History of Bengal

History of Bengal

The history of Bengal (including Bangladesh and West Bengal) dates back four millennia. To some extent, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra rivers separated it from the mainland of India, though at times, Bengal has played an important role in Indian history.

Ancient history

Remnants of Copper Age settlements in the Bengal region date back 4,000 years,cite web
url = http://www.orgs.ttu.edu/saofbangladesh/history.htm
title = History of Bangladesh
accessdate = 2006-10-26
publisher = Bangladesh Student Association
] cite news
publisher = Xinhua
date = 2006-March
title = 4000-year old settlement unearthed in Bangladesh
url = http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-03/12/content_4293312.htm
] . After the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the kingdoms of Anga and Magadha (Bihar), Vanga (Bangladesh and West Bengal) and Kalinga (Orissa) were formed by the 10th century BC, located in and around the Bengal region. The Anga, Magadha, Vanga and Kalinga kingdoms are first described in the "Atharvaveda" around 1000 BC.

From the 6th century BC, most of Bengal was a part of the powerful kingdom of Magadha, which was an Indo-Aryan kingdom of ancient India, mentioned in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. It was also one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Buddha, having risen to power during the reigns of Bimbisara (c. 544-491 BC) and his son Ajatashatru (c. 491-460 BC). Magadha spanned to include most of Bihar and Bengal.

Magadha formed one of the sixteen Mahā Janapadas (Sanskrit, "great country"). The Magadha empire included republican communities such as Rajakumara. Villages had their own assemblies under their local chiefs called Gramakas. Their administrations were divided into executive, judicial, and military functions. Bimbisara was friendly to both Jainism and Buddhism and suspended tolls at the river ferries for all ascetics after the Buddha was once stopped at the Ganges River for lack of money.

In 326 BC, the army of Alexander the Great approached the boundaries of the Nanda Empire of Magadha. The army, exhausted and frightened by the prospect of facing a larger Indian army at the Ganges River, mutinied at the Hyphasis (modern Beas) and refused to march further East. Alexander, after the meeting with his officer, Coenus, was convinced that it was better to return.

Magadha was the seat of the Maurya Empire, founded by Chandragupta Maurya, which extended over nearly all of South Asia and parts of Persia and Afghanistan under Ashoka the Great; and, later, of the powerful Gupta Empire, which extended over the northern Indian subcontinent and parts of Persia and Afghanistan.

One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land named "Gangaridai" by the Greeks around 100 BC. The word is speculated to have come from "Gangahrd" (Land with the Ganges in its heart) and believed to be referring to an area in Bengal. For example, Diodorus Siculus (c. 90-30 BC) states that, "...Gandaridai, a nation which possesses the greatest number of elephants and the largest in size." This is presently known as 'Gangaridi' civilization and encompasses a period presumably from 400 BC to 100 AD. Some recent excavations in South 24 Parganas in West Bengal reveal small pearls of garnet, opal, quartz etc, which helped to detect the time and life-style of the people of this ancient civilization. There are engravings such as couple, snake, swastika, plough, trident, betel-leaf etc. found on these pearls.

Gangaridai's decline and fall are not documented. Sometime after 100 AD the kingdom of Samatata ruled the southern coast of Bengal, while Pundravardhana ruled to the north. A tribe known as the Dattas later inhabited the eastern parts of Bengal. In the late 400s to early 500s AD the entire region fell under control of the Gupta Empire of Magadha.

The Gupta dynasty collapsed around 550 AD and Bengal became fragmented into small kingdoms ruled by local chiefs.

Early Middle Ages

The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka - reigning from 606.

More concrete evidence of Bengal becoming an independent political entity is found in the 6th century, with the first recorded independent king of Bengal - Shashanka - reigning around 606.

