About West Bengal
West Bengal is a state in eastern India and is the nation’s fourth-most populous state, with over 91 million inhabitants. Spread over 34,267 sq mi (88,750 km2), it is bordered by the countries of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, and the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim and Assam. The state capital is Kolkata (Calcutta), one of the largest cities in India. Together with the neighbouring nation of Bangladesh, it makes up the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal.
Ancient Bengal was the site of several major Janapadas (kingdoms). It was also part of large empires such as the Maurya Empire (second century BC) and Gupta Empire (fourth century AD); and part of the regional Buddhist Pala Empire (8th to 11th century) and Sena dynasty (11th–12th century). From the 13th century onward, the region was controlled by the Bengal Sultanate, Hindu kings and Baro-Bhuyan landlords under the suzerainty of the Mughal Empire, until the British East India company took control of the region from the Mughals in the late 18th century. The company consolidated their hold on the region following the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and Battle of Buxar in 1764 and by 1793 took complete control of the region. Kolkata (or Calcutta) served for many years as the capital of British controlled territories in India. The early and prolonged exposure to British administration resulted in the expansion of Western education, culminating in development of science, institutional education, and social reforms in the region, including what became known as the Bengali renaissance. A hotbed of the Indian independence movement through the early 20th century, Bengal was divided during India’s independence in 1947 along religious lines into two separate entities: West Bengal—a predominantly Hindu state of India and Muslim-majority East Bengal—a part of the newly created Dominion of Pakistan. East Bengal later became the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971.
A major agricultural producer, West Bengal is the sixth-largest contributor to India’s net domestic product. Noted for its political activism, the state was ruled by democratically elected communist governments for 34 years from 1977. It is noted for its cultural activities and the presence of cultural and educational institutions; the state capital Kolkata is known as the “cultural capital of India”. The state’s cultural heritage, besides varied folk traditions, ranges from stalwarts in literature including Nobel-laureate Rabindranath Tagore to scores of musicians, film-makers and artists. West Bengal is also distinct from most other Indian states in its appreciation and practice of playing Association football besides cricket, the national favourite sport.
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 continued as an Indian state. In 2011, the Government of West Bengal proposed a change in the official name of the state to Poschimbongo (Bengali: পশ্চিমবঙ্গ Pôshchimbônggô). This is the native name of the state, literally meaning western Bengal in the native Bengali language. In August, 2016, West Bengal Legislative Assembly passed a resolution to change the name of West Bengal to “Bengal” in English and “Bangla” in Bengali. Despite the Trinamool Congress government’s strong efforts to forge a consensus on the name change resolution, the Congress, the Left Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party opposed the resolution, However it awaits the consent of the Indian Parliament for approval.
- Kolkata — a center of Bengali culture and the largest city in the state. Also the capital of the country till 1911, known as the “City of Joy”.
- Asansol — an important mining and industrial centre
- Bandel — a small riverside town just outside Kolkata is popular for Christian devotees.
- Darjeeling — a beautiful hill station and center of a major tea growing area.
- Durgapur — an industrial metropolis
- Gadiara — a small riverside town just outside Kolkata
- Haldia — a developing port city
- Howrah — Kolkata’s twin city. It is second largest city in the state. Howrah Station has the largest railway complex in India.
- Sagardwip — pilgrimage site on an island in the Sunderban
- Santiniketan — town of Rabindranath Tagore’s university
- Siliguri — a major business and shopping center.
- Barrackpore — a Suburban Town of Greater Kolkata. It is the Oldest Cantonment in India and the Second War of Independence started here .
- Dakshineswar — famous for the Hindu temple of Goddess Kali known as Bhavatarini, an aspect of Kali, meaning, ‘She who liberates Her devotees from the ocean of existence i.e Saṃsāra’. Situated on the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, near Kolkata the temple was built by Rani Rashmoni, a philanthropist and a devotee of Kali in 1855. The temple is famous for its association with Ramakrishna a mystic of 19th Century Bengal.
