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West Bengal

CAPITAL KOLKATA (CALCUTTA)
AREA IN Sq. km 89,000
PRINCIPAL LANGUAGE BENGALI

 

West Bengal is located in the northeastern part of the country. It is bounded on the north by Bhutan and the state of Sikkim, on the east by Bangladesh, on the northeast by the state of Assam, on the south by the Bay of Bengal, on the southwest by the state of Orissa, on the northwest by Nepal, and on the west by the state of Bihar. The alluvial plain in the south is watered by the legendary River Hooghly and its tributaries - Mayurakshi, Damodar, Kangsabati and the Rupnarayan. The Himalayan north, comprising the districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Bihar are watered by the swift flowing rivers Tista, Torsa, Jaldhaka and Ranjit. Variations in altitude result in great variety in the nature and climate of West Bengal. From the northern highlands at the feet of the Himalayas to the tropical forests of Sunderbans, West Bengal is a land of myriad beauty, each region different from the other.

Although in area West Bengal ranks as one of the smaller states of India, it is one of the largest in population. The capital is Calcutta, India's second largest city; other important cities and towns are Howrah, Asansol, Durgapur and Siliguri, Darjeeling, Kharagpur and Haldia.

West Bengal has a single-chamber legislative assembly with 295 seats. The state sends 58 members to the Indian national parliament: 16 to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and 42 to the Lok Sabha (Lower House). Local government is based on 18 districts.

History

Bengal finds a coveted place even in pre-historic times. At the time of Alexander’s invasion a powerful kingdom called Gangaridai ruled over Bengal. Ascendancy of the Guptas and the Mauryas had somewhat little effect on Bengal. Later Sasanka became the king of Bengal and is said to have played an important role in the early half of the seventh century. He was succeeded by Gopala who founded the Pala dynasty which ruled for centuries and had created a huge empire. The Palas were followed by the Sena dynasty which was ended by Muslim rulers from Delhi. Bengal was ruled by various Muslim rulers and governors till the Mughal period in sixteenth century.

After the Mughals, history of Modern Bengal began with advent of European and English traders. Battle of Plassey in 1757 changed the course of history when the English first gained a strong foothold in Bengal and India. In 1905 it was partitioned to achieve some political returns but people’s growing movement under the auspices of the Congress led to the reunion in 1911. This triggered off hectic movement for freedom which culminated with Independence in 1947, and partition.

After 1947, the merger of native settlement began which ended with its final reorganization in 1956 (as per Recommendation of the States Reorganisation Act, 1956) when some Bengali speaking areas of a neighbouring state was transferred to West Bengal.

Society and Culture

About three quarters of the population lives in the villages. Of the different religions, Hinduism, with its substrata of castes and aboriginal tribes, claims the adherence of more than three-fourths the population, most of the remainder being Muslim. West Bengal contains about 40 recognized communities of tribes--the better known among them being the Santals, Oraons, Munas, Lepchas, and Bhutias--that make up less than one-tenth of the total population. Bengali is the language of most of the people, with Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, and English as minority languages. English, however, is the language of administration and a lingua franca for business purposes.

Bengalis have always fostered literature, art, music, and drama. Bengali literature dates to before the 12th century. The Caitanya movement, an intensely emotional form of Hinduism inspired by the medieval saint Caitanya (1485-1533), shaped the subsequent development of Bengali poetry until the early 19th century, when contact with the West sparked a vigorous creative synthesis. The modern period has produced, among others, the Nobel prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), whose contribution still dominates the Indian literary scene. Bengal also boasts of three other Nobel prize winners, Mother Teresa, Amartya Sen and Satyajit Ray. Jamini Roy, Uday Shankar, Bimal Mitra and Tarashankar Banerjee all belong to this culturally rich land. The theatre is popular, and both amateur and professional performances are quite sophisticated, traditional open-air performances, are popular in the countryside, along with kavigan an impromptu duel in musical verse between village poets. Traditional music takes the form of devotional and cultural songs. The kathakata a religious recital based on folklore, is another rural entertainment. Films offer yet another type of popular diversion, and Bengali productions have earned national and international awards.

Fish, rice and a plethora of sweets are Bengali specialities. Ace Bengali artisans work wonders with terracota horses, conch shells, clay models, leather, batik and wood work. Bengal handloom sarees with exquisitely woven borders also have a universal appeal.

Durga Puja, coinciding with Dussehra in other parts of the country, rouses the state to a feverish pitch, with its preparations that touch the life of every Bengali. Kali Puja, festival of lights (Diwali), Dol Jatra (Holi), Ganga Sagar Mela at Sagar (January /February), the Muslim festivals of Id and Ramzan, Baisakhi - Bengal's New Year's day, Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary, Christmas and New Year are marked by typical abandon and devotion.

Economy and Infrastructure

Agriculture plays a pivotal role in the state's income, and nearly three out of four persons in the state are directly or indirectly involved in agriculture. The state accounted for 66.5 percent of the country's jute production including mesta in 1993-94, and 22.2 percent of tea production during the same period. Important crops of the state include potatoes, oilseeds, betelvine, tobacco, wheat, barley and maize. The state also occupies a leading position among principal rice growing states of India, by contributing 15.3 percent of the total production of rice in the country.

The state has a significant mineral output, including dolomite, limestone, and china clay. It has steel plants, an automobile-manufacturing plant, and numerous chemical, machinery-building, and light-engineering industries. Here’s a profile of the state’s infrastructure:

 
Roads Surfaces – 25984 Km, Un-surfaced – 32016 Km, National Highways – 1631 Km
Railways 3767 Km Eastern & South Eastern Railway Headquarters are in Calcutta.
Telecommunication Basic Telephone – Working Lines – 797800 Waiting list – 150200 Express Demand – 1.4 per 100 population VSNL has its International Gateway and Earthstation in and around Calcutta. Mobile Cellular Services (GSM) is provided by Modi – Telstra and Usha Martin Telecom Malaysia within Greater Calcutta. Mobile Services proposed in the rest of the State by Reliance/Nynex. Public Radio Paging Services provided by four operators E-mail Services available from a host of operators.
Airports Domestic:   Bagdogra
International:   Calcutta
Major Ports Calcutta, Haldia


Tourist Centres

Important tourist centres, among others are Calcutta, Digha ( Midnapore), Bakkhali Sea Resort, Sagar Island and Sundarbans (South 24 Parganas), Bandel, Tarakeswar, Kamarpukar (Hooghly) and Gadiara (Howrah), Shantiniketan and Bakreshwar (Birbhum), Durgapur (Burdwan), Mukutmanipur and Vishnupur(Bankura), Ayodhya hills (Purulia), Murshidabad, Gour and Pandua (Malda), Darjeeling, Mirik, Kalimpong, Sandakfu and Falut and Kurseong ( Darjeeling), Jaldapara and Dooars (Jalpaiguri).