The first Buddhist Pala king of Bengal, Gopala I came to power in 750 in Gaur by election. This event is recognized as one of the first democratic elections in South Asia since the time of the Mahā Janapadas. The dynasty's most powerful kings, Dharmapala (reigned 775-810) and Devapala (reigned 810-850) united Bengal and made the Pala Empire the most powerful empire in 9th century India after expanding across much of the Indian subcontinent and parts of Afghanistan. Internecine strife during the reign of Narayanpala (reigned 854-908) and administrative excesses led to the decline of the dynasty.

A brief revival of the kingdom under Mahipala I (reigned 977-1027) ended in battle against the powerful, South Indian Chola kingdom. The rise of the Chandra dynasty in southern Bengal expedited the decline of the Palas, and the last Pala king, Madanpala, died in 1161.

The Malla dynasty emerged in Bengal in the seventh century, although they only rose to prominence in the 10th century under Jagat Malla who moved his capital to Vishnupur. Unlike the Buddhist Palas and Chandras, the Hindu Mallas worshipped first the Hindu god Shiva, then the Hindu god Vishnu. The Mallas built temples and spectacular religious monuments during their rule in Bengal.

Under the Sena dynasty, which lasted from 1095 to 1260, Bengali emerged as a distinct and important language in northern India, and Hinduism began to displace older Buddhism.

Muslim rule

The Turkic invasion of India (including Bengal) came in the early 13th century. The invaders under the leadership of Ikhtiar Uddin Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar Khilji, defeated the Sena king Lakshman Sena at his capital, Nabadwip in 1203 or 1204. The Deva family — the last Hindu dynasty to rule in Bengal — ruled briefly in eastern Bengal, although they were suppressed by the mid-fourteenth century.

During the early Muslim period, the former kingdom became known as the Sultanate of Bangala, ruled intermittently from the Sultanate of Delhi. The chaotic shifts in power between the Afghan and Turkish rulers of that sultanate came to an end when Moghul rule became established in Bengal during the sixteenth century.

In 1534, the Afghan Sher Shah Suri, or Farid Khan — a man of incredible military and political skill — succeeded in defeating the superior forces of the Mughals under Humayun at Chausa (1539) and Kannauj (1540). Sher Shah fought back and captured both Delhi and Agra and established a kingdom stretching far into Punjab. Sher Shah's administrative skill showed in his public works, including the Grand Trunk Road connecting Sonargaon in Bengal with Peshawar in the Hindu Kush. Sher Shah's rule ended with his death in 1545, although even in those five years his reign would have a powerful influence on Indian society, politics, and economics.

Shah Suri's successors lacked his administrative skill, and quarrelled over the domains of his empire. Humayun, who then ruled a rump Mughal state, saw an opportunity and in 1554 seized Lahore and Delhi. Humayun's death in 1556 led to the accession of Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors, who defeated the Karani rulers of Bengal in 1576 and ruled through governors. Akbar exercised progressive rule and oversaw a period of prosperity (through trade and development) in Bengal and northern India.

Bengal's trade and wealth so impressed the Moghuls that they called the region the "Paradise of the Nations". Administration by governors appointed by the court of the Mughal Empire court (1575-1717) gave way to four decades of semi-independence under the Nawabs of Murshidabad, who respected the nominal sovereignty of the Mughals in Delhi. The Nawabs granted permission to the French East India Company to establish a trading post at Chandernagore in 1673, and the British East India Company at Calcutta in 1690.

When the British East India Company began strengthening the defences at Fort William (Calcutta), the Nawab, Siraj Ud Daulah, at the encouragement of the French, attacked. Under the leadership of Robert Clive, British troops and their local allies captured Chandernagore in March 1757 and seriously defeated the Nawab on June 23 1757 at the Battle of Plassey, when the Nawab's soldiers betrayed him. The Nawab was assassinated in Murshidabad, and the British installed their own Nawab for Bengal and extended their direct control in the south. Chandernagore was restored to the French in 1763. The Bengalis attempted to regain their territories in 1765 in alliance with the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, but were defeated again at the Battle of Buxar (1765).

The centre of Indian culture and trade shifted from Delhi to Calcutta when the Mughal Empire fell.