- Historical places
- Wildlife Sanctuaries
Stone Age tools dating back 20,000 years have been excavated in the state, showing human occupation 8,000 years earlier than scholars had thought based on prior evidence. The region was a part of the Vanga Kingdom, according to the Indian epic Mahabharata. Several Vedic realms were present in Bengal region, including Vanga, Rarh, Pundravardhana and the Suhma Kingdom.
One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is a mention by the Ancient Greeks around 100 BC of a land named Gangaridai, which was located at the mouths of the Ganges. Bengal had overseas trade relations with Suvarnabhumi (Burma, Lower Thailand, Lower Malay Peninsula, and the Sumatra). According to the Sri Lankan chronicle Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya, a Vanga Kingdom prince, conquered Lanka (modern-day Sri Lanka) and gave the name Sinhala Kingdom to the country.
Era of the janapadas
The kingdom of Magadha was formed in 7th century BCE, consisting of the regions now comprising Bihar and Bengal. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of the lives of Mahavira, founder of Jainism, and Gautama Buddha, founder of Buddhism. It consisted of several janapadas or kingdoms. Under Ashoka, the Maurya Empire of Magadha in the 3rd century BCE extended over nearly all of South Asia, including Afghanistan and parts of Balochistan. From the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire.
Two kingdoms – Vanga or Samatata and Gauda – are mentioned in some texts to have appeared after the end of Gupta Empire, although details of their ruling time are uncertain. The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, who reigned in the early 7th century. Shashanka is often recorded in Buddhist annals as an intolerant Hindu ruler who is noted for his persecution of the Buddhists. Shashanka murdered Rajyavardhana, the Buddhist King of Thanesar, and is noted for destroying the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, and replacing Buddha statues with Shiva lingams. After a period of anarchy the Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years starting from the eighth century. It was followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty.
Some areas of Bengal were invaded by Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty between 1021 and 1023. Islam made its first appearance in Bengal during the 12th century when Sufi missionaries arrived. Later, occasional Muslim raiders reinforced the process of conversion by building mosques, madrasas and khanqahs. Between 1202 and 1206, Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji, a military commander from the Delhi Sultanate, overran Bihar and Bengal as far east as Rangpur, Bogra and the Brahmaputra River. Although he failed to bring Bengal under his control, the expedition defeated Lakshman Sen. His two sons moved to a place then called Vikramapur (present-day Munshiganj District), where their diminished dominion lasted until the late 13th century.
Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region. Consequently, the region was ruled by dynasties of Bengal Sultanate and feudal lords under the Delhi Sultanate for the next few hundred years. While the large population of eastern and central Bengal became Muslim during this period, Hinduism remained the dominant religion in southern Bengal due to the strong influence of folk Hindu culture and Vaishnavism. Smaller Hindu states, landlords, and Baro-Bhuyans also ruled in parts of Bengal. The Bengal Sultanate was interrupted for 20 years by an uprising by the Hindus under Raja Ganesha. 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. Several independent Hindu states were established in Bengal during the Mughal period, like those of Pratapaditya of Jessore District and Raja Sitaram Ray of Bardhaman. The Koch dynasty in northern Bengal flourished during the period of 16th and the 17th centuries; it weathered the Mughals and survived till the advent of the British colonial era.
Several European traders reached this area late in the fifteenth century. Their influence increased into the 18th century, when the British East India Company gained rights to collect revenue in Bengal subah (province) in 1765 as per the treaty between the East India company and Mughal emperor following the Battle of Buxar in 1764. Mir Qasim, the last independent Nawab, was defeated by the British.
The Bengal Presidency was established in 1765; it later incorporated all British territories controlled north of the Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh), from the mouths of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra to the Himalayas and the Punjab. The Bengal famine of 1770 claimed millions of lives due to tax policies enacted by the British company. Calcutta, the headquarters of the East India company, was named in 1772 as the capital of British-held territories in India. In 1793 East India company abolished local rule (Nizamat) and annexed the former Mughal province.
