History of West Bengal

West Bengal, the gateway to eastern India is shrouded in history that dates back to antiquity. There are historic references to the state that are found in the Vedic annals as well as the chronicles of the Murayan, Gupta and Mughal eras and the musty archives of the Pala and Sena dynasties.

The first traces of West Bengal's history are recorded to belong to the Vedic era when the state was inhabited by myriads of people of varying origin and ethnicity. The state was ruled by several chieftains during the epic Mahabharata period and was inhabited by the Aryans in the post-Vedic period that soon followed.

West Bengal witnessed the flourishing prosperity of the Mauryan Empire as well as the efflorescence of the Gupta Golden Age. Among the various dynasties that established control over West Bengal, the Palas, Pundras and the Senas deserve special mention. The voluminous evidence of history cites references to the glorious Pala rule that spanned nearly 400 years.

West Bengal's history records that the state suffered the ravages of the Islamic anarchy, which was soon followed by the cultural extravaganzas of the Mughal Empire. Under the Mughal rule, West Bengal became a commercial hub where industry and trade thrived. However the downfall of the Mughal Empire led to the oppressive British Rule when India became an established trade colony of the East India Company.

3rd century the Mauryan and the Guptas established their rule. The Palas established their strong rule from about 800AD till the 11th century after which the Senas ruled. The economy, arts and culture of this region developed under the rule of the Hindu dynasties. In the beginning of the 13th century Bengal became a part of the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughals. The influence of the Muslims led to conversions besides development of art and culture and cottage industries that produced items such as Muslin which were in great demand around the world.

The proximity to the sea also resulted in the influence with the foreigners -- the Portuguese in the early 16th century, the Dutch in about 1632, the French influence between 1673-1676, the Danish in 1676 and British in 1690. The increased influence of the British resulted in conflicts with the Nawab. The diplomatic efforts with a series of conspiracies resulted in the ultimate capture of power in Bengal by the British. The battle of Plassey (1757) and the battle of Buxar (1764) sealed the fate of the Mughal rule. The British later brought forth the Dual system of administration In 1905 the English partitioned Bengal on the basis of religion. Calcutta remained the Capital of the British empire in India till 1911. After that the capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.

In 1947 when India became independent Bengal was partitioned between India and Pakistan. India's share came to be known as West Bengal and Pakistan's share was called East Pakistan. Later, the state of Cooch Behar, French enclave of Chandranagore and some parts of Bihar were added to West Bengal. Bengal represents the land that possess a distinct culture with its indigenous art and crafts and make it an important part of the Indian Union.

West Bengal was formerly known as Vanga and was spread over a vast area. Ruled by several dynasties from ancient times, the actual history of this region is, however, available from the Gupta period. The prosperity and the importance of the state increased largely when the British East India Company took over the place. It was a widespread Bengal province until under the terms of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, the province of Bengal ceased to exist. The Muslim-dominated districts, namely, Chittagong, Dacca and part of Presidency and Rajshahi division went to the present-day Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal came into existence in 1947. The district of Cooch Behar was merged with the state on January 1, 1950. The former Chandernogor came within the state on October 2, 1954 and the state got its present political boundary when, according to the States Reorganization Act, part of the state of Bihar was transferred to West Bengal.

The name of Bengal, or Bangla, is derived from the ancient kingdom of Vanga, or Banga. References to it occur in early Sanskrit literature, but its early history is obscure until the 3rd century BC, when it formed part of the extensive Mauryan empire inherited by Asoka. With the decline of Mauryan power, anarchy once more supervened The history of Bengal (including Bangladesh and West Bengal) dates back four millennia.[1] 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.

Remnants of Copper Age settlements in the Bengal region date back 4,000 years,[1][2] when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic peoples. After the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the kingdoms of Anga, Vanga and Magadha were formed by the 10th century BC, located in and around the Bengal region. The Anga, Vanga and Magadha 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 ancient 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 Maha 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.


West Bengal, the Gateway to eastern India boasts of a cultural legacy and glorious history. The state was a former kingdom of several powerful rulers and part of the splendid Mughal culture. Besides, the state had also been an established colony of several foreign nations and subjugated to the oppressive British rule.

