebrated. Durga Puja is solemnized as perhaps the most significant of all celebrations in Bengal.

Some major festivals celebrated are 21 February - Bengali language Day, Bengali New Year, Bhai Phonta, Christmas, Kali Puja/Lakshmi Puja Dolyatra, Durga Puja, Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Ganesh Chaturthi, Guru Purnima, Jagadhhatri Puja, Janmashtami, Kalpataru Utsab, Birthday of Kazi Nazrul Islam, Maghotsav of Brahmo Samaj, Mahalaya, May Day, Muharram, Paush Parban, Pohela Falgun, Birthday of Rabindranath Tagore, Death Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, Sri RamakrishnaJayanti, Rathayatra, Saraswati Puja, Kojagari Lakhsmi Puja, Shivaratri, Birthday Of Swami Vivekananda, Birthday of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Bengali language

Bengali or Bangla is the language native to the region of Bengal, which comprises present-day Bangladesh and the Indian states West Bengal, Tripura and southern Assam. It is written using the Bengali script. With about 220 million native and about 250 million total speakers, Bengali is one of the most spoken languages, ranked seventh in the world.[23][24] The National Anthem of Bangladesh, National Anthem of India, National Anthem of Sri Lanka and the national song of India were first composed in the Bengali language.

Along with other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali evolved circa 1000–1200 CE from eastern Middle Indo-Aryan dialects such as the Magadhi Prakrit and Pali, which developed from a dialect or group of dialects that were close, but not identical to, Vedic and Classical Sanskrit.

Bengali literature

The earliest extant work in Bengali literature is the Charyapada, a collection of Buddhist mystic songs dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Thereafter, the timeline of Bengali literature is divided into two periods − medieval (1360-1800) and modern (after 1800). Bengali literature is one of the enriched literature in Modern India and Bangladesh.

Old Bengali literature

The first works in Bengali, written in new Bengali, appeared between 10th and 12thcenturies C.E. It is generally known as the Charyapada. These are mystic songs composed by various Buddhist seer-poets:Luipada, Kanhapada, Kukkuripada, Chatilpada, Bhusukupada, Kamlipada, Dhendhanpada, Shantipada, Shabarapada etc. The famous Bengali linguist Haraprasad Shastri discovered the palm leaf Charyapada manuscript in the Nepal Royal Court Library in 1907.

Middle Bengali literature

The Middle Bengali Literature is a period in the history of Bengali literature dated from 15th to 18th centuries. Following Mughal invasion of Bengal in the 13th century, literature in vernacular Bengali began to take shape. The oldest example of Middle Bengali Literature is believed to be Shreekrishna Kirtana by Boru Chandidas.

Modern Bengali literature

In the middle of 19th century, Bengali literature gained momentum. During this period, the Bengali Pandits of Fort William College did the tedious work of translating the text books in Bengali to help teach the British some Indian languages including Bengali. This work played a role in the background in the evolution of Bengali prose.

Notable people

Further reading: List of Bengalis, List of Bangladeshi people, List of people from West Bengal

Noted Bengali saints, authors, scientists, researchers, thinkers, music composers, painters and film-makers have played a significant role in the development of Bengali culture . The Bengal Renaissance of the 19th and early 20th centuries was brought about after the British introduced Western education and ideas. Among the various Indian cultures, the Bengalis were relatively quick to adapt to the British rule and actually used its principles (such as the judiciary and the legislature) in the subsequent political struggle for independence. The Bengal Renaissance contained the seeds of a nascent political Indian nationalism and was the precursor in many ways to modern Indian artistic and cultural expression.

Famous Bengali saints and mystics include Atiśa, Tilopa, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Nityananda, Haridasa Thakur, Jiva Goswami, Ramprasad Sen, Lokenath Brahmachari, Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Vishuddhananda Paramahansa, Sri Aurobindo, Lahiri Mahasaya, Bamakhepa, Yukteswar Giri, Swami Abhedananda, Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Thakur Anukulchandra, Sitaramdas Omkarnath, Ram Thakur, Lalon, Tibbetibaba, Soham Swami, Nigamananda Paramahansa, Niralamba Swami, Pranavananda, Bijoy Krishna Goswami, Paramahansa Yogananda, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, Anandamayi Ma, Hariharananda Giri, Anirvan and Sri Chinmoy.