The Bengal Renaissance and Brahmo Samaj socio-cultural reform movements had great effects on the cultural and economic life of Bengal. The failed Indian rebellion of 1857 started near Calcutta and resulted in transfer of authority to the British Crown, administered by the Viceroy of India. Between 1905 and 1911, an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones. Bengal suffered from the Great Bengal famine in 1943, which claimed 3 million lives during World War II.
Indian independence movement
Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. Armed attempts against the British Raj from Bengal reached a climax when Subhas Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army from Southeast Asia against the British.
When India gained independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines. The western part went to Dominion of India (and was named West Bengal), while the eastern part went to Dominion of Pakistan as a province called East Bengal (later renamed as East Pakistan in 1956). The latter became independent Bangladesh in 1971.
In 1950, the Princely State of Cooch Behar merged with West Bengal. In 1955, the former French enclave of Chandannagar, which had passed into Indian control after 1950, was integrated into West Bengal; portions of Bihar were also subsequently merged with West Bengal. Both West and East Bengal suffered from large refugee influxes during and after the partition in 1947. Refugee resettlement and related issues continued to play a significant role in the politics and socio-economic condition of the state.
During the 1970s and 1980s, severe power shortages, strikes and a violent Naxalite movement damaged much of the state’s infrastructure, leading to a period of economic stagnation. The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 resulted in the influx of millions of refugees to West Bengal, causing significant strains on its infrastructure. The 1974 smallpox epidemic killed thousands. West Bengal politics underwent a major change when the Left Front won the 1977 assembly election, defeating the incumbent Indian National Congress. The Left Front, led by Communist Party of India (Marxist), governed the state for the subsequent three decades.
The state’s economic recovery gathered momentum after economic liberalisations were introduced in the mid-1990s by the central government. This was aided by the advent of information technology and IT-enabled services. Since mid-2000s, armed activists conducted minor terrorist attacks in some parts of the state, while clashes with the administration took place at several sensitive places over the issue of industrial land acquisition, which became a crucial reason behind the defeat of ruling Left Front government in 2011 assembly election.
Although the state’s GDP has risen significantly since the 1990s, West Bengal has remained affected by political instability and bad governance. The state continues to suffer from regular bandhs (strikes), substandard healthcare services, a lack of socio-economic development, poor infrastructure, political corruption, criminalisation of politics, unemployment, poor education facilities and civil violence.
West Bengal is on the eastern bottleneck of India, stretching from the Himalayas in the north, to the Bay of Bengal in the south. The state has a total area of 88,752 square kilometres (34,267 sq mi). The Darjeeling Himalayan hill region in the northern extreme of the state belongs to the eastern Himalaya. This region contains Sandakfu (3,636 m or 11,929 ft)—the highest peak of the state. The narrow Terai region separates this region from the North Bengal plains, which in turn transitions into the Ganges delta towards the south. The Rarh region intervenes between the Ganges delta in the east and the western plateau and high lands. A small coastal region is on the extreme south, while the Sundarbans mangrove forests form a geographical landmark at the Ganges delta.
The Ganges is the main river, which divides in West Bengal. One branch enters Bangladesh as the Padma or Pôdda, while the other flows through West Bengal as the Bhagirathi River and Hooghly River. The Farakka barrage over Ganges feeds the Hooghly branch of the river by a feeder canal, and its water flow management has been a source of lingering dispute between India and Bangladesh. The Teesta, Torsa, Jaldhaka and Mahananda rivers are in the northern hilly region. The western plateau region has rivers such as the Damodar, Ajay and Kangsabati. The Ganges delta and the Sundarbans area have numerous rivers and creeks. Pollution of the Ganges from indiscriminate waste dumped into the river is a major problem. Damodar, another tributary of the Ganges and once known as the “Sorrow of Bengal” (due to its frequent floods), has several dams under the Damodar Valley Project. At least nine districts in the state suffer from arsenic contamination of groundwater, and an estimated 8.7 million people drink water containing arsenic above the World Health Organisation recommended limit of 10.
