West Bengal is a state in eastern India and is the nation's fourth-most populous state Spread over 88,752 Sq Km. The state capital is Kolkata. As per Census 2011 published by Govt. of India the population of West Bengal state is 91,276,115 and the density of West Bengal state is 1,028 per sq km. It is bounded on its north by Bhutan and the state of Sikkim, on its east by Bangladesh, on its northeast by the state of Assam, on its south by the Bay of Bengal, on its southwest by the state of Odisha, on its northwest by Nepal, and on its 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 Behar are watered by the swift flowing rivers Tista, Torsa, Jaldhaka and Ranjit. Variations in altitude result in diversity 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.
The origin of the name Bengal (known as Bangla and Bongo in Bengali language) is unknown. One theory suggests that the word derives from "Bang", a Dravidian tribe that settled the region around 1000 BC. The word might have been derived from the ancient kingdom of Vanga (or Banga). Although some early Sanskrit literature mentions the name, the region's early history is obscure.
At the end of British Rule over the Indian subcontinent, the Bengal region was partitioned in 1947 along religious lines into east and west. The east came to be known as East Bengal and the west came to known as West Bengal which remained as an Indian state. In 2011, the Government of West Bengal proposed a change in the official name for the state to Poschimbongo which reflects the native name of the state, literally meaning western Bengal in the native Bengali language.
Culture of West Bengal
The Bengali language boasts a rich literary heritage, shared with neighbouring Bangladesh. West Bengal has a long tradition in folk literature, evidenced by the Charyapada, Mangalkavya, Shreekrishna Kirtana, Thakurmar Jhuli, and stories related to Gopal Bhar. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, Bengali literature was modernised in the works of authors such as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Jibananda Das and Manik Bandyopadhyay. In modern times Jibanananda Das, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, Manik Bandopadhyay, Ashapurna Devi, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Buddhadeb Guha, Mahashweta Devi, Samaresh Majumdar, Sanjeev Chattopadhyay and Sunil Gangopadhyay among others are well known.
Music and dance:
The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bengali folk music, which has also been influenced by regional music traditions. Other folk music forms include Gombhira and Bhawaiya. Folk music in West Bengal is often accompanied by the ektara, a one-stringed instrument. West Bengal also has a heritage in North Indian classical music. "Rabindrasangeet", songs composed and set into tune by Rabindranath Tagore and "Nazrul geeti" (by Kazi Nazrul Islam) are popular. Also prominent are other musical forms like Dwijendralal, Atulprasad and Rajanikanta's songs, and "adhunik" or modern music from films and other composers.
Bengali dance forms draw from folk traditions, especially those of the tribal groups, as well as the broader Indian dance traditions. Chau dance of Purulia is a rare form of mask dance.
Mainstream Hindi films are popular in Bengal, and the state is home to a Tollywood. Tollygunj in Kolkata is the location of numerous Bengali movie studios, and the name "Tollywood" (similar to Hollywood and Bollywood) is derived from that name. The Bengali film industry is well known for its art films, and has produced acclaimed directors like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and Ritwik Ghatak. Prominent contemporary directors include veterans like Buddhadev Dasgupta, Tarun Majumdar, Goutam Ghose, Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh and a newer pool of directors like Kaushik Ganguly and Srijit Mukherji.
Fine arts :
Bengal had been the harbinger of modernism in fine arts. Abanindranath Tagore, called the father of Modern Indian Art had started the Bengal School of Art which was to create styles of art outside the European realist tradition which was taught in art colleges under the colonial administration of the British Government. The movement had many adherents like Gaganendranath Tagore, Ramkinkar Baij, Jamini Roy and Rabindranath Tagore. After Indian Independence, important groups like the Calcutta Group and the Society of Contemporary Artists were formed in Bengal which dominated the art scene in India.
Reformist heritage :
The capital, Kolkata, was the workplace of several social reformers, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Swami Vivekananda. These social reforms have eventually led to a cultural atmosphere where practices like sati, dowry, and caste-based discrimination or untouchability, the evils that crept into the Hindu society, were abolished.The region was also home to several religious teachers, such as Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, Prabhupada and Paramahansa Yogananda.
