Culture of West Bengal

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Rabindranath Tagore, the most important cultural figure of West Bengal.

The culture of West Bengal is an Indian Culture which has its roots in the Bengali literature, music, fine arts, drama and cinema. People of West Bengal share their cultural heritage with the neighbouring Bangladesh (erstwhile known as East Bengal). West Bengal and Bangladesh together form the historical and geographical region of Bengal, with common linguistic and ethnic backgrounds. Besides the common cultural characteristics, different geographic regions of West Bengal have subtle as well as more pronounced variations between each other, with Darjeeling Himalayan hill region showing particularly different cultural aspect.

West Bengal's capital Kolkata—as the former capital of India—was the birthplace of modern Indian literary and artistic thought,[1] and is referred to as the "cultural [or literary] capital of India".[2][3] The presence of paras, which are neighbourhoods that possess a strong sense of community, is characteristic of West Bengal.[4] Typically, each para has its own community club and, on occasion, a playing field.[4] Residents engage in addas, or leisurely chats, that often take the form of freestyle intellectual conversation.[5][6] West Bengal has a long tradition of popular literature, music and drama largely based on Bengali folklore and Hindu epics and Puranas.

Religion, specially Hinduism, the principal religion at 72.5% of the total population, plays a vital role in the culture of West Bengal. Durga Puja, a five-day annual autumnal celebration of Hindu goddess Durga’s victory over Mahishasura, a Minotaur-like demon, is the biggest festival of the state. The Festival of Kali, the guardian deity of Bengal, is also celebrated with great enthusiasm. Other important festivals include the seasonal festivals introduced by Rabindranath Tagore, book fairs, film and drama festivals and traditional village fairs etc.

West Bengal is home to two of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Sundarban National Park and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway).


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 modernized in the works of authors such as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Coupled with social reforms led by Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Vivekananda, and others, this constituted a major part of the Bengal Renaissance.[7] The middle and latter parts of the 20th century witnessed the arrival of post-modernism, as well as literary movements such as those espoused by the Kallol movement, hungryalists and the little magazines.[8] 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 writers of the 20th century.

Theater and films[edit]

Among other types of theater, West Bengal has a tradition of folk drama known as jatra.[9][10] Kolkata is the home of the Bengali cinema industry, dubbed "Tollywood" for Tollygunj, where most of the state's film studios are located.[11] Its long tradition of art films includes globally acclaimed film directors such as Academy Award-winning director Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha, and contemporary directors such as Aparna Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, and Rituparno Ghosh.[12]

Music and dance[edit]

Baul singers at Basanta-Utsab, Shantiniketan

The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bengali folk music, which has also been influenced by regional music traditions.[13] Other folk music forms include Gombhira, Bhawaiya, kirtans, and Gajan festival music. Folk music in West Bengal is often accompanied by the ektara, a one-stringed instrument. West Bengal also has an heritage in North Indian classical music. The state is recognised for its appreciation of rabindrasangeet (songs written by Rabindranath Tagore) and Indian classical music. Popular music genres include adhunik songs.[14][15] Since the early 1990s, new genres have emerged, including one comprising alternative folk–rock Bengali bands.[14] Another new style, jibonmukhi gaan ("songs about life"), is based on realism.[16]

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. Gaudiya Nritya is a classicalBengali school of Indian dance,[citation needed] originating in Gaur, West Bengal, the ancient capital of the Bengal region. Various forms of Indian classical dances are patronised, as are dances set on the songs of Tagore and Nazrul.


Though Bengali women traditionally wear the sari,shalwar kameez and Western attire is gaining acceptance among younger women.[17] Western-style dress has greater acceptance among men, although the traditional dhoti and kurta are seen during festivals. Like any other metropolis, Kolkata also has an eclectic mix of western wears with a tinge of ethnic wears. People are found dressed in jeans along with kurtas, or saree along with an overcoat.


West Bengal shares its distinctive culinary tradition with neighbouring Bangladesh, and also borrows from other Indian states. Boiled rice constitutes the staple food, and is served with a variety of vegetables, fried as well with curry, thick lentil soups, and fish and meat preparations of mutton and chicken, and more rarely pork and beef by certain groups. Sweetmeats are mostly milk based, and consist of several delights including roshgulla, sandesh, rasamalai, gulap jamun, kalo jamun, and chom-chom. Several other sweet preparations are also available. Bengali cuisine is rich and varied with the use of many specialized spices and flavours. Fish is the dominant source of protein, cultivated in ponds and fished with nets in the fresh-water rivers of the Ganges delta. More than 40 types of mostly freshwater fish are common, including carp, varieties like rui (rohu), katla, magur (catfish), chingŗi (prawn or shrimp), as well as shuţki (dried sea fish) are popular. Salt water fish (not sea fish though) and Ilish (hilsa ilisha) is very popular among Bengalis, can be called an icon of Bengali cuisine. Prominent influx of continental, Chinese, Lebanese, Thai and other provincial foods has also occurred and thus resulting in a shift in food choice among the generation Y kids.