Flora and fauna
As of 2013, recorded forest area in the state is 16,805 km2 (6,488 sq mi) which is 18.93% of the state’s geographical area, compared to the national average of 21.23%. Reserves, protected and unclassed forests constitute 59.4%, 31.8% and 8.9%, respectively, of the forest area, as of 2009. Part of the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, is located in southern West Bengal.
From a phytogeographic viewpoint, the southern part of West Bengal can be divided into two regions: the Gangetic plain and the littoral mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. The alluvial soil of the Gangetic plain, compounded with favourable rainfall, make this region especially fertile. Much of the vegetation of the western part of the state shares floristic similarities with the plants of the Chota Nagpur plateau in the adjoining state of Jharkhand. The predominant commercial tree species is Shorea robusta, commonly known as the Sal tree. The coastal region of Purba Medinipur exhibits coastal vegetation; the predominant tree is the Casuarina. A notable tree from the Sundarbans is the ubiquitous sundari (Heritiera fomes), from which the forest gets its name.
The distribution of vegetation in northern West Bengal is dictated by elevation and precipitation. For example, the foothills of the Himalayas, the Dooars, are densely wooded with Sal and other tropical evergreen trees. However, above an elevation of 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), the forest becomes predominantly subtropical. In Darjeeling, which is above 1,500 metres (4,900 ft), temperate-forest trees such as oaks, conifers, and rhododendrons predominate.
West Bengal has 3.26% of its geographical area under protected areas comprising 15 wildlife sanctuaries and 5 national parks — Sundarbans National Park, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Gorumara National Park, Neora Valley National Park and Singalila National Park. Extant wildlife include Indian rhinoceros, Indian elephant, deer, leopard, gaur, tiger, and crocodiles, as well as many bird species. Migratory birds come to the state during the winter. The high-altitude forests of Singalila National Park shelter barking deer, red panda, chinkara, takin, serow, pangolin, minivet and kalij pheasants. The Sundarbans are noted for a reserve project conserving the endangered Bengal tiger, although the forest hosts many other endangered species, such as the Gangetic dolphin, river terrapin and estuarine crocodile. The mangrove forest also acts as a natural fish nursery, supporting coastal fishes along the Bay of Bengal.Recognising its special conservation value, Sundarban area has been declared as a Biosphere Reserve.
Bengali is the main language here. Apart from Bengali – English, Hindi, Odia (also known as Oriya) and Assamese are also widely understood by the local people. In the Darjeeling area, the main language is Nepali.
How to Get There
How to get there by Air
Kolkata as the capital of West Bengal has an international airport that is connected by regular flights from Europe and the Orient. Domestic airlines connect the major cities in India to Kolkata.
Howrah on the west of Hooghly River and Sealdah to the east of the river are the two rail stations in Kolkata, both very crowded and frenetic with activity. All trains to India’s north-eastern region originate and end at Sealdah and trains to west, central and south India operate from Howrah. One needs to be careful against pickpockets at the stations.
Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Nagpur, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad and other major Indian cities are connected with the towns and cities of West Bengal.
It is possible to get to West Bengal by road. The road connections are disrupted once in a while by floods but generally such a trip is an experience in itself. One can drive or take a bus from anywhere to Kolkata be it Delhi, Bombay or Guwahati. Gas stations dot the routes and there are numerous options for eating and resting along the way. Distances are however great and it is better if one opts for the rails or the skies.
Getting around in West Bengal is very convenient with the availability of several modes of transportation. The cities and towns are well-connected by roads and rail. Howrah and Sealdah Railway stations of West Bengal are the main junctions of the country; especially of the East.
There are regular bus services as well as local trains running everyday across the state. You can also hire cabs to travel across and can head to the various beaches by road, over the weekend. There are two major airports in West Bengal: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport and Bagdogra Domestic Airport.
Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal has a great transport system. It includes underground and overhead lines of metro rail. Metro rail in West Bengal was the first of its kind to run in India. Tram services are still functional; but may be considered only if you have a lot of time in hand. The bus services are quite efficient within and across the towns, cities and rural areas.
West Bengal has numerous independent theatre groups locally called “Jatra dol” (travelling group/band), who perform shows mostly in the rural areas. Foreigners, not familiar with the dialect spoken, can enjoy the atmosphere surrounding these events, as fairs organized by local inhabitants, merchants and craftsmen often accompany such gatherings.
Monuments and places of worship had been influenced by several culture, their distinct architecture also speaks of the time of their construction. British influence had led to the contruction of many buildings featuring European style architecture, few noteworthy of them carries a Gothic influence.
World Heritage Site
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit West Bengal is between October and March when you will conveniently miss the sweaty, humid and suffocating Bengal summer. You will also be in time for the frenzied celebrations of Durga Puja, the worship of the goddess of strength, symbolising good over evil. It is a ten day ritual held in the month of October. Besides, this is also the time when Sunderbans, the world’s largest delta and home to the Royal Bengal tiger is open to visitors.
Heat, sweat, humidity are synonymous with West Bengal and rightly so. The state receives an annual rainfall between 1006 and 2933 mm. Summers in the plains are hot with temperatures keeping up between 32° C and 38° Celsius. The heat is aggravated by the high humidity levels in the state during this period. Winters are mild with an average temperature of 10°C to 20° Celsius. In the hilly areas of the north this period between November and March which is winter, is very cold.
Things to do
Whether you want a beach destination for your holiday or you wish to spend time exploring wildlife, West Bengal is the place to be! West Bengal’s cities offer a plethora of things to do. From incredible trekking trails in Darjeeling to boat cruise and royal Bengal Tiger spotting at Sunderbans, West Bengal has it all.
West Bengal has a lot to offer for shopaholics as well as the state is famous for handicrafts, silk saris, clay and terracotta items, jute products, items made from conch-shell, leather work and paintings. Don’t forget to savor the fresh and finest Darjeeling tea and make sure to bring it home as well.
Enjoy various beautiful and unforgettable hill stations like Kalimpong and Kurseong. Take a ride in the Darjeeling-Siliguri Toy Train and enjoy the fairytale journey while admiring the picturesque beauty en route. If you are looking for a secluded holiday destination then visit Bakkhali. Tear yourself away from the city crowd and retire to the beautiful beach side of Bakkhali.
West Bengal is rich in culture, tradition and food. Gorge on fresh and scrumptious sea food anywhere in the state and make your trip a memorable one.
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. Most of the people also consume egg, chicken, mutton, shrimps etc. Sweets occupy an important place in the diet of Bengalis and at their social ceremonies. It is an ancient custom among both Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims 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 narkol-naru, til-naru, moa, payesh etc. are prepared during the festival of Lakshmi puja. Popular street food includes Aloor Chop, Beguni, Kati roll, biryani 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
There are plenty of bars across the state.
Bengali women commonly wear the sari, 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, while women prefer to wear salwar kameez.
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 specialising in specific varieties of handloom weaving. Famous handloom sarees woven in the state include tant, jamdani, garad, korial, baluchari, tussar and muslin.
Hinduism is the major religion in West Bengal, but there are other people from different religions living harmoniously in the state. Islam is the second major religion in West Bengal followed by Christianity. Less than a percentage of the population constitutes of Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. People are respectful towards other religions and participate in all the major festivals.
The world renowned Durga Puja, a religious Hindu festival, is enjoyed by people from all communities and religions because of the grandeur of this event.
Islam is also a popular religion in West Bengal and has existed in the state from the 12th century. Muslim rulers conquered Bengal and this helped spread the religion in the state at an early stage.
Buddhism is mostly followed by the people in the Northern districts, whereas, Christianity is practiced by communities living in and around Kolkata. There are Sikhs and Jains living in the main towns and cities as well.
