Bengali people

Bengali people

Ethnic group
group = Bengalis

pop = 380,000,000
(as of the year 2000)

region1 = flag|Bangladesh
pop1 = 150,500,000
ref1 = []
region2 = flag|India
pop2 = 70,000,000
ref2 = []
region3 = flag|Saudi Arabia
pop3 = ~ 1,000,000
ref3 = [ [] ]
region5 = flag|United Kingdom
pop5 = ~ 500,000
ref5 = [ [] ]
region4 = flag|United Arab Emirates
pop4 = ~ 600,000
ref4 = []
region6 = flag|Malaysia
pop6 = ~ 230,000
ref6 = [ [] ]
region7 = flag|Kuwait
pop7 = ~ 150,000
ref7 = [ [] ]
region8 = flag|United States
pop8 = ~ 150,000
ref8 = [ [ US Census 2000 foreign born population by country] ]
region9 = flag|Canada
pop9 = ~ 100,000
ref9 = [ [] ]
region10 = flag|Italy
pop10 = ~ 35,000
ref10 = [ [] ]
region11 = flag|Japan
pop11 = ~ 11,000
ref11 = [ [国籍別外国人登録者数の推移] ]
langs = Bengali
rels = ] cite web
url =| title = Data on Religion| accessdate = 2006-08-26
work = Census of India (2001)| publisher = Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India
related = Indo-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman, East Indians, Dravidian, Sinhalese, Proto-Australoid
The Bengali people are the ethnic community from Bengal (divided between Bangladesh and India) on the Indian subcontinent with a history dating back four millennia. They speak Bengali (বাংলা "Bangla"), a language of the eastern Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. In their native language, they are referred to as বাঙালী (pronounced "Bangali"). They are an eastern Indo-Aryan people, who are also descended from Austro-Asiatic and Dravidian peoples, and closely related to the Oriya, Assamese, Biharis, and other East Indians, as well as to Munda and Tibeto-Burman peoples. As a result, Bengalis are a heterogeneous and considerably diverse ethnic group. They are mostly concentrated in Bangladesh and in the states of West Bengal and Tripura in India. There are also a number of Bengali communities scattered in New Delhi and several other states of India, such as Assam, Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharastra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, and the North-East Indian states, as well as in other countries such as Singapore, the Middle East, United Kingdom (In the London Borough of Tower Hamlets 30.5% of the population is Bangladeshi - some 65,000 people [ [ Neighbourhood Statistics ] ] ) and United States.


Ancient history

Remnants of civilisation in the greater Bengal region date back 4,000 years,cite web
url =
title = History of Bangladesh
accessdate = 2006-10-26
publisher = Bangladesh Student Association @ TTU
] cite news
publisher = Xinhua
date = 2006-March
title = 4000-year old settlement unearthed in Bangladesh
url =
] when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic peoples. The exact origin of the word "Bangla" or 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.cite book
publisher = Library of Congress
url =
chapter = Early History, 1000 B.C.-A.D. 1202
title = Bangladesh: A country study
editor = James Heitzman and Robert L. Worden
year = 1989
] 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 Persia and Afghanistan, reaching its greatest extent under the Buddhist emperor Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BCE. One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land 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.cite web
url =
title = Gangaridai
accessdate = 2006-09-08
last = Chowdhury
first = AM
work = Banglapedia
publisher = Asiatic Society of Bangladesh
] Later from the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire.

Middle Ages

The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, reigning around the early 7th century.cite web
url =
title = Shashanka
accessdate = 2006-10-26
work = Banglapedia
publisher = Asiatic Society of Bangladesh
] After a period of anarchy, Gopala came to power in 750 by democratic election. [A. Shiefner, "History of Buddhism in India".] 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 renouned 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 dynasty. Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Sufi missionaries. Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region.cite web
url =
title = Islam (in Bengal)
accessdate = 2006-10-26
work = Banglapedia
publisher = Asiatic Society of Bangladesh
] Bakhtiar Khilji, an Afghan 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. In the sixteenth century, Mughal general Islam Khan conquered 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.


The Bengal Renaissance refers to a social reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the region of Bengal in undivided India during the period of British rule. The Bengal renaissance can be said to have started with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775-1833) and ended with Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), although there have been many stalwarts thereafter embodying particular aspects of the unique intellectual and creative output. ["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'. ["Calcutta and the Bengal Renaissance" by Sumit Sarkar in "Calcutta, the Living City" edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri, Vol I, p 95.]

Independence movement

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, Surendranath Banerjea, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Prafulla Chaki, Bagha Jatin, Khudiram Bose, Surya Sen, Binoy-Badal-Dinesh, Sarojini Naidu, Aurobindo Ghosh, Rashbehari Bose and many more. 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 large number of Bengalis were martyred in the freedom struggle and many were exiled in Cellular Jail, the much dreaded prison located in Andaman.

Among the Muslims, A. K. Fazlul Huq and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy were the most prominent Bengali leaders of British India's independence movement.

Partitions of Bengal

Bangladesh Liberation War


Two major religions practiced in Bengal are Islam and Hinduism. In Bangladesh 88.3% of the population follow Islam (US State Department est. 2007) while 9.2% follow Hinduism. In West Bengal, Hindus are the majority with 72.5% of the population while Muslims comprise 25%. Other religious groups include Buddhists, Christians, and Animists. cite web
url =
title = Data on Religion
accessdate = 2006-08-26
work = Census of India (2001)
publisher = Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India

In his 1996 book, "Comparing State Polities", Michael J. Sullivan indicated that the 183 million Bengalis are divided into about 112 million Bengali Muslims in Bangladesh and about 71 million Bengali Hindus in India. [Comparing State Polities: A Framework for Analyzing 100 Governments By Michael J. III Sullivan, pg. 119] However, recent census information from Bangladesh and India show the total population of Bengalis to be 230 million, among which 152 millions or 66% are Muslims, while 76 million or 33% are Hindus.

According to U.A.B Razia, "Islam's greatest missionary triumphs has been amongst the Bengali people". [Islam in Bangladesh By U. A. B. Razia Akter Banu, pg. 2, quoting Arnold] Various theories have been espoused on how Bengalis accepted Islam. Some claim that there were mass conversions to Islam from Hinduism.

Others note the influx of famous Muslim missionaries into the region such as Shah Jalal. While others note that there were waves of aristocrats who migrated to the Bengal and bolstered the number of adherents. [Islam in Bangladesh By U. A. B. Razia Akter Banu, pg. 3] .Today, Bengalis constitute a significant body of the world's Muslims. 11%, or 1/9 of the world's Muslims are actually Bengali.


The Bengalis are known for their artistic and cultural achievements. Noted Bengali authors, playwrights, music composers, painters and film-makers have played a significant role in the evolution and development of Indian artistic expression. The Bengal renaissance of the 19th century was brought about when 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 use its principles (such as the judiciary and the legislature) in the subsequent political struggle for independence. The Bengali renaissance contained the seeds of a nascent Political Indian Nationalism and was the precursor in many ways to modern Indian artistic and cultural expression. The Bengali poet and novelist, Rabindranath Tagore became the first Nobel laureate from Asia when he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature.

ee also

* List of Bengalis
* List of Bangladeshis
* List of people from West Bengal
* British Bangladeshi
* Bangladeshi American


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