|c. 270 million (2014 estimate)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|~ Diaspora populations only of Bangladeshis|
|Saudi Arabia||2.5 million|
|United Kingdom||~ 500,000|
|United States||~ 143,619|
|South Korea||~ 130,000|
|Bengali and Bengali dialects|
| Islam – Bangladesh 89%, India 24.2%
Hinduism – India 75%, Bangladesh 9%
Buddhism Bahá'í Faith and Christianity – 1%
|Related ethnic groups|
|Assamese people, Other Indo-Aryan peoples, Other Mongoloid peoples|
The Bengali people (Bengali: বাঙালি Bangali, Bengali: বাঙালি জাতি Bangali jati) are the principal ethnic group native to the region of Bengal, which is politically divided between Bangladesh and India. The Bengali language (বাংলা Bangla) is associated with the Bengali people as the predominant native tongue. They are mostly concentrated in Bangladesh and the states of West Bengal and Tripura in India. There are also a number of Bengali communities scattered across North-East India, New Delhi, and the Indian states of Assam, Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharastra, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. A huge Bengali community also resides in Pakistan. In addition, there are significant Bengali communities beyond South Asia; some of the most well established Bengali communities are in the United Kingdom and United States. Large numbers of Bengalis have settled in Britain, mainly living in the East boroughs of London, numbering from around 300,000; in the USA there are about 150,000 living across the country, mainly in New York. There are also millions living across the Gulf States, majority of whom are living as foreign workers. There are also many Bengalis in Malaysia, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and many other countries.
Remnants of civilisation in the greater Bengal region date back 4,000 years, when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austroasiatic peoples. The origin of the word Bangla ~ 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.
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 ruled by the king Xandrammes 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. Later from the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire.
One of the first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, reigning around the early 7th century. After a period of anarchy, Gopala came to power in 750 by democratic election. 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 renowned 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 Empire. Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Sufi missionaries. Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region. 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. Islam was introduced to the Sylhet region by the Muslim saint Shah Jalal in the early 14th century. In the early 17th 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. After the weakening of the Mughal Empire with the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, Bengal was ruled independently by the Nawabs until 1757, when the region was annexed by the East India Company after the Battle of Plassey.
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 reformer and humanitarian Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775–1833), considered the "Father of the Bengal Renaissance", and ended with Asia's first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), although there have been many stalwarts thereafter embodying particular aspects of the unique intellectual and creative output. 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'.
Other figures have been considered to be part of the Renaissance. Swami Vivekananda is considered a key figure in the introduction of Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and America and is credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a world religion during the 1800s. Jagadish Chandra Bose was a Bengali polymath: a physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist, and writer of science fiction who pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics, made significant contributions to plant science, and laid the foundations of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent. He is considered one of the fathers of radio science, and is also considered the father of Bengali science fiction. Rai Bahadur Sarada Prasanna Das was an Eminent prof. in Pure and Mixed Mathematics and also in Astronomy, he was the H.O.D of Presidency College in Calcutta and also I.E.S. Satyendra Nath Bose was a Bengali physicist, specializing in mathematical physics. He is best known for his work on quantum mechanics in the early 1920s, providing the foundation for Bose–Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose–Einstein condensate. He is honoured as the namesake of the boson. Structural Engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan designed the Sears Tower in USA. He has been called the "Einstein of structural engineering" and the greatest structural engineer of the 20th century for his innovative use of structural systems that remain fundamental to modern skyscraper construction.
Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. 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, Khwaja Salimullah, Surendranath Banerjea, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Titumir (Sayyid Mir Nisar Ali), Prafulla Chaki, A. K. Fazlul Huq, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Bagha Jatin, Khudiram Bose, Surya Sen, Binoy-Badal-Dinesh, Sarojini Naidu, Aurobindo Ghosh, Rashbehari Bose.
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.
Partitions of Bengal
Bangladesh Liberation War
- Main articles: Demographics of Bangladesh, Demographics of West Bengal, Demographics of Tripura, and Demographics of Andaman and Nicobar Islands
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 9.6% follow Hinduism. In West Bengal, Hindus are the majority with 72% of the population while Muslims comprise 25.2%. Other religious groups include Buddhists and Christians.
Noted Bengali saints, authors, scientists, researchers, thinkers, music composers, painters and film-makers have played a significant role in the development of Bengali culture . The Bengal Renaissance of the 19th and early 20th centuries was brought about after 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 used its principles (such as the judiciary and the legislature) in the subsequent political struggle for independence. The Bengal 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. Other Bengali Nobel laureates include Amartya Sen (1999 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences) and Muhammad Yunus (2006 Nobel Peace Prize). Pulitzer Prize winners Jhumpa Lahiri and Siddhartha Mukherjee . Man Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy .Other famous figures in literature include Ram Mohan Roy, D L Roy, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Premen Mitra, Sunil Ganguly, Bimal Mitra, Syed Mujtaba Ali, Sakti Chattopadhyay, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Amitav Ghosh and Bengali science fiction writers such as Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, Humayun Ahmed, Jagadananda Roy and Roquia Sakhawat Hussain (Begum Rokeya).
Famous Bengali musicians include Lalan Fakir, Baba Alauddin Khan, Rajani Kanta Sen, Atul Prasad Sen, Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, Jnan Prakash Ghosh, Ajoy Chakrabarty, Pankaj Mullick, R. C. Boral, Anil Biswas, Sachin Dev Burman, Rahul Dev Burman, Salil Chowdhury. Famous Bengali singers include Krishna Chandra Dey, Pankaj Mullick, Debabrata Biswas, Suchitra Mitra, Ritu Guha, Kanika Banerjee, Kishore Kumar, Kumar Sanu, Chinmay Chattopadhyay, Abbas Uddin, Runa Laila, Dhananjay Bhattacharya, Pannalal Bhattacharya, Nirmalendu Choudhury, Manabendra Mukherjee, Hemanta Mukherjee, Manna Dey, Shyamal Mitra, Ram Kumar Chattopadhyay, Geeta Dutt, Sandhya Mukherjee, Srikanta Acharya, Nachiketa, Shreya Ghoshal, Shaan, Bappi Lahiri, Abhijeet, Kalim Sharafi, Kabir Suman and Rezwana Chowdhury Banya.
Famous Bengali scientists include Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, Meghnad Saha, Prafulla Chandra Roy, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, Amal Kumar Raychaudhuri and Satyendra Nath Bose; famous Bengali engineers include Fazlur Khan and Amar Bose
Famous Bengali filmmakers include Satyajit Ray, Nitin Bose, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha, Zahir Raihan, Aparna Sen, Rituporno Ghosh and Tareque Masud and stage and screen artistes Girish Ghose, Sisir Bhaduri, Devika Rani, Chhabi Biswas, Pahari Sanyal, Ashok Kumar, Uttam Kumar, Durgadas, P C Baruah, Tulsi Chakrabarty, Kali Banerjee, Bhanu Banerjee, Jahar Roy, Basanta Choudhury, Santosh Dutta, Utpal Dutt, Shambhu Mitra, Tripti Mitra, Suchitra Sen, Kanan Devi, Sabitri Chatterjee, Supriya Chowdhury, Soumitra Chatterjee, Anil Chatterjee, Ajitesh Bandopadhyay, Sharmila Tagore, Madhabi Mukherjee
- roughly 163 million in Bangladesh and 100 million in the Republic of India (CIA Factbook 2014 estimates, numbers subject to rapid population growth)
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