Dutch colonies

British rule

During British rule, two devastating famines were instigated costing millions of lives in 1770 and 1943. Scarcely five years into the British East India Company's rule, the catastrophic Bengal famine of 1770, one of the greatest famines of history occurred. Up to a third of the population died in 1770 and subsequent years.

The Indian Mutiny of 1857 replaced rule by the Company with the direct control of Bengal by the British crown.

A centre of rice cultivation as well as fine cotton called muslin and the world's main source of jute fibre, Bengal, from the 1850s became one of India's principal centres of industry, concentrated in the capital Kolkata (known as "Calcutta" under the British, always called 'Kolkata' in the native tongue of Bengali) and its emerging cluster of suburbs. Most of the population nevertheless remained dependent on agriculture, and despite its leading role in Indian political and intellectual activity, the province included some very undeveloped districts, especially in the east. In 1877, when Victoria took the title of "Empress of India", the British declared Calcutta the capital of the British Raj.

India's most popular province (and one of the most active provinces in freedom fighting), in 1905 Bengal was divided by the British rulers for administrative purposes into an overwhelmingly Hindu west (including present-day Bihar and Orissa) and a predominantly Muslim east (including Assam) (1905 Partition of Bengal). Hindu - Muslim conflict became stronger through this partition. While Hindu Indians disagreed with the partition saying it was a way of dividing a Bengal which is united by language and history, Muslims supported it by saying it was a big step forward for Muslim society where Muslims will be majority and they can freely practice their religion as well as their culture. But owing to strong Hindu agitation, the British reunited East and West Bengal in 1912, and made Bihar and Orissa a separate province.

Another major famine occurred during the second world war, the Bengal famine of 1943, in which an estimated 3 million people died.

Bengal Renaissance

The Bengal Renaissance refers to a social reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Bengal during the period of British rule. The Bengal renaissance can be said to have started with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775-1833). ["History of the Bengali-speaking People" by Nitish Sengupta, p 211, UBS Publishers' Distributors Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 81-7476-355-4.] . 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' [Sumit Sarkar, "Calcutta and the Bengal Renaissance", in "Calcutta, the Living City" ed. Sukanta Chaudhuri, Vol I, p. 95.] .

Partitions of Bengal

In the 20th century, the partitions of Bengal, occurring twice, has left indelible marks on the history and psyche of the people of Bengal. The first partition occurred in 1905 and the second partition was in 1947.

As partition of British India into Hindu and Muslim dominions approached in 1947, Bengal again split into the state of West Bengal of secular India and a Muslim region of East Bengal under Pakistan, renamed East Pakistan in 1958. East Pakistan (East Bengal) later rebelled against Pakistani military rule to become independent republic of Bangladesh, literally "Land of Bengal", after a war of independence against the Pakistani army in 1971. West Bengal remains a part of India. However, culturally and sociologically, the two segments of Bengal share considerably more than just a single language.

Bengal (both West Bengal and Bangladesh) is now one of the most densely populated regions of the world.

:"See East Bengal for information on East Bengal (now Bangladesh) after the first partition of Bengal.

:"See East Pakistan for information on East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) after the second partition of Bengal.

Ruling houses of Bengal

Pala Dynasty

* Gopala I c. 750-c. 770
* Dharmapala c. 770-c. 810
* Devapala c. 810-c. 850
* Vigrahapala I c. 850-c. 875
* Narayanapala c. 875-c. 908
* Rajyapala c. 908-c. 935
* Gopala II c. 935-c. 952
* Vigrahapala II c. 952-c. 988
* Mahipala I c. 988-c. 1038
* Nayapala c. 1038-c. 1055
* Vigrahapala III c. 1055-c. 1070
* Mahipala II c. 1070-c. 1075
* Shurapala c. 1075-c. 1077
* Ramapala c. 1077-c. 1120
* Kumarapala c. 1120-c. 1125
* Gopala III c. 1125-c. 1144
* Madanapala c. 1144-c. 1161

ena Dynasty

* Ballal Sen c. 1161-c. 1178
* Lakshman Sen c. 1178-c. 1205
* Vishwrup Sen c. 1205-c. 1220
* Keshavar Sen c. 1220-c. 1250