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, Saradindu Bandopadhyay, Buddhadeb Guha, Mahashweta Devi, Samaresh Majumdar, Mohit Chattopadhyay, Sanjeev Chattopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Buddhadeb Basu, Joy Goswami 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. Shyama Sangeet or songs in praise of Hindu goddess Kali are tremendously popular, especially during Kali Puja, a major festival of Bengal.
Dance with Rabindra From the early 1990s, there has been an emergence of new genres of music, including the emergence of what has been called Bengali Jeebonmukhi Gaan (a modern genre based on realism)..
Bengali dance forms draw from folk traditions, especially those of the tribal groups, as well as the broader Indian dance traditions. Chhau 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.
There are significant examples of fine arts in Bengal from earlier times such as terracotta art of Hindu temples, Kalighat paintings etc. Bengal has 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.
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
Festivals and Events
Durga Puja in September–October is the most popular and most widely celebrated festival in West Bengal. This five-day-long colourful Hindu festival witnesses intense celebration across the state. Pandals are erected in various cities, towns and villages throughout West Bengal. The whole city of Kolkata undergoes a transformation during Durga Puja, as it is decked up in lighting decorations and thousands of colourful pandals are set up where effigies of goddess Durga and her four children are worshipped and displayed. The idols of the goddess as brought in from Kumortuli, where idol-makers work round the year fashioning the clay-models of the goddess. Since independence in 1947, Durga Puja has slowly changed into more of a glamourous carnival than a religious festival, where people across diverse religious and ethnic spectrum partake in the festivity. On Vijayadashami, the last day of the festival, the effigies are paraded through the streets with riotous pageantry before being dumped into the rivers.
Rath Yatra is a Hindu festival which celebrates Jagannath, a form of Krishna. It is celebrated with much fanfare both in Kolkata as well as in rural Bengal. Images of Jagannath are set upon a chariot and pulled through the streets.
Poila Baishakh, Dolyatra or Holi, Poush Parbon, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Diwali, Lakshmi Puja, Janmashtami, Jagaddhatri Puja, Vishwakarma Puja, Bhai Phonta, Rakhi Bandhan, Kalpataru Day, Shivratri, Ganesh Chathurthi, Maghotsav, Kartik Puja, Akshay Tritiya, Raas Yatra, Guru Purnima, Annapurna Puja, Charak Puja, Gajan, Buddha Purnima, Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha and Muharram are other major festivals of Bengal. Rabindra Jayanti, Kolkata Book Fair, Kolkata Film Festival and Nazrul Jayanti are important socio-cultural events.
Eid al-Fitr is the most important festival of Muslims in Bengal. Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with prayers, alms-giving, shopping, gift-giving and feasting.
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 organises 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 or Dusshera, Holi, 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. Folk music, Baul songs, dance and theatre radiate across the town during this festival.
Ganga Sagar mela coincides with the Makar Sankranti and hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims converge where river Ganges meets the sea to bathe en masse during this fervent festival
When looking for outdoor activities in West Bengal, try your hand at river rafting or if you are in the higher reaches go trekking in the hills surrounding the Darjeeling region.
River Rafting: Teesta River offers rafting expedition on its banks. However, the beginners can step in the waters only under trained professionals and those who can’t swim may not be allowed on certain stretches of the river. Among the long run on River Teesta is the Dikchu and Kali Johra stretch. Also River Rangeet stands as a good option for river running here. There are also riverside camps which will provide you with the necessary equipments like life jackets, helmets etc. The best time to go for this adventure activity is in the winter months starting from October till April. Essentials include sun tan, sandals or sneakers, towel and first aid kit.
Trekking: Darjeeling has some incredible trekking trails nearby, along the Himalayan ridges on the Indo-Nepal border. The most popular of these trails is the Singhalia Ridge Trail. Other famous trekking trail here is the Manaybhajang – Tonglu – Sandakphu – Phalut trek. Another trekking trail is the Sandakphu trail which starts in Darjeeling and goes on towards Maneybhanjyang, Tonglu and Sandakphu. The route traverses through thick forests and fringes flower filled meadows with the beauty of the rugged mountains in the background. Amidst the forests you can also see Kanchaendzonga and the rest of the range in all its majestic glory. Don’t forget to carry your camera.