The East India Company arrived in India to set up a trading center in a country noted for its business potential. The first notable footprint of the British in West Bengal was when Job Charnock, an agent form the East India Company found the site formed by the three large villages of Sutanuti, Gobindpur and Kolikata suiltable for the establishment of a trade center. The agglomeration of these three villages culminated in what is known as modern day Kolkata, the urban metropolis that is the present capital of West Bengal.

The efficacy of the East India Company's rule in Bengal is questionable considering the number of deaths that occurred following the cataclysmic famine of 1770. The control of Bengal was passed on to the hands of British crown from that of the East India Company after the disaster following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, a rather unfortunate affair that sprung up at a Sepoy Mangal Pande's initiative in Bengal's Barrackpore.


age-old history. The state, in its former days of glory formed a significant part of the empire of several powerful dynasties. The state was also a colony of several foreign traders that included the Dutch, French, Portuguese and the British.

The Dutch traders arrived in the Indian subcontinent and established their colony in the country's premises. India, or according to the Dutch colloquial pronunciation India, with its potential for flourishing trade was their jewel in the crown. They set up their capital in the picturesque land of the sun, sea and the sand, Cochin, sited on the Malabar Coast.


The state of West Bengal, a center for east India's trade, commerce, culture and education, has a past that goes way back into the pages of history. Ruled by several powerful dynasties, the state was also an established colony of the French, British, Dutch and Portuguese traders.

The French like the other foreigners arrived in India to further their commercial interests and set up their industrial enterprises in the bustling lands of Bengal. In the year 1673, the French established their colony at Chandernagore or as the current name goes Chandannagar, having sought permission from Nawab Shaista Khan, the erstwhile Mughal governor of Bengal. Those were the French days of glory when all they touched turned to gold. In 1816, after the remarkable French victory against the renowned Napoleon Bonaparte, the five former colonies of Chandranagore, Puducherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam and the loges at Machilipattnam, Kozhikode and Surat were restored to France.


West Bengal, an epicenter of Bengali culture is shrouded in history that dates back to the antiquarian Vedic era. The state's historic saga records the triumphs and tribulations of the powerful monarchs, oppressive days as a British colony as well as the pivotal role it played in India's tumultuous war for independence.

The Bengali youths and revolutionaries were actively involved in India's freedom movement. Guided by the able leadership of visionaries of the likes of Chittranjan Das, S. N. Bannerjee, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Prafulla Chaki, Khudiram Bose and Rashbehari Bose, the people of Bengal were stirred up in patriotic fervor and were unified in the cause of liberating their country from the tyrannical British Raj.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose played a vital role in challenging the British authority. He formed the Indian National Army and established a liaison with the axis powers lead by Adolph Hitler to free India. Muslim leaders like A. K. Fazlul Huq and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy were noted for their active participation in liberating India.

Mauryan Empire

West Bengal, a treasure trove of cultural potpourri unravels a mind-blowing historical chronicle. The state was a significant part of the empire of several eminent emperors of widespread territories. The renowned land of Magadha is one such kingdom in Bengal that was ruled by the monarchs of the Mauryan Empire.

The obscure haze of ancient Indian history starts to fade from the 3rd century B.C. when we find records of the glorious Mauryan Empire ruled by the likes of legendary monarchs like Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka. From around 6th century B.C., a large portion of Bengal was a part of the Magadha kingdom. Magadha was also one of the 16 Maha Janapadas that gained prominence as an established center of Buddhist learning and culture.


West Bengal, the gateway to eastern India flaunts a rich and varied cultural history that dates back to antiquity. Prior to the oppressive British Rule, the state was ruled by numerous dynasties that ranged from the Palas, Senas, Pundras, the emperors of the Delhi Sultanate as well as the Mughals. It was under the Mughals that Bengal became a recognized commercial hub in the country.

The Muslims established control of the domicile of Bengal during early 13th century. Three centuries down the line, the disorderly lawlessness that prevailed in the state during the anarchic Muslim rule gave way to the flourishing Mughal rule. The Muslim rulers established strong trading ties with the rest of the country as well as abroad and under their reign internal trade and commerce as well as maritime trade flourished in the state.