Ilyas Dynasty (1st period)

* Bughra Khan 1282-1291
* Kai Ka'us 1291-1298
* Firuz Shah I 1298-1318
* Bughra 1318-1319 (in West Bengal)
* Bahadur 1318-1330 (in East Bengal, in West Bengal 1319-1323)
* Ibrahim 1323-1325 (in West Bengal)
* Azam ul-Mulk 1323-1339 (in Satgaon)
* Bahram Shah 1324-1336 (in East Bengal)
* Qadr Khan 1325-1339 (in West Bengal)
* Mubarrak Shah 1336-1349 (in East Bengal)
* Ali Shah 1339-1345 (in West Bengal)
* Ilyas Shah 1345-1357 (in West Bengal, in whole Bengal from 1352)
* Ghazi Shah 1349-1352 (in East Bengal)
* Sikandar I 1357-1390
* Azam 1369-1410 - opponent of Sikandar I
* Hamza 1410-1412
* Bayazid I 1412-1414
* Firuz II 1414-1415

Ganesa Dynasty

* Raja Ganesh 1415-1418
* Mohammed 1418-1431
* Ahmad 1431-1436

Ilyas Dynasty (restored)

* Mahmud I (Nasiruddin Abul Muzaffar Mahmud Shah) 1437-1459
* Barbak I 1459-1474
* Yusuf 1474-1481
* Sikandar II 1481
* Fath Shah 1481-1486

Habshis Dynasty

* Barbak II 1486-1487
* Firuz III 1487-1489
* Mahmud II 1489-1490
* Muzaffar 1490-1494

Husaini Dynasty

* Alauddin Hussain Shah 1494-1518
* Nusrat 1518-1533
* Firuz IV 1533
* Mahmud III 1533-1538

Suri Dynasty

* Sher Shah 1539-1540
* Khidr 1540-1545
* Mohammed Khan 1545-1555
* Bahadur 1555-1561
* Jalal 1561-1564

Karani (Kararani) Dynasty

* Sulaiman 1564-1572
* Bayazid II 1572
* Daoud 1572-1576

Nawabs of Bengal

* Murshid Quli Djafar Khan 1703-1727
* Shoja ud-Din 1727-1739
* Safaraz Khan 1739-1740
* Ali Vardi Khan 1740-1756
* Siraj Ud Daulah 1756-1757
* Mir Djafar 1757-1760
* Mir Qasim 1760-1763
* Mir Djafar (Second time) 1763-1765
* Najm ud-Dawlah 1765-1766
* Saif ud-Dawlah 1766-1770


Further reading

*Majumdar, R. C. The History of Bengal ISBN 81-7646-237-3

External links

* [http://www.historyofbengal.com/ A discussion group]
* [http://www.bengalweb.com/hist/ A systematic history]
* [http://members.tripod.com/~tanmoy/bengal/ A short history]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/Chandraketugarh.htm An article on Chandraketugarh by Rangan Datta]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/Achipur.htm An article on Achipur by Rangan Datta]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/Pundooah.htm An article on Pundooah, Hooghly by Rangan Datta]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/Ballal%20Dhipi.htm An article on Ballal Dhipi by Rangan Datta]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/Shivnivas.htm An article on Shivniwas by Rangan Datta]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/Dhosa%20&%20Tilpi.htm An article on Dhosa & Tilpi by Rangan Datta]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/Karnasubarna.htm An article on Karnasubarna by Rangan Datta]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/Nandadirghi.htm An article on Nandadirghi Vihar by Rangan Datta]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/Gour.htm An article on Gour by Rangan Datta]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/Archaeology.htm A travel article on archeological sites near Calcutta by Rangan Datta]
* [http://www.rangan-datta.info/index.htm Rangan Datta's Home Page]

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