If you are fond of street fashion and are good at haggling with store keepers, shopping in West Bengal is going to be fun. The urban areas have bustling market places and the rural areas are popular for their cottage industry products.
West Bengal is home to some of the popular ethnic fabrics for saris and fusion wear and includes various kinds of work on them such as Tangail and Tant (woven cotton). Gold jewellery is very popular among the native women. The making-charges for gold ornaments are comparatively lower in West Bengal. The designs for the same are distinct and are sure to stand out. A lot of delicate porcelain work, pottery from Bankura, Dokra metalcraft and terracotta handicrafts are available in the handicraft emporiums and stores as well. Leather items such as bags, shoes and belts are available in the urban areas and are reasonably priced.
Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal is the only metropolitan city in Eastern India and hence, its trade importance is the highest in the region. Bara Bazaar, Esplanade and Gariahat are some of the popular markets that offer variety of products at reasonable prices. Other towns such as Purulia and Vardhman are well-known for their handicrafts. Jute is grown in the state. Hence, this eco-friendly fabric is also available at cheaper prices in West Bengal. The Bengal natives are culturally influenced and it shows in their handicrafts and paintings, which are quite a good buy here. A lot of cane work handicrafts are available for furniture as well as decorative purposes.
If visitors travel down to the villages, they may find several women working in cottage industries as well as garment workshops. During the winter months, Kolkata is home to numerous fairs, featuring goods and products from all over the country. For conventional shoppers who prefer not to haggle and enjoy buying in convenience, there are shopping malls in the major cities such as Kolkata, Durgapur and Siliguri.
There are several places to stay in West Bengal in India.
Most of the locations along with Kolkata offer a range of hotels to choose from. If you are looking for a safe, convenient and budget-friendly option, then Government tourist lodges are ideal places to stay. During festive and holiday season, pre-booking is necessary because hotel rooms get booked very fast.
You can also opt for a luxurious stay in Kolkata as it homes several luxury properties including ITC Sonar, The Taj Bengal, The Oberoi Grand, The Park, The Hyatt Regency, Swissotel, Hotel Hindusthan International and Radisson Fort Hotels.
There are numerous deluxe to mid-budget hotels that you to choose from such as Hotel Lindsay, The Golden Park and The Vedic Village among the best ones. There are several guest houses that offer great facilities. There are range of hotels even in the busiest hubs of the city, around the Esplanade area and the Airport area.
Darjeeling is a very popular hill station of the state. It has a wide range of hotels. Some of the popular names include The Elgin, The Viceroy Hotel, Sonar Bangla Hotel, Mayfair Hill resort Hotel and Broadway Hotel. There are several family-run guest houses in this hill station.
Sundarbans, a forested area of West Bengal, has both Government Camp Resorts as well as private hotels.
Shantineketan is a cultural hub and home to the renowned Vishwa Bharati University. This place is visited for its cultural influence through literature and education. Shantiniketan too has a range of hotels from mid-budget to budget hotels.
The beach resorts in Mandarmani, Digha, Shankarpur and Bokkhali have sufficient amenities and attract both local and national visitors over the weekend and in summers. There are budget hotels as well.
Other towns and cities also have a good number of budget hotels and guest houses.
West Bengal is very safe for foreigners. There is hardly any incident of crime against foreigners in recent years. People are friendly and accept people of different cultures warmly. As a foreigner you might find people staring at you but they are just curious. But if you notice anything objectionable in their behaviour with you, face them boldly and ask for help. People are helpful and you will have them coming to your rescue. You may also call the police. But people on the roads are helpful to foreigners and they can be relied upon.
West Bengal is a very politically active state. You may witness clashes, which most often occur between students of fronts affiliated to the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition parties. It is better to stay out of the matter and leave the area, as even the police sometimes get involved.
Power outages are less frequent than they used to be.