Durga Puja in October is the most popular festival in the West Bengal.[18] Poila Baishakh (the Bengali New Year), Rathayatra, Dolyatra or Basanta-Utsab, Nobanno, Poush Parbon (festival of Poush), Diwali, Kali Puja, SaraswatiPuja, LaxmiPuja, Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha and Muharram are other major festivals. Buddha Purnima, which marks the birth of Gautama Buddha, is one of the most important Hindu/Buddhist festivals while Christmas, called Bôŗodin (Great day) in Bengali is celebrated by the minority Christian population. Poush mela is a popular festival of Shantiniketan, taking place in winter.

Cultural festivals of Bengal too have a great impact on the overall culture of the state. Pocheeshe Boishakh (25th of Baisakh month) which is the birth date of Rabindra Nath Tagore (7 May 1861) is the most important cultural festival of Bengal celebrated as Rabindra Nath Tagore Jayanti.

Culture of Darjeeling Himalayan hill region[edit]

Apart from the major Hindu religious festivals like Diwali, Dussera, Holi, Ram Navami, the diverse ethnic populace of Darjeeling Himalayan hill region celebrates several local festivals. The Tibetan ethnic groups like the Lepchas, Bhutias, Gurungs, and Tamangs celebrate new year called Losar in January/February, Maghe Sankranti, Chotrul Duchen, Buddha Jayanti, and Tendong Lho Rumfaat, to name a few, which provide the "regional distinctness" of Darjeeling's local culture from the rest of West Bengal.

A popular food in Darjeeling is the momo, a steamed dumpling containing either mutton, pork, beef or vegetables cooked in a doughy wrapping served with a watery vegetable soup and spicy tomato sauce/chutney. Wai-Wai is a favorite packaged snack of Darjeeling hills comprising noodles which are eaten either dry or with soup. Churpee, a kind of hard cheese made from cow or yak's milk is another popular mini-snack that is both nutritious and a pastime. A form of noodle called thukpa, served with soup and vegetables, is extremely popular in and around the hills of Darjeeling. Chhang and tongba are local alcoholic beverage made from millet.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chaudhuri, Nirad C. (2001). The autobiography of an unknown Indian. New York Review of Books. p. 269. ISBN 978-0-940322-82-0. 
  2. ^ Reeves, Philip (5 April 2007). "Calcutta: habitat of the Indian intellectual". National Public Radio. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  3. ^ Noble, Allen and Frank Costa; Ashok Dutt; Robert Kent (1990). Regional development and planning for the 21st century : new priorities, new philosophies. Ashgate Pub Ltd. pp. 282, 396. ISBN 978-1-84014-800-8. 
  4. ^ a b "Kolkata culture: Para". Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal. Retrieved 9 December 2011. 
  5. ^ Trachtenberg, P. (15 May 2005). "The chattering masses". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2006. 
  6. ^ Mukherjee Pandey, Jhimli (1 November 2008). "Presidency old-timers to relive days of canteen adda". Times of India. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  7. ^ Dutt, R.C. (1962). Cultural heritage of Bengal. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak.  cited in Sengupta, Nitish K. (2001). History of the Bengali-speaking people. UBS Publishers' Distributors Pvt. Ltd. pp. 211–12. ISBN 81-7476-355-4. 
  8. ^ "India: The hungry generation". Time. 20 November 1964. Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  9. ^ Chakraborty, Ajanta (5 July 2011). "Meet the new Mamata Banerjee". Times of India. Retrieved 23 January 2012. The jatra industry based out of Kolkata's Chitpur Road has gone through a severe blow with the growth of video parlours. 
  10. ^ Niyogi, Subhro (26 October 2010). "Red alert For Jatra". Times of India. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  11. ^ Sarkar, Bhaskar (March 2008). "The melodramas of globalization". Cultural Dynamics 20 (1): pp. 31–51 [34]. doi:10.1177/0921374007088054. .
  12. ^ Gooptu, Sharmistha (2010). Bengali cinema: 'an other nation'. Taylor & Francis. pp. 2, 172, 181, 187. ISBN 978-0-415-57006-0. Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  13. ^ "The Bauls of Bengal". Folk Music. BengalOnline. Retrieved October 26, 2006. 
  14. ^ a b Dorin, Stéphane (2005). "La globalisation du rock vue de Calcutta" [The globalization of rock to Calcutta]. Volume! La revue desmusiques populaires (in French) 4 (1): 144–45. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  15. ^ Shepherd, John (2005). Continuum encyclopedia of popular music of the world 3–7. Continuum. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-0-8264-7436-0. 
  16. ^ Bhattacharya, Malini (2005). "Culture". In Bagchi, Jasodhara. The changing status of women in West Bengal, 1970–2000: the challenge ahead. New Delhi: Sage Publications. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-7619-3242-0. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  17. ^ Yengkhom, Sumati (23 September 2010). "This Puja, buzz over western clothes". Times of India. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  18. ^ "Durga Puja". Festivals of Bengal. West Bengal Tourism, Government of West Bengal. Retrieved October 28, 2006.