Chronicles of history indicate that the state of West Bengal flourished under the glorious rule under the monarchs of the Pala, Pundra and Sena dynasty. The Pala rulers played a momentous role in shaping history. The 400-year old Pala rule that continued almost up to 800.A.D. saw West Bengal as an established center of flourishing internal as well as maritime trade. Their trade links extended up to Taxila, Cambodia, Burma, Sri Lanka, the Deccan and the Persian Gulf.

The Pala dynasty's claim to fame lies in hosting the first ever-democratic election in South Asia, when the first Buddhist Pala potentate, Gopala I was elected as monarch of Bengal. After Gopala's successful tenure, Dharmapala, the dynasty's most dominant rule came to power and ruled his territory from 775 to 810A.D. Under his successor Devapala's reign, the Pala empire's territorial boundaries spanned across the Indian subcontinent to as far as Afghanistan. The strength and power of the Pala Empire started declining during Narayanapala's rule. This was however temporarily revived under Mahipala I's effective rule.


The state of West Bengal opens up a Pandora's Box of cultural delights that testify the state's rich history. The state, which was once ruled, by the Palas, Pundras, Senas as well as the Mughals was also a Portuguese colony. The foreign traders who arrived in Bengal found its location conducive to trade and commerce and thus tried to establish control over the province.

Hugli City lying on the western banks of the Hugli River was launched by the Portuguese traders way back in the 16th century. Before the Portuguese settlement came up here Hugli was a picturesque and bucolic village on the right banks of the mighty Bhagirathi River. It was here that the Portuguese ships and vessels would conduct their maritime trade and sell Hijli salt.

Post Independence

West Bengal, located in eastern India, played an instrumental role in India's tumultuous struggle for freedom. The state that witnessed the triumphs and tribulations of ancient monarchs also has a saga of tragic suffering caused by its heart wrenching partition. Post Independence however the state has come a long way.

The post independence days in Bengal were in no way a smooth sailing affair for the state. However, the people of Bengal, known to endure struggle and having earned the much-desired freedom fought back zealously to ensure the state's future progress.

Post Independence, the jute mills of Calcutta, a major source of revenue and employment had to bear the brunt of the partition of Bengal. The raw materials required to facilitate work in the mills were now left in the other side of the newly created boundary and thus industrial growth was severely hindered.

Post Vedic Period

West Bengal's pride lies in its rich cultural legacy that testifies the state's age-old history. The annals of history contain evidences that date as far back as the Vedic era. It is generally supposed that the post Vedic period comment from the time when the Aryans settled on Bengal's terrains.

The chronicles of the Greek foreign travelers of 400 BC to 100 AD refer to an area known as Gangaridai, which has been supposed to be none other than the present Bengal. The etymological significance of Gangahrd is a Land with the Ganges in its heart. Thus according to mythology, Gangaridai is supposed to be the inception point of the world.

The post Vedic period gradually culminated in the glorious rule of the Pala and the Sena rulers under whose rule trade, commerce, religion and culture flourished in Bengal. Ancient Buddhist texts refer to the 16 Maha Janapadas that were the seat of Buddhist religion and culture.


The Pundra dynasty that ruled the territories of West Bengal and Bangladesh in the ancient times is shrouded in age-old history and mythology. Pundra, also recognized as Paundra or Paundraya is one of the renowned empires that established control over eastern India. Pundra dynasty is claimed to be the genesis of several renowned warrior tribes like the Pundir Rajputs of Telangana.

According to historical records, the earlier monarchs of the Vanga, Anga, Pundra, Kalinga and Suhma dynasty shared a common lineage. Supposedly strong fraternal ties linked the five rulers of these kingdoms, being the adopted sons of emperor Vali. Pundra, referred to as a realm of Bharata Varsha or India belonged to the warrior Kshatriya tribes. The Pundra dynasty did not conform to the Vedic culture of the period.

One of the legendary potentate's of the Pundra dynasty is Paundraka Vasudeva. His name goes down the pages of history for his great folly in imitating Lord Krishna and dressing up like him, which led to his eventual death. Another ruler, Vanga Pundra is noted for his immense courage and valor.