Cuisine of West Bengal :
Rice and fish are traditional favourite foods, leading to a saying in Bengali, machhe bhate bangali, that translates as "fish and rice make a Bengali". Bengal's vast repertoire of fish-based dishes includes hilsa preparations, a favourite among Bengalis. There are numerous ways of cooking fish depending on the texture, size, fat content and the bones. Sweets occupy an important place in the diet of Bengalis and at their social ceremonies. It is an ancient custom among both Hindu and Muslim Bengalis to distribute sweets during festivities. The confectionery industry has flourished because of its close association with social and religious ceremonies. Competition and changing tastes have helped to create many new sweets. Bengalis make distinctive sweetmeats from milk products, including Rôshogolla, Chômchôm, Kalojam and several kinds of sondesh. Pitha, a kind of sweet cake, bread or dimsum are specialties of winter season. Sweets like coconut-naru, til-naru, moa, payesh, etc. are prepared during the festival of Lakshmi puja. Popular street food includes Aloor Chop, Beguni, Kati roll, and phuchka.
The variety of fruits and vegetables that Bengal has to offer is incredible. A host of gourds, roots and tubers, leafy greens, succulent stalks, lemons and limes, green and purple eggplants, red onions, plantain, broad beans, okra, banana tree stems and flowers, green jackfruit and red pumpkins are to be found in the markets or anaj bazaar as popularly called. Panta bhat (rice soaked overnight in water)with onion & green chili is a traditional dish consumed in rural areas. Common spices found in a Bengali kitchen are cumin, ajmoda (radhuni), bay leaf, mustard, ginger, green chillies, turmeric, etc. People of erstwhile East Bengal use a lot of ajmoda, coriander leaves, tamarind, coconut and mustard in their cooking; while those aboriginally from West Bengal use a lot of sugar, garam masala and red chilli powder. Vegetarian dishes are mostly without onion and garlic.
Bengali women commonly wear the shaŗi, often distinctly designed according to local cultural customs. In urban areas, many women and men wear Western attire. Among men, western dressing has greater acceptance. Men also wear traditional costumes such as the panjabi with dhuti, often on cultural occasions.
West Bengal has a rich heritage of handloom weaving, and produces some of the finest varieties of cotton and silk sarees in the country. From an economic standpoint, handlooms come second only to agriculture in providing livelihood to the rural population of the state. Every district has weaving 'clusters', which are home to artisan communities, each specializing in specific varieties of handloom weaving. Famous handloom sarees woven in the state include tant, jamdani, garad, korial, baluchari, tussar and muslin.
Festivals of West Bengal :
Durga Puja in October is the most popular festival in West Bengal. The whole city of Kolkata undergoes a transformation during Durga Puja, decked in light and colour, as various pandals to the goddess are made on an eclectic array of themes. The idols of the goddess as brought in from Kumortuli, where idol-makers work throughout the year fashioning the clay-models of the goddess. Durga Puja is often labelled as India's largest open air art exhibition, spilling over from the domain of the religious into becoming a cultural event, where people across diverse religious and cultural spectrum partake in the festival. Tourists from all across the country come to the city of Kolkata to witness this major event. The state tourism department, as of 2015, has been attempting to promote and market the event to international tourists as well.
Poila Baishakh (the Bengali New Year), Rathayatra, Dolyatra or Basanta-Utsab, Nobanno, Poush Parbon (festival of Poush), Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, LaxmiPuja, Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha and Muharram are other major festivals.
Christmas, called Bôŗodin (Great day) is perhaps the next major festival celebrated in Kolkata, after Durga Puja. Just like Durga Puja, Christmas in Kolkata is an occasion in which all communities and people across religions take part. The state tourism department organizes the gala Christmas Festival every year in Park Street. The whole of Park Street is decked up in colourful lights, various food stalls are set up selling cakes, chocolates, Chinese cuisines, momo and various other items. Musical groups from Darjeeling and other states of North East India are invited by the state to perform choir recitals, carols and jazz numbers.
Buddha Purnima, which marks the birth of Gautama Buddha, is one of the most important Hindu/Buddhist festivals and is celebrated with much gusto in the Darjeeling hills. On this day, processions are taken out of each of the various Buddhist monasteries or gumpas, and these congregate at the Mall, Chowrasta. The Lamas chant mantras and sound their bugles, and students as well as people from all communities carry the holy books or pustaks on their heads. Besides Buddha Purnima, Dashain, Diwali, Losar, Namsoong or the Lepcha New Year and Losoong are the other major festivals of the Darjeeling Himalayan region.
Poush mela is a popular festival of Shantiniketan in winter.