The Bengali poet and novelist, Rabindranath Tagore, became the first Nobel laureate from Asia when he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature. Other Bengali Nobel laureates include Amartya Sen (1999 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences) and Muhammad Yunus (2006 Nobel Peace Prize). Pulitzer Prize winners Jhumpa Lahiri and Siddhartha Mukherjee . Man Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy. Other famous figures in literature include Ram Mohan Roy, Dwijendralal Ray, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Premendra Mitra, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Bimal Mitra, Syed Mujtaba Ali, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Amitav Ghosh, and Kaberi Gain. Bengali science fiction writers such as Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, Humayun Ahmed, Jagadananda Roy, and Roquia Sakhawat Hussain (Begum Rokeya).

Famous Bengali musicians include Lalon Fakir, Baba Alauddin Khan, Rajanikanta Sen, Atulprasad Sen, Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, Jnan Prakash Ghosh, Ajoy Chakrabarty, Pankaj Mullick, R. C. Boral, Anil Biswas, Sachin Dev Burman, Rahul Dev Burman, Salil Chowdhury. Famous Bengali singers include Krishna Chandra Dey, Pankaj Mullick, Debabrata Biswas, Suchitra Mitra, Sabina Yasmin Ritu Guha, Kanika Banerjee, Kishore Kumar, Kumar Sanu, Chinmay Chattopadhyay, Abbas Uddin, Runa Laila, Dhananjay Bhattacharya, Pannalal Bhattacharya, Nirmalendu Choudhury, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Hemanta Mukherjee, Kumar Bishwajit Manna Dey, Shyamal Mitra, Ram Kumar Chattopadhyay, Geeta Dutt, Sandhya Mukherjee, Srikanta Acharya, James Nachiketa, Shreya Ghoshal, Shaan, Bappi Lahiri, Arnob Abhijeet, Kalim Sharafi, Azam Khan Kabir Suman and Rezwana Chowdhury Banya.

Famous Bengali scientists include Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, FRS, Meghnad Saha, FRS, Prafulla Chandra Roy, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, FRS, Amal Kumar Raychaudhuri, Satyendra Nath Bose, FRS, Ashesh Prasad Mitra, FRS, Sisir Kumar Mitra, FRS, Anil Kumar Gain, FRS, Ashoke Sen, FRS. Famous Bengali engineers include Fazlur Khan and Amar Bose, Sir Rajendra Nath Mookerjee, Sir Biren Mookerjee, and Kumar Bhattacharyya, FRS.

Famous Bengali filmmakers include Satyajit Ray, Nitin Bose, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Tapan Sinha, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Rajen Tarafdar, Zahir Raihan, Aparna Sen, Goutam Ghose, Rituporno Ghosh and Tareque Masud and stage and screen artistes Girish Chandra Ghosh, Sisir Bhaduri, Devika Rani, Chhabi Biswas, Pahari Sanyal, Ashok Kumar, Uttam Kumar, Durgadas, Pramathesh Barua, Tulsi Chakraborty, Kali Banerjee, Bhanu Bandyopadhyay, Jahar Roy, Basanta Choudhury, Santosh Dutta, Utpal Dutt, Shambhu Mitra, Tripti Mitra, Suchitra Sen, Kanan Devi, Sabitri Chatterjee, Supriya Devi, Soumitra Chatterjee, Anil Chatterjee, Ajitesh Bandopadhyay, Sharmila Tagore, and Madhabi Mukherjee.

Famous Bengali entrepreneurs include Birendranath Sircar, Sake Dean Mahomed, Ramgopal Ghosh, Prafulla Chandra Ray, Khuda Buksh, Amar Bose, Jawed Karim and Subrata Roy.

Chhanda Gayen was a mountaineer, martial artist, explorer, teacher of self-defense, best known for being the first civilian woman from India to climb to the summit of Mount Everest (at 7 A.M.,18 May 2013). She summited Mount Everest and Lhotse in 2013 in the same expedition.

See also


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  4. Bangladesh- CIA World Factbook
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  6. Ancient Indian History and Civilization by Sailendra Nath Sen, p9, New Age International, 1 January 1999
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  14. History of the Bengali-speaking People by Nitish Sengupta, p 211, UBS Publishers' Distributors Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 81-7476-355-4.
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  18. A versatile genius, Frontline 21 (24), 2004.
  19. Chatterjee, Santimay and Chatterjee, Enakshi, Satyendranath Bose, 2002 reprint, p. 5, National Book Trust, ISBN 81-237-0492-5
  20. A. K. Sen (1997). "Sir J.C. Bose and radio science", Microwave Symposium Digest 2 (8-13), p. 557-560.
  21. বাংলাদেশকে জানুন
  22. religion census of India
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  24. Huq, Mohammad Daniul; Sarkar, Pabitra (2012). "Bangla Language". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>